New York

Dietmar Busse, For my father (you crazy motherfucker!), and Geronimo, and Jesus, 2020, mixed media on gelatin silver photographic paper, 58 × 42".

Dietmar Busse, For my father (you crazy motherfucker!), and Geronimo, and Jesus, 2020, mixed media on gelatin silver photographic paper, 58 × 42".

Dietmar Busse

At Fierman, the photo-based paintings in Dietmar Busse’s solo exhibition “Today I wanted to die again” evoked the dolorous colors and darksome moods of Romantic-era imagery by artists such as William Blake or Eugène Delacroix. Busse portrays the rural, melancholy environs of his West German upbringing as settings rife with murderous, sinister events. Of the five large pieces in the show (all works 2020) presented in this tiny space, two depicted gory battles between wild, cartoonish combatants, while the other three featured portraits of more mythical-looking entities.

Busse creates his work by combining photographic-development techniques with hand-drawn imagery. He exposes gelatin silver paper to light—without negatives—and then paints with developer, which turns his surface black. Over time the untouched sections of paper respond to the light and become a faded umber. Once he has fixed the image and washed and dried the paper (he must repeat this process if he applies bleach to whiten certain areas, as he did in these pieces), he then paints and draws with photographic dyes and inks. The overall effect is a glassy, pristine luminosity—as if each picture were a vividly remembered nightmare.

Accidents in Paradise #10 details an epic melee in a meadow ringed with trees and full of characters both supernatural and earthly. In this painting are panicked cows, goblins hovering over mass carnage, a two-headed equine creature, and a pair of bloodied toothy swine fucking maniacally. The humans are equally crazed: A guy in cowboy garb shoots a naked man while stabbing him with a dagger; a lunatic gouges out his foe’s heart; and a crouching, bleeding woman holds up a cross, desperate for salvation. Elsewhere, another fellow with a livid-red hard-on mirrors a nearby horse that’s similarly (and grotesquely) tumescent. Almost every face is pitch-black and shrieking, with bared teeth and terror-stricken eyes. In the background, a dainty gingerbread-like house sits on the crest of a hill. Its roof tiles are red and pink, the garden has neat rows of flowers, and clothes are drying on a washing line. But this illustration of bucolic domesticity is only a mirage: Built into the gabled roof are several sets of human eyes, and the cottage’s front window is actually a baying mouth, draped with white curtains that resemble blunted fangs. A pair of black, Krampus-y arms with sharp red fingernails seem to disappear into a chimney. We cannot see the goings-on indoors—but we can easily imagine that the things unfolding there are far worse than the horrors taking place outside.

One of the aforementioned deities appears in For my father (you crazy motherfucker!), and Geronimo, and Jesus. This mournful demigod is covered by a dark-gray veil as it poses before an empty sepia sky. Its head is crowned with a radiant halo, and its face is decorated with floral motifs. Within the body are a devilish horned head and multiple claws, limbs, and eyes. The being calls to mind the biblical story of Legion, i.e., the demonic horde that resides inside one host. Its pointed wings rise heavenward, resembling a pair of arms that were nailed to a cross. The creature cries rivers and rivers of blood.

Another painting that references a father figure, though not included in the show, appeared on the gallery’s website and the exhibition checklist: My father in a cage, 2020, depicts a man firing a large, black rifle into his own stomach. The gun’s handle is delicately adorned with lacy white orbs, almost like snowflakes. In this piece, as the title describes, the man is imprisoned and screaming while weeping long, dark tears. We aren’t certain about who this person is or what he represents, but the impression he made upon Busse is, without question, monstrously indelible, as the artist’s impression of him is upon us. These anguished souls, torn between the sacred and the damned, seem to have arrived at their terrible final acts. The work’s absence from this presentation is gloomily appropriate.