Florian Krewer: “Painting allows me to show love and desire”

Florian Krewer’s paintings can, and often do, contain scenes of a sexual nature. They are populated with bodies in action, with pink skin tones and orifices, and sometimes also with animals leaping between the limbs or out of the groins. There is a young man with owls for his feet; there are tigers. “Tigers show that you can be strong and determined in your life,” says Krewer (pronounced “Krever”). “Humans have too many rules. When I see animals, they follow their instincts. He’s in his studio in the South Bronx, and behind him is a new painting of something yellow crouching against a pulsating blue night sky. “He’s a hawk,” Krewer said. “I saw him on the street the other day.”

Untitled, 2021, by Florian Krewer © Michael Werner Gallery

Krewer, at 34, is part of a new generation of figurative painters, in his case using the genre to delve deeply into contemporary life. With his multiple tattoos – his neck is circled with the words “Ride or Fly”, and there are decorations on his eyelids as well as other embellishments hidden all over his body – he himself is a piece of work. art, both in real life and as the subject of many of his photos. What does Ride and Fly mean? I ask. “Oh, that means: be positive,” he said, his eyelid tattoos fading into the crease of a smile. “Whatever the situation, just be positive. “

In his current exhibition at Michael Werner in London, he is at the center of the action, with men, women and people beyond or outside gender, demonstrating a gender identity that recognizes no boundaries. “I need to accept myself as I am,” he says. “And painting allows me to show love and desire. When I do my job, I just see it as my private thing, my freedom, my space.

Krewer gained attention from the late 2010s onwards with works that dealt with bold masculinity, often showing groups of boys hanging out in the dark of the night, their strained and overly alert body language being more of a demonstration of anxiety and helplessness rather than machismo. In their tracksuits and sneakers, beanies and fanny packs, they could be street kids or students – casual streetwear is the uniform of both the less privileged and the fashionable middle class, after all. They might be about to fight or have sex. “I like to paint the contours of a man’s body,” says Krewer, who works in a flat and vignette fashion. “I like the shape of girls – I would love to have a girl’s body – but it’s the male figure that I like.”

Untitled, (2021), one of the works exhibited at the Michael Werner Gallery in London

Untitled, (2021), one of the works exhibited at the Michael Werner Gallery in London © Michael Werner Gallery

In particular, they caught the attention of François Pinault, and a suite of six huge paintings of chaotically aggressive young people has been on display at the fashion mogul’s Bourse de Commerce since it opened in Paris in May this year. Against a background of deep black ink or the crimson color of blood, the boys stir in the sad movements of street fights. Installed on the floor in two triangular arrangements, Krewer’s contribution is surrounded by works by the late great Martin Kippenberger and seminal sculptures by Thomas Schütte, two highly regarded German compatriots. The installation suggests that the work was helicoptered at the last minute, long after there was room on the walls.

Krewer grew up in Westphalia, an easily distracted student who left school at 16 and began an apprenticeship as a house painter. “I was always making jokes and getting kicked out of class,” he says. There was no art in his life, in the courtyards or on the walls. “We were taken to visit museums when we were seven years old. When we were too young to be interested.

'into the sunset' (2021)

“At sunset” (2021) © Michael Werner Gallery

Quickly realizing that house painting was not going to fill him in the long run, Krewer secured a place at the University of Cologne to study architecture. And there, as part of a drawing course, he began to paint. “The material was amazing,” he says of the paint itself. “Fluid and fascinating for me. At 24 he was studying fine arts at the famous Dusseldorf Academy of Fine Arts, the alma mater of artists from Joseph Beuys to Gerhard Richter, and at 25 was under the guidance of Peter Doig, who became his most loyal mentor. At 30, he was making money from his art, even though he continued to work two days a week in an architectural firm that had helped him complete his college education. “I still wasn’t convinced that I could do this forever,” he says. “That I could seriously make a living from painting. (The works now sell for up to $ 85,000.)

Doig’s influence is more than apparent in Krewer’s work – in the elimination of details; the opening of the story. But where Doig can maintain an objective distance, Krewer is at the very heart of his work, throwing no filters, pulling the viewer straight away. Like another German, Wolfgang Tillmans, who has photographed his friends and his squat apartments, Krewer has no problem with his chaotic life on show. His hero is Goya and you could say he makes his own Los Caprichos, detailing some of the decadence of our time. With Francis Bacon, clearly another influence, he shares the warmth of male sexual desire, as well as the centrality of the studio in his very existence.

'ride or fly II' (2021)

‘ride or fly II’ (2021) © Michael Werner Gallery

His own studio is on the sixth floor of an industrial building containing no other artists, a 15-minute bike ride from his apartment. “It’s so secluded and quiet. It’s my world, ”he says. It happened here in February 2020, an escape from Düsseldorf, right in the eye of the Covid storm. After six weeks of illness himself, he discovered a local underground scene of drag shows, raves and apartment parties. But he comes back to the canvas every morning. “If I’m not in the studio, I get nervous,” he says. “It’s good therapy for me to be there and I love the challenge of painting. If I didn’t have this, I would wonder what the world was doing.

As of November 13, michaelwerner.com

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