Vol. 4 Num 237 Sat. January 24, 2004  

Going back to realism
Hans Beda's exhibition at Goethe Institut

Hans Beda, explaining how he came to exhibit in Bangladesh, says that he met Shaheen Rashid from Bangladesh, who was the co-director of a New York gallery and made the contact with Dhaka's Goethe Institut. He then showed his works to Dr Markus Litz whom he met in Cologne. This was followed with the agreement to hold the exhibition.

As a child, Beda was more interested in music, and he used to play the guitar for hours everyday. At 20, he switched to painting and the Academy of Fine Arts at Karlsruhe accepted him. He used to be an abstract painter before and came back to figurative painting in 1998. 'The situation in art then in West Europe was that all you could see was installation, video or photography. Painting almost disappeared and critics said that there was nothing more to do in painting. This to me seemed absurd as painting has a long history that goes back to the cave art. I felt that as the critics believed painting did not exist any more, I was free to do what I wanted.'

With an ironic attitude Benda felt that he would use the oldest European painting technique, like oil on wood panel and the oldest cliches like the female portraits and landscape. 'It is strange that today painting is coming back very strongly in London, Belgium or Germany. Painting will not end: it is like a pendulum that comes and goes.'

Benda paints as the first thing to do in a day and he is very regular. When he works, he seldom allows anyone to come in. When he does his portraits, he has no sitters as most of them are done from photos. There are many layers of colours and the photo is just to make the first sketch after which the painting may change dramatically and may have little resemblance to the original photo, for the tones, colours and textures become totally different. As regards the landscape, some of them too are from photos but some are invented and inspired by long walks in the reservation. As rents are cheap in the area of Belgium where he lives, survival as an artist is not difficult for him. Once in a while he manages to make trips to USA and Japan.

One of his portraits displays a lot of gray and rose colours, which are Benda's favourite shades. A landscape with trees and caravans presents a camping place close to where he lives.

Benda has always wanted to bring in some universal feelings in his exhibition and, coming to Bangladesh, realised that rivers form an important part of life here. Some of his paintings include rivers as the one portraying the docks in Cologne. Another painting brings in a house on a boat and is connected to the camping picture entitled Moving home. Connected to departure is the painting of the wash being put out to dry and being seen from inside a closed room. With the same theme is the portrait of a woman standing in front of a pile of suitcases, thinking of moving.

Someone sent him a photograph of a river scene in Bangladesh and the next painting is developed on this. Another painting is based on the gathering of golden clouds as seen from above the sky, sitting in an airplane. Yet another is an imaginary island, washed in sweeps of gray, merging with pale blue and pink.

Contrary to the expressionist painters, he wants to disappear behind his paintings. They will last long, even when he is gone. The pictures are more than landscapes and portraits of women. They bring in feelings and emotions, seen in fragments.

Benda's paintings have an element of melancholia flowing through them as in the use of gray. Benda uses delicate brush strokes recovering the technique of the old Flemish masters.

Hans Benda has exhibited in Japan, Europe and USA. He has had ten solo exhibitions and has taken part in 11 joint displays.

Moving Home, oil on wood