Ghost 1 2004 is a tall, narrow painting by the German artist Eberhard Havekost that depicts a hooded male figure, seen from behind and filling most of the composition. The figure’s arms are bent at the elbow so that his hands are obscured, and he leans forward slightly, away from the viewer, with his head held upright. The figure is the rap musician Eminem, wearing the very loose clothing typical of American rappers in the 1990s and 2000s: in this case, a hooded black jumper with a white stripe running down each sleeve, and baggy, brown-coloured trousers, which also bear a vertical white stripe and are worn low on his waist, leaving a band of flesh visible across his lower back. Eminem appears against a hazy, light purple background flecked with spots of white, red and blue paint that may represent a crowd or stage lighting system, and to his left is a grey pole with a large black object mounted on it that may represent a microphone.
Ghost 1 is one of a pair of paintings owned by Tate that were made by Havekost in 2004. The other painting, Ghost 2 2004 (Tate T11908), presents an identical composition but with the tones reversed: in Ghost 2, for instance, the hooded jumper is white with black stripes along the sleeves and the microphone-type object is white rather than black and grey. Ghost 1 and Ghost 2 both present Eminem as a solid presence, his body and clothing depicted in detail with a sense of volume, in contrast with their purple backgrounds – the pale, sparkling effect of Ghost 1 and the darker, more ominous atmosphere in Ghost 2 – which evoke something fantastical or even supernatural, especially when the paintings are seen together.
Ghost 1 was made in 2004 when Havekost was working between Berlin and his hometown, Dresden, and is based on a media photograph of Eminem. To make the painting, Havekost scanned the picture into a computer, manipulated its colours using photo editing software, and then used the resulting image as a reference from which to paint the scene onto canvas by hand. The paint was applied using a brush and spray gun, and the surface of the work has a predominantly matt appearance, with the occasional glossy area visible where the paint was applied using the gun.
The word ‘ghost’ has been used by Havekost in the titles of several works he has made since the early 2000s. Many of these depict hooded or masked individuals, and the curator Jean-Charles Vergne has connected Havekost’s deliberate anonymisation of these figures to the paintings’ titles, stating that in them ‘the face is chiefly a slippery entity, an elusive spirit, a ghostly appearance in constant transformation’ (Vergne 2008, unpaginated). Ghost 1 and Ghost 2 were first displayed in a solo exhibition of Havekost’s work at the Galerie Gebr. Lehmann in Dresden in July 2004, along with a number of other works that featured masked or hooded figures, including Maskierung (2x) 2004 (private collection). Maskierung (2x) shows the hooded head of a man, his face visible but with a censorial black line painted over the eyes, and is based on a newspaper photograph of an alleged child murderer. Maskierung (2x), Ghost 1 and Ghost 2 each reflect Havekost’s ongoing engagement with media depictions of individuals, one that he sees as part of a wider enquiry into the subjective nature of perception. In 2003 Havekost said ‘I’m trying to detect the filters we use in how we perceive’ (quoted in Vergne 2008, unpaginated), and in 2004 he stated further that mediation – whether through the press, through paint, or through interpretation by individuals – is a major concern of his work, since ‘Even what I personally experience is lent distance by assuming the character of media-generated reality’ (quoted in Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg 2005, p.99).
Havekost’s paintings can be compared to the work of the German artist Gerhard Richter in their use of found photographs to make realistic paintings with certain details blurred or obscured. Furthermore, Vergne has compared Havekost’s employment of pre-existing imagery to that of the painters Marlene Dumas and Luc Tuymans, yet has argued that Havekost uses such images ‘without giving any weight to their original meaning’, whereas Tuymans and Dumas ‘select their images precisely because of their political or historical import’ (Vergne 2008, unpaginated). According to Vergne, Havekost ‘avoid[s] grazing any type of symbolism’, suggesting that his focus in works such as Ghost 1 and Ghost 2 is not the nature of the celebrity’s identity but the way in which it is constructed and distorted through the effects of visual interpretation (Vergne 2008, unpaginated).
Eberhard Havekost: Harmonie: Paintings 1998–2005, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg 2005, pp.24–6, reproduced p.25.
Jean-Charles Vergne, ‘The Reality Principle’, in Entrée, exhibition catalogue, Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain d’Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand 2008, unpaginated.
Eberhard Havekost: Retina, exhibition catalogue, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt 2010.
Supported by Christie’s.