STARS + PAINTS is an extraordinary project, altough its subject is basically an ordinary one. For the art of portraiture has always focused on stars, whether these were the princes of more than two hundred years ago who had themselves, their courtiers, their military leaders and their mistresses painted, or the wealthy burghers of the last century in their restrained dark robes. Only with the advent of photography, and thus portrait photographs, did it become possible for ordinary people to immortalize themselves for future generations.
Perhaps it is this particular characteristic of photography, to be accessible to all and not a prerogative of high society, that persuaded Werner Pawlok to resume his dialogue with painting for this series of portraits of contemporary stars. It can hardly have been the pursuit of uniqueness in the painted work as compared with the reproducibility of photography which drove him, since the camera that he has always used for his freelance artistic work, only two 50x60 Polaroid cameras in the world, also produces unique shots.
Let us therefore assume that at least one reason for seeking a dialogue with painting is the desire to maintain an existing tradition. Even if the portrait photograph is considered acceptable by many of the leading figures our time, be they politicians, movie stars, writers or artists, and although it is considered an honour in such circles to be invited to sit for masters such as Irving Penn or Richard Avedon, the painted portrait has always been, and will always be, the official one. Every German Chancellor has his portrait painted, whilst the rows of portraits of Lord Mayors, Minister Presidents and Heads of State remain an undiminished tradition. Indeed, a portrait of the company propietor is often a standard feature of the Managing Director´s office in many private firms. The world of politics and the Church, in particular, have always been keen patrons.
As far as musicians, poets, actors and artists are concerned, though, the idea of having one´s portrait painted is a new one. Some of them would probably consider the idea conservative and old fashioned, wnd wouldn´t take the time to sit for a portrait. But Werner Pawlok´s concept combines traditional painting with the media age, as part of an unusual cooperation. His partner, Peter Boeck, began by painting a preliminary picture of each person using Werner Pawlok´s intstructions and ideas, thus providing Werner Pawlok with the foundation for his photoper- formance. This is the word he uses to describe an artistic activity which is not performed live for an audience but purely for the sake of being recorded in a photograph. Indeed, what happens in front of and with the picture goes far beyond a conventional photographic portrait session, even though the 50x60 Polaroid camera is an unwieldy monster. The technique chosen by Werner Pawlok reminds us of those fairground photo booths where passers-by can put their heads through a hole in a picture and immediately slip into the role of a fighter pilot or of the American president. Werner Pawlok and his crew drove their mobile studio to where the targeted personality was appearing, enticed them in front of the camera, cut openings in the prepared canvas for their head and hands and positioned teh star as required. Following these preparations, the photo- graph was ready for shooting.
When we look at the results, it´s hard to imagine how these pictures came into being, for we all know how terrible those fairground pictures are that we were talking about earlier. In the case of Werner Pawlok´s portraits, we wonder how such results can be achieved, such a striking blend of the painted work with photographed faces and hands, often holding items relatingto the specific scene. Art and life merge together in Werner Pawlok´s polaroids, in terms both of proportions and of colour tonality. Of course the models reacted in very different ways, some joining in with enthusiasm, some wooden and diffident; but in one way or another the simbiosis always seems to work. Some portraits are alive and expressive, like the one of Dizzy Gillespie; at other times the face and awkward pose match the graffiti-like painting, as in the case of Paquito d´Rivera. In the portrait of Klaus Doldinger, instrument and face emerge rather like a mirage from a cloudy mixture of hues, rather like painted music.
Instead of using a consistent style of painting, Peter Böck works at different times with collage, abstract and then abstract-expressive techniques. His pictures provide a character description of personality concerned, upon which Werner Pawlok can then expand, at times with input from the subjects themselves. We see Wim Wenders floating upon a white ribbon of dreamy film scenes and John Malkovich in classical Greek pose, whilst Roman Polanski´s head submerges in rather more realistic contrast into the hazy blue of the picture. On a shining, paterned floor and against a background of bright red, Dennis Hopper excudes a rather underworld aura, while Charlotte Rampling poses agressively as a woman from a very different sort of world. Pawlok and Boeck have pulled out all the stops of their technical ability to produce this series of characteristic portraits of stars from Chris Barber to Chick Corea, Jean Paul Goude to Peter Knapp, from Marcel Marceau to Carlos Saura, and from Margarete von Trotta to Sir Peter Ustinov.
Werner Pawlok´s stars are all from the world of culture and therefore represent the traditional interpretation of a star. Admittedly the popular press considers every footballer a star who considers has had his name in the paper more than once and earns more than a bank director, but in the true sense of the word stars are the embodiment of the world of glamour, fashion, film, theatre and the stage. Far remote from the everday life, they represent the true synthesis of wealth, culture and luxury.
This world has about as little to do with here and now of the average person as did the courtly existence of princes, dukes and noble ladies a hundred and fifty years ago. It is, however, slightly easier to make contact with today´s stars by some means or another, even if an autograph is the only tangible reminder of a fleeting meeting.
Dr. Reinhold Mißelbeck
Museum Ludwig, Collogne 1997
Bildübersicht Stars & Paints von Werner Pawlok