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Bernhard Vogel - November 2012

Regular visitors to the Catto will be well aware of Bernhard Vogel’s work. He’s been with the gallery for years. And with good reason. Bernhard’s work is heart-stoppingly good in every conceivable measure: the nuanced colour, the striking composition, the visceral textures. It’s simply a joy to stand in front of these amazing canvases.

And yet, although Bernhard remains in effortless control of his craft, there’s a thrillingly loose-limbed dimension to his work. He’s a little like the jazz musician who can disappear into wild experimentation knowing that his technique is so good he can, at any time, return back to the main theme. And no one will see the joins.

Examples abound in the new show. As is customary with Bernhard, flowers are a recurrent theme. But with this artist, the prettiness of the subject matter is countered with what can only be called a controlled ‘messiness’. A good example is Dark Red Peonies wherein beautiful pinks and purples are disrupted by water stains and random Pollock-like splodges and slashes.

Something similar can be seen in St Pauls,London. You can see Bernhard is a master of line and perspective – so good, in fact, he can choose when to ignore them and impose his own compressed structure on London EC1. On this occasion the abstract lines make it look like it was raining when he painted it. Probably was.

Both paintings demonstrate the artist’s enduring fascination with watercolour – a medium he’s been using since a motorcycle accident at the age of 23 forced the lapsed schoolboy painter Vogel to abandon his beloved sports and pick up a paintbrush again. He became involved with a local school of artists who were experimenting in watercolour. It changed his life. He remembers: “I tried everything, and realised my painting could convey drama, mystery and secrets.”

That was back in the 1980s, and Bernhard has been exhibiting and winning awards ever since. Of course, alongside the watercolours, he has brought a level of similarly audacious improvisation to oil. Bernhard is a keen cityscape painter and uses any means he can to put the mayhem of the metropolis up there on canvas. The walls of a skyscraper? He’ll stick on a sheet of cardboard. Those neon billboard ads? Headlines cut from magazines.

Combine these multi-media experiments with glutinous oil and dazzlingly complex compositions and you get unforgettable vivid work. None more so than Peking by Night in which a network of blood-red overpasses snake their way towards a luminescent cityscape. And in the background, a wild turbulent sky.

As Bernhard would say…drama, mystery and secrets.