Berlin-based artist Daniel Harms represents the polar opposite of normality in the contemporary art scene. Self taught artist Harms worked himself up in less than 6 years, starred in 4 solo exhibitions and began to sell his paintings for up to 20’000 euros a work. The creation of vivacious, dynamic, large scale works was never planed in the life of Daniel Harms. Following a serious accident, the artist coincidentally turned to painting. The accident prompting his dark, emotionally fluttered works to come to life allows us to relive his experiences in conversation with the canvas.
Functioning as an outlet or valve to channel inner turmoil and emotion, Harms describes his works as ‘XXL Diaries’ in a 2014 interview. His works encapsulate the viewer in a world of tragedy, loss and the truth of bitter reality covered by an illusion of vivid, happy colors which demand concentration and engagement. Along with strong attention to detail, his paintings tend to reveal what the viewer is willing to see. Although not able to escape the sad truths, hints of text are often hidden in corners and thus not tucked away but rather camouflaged and disguised. Hence the work, although perhaps passive from a distance creates an active conversation between viewer and subject up-close. Hints of detail lure the viewer into a sea of individualistic, nostalgic responses, allowing the work to not only tell the story of Harms’ past but contemporaneously triggering the viewer’s own experiences to surface.
His 2013 exhibition titled ‘Redux’ he explored his origins and personal history. Illustrating different mental states and conditions that overlap, but not necessarily coincide with reality, the series creates an emblematic journey for the viewer. Thus this exhibition can be seen as a coping mechanism, an insight and bridge between dreams and reality. Spreading his influence from Berlin to Istanbul, his 2014 exhibition ‘Hold Tight’ followed with even more truthful imagery and stunning depictions. ‘Hold Tight’ depicted a series that was mapped with allusions of alienations vs. an exploration of meaningful connections. Inspired by children and the playful imagery of comics and children’s books, ‘Hold Tight’s’ innocent appearance itself becomes just another illusion, tearing apart a seemingly utopian world.
His 2015 series ‘Falsche Helden oder Mutige Irre’ (‘Wrong Heros or Brave Lunatics’) in Berlin additionally gained educational merit allowing him to increasingly acquire value amongst the contemporary art world. In this series, he remastered the work of famous artists adding his own touch, experiences and modern view to each work. Although he stays true to his style, he repaints works by eight famous artists, namely Bacon, Caravaggio, Goya, Picasso, Beckmann, Pollock, Rubens and Schiele. He uses a type of appropriation to remaster the old works, altering their content, meaning and form to create original pieces in a far more modern collage-like approach. Each work clearly bears the struggle of its creation forming an authentic style. When talking about his work Harms says: ‘I am not a guy who believes in technique, painting for me is a form of thinking and the elements you need for this form of thinking you got to force to work your way. I could never find words to express myself, but when I paint, I am King, Judge and Hangman all at once’, he however involuntarily uses classical techniques such as the golden mean, drawing on classic masters.
His latest exhibition in Hamburg ‘Küstennebel’ (‘Coast fog’) evolves around the question of morals and boundaries. The series raises questions of good and bad and wrong and right and explores how far the assumed ‘right’ can go when in a vicious conflict with the wrong. It is the visual representation of five diary entries in which the bad scrimmages itself through the midst of his childhood on the coast, allowing a blissful place to mutate into and host horrendous scenes. Like in most of his work the winner is never a resolution to a conflict but rather the realization of utter vulnerability.
So who is he really? What about his story is revealed when the painting is stripped down to the outer core of its existence? A hero or a broken soul? In his interview he determines his works based on the value of their meaning: ‘At the core of my work stands the question: How can I formally reduce a painting and enhance its meaning? On the quest of answers and solutions I am developing my own formal style. That, however, seems to hit the spot of today’s realities, because I do get personal letters from children, thanking me for what they learned when visiting my exhibits with their schools – if that happens, I know I did something right.’ So perhaps unlike Batman, a typical superhero using his rage to fight for the good, we will never be able to see the alter ego, the other self, the Bruce Wayne in Daniel Harms. Or maybe someday we will, but until then all we know is: his name is Daniel Harms, he is 35 years old, he is angry and motivated.
Review by Lili-Maxx Hager