André Hemer: The Infinite Sky
Andre Hermer asks what it means to make an image in the digital age. His bold, intimate paintings are proof of the era’s material possibilities.
Words: Lucinda Bennett
Photography: Leonhard Hilzensauer
I first encountered André Hemer’s work at the crest of the post-internet wave in the early 2010s. Naturally, I assumed Hemer himself was riding this wave, the iridescence of his paintings reminding me of light catching on greasy fingerprints left on a phone screen, making rainbows from the oily marks to highlight the clash of clammy flesh touching cool technology.
From his studio in Vienna, Hemer tells me I am not the first to have read his work in this post-internet context. Born in New Zealand in 1981, Hemer graduated from the University of Canterbury’s Ilam School of Fine Arts in the 2003. His practice, he explains, developed at a time when “it was considered very, very uncool to do anything with any kind of digital process. From about 2000 to 2006, it was the lamest duck in the room, and this annoyed me on a lot of levels because I thought, here was this thing that was affecting our ways of seeing, making and looking… and people just saw it as visual detritus.”
Using flatbed scanners and digital printers to produce his distinctive, multidimensional paintings, Hemer often felt he was fighting against this perception of the digital as unfashionable or cliché. That all changed very suddenly with the advent of post-internet practice in the mid- 2000s. “There was suddenly this welcoming of the internet; this interest in post-internet and a desire to engage with it.” However, Hemer’s work sits just outside the post-internet bubble. He explains: “I’m sort of caught between things. I’m on the older side of the post-internet movement, and I think a lot of the work made at that time had no assurance of the materiality of technology, or no engagement with what was materialised. Everything was about the idea of these digital objects, but no one was really interested in what the outcome could be, or whether that outcome would be interesting at all.”
By contrast, Hemer’s paintings are proof of the material possibilities offered by digital technologies – in particular, the idea of transference between materiality and form. Each work begins with various painted objects made by Hemer, which he then scans and digitally prints onto canvas. Perhaps somewhat ironically, it is through these digital processes that his paintings come to record the ephemeral atmospheric conditions of the physical environments in which they are made. “Each series of work is a combination of which objects I am using and where I am doing the scans – where in the world, and what are the conditions. For example, is it a sunny day outside? Is it summer or dusk light, is it a rainy day, is it snowing? Am I in New York, or Vienna, or New Zealand?” These atmospheric conditions delineate the scope of a series so that one exhibition might be made from just one set of scans, made over a four-hour period on a certain date three months prior. “They always have this lineage of a certain time and place, and I’m sort of interested in working with that initial constraint, even if it’s not apparent in the final work in a representational way.”
Of course, all of this forgets that Hemer is, first and foremost, a painter. Atop each canvas, already layered with the scanned forms of his painted objects, Hemer then makes new marks with paint and plaster – thick, visceral daubs that sit atop the smooth picture surface but are also amalgamated into the complexity of dematerialised gestures beneath. In their final form, the paintings look dramatic from far away. They seem to be built of grand gestures and stark, contrasting colours – pale lathery pink on rich wet merlot, silky black over creamy pearl. Up close, however, there is a pleasing tactility to them, a familiarity in the way the smooth surface is interrupted by something sensuous and coarse.
To talk to Hemer about his practice is primarily to talk process, for in his work all conceptual concerns are almost indistinguishable from the way a painting is made. But what are these paintings, once materialised? Numerous writers have employed the word “intimate” to describe Hemer’s work, and I ask if he considers his paintings so. “Intimacy is about a one-to-oneness, a first-hand experience of a thing,” he tells me. “That is really what I always want to come back to in terms of the way a painting gets materialised. It’s just trying to find a way that work can be intimate.”
This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 86, OCT – DEC 2018.