Born 1963 in Cologne, Germany, Rolf Kuhlmann studied at the Karlsruhe Art Academy, finishing in 1990 as a “Meisterschüler” (M.A.) under professor Gerd van Dülmen. His works use a painterly manner reminiscent of Old Masters and baroque compositions to lure the beholder into the world of his images. The paintings activate a full range of associations, from everyday experiences to the rich spectrum of Art History. When he paints a galloping horse carrying a dead swan in its mouth, while a car idles in the background’s peaceful landscape, the beholder encounters a fantasy subject, disquieting, like one by de Chirico. There is a roaring silence, like in a Manet or a Giorgione painting. Such aesthetic tensions are one of Kuhlmann’s hallmarks.
He often takes up classical subjects and turns them into something contemporary, using a manner of colour treatment that conserves a certain amount of youthful roughness, in order to prevent a transition into the idyllic and to maintain a clear distance from photographic naturalism, or photo-realism (photographism). His formats often vary from large to monumental, because he employs size as an aesthetic category, making it possible to express what cannot be expressed in any other way.
Kuhlmann’s paintings are full of symbols, often explicitly pointed at by gestures. Most of the gestures and scenes, however, show themselves to be staged and arranged, thus gaining a symbolic character within themselves. Kuhlmann casts a loving eye on the small catastrophes of everyday life, like when a little boy drops his paper lantern in a nightly pageant, and it disappears in a puff of smoke. Kuhlmann says: “My images can often be traced back to dreams. For me, there are strong ties between dreams and myths. There are allusions to literature, too, but I don’t produce literary paintings.” (1) There are also some Christian subjects, re-workings of C. G. Jung’s theory of archetypes and a stout conviction that myths aren’t cock and bull stories but truths still in full function, which can be transformed into the contemporary using contemporary figures, creating immense aesthetic tension, resulting, of course, in pleasure and experience.
Ambivalence is also common in Kuhlmann’s images. Are the persons at a pool figures from the “Déjeuner sur l’herbe” by Manet? Or not? Where are they from? Many associations are possible. And this also provides a Wittgensteinian ladder to ascend, in order to reach and explore higher metaphorical levels. Kuhlmann’s art is also reminiscent of quantum physics, as the images find themselves in different states simultaneously.(1) See Gerhard Charles Rump: Stiller Donnerhall. Klassische Motive, modern umgesetzt: Der Kölner Künstler Rolf Kuhlmann und seine fantastische Bilderwelt, in: Die Welt, 05.01.2008
Alltagsallegorien, 05.02.2011 - 12.03.2011, Samuelis Baumgarte Galerie
Ein Hauch von Eden, 27.11.2010 - 31.01.2011, Samuelis Baumgarte Galerie
Rolf Kuhlmann, 29.08.2009 - 03.10.2009, Samuelis Baumgarte Galerie
Rolf Kuhlmann, 17.11.2007 - 01.03.2008, Samuelis Baumgarte Galerie
nature: attitude, 08.03.2008 - 31.05.2008, Samuelis Baumgarte Galerie
Rolf Kuhlmann, 21.09.2013 - 03.11.2013, Abbazia Santa Maria in Sesto al Reghena, Italien