Los Angeles

Sebastian Ludwig

On the evidence of this, his first solo exhibition outside Germany, Sebastian Ludwig might be a descendant of Piero della Francesca, Albrecht Dürer, M. C. Escher, Anselm Kiefer, or all of the above. At Patrick Painter, Inc., Ludwig exhibited landscape paintings combining expressionist brushwork and interwoven pattern with illusionism both naturalist and mannered, and a mix of representational styles that was visually cohesive despite the diversity of its origins.

The coloration of the show’s eight paintings evokes tinted photographs and faded tapestries, dark and light tones defining layered images characterized by a restricted range of warm and cool shades. Ludwig uses masking tape to isolate areas of the canvas, which he then fills in with brushstrokes. At once exploiting and denying the tape’s usefulness in creating hard edges, he generates painterly textures, atmospheres, and structures that alternately collude and compete with those borders. His images appear both set atop and incised into the picture plane, suggesting a fusion of engraving plate and slightly out-of-register print.

Ludwig’s paintings mix eastern and western approaches to perspective, blending the Renaissance-perfect with the pre-Renaissance-approximate, and sometimes introducing the paradoxical or Op-ish. These experimental combinations are put to use in the service of narrative: In Attrappe (Blank), 2005, for example, Ludwig’s use of a receding grid converts the floor of a bleak forest into a parquet stage. In Fäenger (Catcher), 2005, meanwhile, Ludwig exploits perspective as a tool to divide the world between here and there, near and far, but takes such obvious divisions to an extreme by introducing a massive fence that occupies most of the canvas, allowing just enough room for two hounds to bay at its base and a few treetops to peek over its top.

Fences, cages, and walls carve up and close off the fields, gardens, and orchards in all but one of the landscapes. Dogs—frolicking, fighting, or facing traps and predators—navigate the same paintings. Joining a long-established tradition of allegorical images involving animals and taking their stylistic cues for the rendition of nature from trecento and quattrocento art, these works suggest a world with the potential for civilization or barbarism, idyll or desolation. This familiar duality is brought still closer to home in Fiktion (Fiction), 2004–2005, which depicts a clearing in a blighted forest. In the foreground, a boy stands by two massive, crumpled gun turrets, apparently detached from some vast war machine, and looks into the distance at a cloud of smoke.

Ludwig’s work is a Trojan horse, promising colorful flora and fauna and harmonious pattern and order but delivering unexpected complexity and difficulty. It’s tempting to characterize his practice as typically German in its reinterpretation of styles and subject matter commonly associated with neo-expressionism, but to do so would be to disregard its global reach and universal implications. These paintings’ most visible kinship may be with Europe’s past, but they resonate, too, with the world as it is today.

Christopher Miles