Article written by Faiq Imran on July 2, 2021
Homage to my teachers, Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm, 2019
How rich and zestful, the human spirit! Millennia spent in visual articulation, the musical ambitions of civilizations laid bare, and yet, for the multitude of texts the future will produce in its service, none would prove to be its epitaph. From contagious phantoms to poignant observations of the mundane, it never falters – tying the conceivable and the unfathomable, it forces us to confront its language, one of bewilderment, folly, and desire. If one muddies it with concerns of fear and assumed morality, it becomes a burden, bothersome and tedious. But to those who venture, it provides visions of frenzy and ecstasy. The work of abstract-expressionist Peter Backhaus is a testament to this journey inwards – bewildering and enthralling in excesses, enriching and gratifying in minutiae.
Compact energy, Oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm, 2019
Born in East Germany in 1947, his parents moved to West Germany three years later. After spending his childhood in a small town called Minden, near Hanover, he moved to Sweden in 1968 where he studied philosophy, psychology, sociology, and art history; and took his bachelor’s degree at the University of Gothenburg. During 1973-1978, he studied art at the Hovedskous Artschool in Gothenburg where he later became an associate professor. In the year 2000, he became the headmaster and owner of the same school.
Balls, Oil on canvas, 168 x 146 cm, 2018
Arriving on the heels of the Great War, the sins of the parents were visited upon the children. Witness to the horrid memories, post-war Germany hungered for deliverance. Some put their faith in exodus, others in the numbness of time. But the road to recovery is taxing, languorous for the mind and body – neither time nor distance suffices in the face of trauma. For Peter, the breakthrough came in 1996, “It took me many years to arrive at penance. Even with the Swedish audience, there was not always an understanding of my inner fire and my need for cleansing myself because the cultural and social conditions were different. When I gave expression to my suppressed anger with a large series of exhibitions entitled “Entartet”, I was finished. I could finally let go”.
Grez, oil on canvas, 200 x 205 cm, 2000
His voyage into the dark labyrinths of the psyche – which he modestly calls paintings – are rare specimens of spontaneous ingenuity. Standing across them, one does not peer through a crevice like a voyeur – no, the experience is far more akin to bathing in an eruption of color, writhing and convulsing to tread through layers of abstraction. But it wasn’t always like this. Peter started as a figurative painter, meticulously studying the work of his idols: Rembrandt, Francis Bacon, and Edward Munch, “I am a painter at heart who has always loved to express myself with colors. I started as a realistic painter and by different experiences in my life, I ended up as an abstract expressionist. However, I believe that if I hadn't studied reality like the old masters, I wouldn’t have been able to develop my abstract expression in painting as I did”. It’s been a long process for him; it still is, “Security in art is death, stagnation”. The rampant physique of the paintings, the irresistible touch of the divine, the convergence of the conscious and the unconscious, all celebrate the unpredictability of the moment. A splatter of anguish, a splosh of grace; and the work becomes an oneiric entity – a clash between reason and instinct, “I know what happens when one layer meets another or a certain color almost covers another even if it’s just thrown onto the surface. So what is control and what is chaotic action?”
Future-room, oil on canvas, 210x178, 2003
Peter has exhibited his art in different Swedish and German galleries. Since 2019, he has been represented by Pashmin Art Gallery in Hamburg and has participated in numerous museum exhibitions in China. These days he is free, enjoying his life as an artist, feeling at home on his farm in the woods outside of Gothenburg and in the streets and Cafés of Berlin. In October 2021, he will participate in the Florence Biennale in Italy with three large paintings. You can take a look at his work on peterbackhaus.net, Singulart, and Instagram.