Dennis Thies

DENNIS THIES 1947 born at Cologne Germany, GERMANY
Studies: Karl Burgeff, Cologne / Joseph Beuys, Düsseldorf

1975 KUNSTHALLE RECKLINGHAUSEN, GERMANY
1979 KUNSTHALLE RECKLINGHAUSEN, GERMANY
1983 NATIONAL MUSEUM, SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA
1984 MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, SOLO EXHIBITION, SANTIAGO, SPAIN
1985 KÖLN KUNST, KUNSTHALLE KÖLN, COLOGNE, GERMANY
1987 SALA DE EXPOSICIONES, SOLO EXHIBITION, PONTEVEDRA, SPAIN
1985 KÖLN KUNST, KUNSTHALLE KÖLN, COLOGNE, GERMANY
1992 EXPO 92, SEVILLA: GROUP SHOW, SEVILLE, SPAIN
1992 DOCUMENTA IX, “ATLANTIS-PROJECT“, KASSEL, GERMANY
1993 STADTHAUS ULM, GERMANY
1995 KÖLN KUNST, KUNSTHALLE KÖLN, COLOGNE, GERMANY
1995 ART STOCKHOLM, KYRA MARALT, SWEDEN
1998 KÖLN KUNST, KUNSTHALLE KÖLN, COLOGNE, GERMANY
2002 HAPPENING IN SOUTH TYROL: “THE GOLDEN HAIR OF DOLASILLA”, DOLOMITES, ITALY
2002 LANDESTHEATER MEMMINGEN EXHIBITION ON “KING RICHARD III”, GERMANY
2002 ALP GALLERIES, NEW YORK: GROUP SHOW, N.Y.C., U.S.A.
2003 RHEINISCHES LANDESMUSEUM BONN, SOLO EXHIBITION, GERMANY
2004 KUNSTVEREIN GELDERN, KINETICS-FESTIVAL, GERMANY
2006 BEACH EXHIBITION, KAMPEN/SYLT, GERMANY
2007 BEACH EXHIBITION, KAMPEN/SYLT, GERMANY
2007 “WAITING” SCULPTURE, ULM UNIVERSITY, GERMANY
2008 COLOGNE CITY HALL, SCULPTURE “KING HENRY II”, COLOGNE GERMANY
2009 ART FAIR COLOGNE, GERMANY
2009 ARTE-TV, DOCUMENTARY, ART FAIR COLOGNE / DENNIS THIES, THE ARTIST, GERMANY
2009 NRW-TV, FILM COVERING THE ARTIST’S CREATIVE PHASES, GERMANY
2010 ART FAIR COLOGNE, GERMANY
2012 CHURCH OF SAINT MICHAEL, COLOGNE, GERMANY
2016 PÔLE CULTUREL, CHATELAUDRIN, BRETAGNE, FRANCE
2016 HILBERTRAUM, BERLIN, GERMANY
2017 HILBERTRAUM, BERLIN, GERMANY
2024 HILBERTRAUM, BERLIN, GERMANY

The present publication by Dennis Thies portrays 150 nonrepresentational acrylic paintings on nettle cloth, mostly measuring circa 160 x 180 cms. – some slightly smaller, others a little larger.

The number of 150 was not chosen by chance, since the works that Thies produced in 2023 and 2024 refer to the 150 psalms of Sefer Tehillîm, the book of hymns that forms an important part of the Jewish Torah, known in the
Christian context as Psalter or „Book of Psalms“.

That the images refer to the biblical psalms is deliberately vague, because primarily, it is important to emphasize what Thies was not about with his works: they are not illustrations of the texts, nor do they attempt at interpretation, and do not arise with the claim to translate from language into painting, or from word into picture. One could rather suggest that each painting is induced or initialized by the actual psalms. The texts act as a catalyst triggering a painting process that unfolds autonomously, but still carries an impulse, a mood or a „sound“ – a favourite word used by Dennis Thies – from the respective psalm and transforms into coloured events. It can be a sentence, a formulation, even a single word from the psalm text, which sets each painting in motion, strikes a fundamental tone, creates an atmosphere, which is then articulated in the medium of painting.

But why the artist chose the Psalms, songs from ancient Israel, from a world that seems very foreign to us, as a starting point for his paintings; why a poetry that is closely associated with the time the legendary King David lived in, possibly around 1000 BC.? Anyone who reads into the Psalm texts will quickly discover that the motives that are discussed therein are of timeless importance as they aim at the basic understanding of mankind. They speak of hope and despair, love and hate, war and peace, illness and recovery, persecution and salvation, enmity and revenge, loneliness and community, need and redemption, thus unfolding the whole spectrum of the conditio humana. All this is still current and immediately understandable; the human being has not changed too much in the last 3000 years.
But the central pivotal point around which the Psalms revolve has been relentlessly and largely lost to us humans of the late modern Western world: the hope of God’s goodness and power. This religious anchor-point of the Psalms is a void for most of us, as we have long lived in an epoch that can be characterized by Georg Lukács‘ famous metaphor of transcendental homelessness.

This finding is the starting point of the Psalm project by Dennis Thies: the question of the (not) anchoring of our existence in a metaphysical hold. It would be presumptuous to believe that art could fill the gap left by the loss of religion – especially since the feeling of loss usually no longer arises, because it is constantly drowned out and faded out with the sensory overload in today’s media society and the daily overdose of thousands of images, information and distractions.

The 150 images are painted in an unconventional way, mostly laid out flat on the ground. Thies poured the paint, spread it with cloths or his hands, made it flow, smeared it or cast it off – only the traditional tool of the brush was not used. The brush is an instrument of paint application that per se maintains a distance between artist and canvas; Dennis Thies‘ working method, however, is direct and physical. The depictions are not mounted on clamping frames, but are pinned to the wall unframed with simple nails. This way of presenting emphasizes their materiality, their physical presence. Apart from a few exceptions, there are no fixed, clearly defined forms in these pictures, rather the colour is activated in its dynamics, it shows itself flowing, emanating, intermingling and in apparent change, sometimes cloudily light, often watery, sometimes tough like thick lava. Browsing through this catalogue raisonné, one is constantly transported into new, unexpected pictorial worlds: from deep darkness into bright light, from grey tristesse into cheerful monochrome or into the excess of dramatic colour contrasts. Only with the means of colour and the application of paint, Thies succeeds in responding with purely artistic means to the abundance of existential situations and emotions that the Psalms deal with.

The Psalm paintings by Dennis Thies are an offer to engage in a painting that, in its complexity and dynamics, requires a completely different, more intimate and patient attitude than the fast, information-reaching seeing we are used to in everyday life. The images seem to change constantly, depending on the attention you are focusing on. From some distance amorphous flows of colour and clusters are brought to light, from close often delicate, hair-fine structures. When observed for a long time, they gain in depth due to the multi-layered application of paint.

All this has an effect on the imagination of the viewer, so much so that in some works, such as in pictures 50, 66, or even 118, sometimes ghostly faces or figures appear – of course these are projections, to which our cognitive apparatus tends in the face of shapeless structures. Leonardo da Vinci already described this perception effect.

Thies deliberately gave his works no titles, only numbers referring to the respective numbers of the psalms. One can look at the painting alone, but it is recommended to read the corresponding psalms and try to bring picture and text into a context. Thus, the perception is charged associatively, so that in the best of cases, resonance relationships between individual text passages and the visual properties of the images occur. If one looks at the square number 41, its darkness, which is illuminated only selectively by a faint glimmer of light, becomes even more gloomy and emotionally gripping, if one considers the evil in the corresponding psalm of people who wish the lyrical subject a quick death: „When will he die and his name pass away? „ The agitated, earthy, chaotic colour landscape in picture 79 is casually combined with the idea of the devastation of the city of Jerusalem, which was made into a heap of stones“. And the monochrome blue in picture 93, into which one can completely immerse and lose oneself in, becomes even more haunting when one reads that the LORD is more powerful than the roaring of „great water“. The 150th Psalm, the closing Hallelujah, is a single hymn of praise to God. It is not surprising that he has been set to music by numerous composers, including Schumann, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Bruckner and Stravinsky. The corresponding final picture by Dennis Thies stands out from all others by its sheer size and its orientation: It is the only landscape format of the whole Psalms series and unfolds an almost cosmogonical vision of swirling, bulging colour mist, with an island of light appearing above in the middle, into which dozens of subtle colour changes seem to push.

If by observing the works of Dennis Thies, an association of emotional spaces opens up to the beholder in
conjunction with the poetry of the psalms coming from the past, indicating an anchor point for self-and-world perception, it is merely a question inscribed within the canvases themselves. The only way this can possibly be answered – if at all – is by letting oneself get involved with open eyes and mind.

Peter Lodermeyer