Asked which other artist is most important to him, Peter Schmersal gives a surprising answer: Velázquez. “I love the Baroque,” he says with unfeigned enthusiasm—as his delicate studies of Dead Flowers and Cherry Blossom, sometimes seen from unusual angles, are indeed reminiscent of the Dutch and Flemish still life tradition. It is hard to fit his work into any contemporary school; he is unusual in having escaped the influence of Joseph Beuys, who was so dominant in Germany from the 1960s. Schmersal’s bold brushstrokes and gorgeous colours have more in common with pre-war German Expressionists such as Max Beckmann than with present-day Neo-expressionists such as Anselm Kiefer or Georg Baselitz. Perhaps Schmersal is best compared with the artist who straddled Impressionism and Expressionism in Germany before and after the First World War, Lovis Corinth. Like Velázquez and Corinth, Schmersal steers his own, highly original path.
“Dead Flowers”, 2010, by Peter Schmersal
Now 62, Schmersal comes from post-industrial Wuppertal but after German unification he moved to Berlin, where he has a studio in Prenzlauer Berg. The Man in a Brandenburg landscape evokes the sandy plains of the region surrounding the German capital. Legs planted firmly on the ground and hands in pockets, this almost life-size figure seems to represent the more confident Germany of the new century. But Schmersal is also fond of smaller, more delicate homages to favourite painters of the past such as Goya or Ingres. His first major London exhibition at Flowers East, in the bleak but bohemian district of Shoreditch, also includes landscapes, nudes and self-portraits, and runs until April 4.
“After Ingres”, 2013, by Peter Schmersal
“Cherry Blossom”, 2013, by Peter Schmersal