One is never certain which categories Paul Sochacki’s paintings fit into. He seems to insist on a traditional idea of the medium, but combined with the pointed innocence of his delivery this feels like an ironic take on the touching battle cries (still occasionally heard even today) that painting is ‘not dead’. This goes without saying, of course, and it is a cliché that Sochacki seems to quietly enjoy. Similarly, the way he combines dull visual humour – featuring obvious psychoanalytical cues – with an amateurish willingness to please (only then to refuse) suggests the main aim here is to render himself inscrutable and immune to criticism.
In his first show at Galerie Dorothea Schlueter, entitled Le Monde diplomatique, Sochacki not only showed his own paintings but invited fellow artist Elke Marhöfer to show her films alongside them – bringing to light their droll unruliness all the more. In Sochacki’s approach, the viewer must tacitly agree to be tripped up.
As in the small painting Das Gespenst der Freiheit (The Ghost of Freedom, 2010). A small ghost, radiant and shyly hovering in monochrome darkness, holds in its pale left hand a palette of basic colours, in its right the brush dipped in red – which it uses to draw a clumsy line across where its neck might be. The witty paradox of this painterly suicide by a disembodied canvas-white being is presented in a style that seems designed for the nursery in an upper middle-class household. While the work pours facile irony on painting and its self-fabricated end, anything that might smell of ambition is heartily torpedoed by Sochacki’s typically slippery humour.
The exhibition’s titular painting, Le monde diplomatique (2013), has a similarly cunning naivety. A tiny elephant waters a sparse potted plant with its trunk while a miniature giraffe and panda nibble on the leaves – a scene of give and take. Thinly applied areas of red, yellow and blue shimmer in the background, and an area of raw canvas remains at the edge of the picture – the simplest possible marks making the picture appear coherent. The exotic animals belong to a cast of characters that have been recurring in Sochacki’s pictures for years, alongside occasional human figures, as striking prompts for interpretation, often set in the context of a museum. A neat, schoolboy-ish style is expertly coupled here with harmless motifs, but it is at odds with the elegantly Frenchified and amusingly bombastic title that seems to impose a metaphorical level on the whole affair, rather than reflecting it. It could all be a joke, but one searches in vain for a punchline.
In this light, it’s no surprise that Sochacki studied at Hamburg’s art academy under Andreas Slominski, a renowned setter of traps. Although this biographical fact surely tells us something about his position as an artist, in this exhibition Sochacki is clever enough to parody and short-circuit even the kind of artistic know-it-all tricks that are to be found in the milieu of that Academy.
With Sehen und gesehen werden (See and be seen, 2011) or o.T. (untitled, 2013) he seems more to be parodying Minimalism: the latter picture offers little more than a raw canvas stretched on a frame, out of which a portrait-sized flap has been cut, hanging down like a tongue. The familiar formalist view of the void behind the canvas shows the crossbars of the stretcher – this might coax viewers towards hopelessly religious metaphors, or it might just be banal.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell