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Carbon 12

Private Gallery
"Traditions and New Methods", THE NATIONAL, by Emily Baxter
  Vibrant colours, intense subjects and rich abstract settings straddle the past and present in Bernhard Buhmann’s Same Time, Different Place collection. Distinct elements of art history are carefully pieced together to link time and place.

Buhmann’s initial love of painting was sparked by the Swiss and German art scene. By the time he was 14 years old, he was “at school trying things that were ‘cool’, like graffiti,” the Austrian-born artist says. He didn’t fully venture into the art world until his mother rekindled her love of painting. A summer class cemented his focus but he lacked a professional approach. “I did things for fun with no concrete goal,” he says.

After his art exams, Buhmann tried to develop his talent, holding the first of many exhibitions when he was 19. “I was very proud but unsure if my work was good enough,” he says. “It was exciting and I remember observing people’s reactions as they watched my work – it’s something I still do today.” The experience left a lasting impression, and in 2003 Buhmann moved to Vienna to study at the University of Applied Arts under the artists Adolf Frohner and Johanna Kandl. Now 30, he lays claim to five awards. They are “affirmation and motivation for my work”, he says.

His 17th exhibition, Same Time, Different Place, takes him to Carbon 12. “It’s thrilling switching through art history, picking up parts,” Buhmann says. “It’s an eclectic, postmodern approach, linking traditions with new methods through recombination.” This gives him the platform to piece together different elements of the past and present.

“It’s an artistic point of view – it doesn’t exist in an emphatic way but it’s also not pure illusion. The origin is still ‘real’ world but the place changes with different viewpoints.”

As his demonstration of past meets present develops and matures, so do his techniques. His recent pieces, mostly oil on canvas, contain techniques that allow him to alter works in progress.

“For older works, I used oil colours, as I had a clear idea of the finished piece. Now I start with acrylics to make the abstract surfaces. They dry fast and allow me to change things quickly. As the picture becomes more concrete, I use oil.” He also draws on canvas with chalk, enabling him to retain ideas while painting. “For my latest works, this approach to change and painting over parts has become increasingly important.”

His collection is a transfixing look at characters in abstract settings, rich with vibrant colours and light/shadow effects, expressing dramatic, intense and playful situations.

“You can create powerful moments by your subject and object choice. My subjects are sourced from 19th-century photographs. I transfer them by making sketches, so I can change postures, expressions and clothing. It’s a step-by-step transformation.”

Buhmann’s subjects often appear melancholy and disconnected, in a world of young women, vagabonds and court jesters. “It’s an old theme but I wanted to try these figures. They play persons like actors on a stage. In some ways it’s the same as what we do every day,” he says.

Objects also provide rich visual references: “I use objects which have an impact over their origin meaning.” A Rubik’s cube is a toy but also a metaphor for complexity; a curtain can symbolise inclusion or exclusion or can just be a curtain. It’s a tightrope walk that I very much enjoy.”

Buhmann, heavily influenced by past masters, admires the way Caravaggio and Vermeer handle light and shadows, and has prepared a studio with similar light effects.

Contemporary artists also inspire him. “I was impressed by Peter Doig’s Paris exhibition and I enjoy the works of Gernot Petjak and Denisa Krausova.” His creativity comes from all of life’s elements – comics, computer games, parks. “Ideas often develop outside the studio and I try to integrate coincidence into my work. But I don’t want to paint people using a mobile or waiting for a train.”

Buhmann drinks “mountains of coffee before starting a canvas” and, if that fails to stimulate, takes a walk in the fresh air.

Painting plays a pivotal role in Buhmann’s life but he sees a move into other art forms as a challenge. “I constantly think about moving my art in a different direction. I’m intrigued in finding interesting combinations between painting and media.”

So as critics line up to review his exhibition, Buhmann looks forward to his Carbon 12 opening. “Each piece has its own special place in the collection but they belong together – every piece is unimaginable without the other. I don’t expect them to have a special impact, but I do want people to find their own approach to my pictures, and hopefully create their own story.”

Bernhard Buhmann’s Same Time, Different Place, opens today and runs until June 8 at Carbon 12, Dubai Marina. Visit or for more information.
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