View of the work

By Dr. Ingrid Gardill, art historian ©


When you enter the studio of the draftsman, graphic artist and painter Klaus Soppe, you find yourself in a world of your own. The visitor is surrounded by works that make the serious, deep struggle for the laws of drawing and painting and their exploitation tangible - the technical virtuosity that the artist naturally brings in comes, among other things, from a well-founded training as a poster painter and calligrapher. The works are clearly characterized by the desire and almost unbridled joy of discovering and experimenting. This also explains the rapid development from high-contrast, hyper-realistic, classical-figurative painting to free combinations and play with complementary colors, in front of which, depending on the implementation, some motifs almost disappear or come to the foreground.

There is a touch of irony and humor in each of the paintings - after all, Klaus Soppe was a master student and employee of the rebel, Fluxus and conceptual artist Robin Page at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. Through him he not only gained deep insight into the techniques of painting, but also learned how important and necessary it is to continually explore new paths to lightness with this solid foundation.

The artist finds his inspiration in everyday life. As a socio-politically aware person, he noticed how much dignity some of the homeless in the cities exude. To get to the bottom of this observation, he talked to them and asked them to pose as models. This resulted in the expressive portrait series of the “Urban Trampers” with a total of 9 pictures. It illuminates the nature of people and gives them an almost solemn style.


After the turn of the millennium, Klaus Soppe became more and more concerned with the phenomenon of color's effect on perception. Back nudes were created in series, the liveliness of the skin surface coming from contrasting cold-warm tones. He places them on a monochrome background, which he partially strokes with the complementary tone (e.g. blue / orange-red). This initially creates a flickering that only disappears in the distance and reveals an atmospherically effective space. The special effect, however, is that the nude from the back stands out so vividly, as if it were within reach. The three-dimensional appearance is created exclusively by the complementary grids. The painter achieves the outstanding modeling less with light-dark gradations than with cold-warm contrasts.

Inspired by Paul Cézanne's apple still lifes, finger exercises and further color experiments with the complementary grids followed. Klaus Soppe, like the pointillists, makes the pure colors shine through targeted placement in the grid. In this series called “Variations from Paul's Apples” the artist also often uses strong, almost bright colors that are reminiscent of pop art. As a result, he himself likes to describe his painting, with a wink, as pop neo-impressionism.


In “Utopia” the artist smiles at us as a little boy, surrounded by toys, symbolic objects and sitting in front of a canvas, which in turn builds a bridge to the present. The phantom image of the father, whom the artist was never allowed to meet, places a protective hand on his shoulder. The desire for security and recognition as well as reconciliation with the past come to life in the picture. The child on the canvas shows Klaus Soppe's older brother, whom he captured in the work “Brave Boy” at a moment when he bravely faced danger with a knife. Here a short but formative moment in biography is frozen in a shockingly drastic way. “Operation Hurricane” goes even further back in time and can be read as a homage to the artist’s mother. It shows her as a young, pregnant woman in the cone of light in the sky while bombs fall on the ruins of Duisburg around her. This Allied air raid was considered one of the heaviest in Germany. Klaus Soppe brings back memories of the stories of his mother and grandmother, who sought refuge in the air raid shelter for many nights. But he portrays her not as a victim, but as a radiant woman who has mastered it all. The delicately glazed, sometimes transparent-looking application of paint contrasts symbolically with the impasto, monochrome hail of bombs that emerges from the grid lines in the background.


But the artist does not stop at the “hunger for colors” and the skillful exploration of their effect. The choice of motifs that he stages with his ever-developing technique is at least as important. Here Klaus Soppe draws from the source of his own life. He illuminates the depths of his history, with its lights, shadows and distortions. In the process of artistic exploration, what has been buried can be reawakened and often overcome in the process. The multiple layers of time and narrative are condensed in the paintings through different spatial and perceptual levels and symbolic metaphors. This type of pictorial storytelling is reminiscent of that of the Leipzig School around Neo Rauch. But Klaus Soppe has developed his own unmistakable style.


Less dramatic, but just as virtuously staged and artistically implemented, is the large landscape format “Parallel World”, in which a young girl looks curiously through the mailbox slot on a front door. The bright light from the apartment falls over her lost profile and brings the work very close to the chiaroscuro painting of the Dutch Caravaggists of the 16th century, who used chiaroscuro effects in such a way that the faces of the protagonists are intensely illuminated by a hidden light source were illuminated. At the same time, Klaus Soppe achieves a special atmosphere of intimacy and mystery in the scene. But it's not just the dramaturgy of the light that is convincing, but also the many small details that are masterfully executed, leaving out everything that is unimportant.

What is even more surprising is how the artist manages all of this, even though he has also reduced his palette to just 4 to 5 color values. With this limitation he creates an extremely impressive clarity that makes his compositions really shine. Klaus Soppe also manages to create tension between the gridded, ornamental-looking background and realistically executed figuration, to maintain the fine transparency of the paintings, to use the sensitive line that comes from the drawing for painting, and to explore the limits of color theory in an experimental and fun way to expand. In this way he gifts the viewer with a virtuoso, unconventional, narratively captivating oeuvre.