Mehr Licht is a large, horizontally oriented rectangular collage made up of six pieces of paper of varying sizes with rough, uneven edges. The pieces of paper each feature different scenes that are visible separately despite having been pasted together into one collaged picture. The largest element of the collage is positioned at the top left of the composition and features a man with his hand wrapped around a woman’s neck. The woman is touching the hand around her throat, and it is unclear whether hers is an affectionate gesture or a defensive one. This image is printed on sepia-toned paper and some areas of it are covered with black paint. The other elements of the work include a grey and black painted seascape at the top right that features two boats under a mass of black clouds, as well as long drips of black paint that suggest rain. Below this is a dark, red-brown section of paper on which appear semi-abstract strokes of white paint depicting what look like a cloth, a box and a sphere. At the bottom right of the composition, painted on a piece of newspaper covered in an uneven layer of thin white paint, is the black outline of a person shown in profile playing a grand piano. In the bottom middle, set against an orange background, is depicted a figure or doll under an archway, possibly representing a shrine, surrounded by two symbol-type forms in white paint to its right and two ladder shapes in white and red below it. Finally, the section of paper at the bottom left of the composition bears an abstract geometrical composition in red, black, white and grey that is printed on a lighter grey background.
This work was created by the Portuguese artist Julião Sarmento in 1985. It is one of a group of works that Sarmento made between 1981 and 1987 by mounting various elements – usually paintings that the artist made himself and images cut from newspapers – together onto a single sheet of paper to form a collage (see, for instance, Segredos 1986–7 and Para Bom Entendedor... 1987). Sarmento stated in 1997 that when he was working on these collages he always began by considering the work’s overall composition before sourcing the found images, producing the painted sections and then collaging them together (see Germano Celant, ‘Juliao Sarmento: A Sensual Revelation’, in Celant and Melo 1997, p.148). In the same year the artist also claimed that throughout the making of this group of works ‘I never used canvas, always paper, because canvas could be more expensive, I was constantly working and I was also very productive at the time, so I couldn’t afford to buy canvas’ (quoted in Celant and Melo 1997, p.148).
The work’s title, Mehr Licht, translates from German to English as ‘more light’, and is reported to be the last phrase spoken by the German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) before he died (although this assertion has been heavily disputed). Goethe undertook considerable research on the topic of light (including in his 1810 book The Theory of Colours), and this interest seems to be reflected in his purported last words. He is also considered a key figure in the German Enlightenment, and ‘more light’ could therefore be understood as a plea for increased knowledge or intellectual progress. However, although references to literary figures and their texts occur frequently in Sarmento’s work, the artist said in 2003 that he never intends for his titles to have a clear relationship with the works to which they belong (see Neri 2003, p.120).
When discussing the group of collages that includes Mehr Licht, Sarmento stated in 1997 that:
The whole idea was that the upper image, the main image in these paintings was very ambivalent. One could see it was only an image of doing something very real, but at the same time, one couldn’t really figure out what they were doing … you cannot understand the relationship among the characters in the images. A man holding a woman’s neck can be anything. It can be a tender gesture. It can be a violent gesture.
(Quoted in Celant and Melo 1997, p.148.)
Furthermore, Sarmento has said that although this may not be evident to the viewer, there are definite connections between all the components of this work of which only the artist is aware (see Celant and Melo 1997, p.148).
Germano Celant and Alexandre Melo, Julião Sarmento, Florence 1997, reproduced p.131.
Julião Sarmento: Flashback, exhibition catalogue, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid 2000, reproduced p.79.
Louise Neri, Julião Sarmento, Barcelona 2003, p.49, reproduced p.166.
Suppported by Christie’s.