20x16 actual canvas. 27x23.5 incl. frame. Oil on canvas. signed with monogram.
Figurative Abstraction gestural painting. Matthias Alfen’s series of Janus figures are an innovation in figural art predicated on the advances made by the Futurist sculptor and painter Umberto Boccioni and the Modernist Alberto Giacometti. The qualities of chance and spontaneity, necessarily excluded in the sculptural work, are clearly evident in his drawings and paintings. “Psychograms” of unchoreographed hand movements display wide variation, repeatedly playing through one form after another. In the end, this multitude of variation serves to enhance the logic, consistency, and seductively rich appearance of Alfen’s designed sculptural works. Represented by Gallery Schuckin in New York, Paris, France, and Moscow, Russia.
Matthias Alfen’s was strongly influenced by his family’s experience during World War II. His grandfather Klemens Alfen (1894-1955) was an accomplished painter and photographer, recognized for his landscape photography and for his technique (Special Honors for Excellence in Photo-Print Technology, 1932). He enjoyed the friendship and support of many in the artistic community, a community largely influenced by its German Jewish members. Having lost his entire circle of friends under Nazi oppression. Klemens, although not Jewish, also suffered under the Nazis for refusing to join them and struggling in post-war Germany, which had nothing to offer an artist like him, Klemens took his own life.
At around the age of 16 he worked for some weeks as an assistant at his uncle’s art studio. Fritz Koenig (probably best known for his large metallic sculpture The Sphere, originally situated between the world Twin Towers, now at the September 11 Memorial. The lofty studio and prestige of the sculptor gave the young Alfen a vision for his own future.
The only person besides his parents who supported his early artistic endeavors was his godfather, Fritz Schumm, who bought the young artist art supplies and purchased several of his early works. So, in spite his grandfather and uncle being serious and accomplished artists, Alfen had to forge his path alone, relying on his own strength and sense of destiny.
After finishing high school in 1984, Alfen enrolled in the Master school for stone carvers in his hometown of Aschaffenburg. The school principal Professor Rager was a tough but caring teacher and helped Alfen learn how to execute ideas in stone. A six-month internship at the foundry Grundhöfer, Niedernberg followed. Leaving the quaint, idyllic town of Aschaffenburg (birthplace of fine arts legends Matthias Grünewald (1470-1528) and German expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) Alfen’s next destination was the Berlin Art Academy (Hochschule der Künste). At that time, West Berlin was still an island surrounded by communist East Germany, the wall containing it creating an outsider ambiance that attracted artists and musicians such as David Bowie and Joseph Beuys. Professor Dietmar Lemcke [Born 1930] approved a school grant to fund the building of one of Alfen’s early large sculptures (Kreisornament, 1990). Even as a student, the young artist had a promising start, with a solo show at the House am Lützowplatz and at the gallery Noé.
Alfen’s work had begun to be recognized by the arts establishment: Professor Dr. Kurt Grützmacher praised his work in the essay ‘Dialogue Between Form and Space; Commentary on Sculptures by Matthias Alfen’ and art critic and Professor Dr. Hermann Wiesler discussed his sculpture in Bilderleben II Texte zur modernen Kunst, Kunst und Künstler 1992-1999.
the City of Soest, Westphalia invited him to be their artist-in-residence for the year 1992-1993. For one year the city offered him a beautiful house with a studio and an elaborate exhibit of his art with a publication including text by art critic Hermann Wiesler. During this year the local newspapers gave almost constant updates on the artist’s progress and a special report on TV placed Alfen in the ranks of other well-known artists from Soest such as Wilhelm Morgner (1891-1917) and Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907). Galerie Clasing in Münster put on a solo exhibit of Alfen‘s work and eventually, the city commissioned him to create a large bronze sculpture to be placed in the center of town.
In 1994 he was awarded the Lee Krasner-Jackson Pollock grant out of New York. It was finally time to make the move. With a large container of artwork, Alfen moved to the United States and settled in suburban Connecticut.
He began to explore the human body as a mobile sculptural structure; a different but complementary perspective to his study of anatomy for figure drawing at the art academy.
In 2003 Alfen was included in an art show at the Garth Clark Gallery on 57th Street and was reviewed as follows by Ken Johnson in the New York Times. “Matthias Alfen makes finely modeled and glazed works in which multiple faces -- alternately convex and concave -- are weirdly conjoined.” Robbin Zella director and curator at the Housatonic Museum of Art took interest in his work and put on an extensive solo show at the museum in 2005.
Art critic Donald Kuspit praised Alfen’s work and described its impact. He notes, “Alfen’s figures suggest the inevitability of insanity in a violent world. His heads protest it even as they embody it. They are a major contribution to--a brilliant extension of--the “art of the scream”, as German Expressionism was called when it emerged at the troubled beginning of the twentieth century.” Judy Kim at that time curator of the Brooklyn Museum of Art also acknowledged Alfens work: “How do we decipher this enigmatic work that is both so simple and still such a puzzle? Formally it embodies and expresses duality and oneness; it is literally a figure that is divided yet one. The title and the physical pose of the work seem to suggest a man caught in a balletic stumble—seemingly in a futile yet instinctive attempt to break a fall, a fall that was perhaps not inevitable but impossible to stop once set in motion. And what of the curves? Do they signify the inner contradictions, conflicts, or struggles within oneself? Or, are they simply a convention created by Alfen to convey and accentuate the movement of a rotating body as it falls through the air? As with all great works of art, falling man succeeds in deeply engaging a viewer and evoking more questions than answers.”
Select solo exhibitions
Galerie Noe, (Berlin, Germany);
Gallery of the City of Soest (Stadtgalerie, Germany);
Galerie Clasing, (Münster, Germany);
Galerie Bremer, (Berlin, Germany);
Neue Kunst Galerie, (Ried, Germany);
Housatonic Museum of Art, (Bridgeport, Connecticut);
Shchukin Gallery, (New York, NY).