Jens Fänge's three-dimensional paintings welcome the viewer into topsy-turvy dreamscapes in which recurring figures, faces and furniture appear to hover over sparse domestic interiors or abstract backgrounds. In addition to using small wooden and copper elements to build and populate multiple planes within each composition, Fänge pushes the limits of painterly dimensionality even further by extending his fictional realms beyond the typically hermetic picture plane and into real space. For his second exhibition at Perrotin Paris, Inner Songes, the artist presents more than two dozen new paintings as part of greater mise-en-scene that transforms the gallery itself into a human-scale composition.
Collapsing the boundaries between his artworks and their exhibition space, Fänge uses modified photographs of his framed compositions or snapshots of his own surroundings to create yet another pictorial layer. A similar type of recursion can be traced back to Giotto's Stefaneschi Triptych (c. 1330), in which a miniature version of the altarpiece appears in its own central panel. Fänge goes even further. Not only does he paint paintings into his paintings and create frames within frames, but he also considers the gallery to be a meta composition in which viewers become subjects looking at paintings. The delightful and disorienting mise en abyme means we are simultaneously observers and participants.
Characterised by heavily made-up eyes, thin arched brows and coiffed hair, the androgynous protagonists of many of Fänge's paintings recall certain portraits by German Expressionist painters like Otto Dix and Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler. Certain objects and styles referenced in the paintings corroborate this vaguely 1920s/30s aesthetic. Grande Tête (Aalto), for example, features a floating Alvar Aalto-designed lounge chair (c. 1931–1932). And the simplified arches and windows of The Inn recall George Ault's spare Modernist paintings of Brooklyn from the late 1920s. However, these temporal markers are ultimately thwarted by anachronisms like the white Birkenstock-style sandals worn by the inverted figure in Grande Tête (Mogensen). As is often the case in dreams, Fänge's paintings have roots in the real world, but ultimately create their own sense of reality through intertextual references. The recurring faces and forms rendered in a muted palette of pale pinks, dirtied whites, ochres and faded blues evoke an uncanny sense of familiarity that is best defined as déjà vu. But if these paintings describe something that already happened, precisely when where and what remains a mystery.
Rather than painting a scene across a single flat plane, Fänge assembles his paintings out of disparate component parts. He paints each individual element—whether cut from a wooden board or trimmed from a thin sheet of copper—separately, often decorating his subjects with intricate patterns that belie their natural materiality. The artist then moves these painted forms around on top of various painted backgrounds until, to use his own words, 'the scene resolves itself.' The cat adorned with colourful seemingly crocheted fur and seen licking its tail was not intended to grace the steps of Looser Grip, Sweeter Lightness any more than the upside-down seated figure in Grande Tête (Morgensen) was made to hang off the jaw of a large portrait head like a chinstrap beard. And yet, all of the elements eventually assume their correct positions. Like a jigsaw puzzle it is necessary to examine the individual parts, but futile to try to interpret them before they coalesce into a complete picture.
Fänge's peculiar use of scale and perspective creates an overarching sense of instability and dreamlike fragility across his paintings. In many compositions characters that seem to occupy the same physical space appear either monstrously large or ridiculously small, leaving the viewer to wonder which sense of size is 'correct' (and whether such an assessment is even useful.) Upside-down figures suggest falling or flying, but it is unclear whether it is Fänge's subjects or the viewer who might suffer from vertigo. Perhaps the figures in his paintings are not plummeting, but, rather, their orientation signals the viewer's bird's-eyeview perspective. This would mean that we float over Fänge's scenes much in the same way the characters he cuts from wood hover over his painted backgrounds. This kind of spatial confusion is emphasised throughout the paintings by strong diagonal lines. Oblique forms appear both as abstract elements (the elongated triangles that suggest a skewed frame in A Certain Ratio) and in architectural representations (the slanted walls and floors in Navigator). Giving the impression that certain pictorial elements might slide right out of the composition, Fänge's off-kilter perspectives evoke palpable sensations of disorientation in the viewer. Yet another way in which the artist's fictive realms bleed beyond the picture plane and greet us in the real world.
Text by Mara Hoberman. Courtesy Perrotin.