The glow on the faces of the painter Manfred Mahsberg

Persona, the Latin word for person, means mask. This interpretation exists out of the antique theatre, where no individuals scurried around on stage and interpretated their texts according to their subjective possibilities. The plays distinctive and main content was presented by masked acters. Essential was not who performed Prometheus, Antigone or Medea in the plays of Aischylos, Sophokles or Euripides. The message, which was and still is greater than the individual, was the focus. In times of networked individualists, consumer-oriented egoists, influencer and subjectivists lost in a crowd, this may be difficult to imagine.

The mask gives us what defines us. What defines us, is transmitted by the sound coming through the mask, our not always voluntarily put on face. The mask itself is not the true me, but what sounds through, personare, determines human peculiarity, character and dignity. It is a common experience that behind a threatening face, kindness and tenderness may hide and behind some angles face meanness und malice. Love challenges this sinister aura, with its dark thoughts and deeds and shines behind faces. First, a portrait says nothing about a person‘s personality. Therefore, most people are unsatisfied with their drawn portrait as it is unable to transmit who the portrayed really is and what abundance of possibility from past, present and suspected lives in the affected one. The portrait is only a tangent. The most important about a portrait is the real me and this differs quite much from what a realistic depiction can capture.

The painter Manfred Mahsberg doesn’t involve an ideal-typical subjective reconstruction of his heroines in his so-called portraits. He embeds them in the ever existing “panta rhei” – “everything flows” of his strongly flowing oil paints. The term of the Greek philosopher Heraklit, conveyed by Plato, is the formulaic summary of a natural-philosophical foundation that everything is change or metamorphosis. To understand this meaning immediately it is sufficient to look at one’s own youth photos. “The lovely youth” is over. Perhaps you can recognize the past and the true outcome of your own personality. Even this picture is going to vanish. Everyone can experience the change, even though one does not eccept it. The artist gets his inspiration for his portraits mostly from old encyclopedias, which show the the respective personalities in certain ages as photos, copper engravings, woodcuts or heliogravures. This happend to be a picture of a picture of a portraited, who even back than possibly didn’t believe to look like that. Mahsbergs Portraits are literally masks and in them are metaphors, pictorial expressions. He chooses heads so he doesn’t have to operate in the abstract. He is no portrait painter, he doesn’t paint scholars-, saints- or ancestors‘ galleries. His painting is a paused space of flowing life.

Therefore, in his opened painterly attitude toward the portrait and the portrayed, he succeeds in creating something fitting, which includes a special scent of the portrayed’s personality. His Portrait of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892 -1973) is one of his large pictures measuring 75x 75 cm. It enlivens all of Tolkiens private mythology through the colors. The Hobbits, the tree barks, the moss, the green of the woods of his literal word are living in the chapped painting and are mixed in the deep furrows around eyes and mouth of the aged portrait of “the Lord of the Rings”. The British writer and founder of the modern fantasy literature shines towards us through the colors and lures us to enter his invented world. The picture is a metaphor for person and work, stimulated from what has been and what will remain as true. The painter does not have to read a line from Tolkien to get a convincing result. It is revealed to the artist by his template.

In German romantic literature Joseph from Eichendorff ( 1788-1857) occupies a particularly beloved position. In 1835 he wrote a metaphor to underline the special performance of poesy. The poems title is „Wünschelrute“ which means translated „divining rod”:

                           “Sleeps a song in all its means,
Those who dream on and on
And the world begins to sing
If you only hit the magic word.”

Instead of a magic word, Manfred Mahsbergs uses his paintbrush as wand, oil paint and canvas. He does not slide off into any romantic subjective interpretation. The artist only accepts the actual and pursues his painting. After evaluating the lexicon templates, significant series of pictures are unremittingly created with the measurements of 7,5 x 7,5 cm, 25 x 25 cm und 75 x 75 cm.

Wet in wet, this is a spontaneous apprehension of Lovis Corinth, Maria Callas, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Jean Sibelius, Joseph Haydn. Each of these miniatures are resembled by a relict out of their time such as Haydn‘s wig, to illustrate who the person in question could be. Rilke is quickly captured with his mustache, Byron with his forelock and Maria Callas, like Cleopatra, can be recognized by her pretty long nose. All these are cores which allow recognition. There are sufficient to catch the true core of these people and their work. This happens in the same way as if you are quoting Rilke while taking a walk with your friends on a sunny day and seeing them nod with you say: ”Lord it is time, the summer was very long.” Smiling you get the response that the other poem of Rilke is even more beautiful, more intense and more abysmal: “You know it too: the leaves are falling, falling as if from far away.” “Yes, it contains more autumn melancholy, especially at this point: and in the nights the heavy earth falls out of the stars into solitude. “

The larger formats resemble a heavier painting, which use a spatula for help and a brush as a shape giving instrument. This heavy application directs the viewer into a certain distance. Distance helps and creates a flyby of temporality of the drawing action. Klaus Fußamann and his equally important student Christopher Lehmpfuhl draw their flowers and landscapes comparable and on international level. The face in its urgent twist is not their topic. Friedemann Hahn is popular in German art history. He is inspired by movies and captures portraits of movie heroes but also some of his art heroes, specially Cezanne in time of impressionism and holds on to them in his own strong painting. The methodically forcefully and serial impressively and serious exclusivity is a painterly philosophical point of view for Manfred Mahsberg, unmistakable and essential. Perspective, illusion and recognition free themselves from details and bind us in a living process of painterly commitment to flowing life.

In the middle sized format, he seals the one or the other portrait under a layer of silicon under which die face glows through. The inquiring eye recognizes Chopin, Goethe, Hesse, Gounod and other personalities.

Over the years a big storage of portraits developed an Olymp of blessed souls, reaching from Jean Baptiste Racine up to the family of writers Mann. You could organize them after musicians, artists and composers but this is not intentioned by the artist. He doesn’t want a gallery of one or the other kind, nor a hero worship, a saints gallery, a beauty or ancestral gallery, he doesn’t crave after heads en Vogue. He searches the faces for its whole in a livid meaning.

In the Sale Monumentali of the National Libery in Venice, opposite the Doge‘s Palace, is a gallery of the self-portrayal of a state and its consciousness. The vaulted ceiling in this impressive room is decorated with goddesses, gods and heroes in richly carved gold-plated coffers. On the walls between die tall windows you can see full-length portraits of philosophers. Two barrel-vaulted, richly stuccoed stairs lead up to the holy hall. As you ascend, the feeling grows that you are invited to the Doge, but this is the throne room of our European roots of knowledge, which we enter through a columned portal. The once mighty state Venice, „La Serenissima Republica di San Marco“, knew what it owed to the knowledge, the scholars, and its knowledge of her library.

To the left and right of the columned portal are, painted by Veronese, Aristotle (385 - 322 BC), the scientifically enlightening philosopher with a pointing hand and the more internalized, visionary Plato (428 - 347 BC), who wanted to take the world as if it were true. How Paolo Veronese ( 1528-1588) , one of the most important artist of the late Renaissance and the Venetian painting, designed the teaching and character of the two philosophers in gestures, clothing, posture and face and placed them in the painted conche, is ingenious. Nothing is meant to be like in the present, they haven’t existed like this. The representations are outside of the temporal and spatial real. Nothing in this hall is real and yet so much of the visitor’s visions that are created through the representation is true. The heads, the “portraits” in the Sale Monumentali hall are retrorespectiv and visionary. With Mahsberg they are also more likely. Since Ur and Babylon princesses and princes have marked their power and their claim to territory and people with the portraits.

Today only photos of the Chancellor or Federal President hang in the offices and town halls of our young democracy and demonstrate the difference between the totalitarian power of a pharaoh, Louis XIV of France, Maria Theresa and the current Federal President.

What a pity, that we do not worship any drawn pictures of our representatives of the people. But the people cannot afford a gallery of saints, such as the one of the German Emperor Karl IV in Karlstein near Prag around 1350, nor ancestral galleries or beauty galleries in castles and palaces or scholarly galleries in venerable universities. Today‘s photo galleries or digital memories of loved ones are a sign of participation in the world. We marvel at the gawky eyes, crooked noses, protruding ears of relatives and acquaintances as species-appropriate and conforming to the species, and see ourselves in a position to share this yawning insignificance worldwide and at any time as digitally picture trash. The peak of it all are selfies: naked with a hat, at the beach, during dinner, even while having sex. In contrast, what dignity do the portraits of Mahsberg have? You can put together your own Wahalla of women and men of the spiritual world according to one’s preferences in music, painting, poetry and other genres in any order. Mahsbergs Portraits are messages of people in absence; they create closeness to those who are not alike, whom one never reaches, but with whom one can enter a dialogue that invites thoughts and deeper feelings. It is similar with CD‘s on the Ikea shelf. You see the group, read the title, the composer‘s name, pick up this or that music, depending on the mood, and play it to take a stroll into another world. Mahsbergs similarly suggests a picture shelf instead of a bookshelf or a cd shelf. In it his heroines are standing together and whisper their lives to each other until someone takes them out and they are allowed to expand in the mind‘s eye of the beholder and the stories of their lives come alive.

If necessary, you can google. His miniatures are about the true and the probable, about attitude and not about petty bourgeois expectations. Johann Caspar Lavater (1741 - 1801) used the stuffy, idealistic worldview in his work „Von der Physiognomik“, written in 1772, that has remained until today. A pretty soul lives in a pretty body with a pretty face. How wrong! Mozart was an unbalanced ugly little gnome and a brilliant musician. Wagner and Bruckner were small and not pretty either. Beethoven was pale-scarred, Goethe was gobbled-eyed and Kant surpassed them all in “charm”; Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, all ugly birds. What’s the thing about being pretty? Mahsberg paints die big ones small, but he doesn’t make them small. On the contrary, he deals with them and revitalizes them, increases their size, awakens them. He is not interested in a beautiful poet Karoline von Günderrode, but rather in the woman who fell in love with the brilliant lawyer Friedrich Carl von Savigny. In Winkel by the river Rhein she stabbed herself because of her even greater unanswered love for Friedrich Creuzer.

The pictures of the artist are an important complementary part our lives and our existence through the fate of the other human siblings.

His masks and his emblems are completed in our head and create an emotional connection. This brings the portraits to life. Even through the silicone lawyer you can recognize the brim of the hat, the glasses, the sunken cheeks and the alert eyes of Hermann Hesse (1877-1962).

In the mass, where you can see the face of the writer beneath the lawyer of silicon, your own youth returns and the question of life arises again, whether you would rather be Narcissus or Goldmund.

You suffered with the heroes of “Under the Wheel” and dove into the world of the books “Siddartha” and” Time Traps”.

The lyric „steps“ and its lines „only those who are ready to set off and travel can escape paralyzing habituation.“ accompanies some readers throughout their life.

The picture is in us. That is like meeting people. We quickly create an image. Often it is deceptive. Mahsbergs portraits do not deceive us. They are different. They grow out of a different artistic medium. The other is the painting. It awakens the happiness in meeting Verdi, Liszt, Wagner, with Büchner and his brothers and sisters, Van Gogh, Grass, Satie and all the others. Painting is an independent task with its own language. It is a secret how the encounter with even strange faces opens a world. “ Oh that is how he looked like“, one thinks infront of the black and green furrowed portrait with white colored braids of Theodor Mommsen, the most important scholar of antiquity of the 19th century, whom one was allowed to read during studies.

The artist spreads them all out in series and cycles. In painting he experiences the passage of the world, the dwindling, the past. He awakens the real.

What they once were is gone, how they acted is brought to live in Mahsbergs pictures and jumps over as energy, creates remembering and the pureness of thoughts. This is just as clearly noticeable in the portrait of Mommsen as in all the others

Samuel Beckett (1906 -1989), the Irish writer, famous for his play “Waiting for Godot”, shines towards us from a cool, thoughtful light gray. Miquel Ángel Asturias (1899 – 1974), the Guatemalan diplomat and poet, has warmer colors through which his face glows. The face is only the house, which is inhabited from thoughts and emotions. Because of Mahsberg they glow out of their colors, you didn’t even have to read them. The Friedberger poet and Cultural philosopher Fritz Usinger (1895 – 1982) wrote in one of his poems:

                           Read in books what the poets have created,
Everything blows at you and it blows away.
Everything concerns you and it passes.

                             Read unwritten signs inside your heart,
                           And they will all reach you.
                           The face is more important than any book.
                           Gods shine. But they don‘t read.

The vivid painting of the artist catches the unrepresentable. His dialogical approach creates the sincerity of his portraits. They are imago, born entirely from the artist, detached from the dwindling temporality, in a powerful painterly structure, have become the reality of the picture. That is why his pictures move us in their immediacy, powerful colors, their lack of space and timelessness, free from the anecdotal and all triviality. They oppose the dissolution, are fulfilled spaces as anchors in time.

                               Friedhelm Häring