Catalog Antwan Horfee

Ruttkowski;68 Gallery / Essay /

Here the whole text:

It shines. There are inflatable elements, some of which can be bounced on.

At times it is architecture, then abstract painting prevails. It is blurred at

one spot, jarring at another. Some of it is a dream world. And some of it has

the toughness of the streets. Antwan Horfee’s body of work is complex. Yet,

through all its different media and artwork genres, both real and virtual, it

coalesces into a single large, organic conception of the world. “Iconography

bulimia, vomiting assemblage, and searching to organize what is not yet

melted by stomach acids.” This is how Horfee describes his universe.

I wanted to start at the beginning. I asked him a simple question—or so

I thought. I received 3 pages back, densely packed with text. This was his

answer after I asked him for a few references, examples of what inspires him.

He wrote a kind of CV in prose form, note-like, original, sometimes with dry

matter-of-factness, sometimes with poetic obliqueness, as a letter to me.

It spanned from his childhood to the present day, with each developmental

stage being accompanied by a long list of animated films, cartoons, science

fiction stories, TV series, and comics. “So tv was my school, was my travel,

was my family and my emotion sources.” The Japanese manga Hokuto no

Ken, the post-apocalyptic series Future Boy Conan, Alf, the alien who wants

to eat cats, and Magnum, P.I., about a private investigator in Hawaii, were

all part of this school. This is how Horfee became familiar not only with

characters and densely packed action compositions, but also with new,

exotic, and invented landscapes. His childhood and aesthetic upbringing

were shaped by the colors of the 1980s and 1990s, such as Veronese green,

lemon yellow, brown, cobalt blue, and violet, which shone at him from the

television screen.

They were interspersed with flashes of violence, blood, trash, and

sexualization. He was able to hide forbidden videos and comics from

his parents.

What was formative for him back then is still present in Horfee’s work today.

We can see it in the characters that overexert themselves in his videos and

are dissolved into color fields in his paintings. And we can see it in the colors

themselves, which no longer represent something external, for they now only

refer back to themselves. In his paintings, the backgrounds are particularly

striking, often appearing blurred. Horfee calls these areas “failed disasters.”

The history of blurring in art did not start with the advent of photography

and its technical shortcomings. It was actually around for much longer, as

early as Romantic landscape painting. The gaze into the distance, “a longing

for infinity,” the fog over the sea, the mountains’ blue hue, the sublime

expanse—blurring was already being used throughout. In Romanticism,

infinity was more valuable, distance was preferred to proximity. Antwan

Horfee’s blurring, however, is not a devout continuation of the Romantic

mindset. He thinks of kitsch airbrush decorations on fairground attractions,

beholds them from afar, paints over them, and eventually forgets them.

While an overall unrealistic conception gives form to the characters and

narratives in Horfee’s animated videos, which can feature outlines, eyes,

feet, and arms, his paintings allude to a concentrate that is left from the

flood of stimuli provided by his overwhelming list of references. All this

seems to be digested by the painted image, sorted out, abstracted, shifted

into blurriness, and flooded with air and light. If abstraction in American

Expressionism was a very serious matter, intended to fulfill tasks in the

realms of world politics and profound psychology, Horfee’s work provides

the visual realm with a sense of relief; childhood dreams, adolescent

spraying in the streets, and a grown-up sense of humor become reconciled

in a serious painting. At the same time, they appear like a flickering screen,

almost a virtual world—if you squint your eyes or, on the contrary, keep

them open until the images start merging together. Further layers of more

intense colors, gestures, stains, and printing techniques are added. This

creates spatial depths, landscapes, plants, organic architecture, and color

forms reminiscent of figures. On this pictorial level, as in the background,

the painting is also devoid of outlines. However, it is rendered voluminous by

shadows at the surface’s edges or given a sense of structure by graphic lines.

Some colored lines, extremely thin and narrow, resemble the delicate fluffs

of dust that accompany the familiar crackling noise when a movie starts

playing in the theater and anticipation builds up over the last few moments.

In other sections, there are smaller areas and blocks consisting of

dots and pixel-like mosaics. Horfee experiments here with silkscreen

printing techniques, which, like in Andy Warhol’s or Sigmar Polke’s

work, are blended together with painting. This is not a real silkscreen,

however. It is a fake, an imitation by means of other, simpler ruses that

create dot-like imprints. Even if Horfee’s works may appear pop, they

are not. He fakes pop art elements and brings them back into painting.

His stance can therefore be rather described as pop-ish anti-pop art or

post-pop art.

The bouncy castles and inflatable mattresses that he paints are in

keeping with this approach. Horfee develops an antithesis to what Pop

Art understood serially, to how it depicted feelings as a commodity and

commerce as an everyday phenomenon. Instead, he works on individual

wonderland-like places and architectures that are removed from everyday

life. A more accurate term for Horfee’s painting might be “psychedelic

science-fiction abstraction,” as a style concept coined for him specifically.

This psychedelic element also stems from blurring. The former vastness of

the landscape, gazed upon after a contemplative hike, is now replaced by

an inward vastness of trance. Wasn’t the sublime in postmodernism in fact

a drug-induced sublime?

Another postmodern trait is expressed by the role of figurative truth. Peter

Weibel, curator and director of the Center for Art and Media (ZKM), writes:

“Instead of landscape painting there was land art, instead of painted

sunlight there was real, and therefore artificial light. Everything that had

been representation was replaced by reality.” Figurative truth, then, no

longer transpired on the canvas, but outside of it. Horfee’s transformation

is twofold. The first appearance of truth is in manga, on television, and on

the screen. A condensation process, and consequently that of figurative

purification towards abstract painting, is developed on the canvas.

Beyond its confines, however, individual elements are again singled

out, occurring as figurative appearances in Horfee’s animated and VR

films, in his drawings, inflatable installations, or in a secondary reality

where we can find his colorful architectural models made of plaster and

modeling clay. “I don’t feel at all like a painter, I feel like I need first to build

paintings to organize topics and shapes and vocabulary,” he muses in his

biographical letter. What is created outside the boundaries of painting

has often the look of surreal jungles, but is in fact closer to architecture.

Sources of inspiration include Hundertwasser and the illustrative designs

of Archigram, as well as Albert Oehlen. The latter’s abstract and smeared

finger paintings also take on an architectural dimension in Horfee’s cosmos,

as if they were oblong worm skyscrapers and swirling alien expressways.

It makes you think of Man in Black: the alien parallel architecture in their

headquarters or the worms’ apartment. I ask again: What is really the mood 

here? “Through all experience i started to get interrested in fun factories,

inflatable castles, villages party, halloween suits, all sort of happenings that

allows people to group together for the fun, for the thrill of being together.”

For Horfee, fun also means a concept and architectural composition.

A new reality is built that is external to painting. The painting itself,

however, stands for the loss of reality, which is also a mood in its own

right. “Codes that are for everyone, not sharped, not cerebral, not

complex,” he writes at the very end.

It is night outside as I am finishing my text, but there are still children

yelling and singing Bon Anniversaire. They are drumming to it. Their

voices dissolve in the dark bass of a strident rave. Whether this sensory

perception is actually true, I don’t know. In Horfee’s world, they would

blur and be covered by gestural abstraction in bright red, poisonous apple

green, and pastel yellow.