Still Life
Peter Herrmann, Ralf Kerbach, Heidrun Rueda, Volker Stelzmann
29 October 2021 – 8 January 2022

Worm-eaten apples, game set out on pewter plates, portraits of shells or pebbles: painters of the seventeenth century saw new images in quite ordinary things; this was the heyday of the still life. Today, as we are faced with ubiquitous and seemingly all-pervasive cameras, still-life painting is more important than ever: Neither beauty nor the depths of everyday life can be fashioned via Photoshop. They remain, rather, to be discovered in front of the easel, in the act of painting. It is in this sense that the paintings by Peter Herrmann, Ralf Kerbach, Heidrun Rueda, and Volker Stelzmann in the exhibition Still Life at Galerie Poll oscillate between precise depiction and what can at best be intuitively surmised.

The restrictions that came with the pandemic temporarily brought social and cultural life to a standstill. For weeks it was no longer possible to visit exhibitions, museums, theatres, and concerts. Keeping in touch with friends or acquaintances meant meeting in small groups, if at all, and social distancing; cafés and restaurants were closed; travel was limited. Forced to spend time with themselves, many people perceived their immediate environment and the objects in their surroundings in a new way.

Painted in oil in the style of a sketch, and dominated by brown and grey tones, Ralf Kerbach’s Still Life of a Window (2021) depicts the view of a tree trunk through two wide-open window panes. A snail shell, a sea shell, and a note are sitting on the window sill. Grande Amore (2021), too, was lightly and transparently painted on the canvas. The depiction of two cardboard coffee cups and a paper bag is not only a still life, but also a snapshot of our everyday take-away reality.

Two heads of lollo rosso lettuce set against a pink background (Head of Lettuce, Small, and Head of Lettuce, Large, both 2021), a large jar of red peppers with a bright green screw cap (Pepper Jar, 2021), or a half-filled Water Glass on the Edge of a Table (2015): Heidrun Rueda paints her motifs in a naturalistic style in tempera, acrylic, and oil. While her large-format photorealistic series of paintings of aeroplanes, landscapes, or animals are based on photographs, her still lifes are based on nature.

Peter Herrmann presents his motifs with astonishing simplicity. Often there is something funny about them. For many years now, the painter has preferred to use bright, almost garish colours. The two-part painting Big Doner Kebab (2007) shows a skewer of kebab meat against a turquoise background, sitting next to flatbreads. Three larger-than-life black birds, crows or ravens, frozen in place on pink cobblestones against a light blue sky, dominate the three-part painting Black and White (2020).  

In addition to figure painting or portraits, still lifes are another genre that occupy a significant place in Volker Stelzmann’s work.His mostly small-format paintings provide insights into his personal world: carnival masks from various eras collected over the years in a wooden box (Still Life of Masks, 2014); an unfolded, empty cardboard box (Cardboard Box, 1988); or a cut loaf of bread and a bright yellow lemon on a kitchen table, set against a midnight blue background (Still Life with Bread and Lemon, 1973). The precise reproduction of colour, use of light, and materiality of the objects depicted in the painting are impressive. 

After being trained in chemigraphy, Peter Herrmann (born 1937) attended painting courses in the GDR at the People’s College (Volkshochschule) with Jürgen Böttcher-Strawalde from 1953. In 1984 he left East Germany and emigrated to Hamburg; since 1986 he has lived in (West) Berlin. In 1998 Peter Herrmann was awarded the Villa Romana Prize, Florence, and in 2001 the Fred Thieler Prize for Painting given by the Berlinische Galerie, which holds works of his in its collection, as do the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, and the Museum Ludwig in Cologne.

Ralf Kerbach (born 1956) studied from 1977 to 1979 with Prof. Gerhard Kettner at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts (Hochschule für Bildende Künste), when the GDR forced him to leave the university. He then relocated to West Berlin in 1982. In 1986/87 he received a scholarship in Olevano. Since 1992 he has taught painting and graphic arts as a professor at the HfBK Dresden. His works are held in collections including the Berlinische Galerie, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig, and the Museum Barberini Potsdam.

Heidrun Rueda (born 1963) studied painting at the HfBK Dresden with Prof. Günther Horlbeck from 1989 to 1996. In 1994 she received the Saxon State Scholarship; in 1999 a working scholarship from the Stiftung Kunstfonds; and in 2004 a residency scholarship at Wiepersdorf Castle. Heidrun Rueda’s works are held in several private and public collections, including the Brandenburgische Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt an der Oder, the German National Library Frankfurt am Main, and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris.

Volker Stelzmann studied from 1963 to 1968 at the Academy of Fine Arts (HGB) in Leipzig, where he taught from 1975 to 1986 with an appointment as professor from 1982 onward. In 1986 he used a large exhibition of his works at the Staatliche Kunsthalle in West Berlin to leave the GDR. After a guest professorship at the Städelschule Frankfurt am Main, he taught at the Berlin University of the Arts (Hochschule der Künste) from 1988 to 2006. Works by the artist are held in numerous collections, including the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, the Museum Folkwang Essen, and the Sprengel Museum Hannover.