Jonathan Meese: Master or Nutter?

Meese-copy

Die Canary (Ich habe zu furzen), by Jonathan Meese. 2014

Breathe
Sleep
Eat
Play
Dream
This is what art says
Play
Use color
Sleep
Eat a bread
Make heat
Make a fire
Use your umbrella
That is art
That are the laws
That are the things
Art never tells you go voting
Art tells you not to be in parliament and be a politician
Art doesn’t tell you to be religious in a church
Art tells you to play around
Use this, make this, this, this,
Use costumes, buy things, use your underwear
Look at pornography
Play with [indecipherable]
This is what art tells you all the time…
~ Jonathan Meese

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Jonathan Meese, “Dragon Fafnir with the propeller”, 2006

Somehow I managed to completely escape Jonathan Meese until I happened on a VICE interview with him yesterday. He’s the type of artist that gets labeled “visionary” and “genius”, or both, and believes it. He squeezes paint directly from the tube. He speaks with passionate zeal. He looks like a madman. And he refers to himself in the third person: “Jonathan Meese likes Matisse”. Given that I’d never heard of him, if someone had shown me a clip and explained that he was a comic character in a mockumentary, I’d have believed it.

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Jonathan Meese, TOTAL DUTY, PUT IT IN YOUR MOUTH, BABY, go home to HUMPTY DUMPTY, d’ont cry, 2008, oil and mixed media on canvas. Meese has an obsession with Scarlett Johansson.

Meese strikes me as a German Jean-Michel Basquiat, with a healthy dose of Picasso, and as the poster boy for everything Postmodernism and conceptual art are against. He is the anti-Koons. This sounds like a good thing, at least to me, but Meese merely occupies the other extreme of the ridiculous. He is the incarnation of the myth of the heroic, loner, outsider, genius artist. Where everything Koons does is cerebral, removed, calculated, polished, emotionless, and absolutely perfect, Meese’s work is messy, unpremeditated, hysterical, intense, and a smörgåsbord of mistakes and rough edges.

Meese’s self-absorption and self-referentality are insufferable. Whatever his rhetoric, in his interviews everything comes off as dramatic, urgent, and personal: “I was shouting this into the woods…” He constantly gestures with both arms, and has his eyebrows in a permanent, raised, pleading configuration. He has utter conviction in whatever he says, even if it makes no sense: “Art has to dominate everything. All politicians have to resign, and art has to be empowered. That’s the reason I play and do what I want”.

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Dr. Babysquawar de Rednoselefant, by Jonathan Meese. This is one of his better ones.

Some of his art sits on the fence between the sublime and garbage, at least at first sight. Other works are obviously junk. Some paintings straddle beauty and ugliness, and many are just hideous.

hideous-painting

Meese with some of his worst paintings. Are they ever ugly!?

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Jonathan Meese, “Meine Fratze ist harmloser als meine Katze” (die freundlichste DIKTATUR), 2006.

There’s a kind of energy to his work though: to using line for dramatic emphasis; words as iconic emblems (even if they are nonsensical); smeared and dripping paint; and childlike scribbles. I wondered about his style as I have wondered about Basquiat’s – if it is indivisible from the presumed passion with which it is rendered, or if it is just another style with its own set of techniques.

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Generalissimä Misch Mäsch (im Erdibeeri) by Jonathan Meese. This one’s ugly.

I decided to try to make my own Meese, just to see if I could do it. Since I don’t have access to his bottles and tubes of paint, I had to do what I could with just Photoshop (which means trying to imitate his style AND the medium of paint). Mine is the one at the very top, “Die Canary”. Yeah, I just said it was by him to try to pass it off, which would help make the point that the style is a method that can be employed without the overarching passionate intensity about eating a bread, or whatever.

It wasn’t very difficult – I knocked it out in an afternoon – and if I had a studio stocked with similar canvases and paints as he has, and especially if I had a chance to study some of his work in person and watch a few more videos, I think I could pull off some passable approximations of the better ones, though it would be hard to not make them parodies.

I do like some of the loose, wild, messy techniques, and gloppy paint, when they seem to give a sense of immediacy. I think there’s something there I could learn from. However, if I had to choose between master and nutter, I’d pick the latter. If you doubt my choice for even a second, I invite you to watch a minute of the video below, starting at 3:35, when he explains that he only had 10 words at age 12, and supplemented this range with three grimaces, which he reproduces (and as bad as those are, his gibberish words are the cherry on the cake).

Comic protagonist in a mockumentary would, however, be the most persuasive. In fact, I was taking a shower and thinking about all of this and for a moment I was convinced I’d been pranked, and the whole “Jonathan Meese” thing was a sendup. I had to remind myself that there are over 60 gallery shows, dozens of reviews, collaborations with Albert Oehlen, and videos.

I find myself feeling a little bad for being critical of Meese, and it occurs to me that we are all nutters somewhere on the spectrum. Nobody has perfect objectivity, or sees things exactly as they are. We all have our blind spots and areas of distorted vision. There are people right now chopping off other people’s heads in the name of God, who are not aware that their actions are insane. Others are doing everything they can to despoil the environment they live in, in order to turn a profit, when they already have enough money for dozens of lifetimes. To quote a snippet of lyric from The Man of La Mancha, “nutsy cuckoos are in season”. Popular as irrationality and solipsism (living in your own little world) are right now, it’s not a good thing. We need to be aware that we are all looking from our own imperfect vantage points (gender, age, location…), and not mistake our particular niche for all encompassing reality. But, yeah, some of us are a good deal further out on the limb singing in the cuckoo berry tree than are others. It seems almost cruel to encourage Meese in his ridiculous rants about making art with underwear and being the Führer of art.

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Skating on the fine line between great painting and terrible cake decoration.

~ Ends

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18 thoughts on “Jonathan Meese: Master or Nutter?

  1. I don’t know, man. This just has to be a put-on. I mean, the whole thing is absurd and the guy having shows and collaborations and all the rest doesn’t come close to proving he’s on the level. It’s just horrible all around and even worse if this isn’t a gag.

    Your piece is leaps and bounds beyond the real Meese stuff and it goes to show that even a competent artist couldn’t make something as bad as Meese’s work if they tried.

    I had to stop watching him and while I genuinely enjoyed the article I wish I’d never read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I’m glad you read it, because your reply made me laugh. Yes, he’s the real deal. I just reread it and laughed again. My girlfriend asked me what I’m laughing about. Also glad you liked my fake Meese!

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      1. The thing that really bothers me is that this guy and his work and all of that sort of make me second guess myself in some way. I’ll tell you why: You know that comedian Emo Phillips? The skinny, spastic dude with the bangs and the falsetto voice that talked like no other human being ever? I hated him. There is just no fucking way that routine is buyable. And I have waited for years and years and decades now for him to stop with that voice and break character and drop his bullshit so I can feel internally justified. Just no way that’s his real voice and the guy has to stop with that act sometime. Right? Hell, even Pee Wee broke character after a while [and after getting caught interfering with himself in a Florida porn theater] and so did Bobcat Goldtwhait to some degree. [Enough is enough.]

        And you know what? Emo Phillips hasn’t budged. He hasn’t. He stuck to his phony and unfunny act and he and rode it out and is still getting gigs to this day. Proved my suppositions way wrong and I’d have lost money on that bet in a big way. In fact, he took it a step further and even got married to the only other comedian more annoying than he is; Judy Tenuta.

        And I’m sure while they’re at home sitting on the toilet or watching Netflix they both talk in their same shrilly voices they use on stage. And if that’s the reality we live in then I must have no idea of what’s possible in the realm of Very Bad Art.

        Maybe Meese really is on the level and maybe there are people that find value in him and his work. I don’t and you couldn’t explain it to me if you tried. I’d rather entertain myself with notions that this is a prank of epic proportions that nobody has figured out yet. My money says he’s really Ashton Kutcher after plastic surgery who is trying to shame Shia LeBeouf by going for the Longest Crazyperson Con ever.

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        1. You made me remember that I had precisely that suspicion. But before I mention that, I had to look up that Emo guy, and I couldn’t watch more than a couple minutes, and didn’t even crack a smile.

          Oh, right, I mentioned it in the article. I took a shower and realized Jonathan Meese was a hoax. Rather satisfied with myself for not being a chump, I did some research and everything point to him being the real deal.

          I’ve also briefly wondered if performance artist Paul McCarthy was just putting on an act, but since I had him as a teacher, I guess he’s not.

          Looks like Meese is just a whopping cliché, in the flesh. Or maybe we will find out he was punking the art world and our suspicions were well founded.

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  2. You’re really fixed on the fact that his pieces are “ugly”. You said it more than once. Who said art has to be good looking? Art does not mean home decor. And so what if you replicated his style. I can replicate many a famous paintings. Being a good artist is not about how easy the painting is for someone to replicate.

    Thought this was known throughout the art community but apparently not

    Liked by 1 person

    1. glad you like Meese and are passionate about the art you like, however…

      His paintings aren’t supposed to be ugly. They are supposed to be aesthetically satisfying in a complex, and Expressionistic way, much like Pollock or Rauschenberg or David Salle’s pieces are supposed to look good. Meese fails because his aesthetic sensibility or finesse just isn’t that well developed. When he succeeds it’s because the results DO look good.

      What you are saying is the equivalent of saying music doesn’t have to sound good. Well, it does. Whatever the style, if it doesn’t sound good, it’s like food that doesn’t taste good. The Dead Kennedy’s sound good even if they are Punk.

      Shiiiiiiiiiiit. Home decor? You think my idea of something not being ugly is “home decor”? Have a look at my art. I get accused of producing nothing that can be hung in someone’s home.

      The thing with me making a knock off was, if you read with a half opened mind, to see if that style can only be done from a hyper-emotional “I was screaming into the woods” mentality, or if it was just a style that anyone could do. My knock off is a bit like if I were to replicate a miracle performed by a fake Guru. This would show it was a simple magic trick, and not divine.

      Can you REALLY do a knock off of famous paintings. I don’t mean copying a piece by just copying it the way one would copy anything, I mean doing a new piece in their style. That’s not as easy as you think, or there would be lots more forgers out there. In fact I’m quite sure you can’t make art in the style of most famous artists that are any good, y’know, the ones who’s work demands a certain amount of skill. For example, to give one that might seem not too difficult, can you do a Georges Seurat?

      Thanks for your comment?

      Like

  3. Just came across this post and I couldn’t help but leave a comment here…
    First of all, I’m from Austria so my English might not be the best but I hope I can make my point

    I thought this article was kind of unfair. I think it just sounds like your own opinion and is not objective either, no offense
    Like the girl above said you always use the word ugly when describing his art. How can art be ugly or beautiful? This is just subjective like the taste for candy or clothes or whatever. And why does art have to be aesthetically satisfying. Art is art, I think That’s the only thing you can say about it.
    And if one can paint a painting like meeses in five minutes which looks pretty similar in style so what? I think he would be a great artist too. Creativity and art comes from inside and I think it makes you even more creative if you can paint a painting in a minute, how can any art be more pure than that? By the way, Meese says anyone can be an artist and so think I. He is just lucky because he sold this kind of art before another one did.
    Finally, maybe I’m wrong and you are right or the other way round, who knows. Just thought to give this topic another turn. Besides, I like as much of his paintings as I dislike but I think his art is pure and he might not think much about painting something and that is, in my opinion, pure art, just like art brut or whatever. People always have the urge to evaluate something. At the end, It’s always our very own opinion and nothing else. I just don’t like generalization. I think he is just different and a lot of the things he says aren’t meant to be taken serious (I might understand more, because of the same language)
    This wasn’t meant to offend you, just had the urge to comment. Interesting topic

    Liked by 1 person

    1. By ugly I don’t mean the style or the subject, I just mean he didn’t do his paintings, in his style, very well. For example, even the best artists have some paintings that aren’t so great. In Meese’s case most of his paintings aren’t so great. Perhaps instead of “ugly” I should have just said “bad”.

      Yeah, that’s just my opinion based on my experience looking at art and making art. As you argue, if one person thinks Justin Bieber is a superior musician to Beethoven, well, all opinions are equal, so he is right.

      Long live Justin Bieber and Jonathan Meese. It’s all just a matter of taste.

      But, I’m glad you like Meese. That’s fine. There are far worse artists. But he represents a kind of cliche of the mad, genius artist who “screams in the wilderness” and didn’t even use words until his teens (which I think is most probably bullshit). But, still, I sorta’ like his art, when it isn’t too slapdash and ugly even for what it is

      Just sharing my opinion. You are free to agree or not.

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  4. I will take a direct stance, and yell, that I dislike him, and his art, on a more personal tone. But I ”read” his interviews which sound sometimes more like mental breakdowns. Yet, wait, lets not jump into conclusions so fast. What about the ”angst” Germans of his age have, about nazi history. I can see the references of this angst in his art.

    Bearing in mind, that we tend to see what we want to see in every artwork or person, I cannot help but….

    observe the so MANY the swastikas and WW2 refs, all over his work. As if he is fighting the past. By going mad about it.

    I dont see anyone reading him this way and I wonder why. I just watched a lecture of his again referring to totalitarianism and nazism. He keeps returning to this, and he is Deutsch.

    Joseph Beuys had a similar issue and guilt-ridden artworks sometimes IMHO. I am not an art critic just was once student of çontemporary art context in some uni, but not expert.

    And I will continue to say, If his painting per se is ”ugly” or not, I would not judge art with such terms because nobody does these days or the last 100 years or since Duchamp’s rebellion against ”beautiful art”.

    The issue here is what is the SUBJECT he works on. It seems to be what I said above, plus some sort of personal angst or mental situation he may have on personal level unrelated to him being German.

    And since when our nationality should define our artwork or general work ? I dont understand it. I am Greek so I should be doing art about poverty, economy, and immigrants from Syria? I disagree with such a take but I see already many prominent Greek artists work on these issues maybe because they know these issues are expected by art critics when they want to talk /refer to a Greek contemp. artist. Others though, ignore these issues and do art for the sake art.

    Which of the two is right? The artist who works on recent news relating to his nationality (which would bring more promotion in the media world apparently for him/her) or the artist who is continuing his work ín a vacuum of reference? Like Manet (or MOnet?) painted lillies while war was ranging some km off his studio.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Anna:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Your comment was quite interesting to me, and you bring up some good points. First, I’d like to address that beauty in art has been irrelevant since Duchamp. This makes me chuckle because I’ve been taught the same thing, but now I know it’s complete bullshit. If we were to listen to Duchamp, all of painting would be irrelevant to begin with. To say that beauty or ugliness is irrelevant to painting is as ridiculous as it is to say that it doesn’t matter if a song sounds good or not, or if a meal tastes good or not. Here, by ugly, I mean aesthetically ugly, as in it doesn’t look good. Those criteria are real, lots of artists believe in it, and it’s coming back with a vengeance as the copy-cat appropriation of Duchamp has died and its putrid corpse stinks. The whole idea that artists can’t be original, can’t be authentic, can’t paint, and can’t do anything beautiful has finally been unmasked as cynical, self-defeating, and ultimately clinically boring: humanity is incapable of originality, in which case we must just copy banal objects, kitsch, and the worst examples of popular culture for perpetuity. Long live sterility and celebrating the boring, utilitarian, and insipid. So, yes, we can look at whether Meese’s paintings are beautiful or ugly, and we can do the same thing with his other contemporary painters like Daniel Richter and Peter Doig. And it does matter if a painter fails to make an attractive painting.

      Next we have the question of whether an artist should address the sociopolitical situation of his or her country, race, gender, and so on. Some say if you don’t you are irrelevant. This should be a red flag. When someone starts saying other kinds of art than what they do are “irrelevant” they are propping their own art up as “important”, which is an extraneous concern. Imagine rock musicians arguing that their music is important because it addresses a political issue, and other rock musician’s music if irrelevant because it’s not specifically about political issues. That type of art tends to be didactic, preach to the choir, and ultimately makes art beneath politics, because it sees art as having no purpose other than as a tool for political change, or enforcing power.

      The opposite notion is “art for art’s sake”, which I prefer, but there’s plenty of room in the middle, in fact a full spectrum of possibilities. Minimalist painters and sculptors are in the “art for art’s sake” camp, but someone like Manet is not. His art had social content. He’s painted at least one execution by gun fire. His “Luncheon On the Grass” and “Olympia” were highly controversial for their contemporary portrayal of women, who, among other things, looked back at the viewer, frankly.

      We can just think of some of our favorite movies, songs, or novels. They may not be explicitly political, and are not likely to be purely about form, like a written equivalent of lyrical abstraction. The Beatles had political songs, and quirky, playful songs that had no discernible, overt political content.

      Unlike those mediums, visual art has been stolen from artists by pseudo-philosophers, critics, and the marketplace. The bullshit theory that surrounds contemporary art disintegrates once you try to apply the same concepts to any other art form. Imagine if musicians preached that the song is dead, it’s impossible to be original or authentic, it didn’t matter if a song sounded good or not, and thus they appropriated sounds from industry and popular culture. Imagine if a sound of a toilet flushing were heralded as the greatest musical composition of the 20th century, which proved that it was impossible to make new music? It would never work because nobody wants to listen to industrial sounds or irritating noises or kitschy music.

      So the answer is that Meese’s paintings, a lot of them, fail simply on their own terms, because they are ugly. His politics are cliched. A German doing work about Hitler? How devastatingly original. And what do we learn about Hitler from his art? Nothing that I can think of. Meese is actually kind of borderline for me. Some of his work almost works. If he just did it better I might actually like him. He just doesn’t play his own music in his own style very well. Anselm Kiefer, who deals with similary issues, does it much more persuasively, and successfully.

      There’s a tendency for everything to be polarized into simple, extreme opposites. You can see this in politics. Some people believe one thing, and others believe the complete opposite. And so it is also with art. But instead of splashing around in the shallow sides of the spectrum, it’s better to swim out to the deeper middle, where one has to tolerate a bit of cognitive dissonance, be comfortable with not knowing all the answers, but can see both shores and the whole horizon.

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      1. I agree that if he is dealing with the past, he is not doing it in a way that is constructive or interesting enough. Not sure why (it was mainly German critics..) in the 90s he got such a support as the genious of the German art scene. I never liked him, as I never really wholly believed in Joseph Beuys. But I put forward a hypothesis about the why, in the end of my comment here.

        You say ”pseudophilosophers” I hope you dont mean Lyotard, ha ha ha…

        The great man of every ‘fine art school’ in the late 90s and today too. In UK at least.

        Anyways, Jonathan Meese is a bit more famous than other German relative young painters and thats because he dabbles betweeen conceptual art / performance art and traditional medium like painting. I find it weird, who else is doing that dancing between entirely different modes of expression and creativity?

        So he is a little bit of everything but maybe he should focus on one of expression modes in art. In essence he is a CONCEPTUALIST PAINTER. Kind of unique indeed. But pointless too maybe. Pointless and pessimist/self-deafeating like Pomo theroy.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi Anna: By pseudo-philosophers I meant people like Duchamp, who are credited with grand philosophical contributions, but whose comprehensible articulation of it I have not seen. The conceptual artists from Warhol to Koons are considered to have made great philosophical contributions to art, and yet, when they speak, it sounds anything but philosophical, or even articular.

          I don’t, myself, consider Meese conceptual at all. He’s way on the other end of the spectrum in a weird, romantic, idealization of the artist, and I’d consider him an extremely narcissistic and self-aggrandizing Expressionist. His performance just seem like an extension of his narcissistic belief in his own significance. It is REALLY hard to distinguish his genuine statements from parody. After my initial exposure to him I became convinced we was pranking the art world, or, I’d been duped by a parody.

          I just can’t take him seriously. Maybe I’ll re-evaluate him at some point in the future. I’m actually a fan of Expressionism, but find that few succeed at it, and Meese at his best only seems to succeed for a few seconds after which his work becomes cringe worthy.

          But, like I said, I’ll have to re-evaluate him again later. One can always be wrong about art and artists.

          Thanks for commenting.

          Like

  5. I think this is a terribly written article. This Eric Wayne takes into his consideration his taste and acts like a child to prove he can “imitate” Jonathan Meese. Obviously, he knows nothing else but the video he saw online about the artist and complains on his accomplishments. Is Eric jealous? Or satisfied with his “fake photoshop Meese?” There is a lack of objectivity, research and understanding that is embarrassing. I would recommend Eric to watch the movie Beltrachi (released the same year this article was written). It approaches the theme imitating artists and believing it made art. 😉
    good luck, my friend!
    try harder!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes I delete abusive posts, and then sometimes I keep them so that people will believe me when I say how much abuse I get. It’s also good for a laugh. I’m a better artist than Jonathan Meese. How much time have you spent looking at my art? 2 seconds? How can you presume to judge without even spending 5 minutes? A pox upon you.

      Like

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