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
They were interspersed with flashes of violence, blood, trash, and
sexualization. He was able to hide forbidden videos and comics from
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themselves, which no longer represent something external, for they now only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
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.