Museum for the poor

Museum für Arme, Serie #P, Siebdruckplatte,
Größe zwischen 40x50x2 cm und 165x115x2 cm

Annette Streyl: Holbein in Wood and Stone

The impressive portraits of Hans Holbein the Younger (1498–1543) have animated Annette Streyl to create two extensive complexes of works in a range of materials. Holbein’s paintings and drawings mirror the characters of a self-confident and classically educated bourgeoisie active at a time in the early 16th century shaped by the emergence of letterpress printing and the circulation of book publications. Holbein was closely acquainted with the humanists Erasmus of Rotterdam and Thomas More. In the trade cities of Augsburg, Basel, and London, Holbein found many influential clients in the milieu of urbane merchants as well as among the culture-promoting members of the French and English aristocracy, which ultimately enabled him to obtain the coveted position of court painter under the reign of Henry VIII. In the series of works mentioned above, Annette Streyl first and foremost aesthetically explores the individuality, dignity, and responsible-minded humanity reflected in the faces framed by precious caps, bonnets, and scarves rendered by Holbein.

Employing, on the one hand, a surface-oriented wood relief technique and, on the other, classic sculptural stone masonry, Streyl recreates the portraits in Holbein’s drawings and paintings in her own fashion: the artist first gives the various layers of mass-produced glued laminated timber available in any hardware store (as used in silkscreen printing) a silhouette corresponding to the linear outlines of the Holbein figures; after the removal of the upper black-brown synthetic coating, traces of glue and abrasions are retained on the subjacent panel that evoke associations to the materiality of woven textiles. Faces take shape through additional grooving of this layer, in the process of which random grain patterns and color tones of the industrially produced wooden material become visible and render the respective facial expression as a sign of individuality. Together with the brown paste, the unusual pink hue of the glue attaching the wooden layers to one another recalls the sedate colors in Holbein’s works and offers a vitalizing presence of the Renaissance figures that contrasts with the neutralizing dark surface.

Annette Streyl juxtaposes her series of deep reliefs with the fully three-dimensional renditions of the Holbein works in another group of sculptures: out of Baumberg lime sandstone with its specific paleness the artist carves succinct character heads – three-dimensional, yet smaller, and thus more compressed than the source drawings, creating the impression of simultaneous detachment and concentrated presence. This tension arises from both the distinction between the drawing and the sculpture and from the features of Holbein’s personalities that unfold in their colorless representations in the monochrome sandstone. And it is still enhanced in the abrupt montage of head and body that is completely devoid of any human form. In the discrepancy between the subtle facial modulation and the base, which is reminiscent of a bulky sack, a larva, mummy or the tightly swaddled body of a child with no freedom of movement, different temporal and semantic levels are conflated with one another. Thus, the artist’s disconcerting creations oscillate between the everyday realities of the Renaissance and concepts of Surrealism. By alienating the interrelationship between body and mind, Annette Streyl dissolves rigid epoch- and concept-related attributions, making these newly applicable to our present-day contexts.

Claus Mewes



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© copyright: Annette Streyl 2016