Digital portraits are reinventing classic paintings by wrapping subjects in clothing and masks




March 24, 2021

Grace Ebert

“Hidden Perronneau” (2020), photo collage. All images © Volker Hermes, shared with permission

Almost a decade before masks became a ubiquitous part of our lives, artists Volker Hermes made lavish face coverings out of flowers, lace, and ornate balls. In its ongoing series Hidden portraitsHermes rummages in the art historical archive and selects classic paintings which he then reinterprets. Elaborate accessories, derived from elements of the original work, become tools to cover up the subjects’ faces, drawing attention to their clothing, gestures, and surroundings.

Since the beginning of the forward-looking series, Hermes has established his practice in painting, although he realizes every portrait digitally. Time has given him ample opportunity to grapple with the backgrounds, eras and symbols of various fashions of the original painters, an experience that is underpinned by his costume work for opera productions.

Hermes, who is fluent in historical meaning, continues to analyze questions of representation in the works and their current implications. “Each era has its own symbols,” he says. “I always like to mention the Chanel costume as a metaphor for today’s upper class. There are, of course, more current, more specific, but this garment has a general visualization of an established elite. “

Other emblems – such as the large black beaver fur hats that many men wear to mark their rank in Dutch Golden Age works – are more difficult to spot today. Hermes says:

Anyone who had a hat like this could be painted with it. But today we don’t know anymore. We just see men with black hats who no longer trigger anything in us. We see the performers in the face as our natural approach. If I now exaggerate such a hat in my interventions and block access via the face, the focus changes, the viewer is forced, so to speak, to look at the painting from new angles, taking into account the meanings that determined the painting at that time.

From his Düsseldorf studio, Hermes is preparing new pieces for a group exhibition centered around a theme of spiritual representation and pilgrimage that you can keep up with Instagram.

“Hidden Pesne” (2021), photo collage

“Hidden Larkin” (2020), photo collage

“Hidden Anonymous (Pourbus)” (2020), photo collage

“Hidden Cranach III” (2019), photo collage

“Hidden Liotard VI” (2021), photo collage

“Hidden Pourbus V” (2019), photo collage


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