Only gradually does the eye find its bearings as the contours of the images emerge from the black, gray, and green tones of Victor Man’s intimate, small-format paintings. This gradual process of recognition transforms these images into a threshold, a place of transition into another, inner reality. The space that opens up under the cover of darkness within Man’s works leads viewers into a mysterious world that merges the mundane and the fantastical, mythology and fetish, individual experience and art-historical references, male and female, man and beast.
This magical cosmos includes portraits and still lifes as well as beautiful, occult-like, and even erotic subjects. The paintings, attracting and drawing the viewer into their worlds, however, never provide explanations. Instead in their play of suggestions and references, the possibility is ever present to reverse their meaning in the eye of the viewer. In that sense a seemingly harmless still life depicting a bunch of slender, moderate branches in a vase, as in his Virgács (St. Nicolas) (2011), transforms into an object of fear after decoding the reference in the title to Saint Nicholas and his counterpart Krampus, who punishes those who have been bad.
When Man draws from literary sources and art he usually favors sources that deal with the thresholds of human existence. The human body—transformed, constrained, tortured, amputated—is often at the center of his timeless and mysterious paintings. A recurring motif is that of decapitation: a seated figure, cut off at the neck by the painting’s format, holds a disembodied head in its lap. Whether the figure is female or male remains unclear. This motif evokes images of Judith and Holofernes or Salome and John the Baptist. The gender ambiguity of the main figure reveals Man’s interest in the Surrealists and their experiments with gender-bending imagery.
Some of Man’s recent works, presented at the 56th Biennale di Venezia, are based on paintings from the Italian proto-Renaissance. These paintings tell the fortunes of outsiders, such as martyrs or hermits, who have suffered extreme physical and psychic pain in order to stay true to their beliefs. While Man adapts the composition and the iconography of his source paintings, he dramatically manipulates light and shadow. All of these works are painted in the dark colors of the night, thereby intensifying their uncanny affect. Out of this somber setting the subjects become familiar as the viewer, consciously or unconsciously, recognizes the underlying references. Yet it is the darkness itself that, like the memory of a past experience, enables images of torture and pain to vividly unfold in the viewer’s mind.