THE SHEER JOY OF LOOKING AT BERNHARD PRINZ’ PAINTINGS STARTS WITH A CLEVER TRICK BY THE ARTIST: THE LUDIC ENDEAVOUR OF RECOGNISING WELL-KNOWN FACES DESPITE THEIR ALIENATING CARICATURE. NOBODY CAN ESCAPE IT. WE’VE OFTEN SEEN THOSE FEATURES AS DEPICTED IN PAINTINGS OR SKETCHES BY BERNHARD PRINZ, AND THEIR TRAITS ARE SAVED, AND THE ACT OF IDENTIFYING A REPRESENTED VIP DOESN’T COME AS EASILY WHEN TAPPING INTO OUR OVERSATURATED PICTORIAL MENTAL DATABASE.
Bernhard Prinz, unlike political caricaturists and cartoonists who portray the intended people in a ridiculous manner using graphic exaggerations of their facial traits – often for good reasons, sometimes however in a defamatory way –, doesn’t enhance the traits of the people in his repertoire in a satirical manner, but gives them a humours spin. If these people aren’t as fun in real life, then they become so a lot more by being added to Bernhard Prinz’ repertoire as portraits. To stage the public life of the intended target in excessive tableaus grouped in a throng of other people is a way for the artist to depict habits, clothing, and outstanding profiles with aplomb, focussing on the depicted people and how they blend into their ‘brand’ thanks to his sketched and shortened depiction.
Nothing more than the response of viewers makes it into a joke, a joke which surprisingly creates the most direct distancing from the evoked picture in a swift way, as they reply with laughter. Take Karl Kraus, for example, and his reaction in front of the linguistic and pictorial inventions by Johann Nepomuk Nestroy. In Bernhard Prinz, we find legions of those quirky dramatised figures which know how to bring forth their striking features of their individuality using mimicry, gestures, and facial expressions in an expressive and heart-warming way, just like the characters in folkloric theatre in Bavaria, Vienna, Hesse, and Hamburg. Our affection doesn’t only depend on the skill of the sketch artist and caricaturist, but is also based on our glimpse into the human weakness of the represented figure. Conversely, we suspect the artist shares a high degree of empathy with his ‘victims’, a quality which isn’t always easy to find in a circle of satirists, parodists, and cabaret producers. So where does Bernhard Prinz’s foible for self-representation of people he excels at, either on a personal level or in his sketches, and his quick and sharp gaze focusing on their traits come from? A gaze which is far from merciless, rather the exact opposite?
He was born in Munich in 1975 and taught himself painting on the streets of the city, son of a portrait painter and a lithograph artist. He spent over a year in Spain when he was 17, sketching portraits and caricatures with a deft hand before receiving the first prominent illustration commissions after his return to Munich for the süddeutsche Zeitung, Playboy, the Stern. His Gerhard Schröder caricature for the GerdShow TV programme was etched into the memory of the media and political circles. When the Pop Surrealism & Urban Art initiative for a Munich variant of American street art was created by local gallery owners and art collectors Ulrich Richter and Lothar Keuler, together with Selena Fletcher, at first in the rooms of their galleries in the Würmtalstraße street in the neighbourhood of Hadern in Munich, and later as Arts ‘n’ Boards in Swabia, Belgradstraße 9, he participated in it and became one of the main artists. In 2009, he staged his first comprehensive exhibition at the Richter&Masset Gallery in the Würmtalstraße – at the same time of the incipient triumphal march of the Stroke Art Fair for urban art organised by the Schwalbe siblings, and the yearly Low Brow Art event which goes beyond all mainstream art and attracts artists from all over the world; these two formats are some of the best highlights of the Munich culture scene. With the ironic title of Der Große Prinz (The Big Prince), 200 works by Bernhard Prinz were exhibited in this gallery exhibition, their author being celebrated in the same way by the city’s VIPs, but more than anyone else by Thomas Gottschalk, who openly admitted he was a fan of the style and works of Bernhard Prinz, later becoming their biggest collector. There was also a memorable TV moment when Gottschalk gave the fashion czar Karl Lagerfeld a portrait of him, admittedly one of the best ever painted works of the fashion guru; Lagerfeld promptly replied by saying he was also a fan of Bernhard Prinz.
A hardly surprising reaction, as the whole Munich cultural and political scene never fails to warmly embrace new works by Bernhard Prinz. In a city proud of its satire tradition and the Bavarian art of Derblecken (taking the mickey out of someone) from Karl Valentin to Frank Wedekind, Lion Feuchtwanger and Oskar Maria Graf, from Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Herbert Achternbusch to Franz Xaver Kroetz, Helmut Dietl, Marcus H. Rosenmüller and Gerhard Polt, to the ‘Salvator’ speeches on the Nockherberg, his popularity is surely tantamount to a knightly accolade. Let’s not forget that the biggest German humourist and expert thereof spent nearly 50 years near Munich, at the Starnberger See Lake. And when considering caricature drawing, how can we not think of Munich masters the likes of Dieter Olaf Klama, Pepsch Gottscheber, Dieter Hanitzsch, Gustav Peichl, Luis Murschetz and Gabor Benedek. Besides the outstanding accurate caricatures of international VIPs from politics, art, music, movies and the Munich city life, it’s his individual portraits and, more than any others, his large-format scenic paintings which are the hallmark of his artistic style, his unique selling point, if you will. Superstarmarket, Teatime, Tierische Wiesn, Hahnenkamm, Nostalgia, and Münchner Polit‐Geisterbahn = Maxiwiesn are highly entertaining puzzles which occupy and reward the attention of every single viewer for their depiction of figures in the world of culture, films, music, and history of art as well as for the select figures from the political and genteel classes in Munich.
What is important here is for the artist to succeed in his endeavour without beating around the bush when unveiling the main traits of his figures, giving them depth and a real presence. In that Bernhard Prinz is an unparalleled genius. As he himself has fun with this method and, to a certain extent, likes his creations, we simply cannot wait for the hint of the steamboat voyage contained in Queen Mary 2 planned for 2018, when all the people gathered on the deck beam at the viewers with a bemused look on their faces. The optimism with which Prinz will create his painting, surely destined for New York, should become a bridge for the common, current and still characterising as well as future main figures and paintings of the European and American Way of Life. That’s our wish for him and for us, too. We experience a, sadly enough, renewed daily need for those types of paintings and figures. As far as his quirky caricatures in his impressive drawings are concerned, Bernhard Prinz gives an accurate self-analysis of his artistic programme as a portrait painter when commenting on a fourfold caricature of the FC Bayern star Thomas Müller with the words, ‘always recognisable, never offensive.’