Martin Stommel‘s Interpretation of the World between Rage and Silence

a text by Friedhelm Häring (translation by Matthias Bergemann)

The artist Martin Stommel shows his large-format oil paintings of the past years. This includes the work titled „Amazonenkampf“ (Fight of Amazons, 220 x 240 cm, 2018), an image full of dynamics and drama. The format as well as the wrestling of the participants as a motif reminds of Peter Paul Rubens‘ painting from 1618 titled „The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus“, featuring similar measurements (224 x 210 cm) and being one of the major works of the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.

Castor and Pollux, sons of Leda and Zeus—who seduced her in the guise of a swan— , brothers of the beautiful Helena, are robbing in Rubens‘ depicting Hilaeira and Phoibe, daughters of King Leucippus of Argos. This happened shortly before the marriage of the two girls, a circumstance which possibly plays a role in wedding rituals and bride abductions to this day, providing a continuous actuality to the old myth. The two naked voluptuous blondes only seem partly renitent. An amoretto on the left behind the neck of the horse observes the outcome with interest.

One aspect making the work by Rubens—an epitome of baroque painting—exciting, is the way Rubens positions four moving personae plus two horses filling the roughly square picture and yet achieves a certain natural motion sequence.

Martin Stommel paints a likewise mature and independent choreography of his four persons and the the two horses on his canvas. He accomplishes this with a spontaneous, vivid, contemporary alla prima painting, which holds in its style a tremendous martial impact force, furthermore emphasizing the aggression of the Amazons with their horses from left to right. The painting densely and profoundly underscores the ancient battle of sexes between man and woman as well as the psychological meaning. The Amazons rejected the get-together with men, especially the role of the serving ewe, of the devoted housewife or of the subordinated to males by nature. The organisation of the composition on the picture surface is admirable, Stommel‘s formal and colour-stylistic talent is accurate and astonishing. The interpretation of the topic as elemental and dramatic, conflict-laden and socially relevant is also easily evident from the colour, which is far off the sensually over-abundant palette of Rubens. The generosity of Stommels paintings, the unconcern about details, the substantiality conveys the old topic to the artistic aspiration of today: to be true, to be real and to describe the whole of the contexts of life.

His tryptych „Danse sur Mer“ (260 x 235 cm, 2019) with its unusual choreography is even more remarkable regarding its format and is similarly grave in terms of interpretation. Again that term emerges, which shall be explained. Through choreography, a scripture of dance, a ballet director defines position, stance and the sequence of motions of dancers following a specific music. A ballet constitutes in its different scenes and procedures, which makes dances of old choreographies repeatable, like those of Maurice Béjar (1927 – 2007) for example. In the painting „Danse sur Mer“ the center image features young Dionysus, the god of wine, festivity, fertility and religious ecstasy, dancing on the bow of a ship. Pirates had mistaken him for a random rich young man and seized the ship. Suddenly vine leaves twined around the ship, the boy transformed into a palm tree, then into a panther and the juvenile god changed the pirates into dolphins. Like a street dancer in a red robe the god dances with the silhouettes of women his self-forgotten, morphing dance, victoriously swaying, jumping over predators with arms wide spread above the untamed life. The pirates are pushed away left and right into the side wings of the picture and are experiencing their metamorphosis into dolphins. The image captures a ritual dance, like that of young people in the urban context of big cities, dancing away the fears and threats with a street dance. The painting also appears in terms of colour buoyant, winning and optimistic. The choreography seems new and different. It is reminiscent of those of the innovative and famous ballet director John Neumeier from Hamburg.

The abundance of movement with a new vocabulary of shapes, the expressive power in terms of colour enable the great scenic quality of Stommel‘s paintings in which all becomes metaphor and allegory. His artworks question value and world, time and sense. In them the artist gives remarkable answers in a digital world alienated of all senses. Only in agony we are all „Sebastian“ (2019). In the arenas of competition and comparison we all become a „Cachorrada“ (Pack of Hounds, 2020), especially when we commit these altercations warlike and pounce on each other. Dance and dream blend in his painting „Green Afternoon“ (2015). The monumental painting „Paragogé“ (280 x 330 cm, 2019) consisting of four parts, reflects existence and our everlasting odyssey. We recognize the sirens, trying to lure Ulysses to them; we see Circe, who transformed Ulysses‘ companions into pigs and left and right the Lotus-eaters of Homer‘s epos are dreaming in an ecstasy, bestowing them with oblivion.

Is „Jasmin“ (70 x 110 cm, 2019) also forgeting everything in her sleep and dream? The dream behind closed lids has wings to gracefully carry her away to a landscape of love. Rarely does Stommel paint with so much blissful calm. The furor is stronger. Martin Stommel‘s painting is a statement on the turmoil of the world; a method, an attempt to find a way from the inferno to paradise. His lighting controls, the visionary compositions full of suspense and drama, their extensive diagonals and gestures, the elongated bodies of the protagonists in his paintings all lead from banality to the essential question. In his paintings the world and the ever-changing luck burst and fate roars in the eternal chant of the mystery of the universe. Herein the artists follows the fevers of Tintoretto (1518 – 1594) or Max Beckmann (1884 – 1950). The art-historical education of Martin Stommel, the brilliant artistic studies with the famous Russian dissident Boris Birger, who came as an immigrant to Bonn, the academic studies in Munich and Berlin directed him to a remarkable philosophic transfer of real visual experiences into epiphanic viewing experiences, inspiring new visual solutions. His dynamic of the pictorial scripture, his freedom of choice of colour, his visionary reinterpretation in the formal solutions are rare qualities in the international art scene.

text by Friedhelm Häring (translation by Matthias Bergemann)