On Making Bold to Use Small-size Formats
Ever since the artist Manfred Mahrsberg has exposed himself to the scrutiny and subsequently also the criticism of the so-called art scene,
he has encountered the question: "But how small your pictures are! Why don't you paint larger ones?" From his first exhibition series
of "paintings" in A4 standard paper size, the small format has concretised itself in his work,even further reduced, and become established
as a very personal and consistent device of style. The miniature, in the widest sense, is the basis of his position as an artist, which for
some time now he has consciously combined with the motif that has always been very closely connected with miniature painting,
the portrait. The representation of the human face in the very smallest format has been familiar for centuries; the portrait is to be
found not only in painting, but also in the relief, as on coins, cameos or gems. What is peculiar to the miniature representation of the human
countenance is a particular form of "capturing the personality", which makes the portrait a particular object of preciousness and "desire"?
The miniature, as the representation of a particularly important or lovable person, always also represented for the possessor of this
reduced image a kind of appropriation of the other's personality, which in this context he was always able to carry around with him and
continually call to mind.
Manfred Mahsberg's pictures are pocket-size miniatures, but are not intended to be carried around. Instead what they achieve is a
particular compression of painting and representation which, quite in contrast to the miniature pictures of earlier centuries,
becomes concrete in distance rather than in closeness. In his thickly applied and impressive form of representation, the small images
of famous and less famous personalities only provide at a distance the concrete memento that rather threatens to be lost when we come
closer and direct an analytically precise gaze at their surfaces. In this special transitoriness of perception lies the real quality of
Manfred Mahsberg's painting. The elusive nature of the reminders that the artist materialises with his painting is in the direct context of
his picture of people.The structure that inhabits his small-format pictures is the same as that of large pictures, but concentrated in a
small surface. The perception that the images permit us is one of distance and remoteness, which transforms itself in the course of our
focussed observation from an ideal phenomenon to a material fact of structure and texture.
The treatment of the personalities depicted in the pictures therefore necessarily appears rather as an appropration from a distance,
which, at the point when we as observers wish to come closer to the people represented, is rendered impossible or, to put it differently,
alters into a "superficial" observation. All Manfred Mahsberg's works derive from this experience of contrast between closeness and
distance, macrostructure and microstructure, the character of images and that of unformed material, and within this special principle
of dialogue it is above all their small size that makes them susceptible of being experienced.
The miniature format of Manfred Mahsberg's works is an indispensable precondition for the kind of experience that the viewer inevitably
has of painting in this form. In the small size of the formats lies their particular quality, which makes it possible for the artist to prevent
precisely the identification with the subject represented that an adaptation of the picture would make possible under other conditions.
The viewer becomes aware of his inability "to grasp" the figure portrayed, and thus experiences the painting not purely as such, but always
in terms of the contrast between its nature as an image and as a dissolving structure. In his pictures which are enclosed in silicon,
Manfred Mahsberg intensifies this feeling of impotence, and as it were thematises materially the "untouchability" of his portraits of people.
The paintings, whose materiality is present to a high degree, thus appear inthe context of these presentations almost immaterial,
like memory bubbles of a manifestation in the mind that the viewer has "thought on to the wall". This is in contrast with classical miniature
painting. For a characteristic of the miniatures of past centuries was a particular form of palpability,constantly inviting their owners
or viewers to take the miniatures out, look at them and frequently also to touch them. In contrast to this, Manfred Mahsberg's works convey
a degree of untouchability which does not arise solely from the material, but above all from the experience of viewing the paintings.
Over the past years, Manfred Mahsberg has wisely ignored - even if it has not left him unaffected - the advice all too frequently proffered:
"You ought to use large formats; then your work will find its way into museums."  In spite of this, he has found his way into museums,
as is shown by our common touring exhibition. The special quality that Manfred Mahsberg lends to his miniatureformats could not be
achieved by him in any other format, and gives us the satisfying conviction that painting, when it is indeed painting, rises above the
question of format.
Gabriele Uelsberg (Städt. Museum Mülheim a.d. Ruhr)