Michel Majerus was one of a number of German painters of his generation who signaled a resurgence of painting in the late 1990s. Majerus’s paintings flaunt a wide range of art historical influences and references – large painterly gestures, which recall American Abstract Expressionism, are combined with a Pop sensibility that embraces the reproduction of logos, packaging, and mass produced products. Fries is a typical example of this approach. Here certain brushstrokes show an appreciation of Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) while the product placement owes something to the influence of Andy Warhol (1928-1987). Fries is from a series of paintings Majerus completed referencing American – and specifically, Californian – culture. Majerus started the series during an extended visit to Los Angeles and completed the paintings in Berlin. The vast scale and shifting dynamism of the painting echoes both the advertising billboards that line the freeways of Los Angeles and the cinematic screens iconic to Hollywood.
Majerus’s strategy of bringing together emblems and gestures to float free from meaning over a surface both continues a lineage from Pop and lays bare a sensitivity to contemporary culture. The box of fries in the top left hand corner of the composition that provides the painting’s title shows a logo for a well-known American fast food chain, Jack in the Box. An outdated computer trashcan icon in the corner suggests a new idea of pictorial space, different to the flatness of abstraction or Pop, the space of the computer screen or desktop where there is no set hierarchy. It also jokingly suggests that elements could be ‘thrown out’, replaced or rearranged. Importantly though, Majerus is not actually subverting consumer culture. Indeed, he finds integrity in youthful subcultures that use images of consumerism as badges of identity. Emblazoned across the bottom of the canvas, the generic slogan, “every surfer needs a clean break”, a reference to the laidback attitude typical of a surfer culture evokes an idealized Californian lifestyle without suggesting anything in particular. It also parallels Majerus’ concern with skate culture, an abiding interest that imbued his work with a contemporary vitality. As well as painted canvases, Majerus created installations where skate ramps combined with coloured panels and painted walls and floors to produce, in effect, three dimensional paintings.
Fries was included in an exhibition of Majerus’ paintings in the project space at Tate Liverpool in 2004, following his death in a plane crash in 2002.
Alison M. Gingeras, ‘Michel Majerus’, in Vitamin P: new perspectives in painting, ed. Barry Schwabsky, Phaidon Press, London, 2002, pp.196-9
Raimer Stange, ‘Adventures of Uncertainty’, Modern Painters, vol.15, no.4, Winter 2002, pp.98-101