A ballad is definined as a form of verse, often a narrative set to music, a slow form of popular love song. At the same time, the term is also associated with the concept of a stylized storytelling song or poem, particularly when used as a title. And the perfect example of such use is the New Ballads, the title of an upcoming solo show by Friedrich Kunath, which opens on April 29th at Tim Van Laere Gallery in Antwerp, which follows the opening of The Things I Notice Now, the artist’s first solo show at Travesía Cuatro CDMX, on Tuesday, April 27, 2021.

The existential dependence of Kunath’s practice on music is a subject that gets brought up every time his work is being talked about. And rightfully so, cause before being passionate about tennis or classic cars, the German-born artist is an absolute music addict whose creative process, as well as general well-being, requires hours of researching music. Sourcing the ambiance, narratives, and quotes from a diverse range of audio materials, his complex paintings and striking installations are visualizations of emotions experienced through this research. And knowing this, New Ballads is basically the cliche New Works title, only translated in Kunath’s allegory-filled vernacular. Comprising a series of 16 new paintings, drawings, sculptures and installation, he is back to the Belgian gallery 3 years since his solo debut also presenting One Minute You’re Here, artist’s largest work to date. A monumental painting consisting of three panels spanning 6 x 2.4m in total is a majestic landscape scene capturing a range of settings and atmospheres. As a culmination of artist’s practice and process the work is created as an hommage, among others, to the English singer-songwriter and musician Nick Drake, as well as artist’s favorite sport, tennis.

When looking at the highly appealing visuals painted by the LA-based artist, the term “sublime” comes to mind, as the core of his work are usually breathtaking landscapes in the style of German romanticism or Hudson River School. Having such arresting setting as the base, Kunath composes the rest of the image, adding elements of text, characters, and symbols from his comprehensive catalog, and proceedes to manipulating the main visual towards seductive ambiguity. On a technical level, this manipulation includes airbrushing, carving into the surface, adding blotches of paint, drawing, or simply adding thick oils straight from a tube, elevating the main image above its predisposed flatness. Through addition of song lyrics and a range of colorful characters borrowed everywhere from the world of cartoons to medieval art, the artist evokes everyday looping of banal thoughts, a phenomenon that he refers to as “pictorial Tourette’s”. In the end, with such sincere approach to revealing his own sources of happiness, concerns, and sadness, he is dealing with the universal themes of human existence, love, loss, optimism, vulnerability, and melancholy. Wrapped up in a beautifull package of awe-inspiring sceneries, these deep and quintessential themes feel unthreatning, approachable, and almost comforting. As if stretching an emotive hammock between humor and melancholy, narration and abstraction, or fiction and reality, Kunath swadlles the viewer as he observes the whimsical metaphors of the actuality. —Sasha Bogojev

All images courtesy Tim Van Laere Gallery, Antwerp.