Markus Fräger


Markus Fräger 1959-2020

In his condensed pictorial spaces Markus Fräger developed in a unique way the new location of the figuration in the narrative moment: a couple in a tender embrace, a man with a spear, hesitating, as "The Undecided", behind it shadowy figures and a muted television set. Or a woman, sitting thoughtfully in an armchair, behind her a red curtain as an apparent way out. It is these strong feelings, captured in a brief moment, that fascinate in the pictures of Markus Fräger. They draw the viewer into his pictorial world, who as an observer becomes part of human dramas and longings. Each level of the picture becomes a statement: The colored atmosphere, the tension, the hard incident light, the partly shadowy figures, the dark background, often in a palette of black and green tones, and the complementary element of red. Thus the red curtain and the barrier were among the recurring symbols in Markus Fräger's visual language. The spear in reference to Rembrandt's "Night Watch", the red curtain as a symbol of the hidden, the possible and at the same time as an anachronism of a baroque interior in a contemporary everyday situation. In addition to art historical quotes, there were also filmic quotes, such as the bed from "No Country For Old Men" by the Coen brothers, Sean Penn in "Atrium of Hell" or scenes from "Lost Highway" by David Lynch.

Fräger saw in his paintings the connecting line from the figurative painting of the Baroque through the strong inclusion of light, to the big city feeling conveyed by the visual language of film noir, which points to pop culture. For the scenic preparation of a cycle of paintings Markus Fräger worked with actors. In doing so, he made hardly any specifications; it was more a matter of observation and association. Often it was random details that became the narrated moment, supplemented by film scenes photographed from the television or Internet. "It's not as if I explicitly conceive the content of a picture," said Fräger. It's more constellations of figures associated with art history, which then expose this composition in the eye of the viewer".

In his Cologne studio in a historical industrial building, the canvases hang on unplastered, white walls, the outlines of the bricks clearly visible. It was this shining through of the history of the place that also became part of his paintings, the past as part of the present. As in his altarpiece in the Ramsthaler Sankt-Vitus church with the Emmaus motif, which after the common meal with the disciples refers to the subsequent knowledge of the resurrection. The scene takes place in the now, tells the key moment of the transition to knowledge and hope.

In Fräger's painting, which is often conceived as a chamber play, the cut-outs from paintings, a hinted curtain or a flickering screen refer to exits into a possible further plane of existence. The anachronistic presentation of the quotations used, which deliberately incorporates different time levels into the plot, emphasizes the themes of memory and loss as central to his paintings. This creates intimate moments of unconditional beauty and tender vulnerability.

Markus Fräger was born on November 7, 1959, the son of the graphic artist and sculptor Wolfgang Fräger in Hamm, Westphalia, and studied art history and archaeology at the University of Münster. His paintings have been exhibited at the Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg, the Hoesch Museum in Düren, and most recently in 2019 at the Kunstverein Unna. He has also exhibited at the Friedmann-Hahn Gallery in Berlin, the Stéphane Biesenbach Gallery in Cologne, the Caldwell Snyder Gallery in San Francisco and the Clairefontaine Gallery in Luxembourg. His works are represented in public and private collections, including the collection of the Vatican Museums, Vatican City, the Klöcker Collection, the Ines and Jürgen Graf Foundation for Art, Culture, Industrial Design, Cologne, the Museum am Dom, Würzburg and the Landesbank Baden-Württemberg, Stuttgart.

Markus Fräger died due to a serious illness on August 17, 2020 in Cologne.


About the work of Markus Fräger ... more >

Opening speech of the solo exhibition "Beneath", April 2014 by Sabine Weichel

A Fräger is one who asks questions, a Fräger is one who paints questions. The question about the below. The title of the exhibition - BENEATH - already provides a first trace of the appropriation of the comprehensive work exhibited here - all new works by the Cologne-born artist Markus Fräger. Mighty of English, they have long understood that it is about the below. But under what? Beneath the Surface? Beneath the Surface? That's beneath him? Under his dignity? But rather under the skin?

The look of the little girl on the invitation card "Girl with Shadow" hits us right in the heart. It is a challenging gaze that questions us as observers and critically subjects us to an examination. Not a cute little girl's look, but a questioning, testing one. We sit at the table with them. Or stand with us in the studio. As in the portrait of the young man with the title "Look Up" in the blue hooded jacket. Probably artists, as the pictures in the background suggest. Apparently he's just inspired by an idea that comes to him when he looks into the skylight. His face, illuminated by insight, is reminiscent of a portrait of Alexander Humboldt, if it weren't for this fashionable sports jacket. Is it a visitor standing away from him or his alter ego? We're in the studio with him, he'll be addressing us in a moment. That is a basic principle of Fräger's pictorial compositions. We as viewers are either part of the composition of the picture, in that the acting persons involve us with their gaze, or we unintentionally become witnesses, even voyeurs, of an explosive life situation. We are part of a play scene from a film. Here the painter becomes the director of his pictures. As viewers, we act within a pictorial space defined by him like actors in their roles. Probably this is also the secret of his pictures, they trigger immediate consternation in us.

During my visit to the studio I was able to see how these compositions are created. They are composed of various elements: the artist often invites actors, friends and family members and actually composes choreographies in space like a director, illuminates accordingly and a photographic sketchbook is created. These image ideas are then combined with images from magazines, film scenes from the Internet or from real life. But this does not happen meticulously glued to paper, but as a collage in the artist's head. In addition, the masters of the past, such as Frans Hals, Diego Velazquez, Iljá Repin or Vincent van Gogh, have an unmistakable influence on the direction of light, composition and painting technique. Light and shadow are stylistic elements of this dramaturgy and an essential component of the emotional expressiveness of the pictures. The combination of old-masterly staging and modern subjects of bourgeois life constitutes the artist's very special, unmistakable style. The time-spanning diffusion, the swinging zeitgeist also has a frightening note, which urges us to think as observers.

The situation in "Futile Explanation" is a remarkable example of this. Obviously the speaker on the left presents a problematic topic, which he intensifies with the language of his hands, while the protagonist on the right makes eye contact with us, the viewer, and thus lets us participate in the conversation. However, in his presentation he seems to have fallen out of time. Hairstyle and clothes remind us of Goethe's time. The girl looks at another table guest who remains hidden from our eyes. The woman of the house is standing in the door, apparently startled by the loud voice of her husband, she doesn't want to miss what happens at the table. The door in the background leads into the light-flooded garden, just like in the artist's studio. A scene from the bourgeois life of our occidental culture is reflected here with good deliberation. We witness this confrontation, the thoughts of which are transferred to us. The meaningfulness of the events, however, remains in the mysterious, hidden.

Despite apparent calculations, chance also plays an essential role in the painting process. When a facial expression succeeds that suddenly charges the picture with an uncanny meaning. Or a background demands more depth and figures are added or painted over. Sharpness and blurriness are used to guide the gaze. Our gaze is first drawn to the sun-drenched face of the speaker, his hands leading us back to the table, which remains blurred until it meets the conspicuous green bottle, the materiality of which is very precisely captured by green glass. Through the woman in the background we cannot escape the gaze of the right-wing protagonist, I would like to call him the "guest from the Age of Enlightenment".

I would like to analyze another major work here with you, because it fits so particularly well to our situation tonight: "The Outraged" shows a vernissage scenery. A large panel painting which draws us almost larger than life into an opening scene. The main actors are a couple, he in a dark suit with even darker glasses, she in an emerald green silk brocade dress. Obviously pressed by paparazzi, the two look directly into a camera or a flurry of flashlights. Their faces are blinded by this light. They are angry about the obvious disturbance of their privacy, "not amused". Except for the woman on the left, who smilingly made eye contact with the paparazzi outside the pictorial space, none of the guests at the vernissage take notice of the scene. The man seems slightly brutal, angry, while she simply seems annoyed. As the artist has told me, this composition is composed of an actor's own photo and a woman's photo from the Internet. The dress design also originates from another source. Again, it's nice to experience the psychological moment of this everyday scene - staged by director, dramaturg and painter Markus Fräger.

Change of scene: We are at a table, presumably in a restaurant. One could imagine experiencing a crime scene on Sunday evening shortly before the catastrophe. "Difficult Negotiations" is the title of this screen. The main character in the foreground in violet black seems threatening, even aggressive, as she is leaning forward on the table of the frightened table guests. In contrast, the woman, in the glistening light, seems horrified and frightened. The two boys on the right could be bodyguards. The person addressed is not in the pictorial space, but his presence is physically perceptible. We become involuntary witnesses of this scene. The burst ice-blue background is not reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich's icy landscapes. A reference back to art history.

The fourth panel painting entitled "The Distanced" is a cross-reference to old times. Obviously, a relationship crisis is in the offing here. It could also have already cracked verbally, because the woman looks at us angrily and outraged, with clenched fists in her pockets. Away from her husband, she stands distant in the kitchen. Or is a person outside the picture. Reason for her indignation? The details of the kitchen utensils, such as toaster, thermos flask and water bottle, are lovingly executed in a still life-like manner. The atmosphere breathes cool blue. Our gaze leads into the sunlit depths. In the balcony door the man is standing, his hands in his pockets as well, looking back in our direction. Is the crisis being overcome? Will there be further arguments? Even violence? We do not know. Are once again witnesses of this scene. Thus each picture tells a story, everyday scenes, snapshots, is a mirror of our bourgeois society and at the same time a historical reference.

The medium, oil on canvas, allows us to mop over, intervene, remove, overpaint the next day - until the right brushstroke is applied. The portrait of the girl in front of the landscape with the title "Beneath" or also "Girl in a Snowy Landscape" is a trick of the artist. Some landscapes were created in earlier phases of his work. Almost old masterly in play of light and shadow. If not, yes, if these deserted landscapes were not deliberately disturbed by civilizing codes such as overhead lines, light poles, etc.. Now the artist is re-deploying these landscapes by inscribing portraits with fast brush strokes to capture the atmosphere, the certain facial expression. Using the statement of the landscape, a certain mood is transferred to the portrait or the depicted scene. This tension alone tells a new story. It is like a de-collage by Mimmo Rotella, as if something of the underlying picture content is exposed again by overpainting. And here we are again with the exhibition title: BENEATH - the below. Thus the bow closes in a wonderful way. I could now tell you about my father, the successful graphic artist who taught Markus Fräger how to paint in a playful way, about the ingenious children's drawings that I was allowed to see in the studio, about his archaeological studies, which may have aroused his interest in the below, but I would now like to invite you to experience for yourself the stories that the pictures tell.


1959 born in Hamm
1979 HBK (Academy for Fine Arts), Braunschweig
1980-86 Studies of Art History and Archeology at Wilhelms University in Münster
1993 Hans Sprung-Award of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Bildender Künste am Mittelrhein e.V.
2020 died in Cologne
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Selected Solo and Group Collections

2020 Kunstverein Münsterland, Coesfeld (G)
2019 Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (S)
Galerie Friedmann-Hahn, Berlin (S)
Galerie Caldwell Snyder, San Francisco (S)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (G)
Galerie Robert Drees, Hanover (S)
Kulturforum Schorndorf (S)
2018 Kunstverein Unna (S)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (S)
Galerie Mühlfeld & Stohrer, Frankfurt on the Main (S)
Galerie Clairefontaine, Luxembourg (G)
2017 Galerie Friedmann-Hahn, Berlin (S)
Galerie Mühlfeld & Stohrer, Frankfurt on the Main (S)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (G)
2016 Kunstverein Münsterland, Coesfeld (S)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (S)
Galerie Clairefontaine, Luxembourg (S)
2015 Niederrheinischer Kunstverein, Museum Wesel (S)
Galerie Friedmann-Hahn, Berlin (S)
Galerie Mühlfeld & Stohrer, Frankfurt on the Main (S)
Galerie Robert Drees, Hanover (S)
Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (G)
2014 Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (S)
Galerie Robert Drees, Hanover (G)
2013 Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (G)
Lehmbruck-Museum, Duisburg (G)
Kunstverein Hamm (S)
Galerie Mühlfeld & Stohrer, Frankfurt on the Main (S)
2012 Galerie Biesenbach, Cologne (S)
Galerie Friedmann Hahn, Berlin (S)
Galerie Michael Heufelder, Munich (G)
2010 Museum Stadt Borken (S)
Galerie Mühlfeld & Stohrer, Frankfurt on the Main (S)
2009 Leopold-Hoesch-Museum, Düren (G)
Städtische Galerie Speyer (G)
Museum Coesfeld, Kolvenburg Billerbeck (S)
Galerie Gundolf Roy, Zülpich (S)
2008 Galerie Mühlfeld & Stohrer, Frankfurt on the Main (S)
2007 Galerie Hubertus Melsheimer, Cologne (S)
2006 Museum Stadt Bergkamen (S)
2005 Galerie Gordon Pym & Fils, Paris (S)
2004 Galerie Hubertus Melsheimer, Cologne (S)
2003 Kunsthalle Koblenz (S)
2002 Mittelrhein Museum, Koblenz (S)
2001 Bloxham Galleries, London (S)

Selected Public and Private Collections

  • Ines und Jürgen Graf Stiftung für Kunst, Kultur, Industriedesign, Köln
  • Kollegiatstift Neumünster, Würzburg
  • Sammlung Klöcker
  • Land Rheinland-Pfalz
  • Landesbank Baden-Württemberg, Stuttgart
  • Mittelrhein Museum, Koblenz
  • Museum am Dom, Würzburg
  • Museum Burg Miltenberg
  • St. Hippolytkirche, Dettingen am Main
  • Städtisches Museum Miltenberg
  • Stiftskirche St. Vitus, Ramsthal
  • Vatikanische Museen Vatikan, Vatikanstadt
  • Collection Stéphane Biesenbach




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