At first glance the pictures with the flower motifs are not revealing. Even with a second look, nothing announces itself. Only when the viewer is informed does the thinking begin, although still without really seeing. The paintings of Dirk Eicken’s new body of work have double layer; thus the title of his exhibition, “Thx for the Flowers” is to be read ambiguously. Behind the rather stylized, bigger-than-life motifs displaying native or adapted German flower species, a second layer is hidden, in both the literal and the figurative sense. What one does not notice is this second, rear canvas that the painter has stretched beneath the visible one. Eicken has painted over these photographs (retrieved from the media by the artist) of people who are fleeing, or attempting to flee, to Europe. In shades of gray or coloured, each according to its model, these motifs are stylized similarly as the flowers, situated between the imaginable and the recognizable.
Is something here concealed, veiled, disguised? First let it be said that “Thx for the flowers!” follows Eicken’s 2015 series titled, “Im FOND” (Rear Compartment) technically and thematically. In these works he stretched variously coloured stripes across black and white painted-over photographs of refugees and their living conditions. Here the existence of the second canvas and the context of the motifs can be deciphered only through the accompanying brochure. Eicken’s interest in this method of “making invisible” in connection with the theme of refugee flight has become a constant one. For the artist, however, the thematic departure point is the fact of how the West treats refugees and fugitives (namely without dignity). In this sense, Eicken shows us a repression, a not wanting to see.
Simultaneously the painter points to another circumstance: one of the “crises of the visible” that he has observed. The glut of media images presents a problem not only for painting, rather, it raises a general question: Why more images? Does everything that has been depicted actually make the subjects more apparent? “What you see is what you see,” that motto of abstract painting, has not been true for a long time, according to Eicken. Rather, one can no longer paint everything. Consequently the painter consciously withholds the painted as original; he does not even make it visible. The originality of painting is thereby contrasted with the reproducibility of the photographic model, and this occurs more than once, almost inextricably—because the flower motifs are also based on photographs by Eicken. Those who see in this a gesture toward conceptual art would not be completely wrong, but they are seeing only the formal aspect. For Eicken it’s much more about connecting the observer to the not visible, and thus unobtrusively to the visible.
Text Martin Conrads
English translation Carolyn Prescott