Wrestling with Angels

The British artist Mark Alexander first visited the Gemäldegalerie when he moved to Berlin in the year 2000. He was struck with Rembrandt’s painting of Jacob wrestling the Angel. He has described the theme of his work at that point as a dialogue between anxiety and strength – a struggle for individuation, for resolution – in a world where belief is unstable and meaning is mercurial. Jacob‘s wrestling with God is paradigmatic, a universal theme. Life has always been awesome and overwhelming whether in ancient Israel, 17th century Amsterdam or contemporary Berlin. At the same time Alexander questioned how that metaphysical struggle should be framed in a world without faith in a divine creator. Who do we struggle with now? For this artist, it is himself.

The work that he conceived in response consists of a golden sun, as if made of beaten gold. In one sense the sun is an amalgam of historic ideas of divinity. This sun/God connection is underlined in the temple form of the frame. But heretically at the centre of the sun is a modern face, a human face at the moral centre of the universe. In this painting, itself ambiguous – a two dimensional work that appears to be three dimensional – this suggested replacement of the divine by the human might succeed or fail, or fluctuate between those states. Try as you might, perhaps you can never really escape faith.

Previous incarnations of the current work were shown in London at the Blain Southern gallery in 2005. The Victory Series, can be seen hanging currently in the Pompidou Centre where it is part of the permanent collection. However, it is only with this final work that the artist feels he has met his ambition. It is worth stating that developing the means to create it took some 15 years. The greatest effort was invested in finding a way to make a painting that might deceive a viewer into thinking it was gold. This process began in earnest in 2002 by making a model of the sun in the workshop of master carver Bernhard Lankers. But while the model gave the artist the form he wanted, the colours and textures proved much more elusive. In the gestation of his process the artist felt the desire to ratchet up the emotion of the work as much as possible, rhetorically, eloquently,: the idea of a tabernacle frame does that very well, at the same time as setting the work in a historical context. Appropriately enough the making of this frame led him back to Bernhard Lankers‘ Berlin workshop. In a similar symmetrical pattern the first exhibition of the work in the Gemäldegalerie returns the object of the artist‘s efforts to the precise location of his inspiration.

  • Oil on canvas
  • 210 x 177 cm
  • 2016