Photography Spencer Ostrander

By Matt Mullen

The figures in Florian Krewer’s paintings are hazy and indistinct but nonetheless recognizable—like characters from a half-remembered dream. Appealingly louche and slouchy, they’re mostly city kids, the kind who hang out in the streets after dark: fighting, dancing, just standing around. Sometimes they’re joined by animals both real and imagined. A new group of Krewer’s work is on view in “Eyes on Fire,” his latest show spread across two galleries: Michael Werner on the Upper East Side and TRAMPS on the Lower East Side.

The 34-year-old German artist, with his streetwear and tattoos, conveys some of the same casual coolness as his painted subjects. Barely four years out of art school, he is a rising star on both sides of the Atlantic after his first show at TRAMPS in 2018, followed by one at Michael Werner in London last year. But Krewer is low-key. “Nothing is planned,” he declared on a recent gallery walkthrough, referring to either painting or life.

Krewer’s mentor—and a clear influence on his work—is the painter Peter Doig, whom Krewer studied under for six years at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. “Peter’s like a father figure to me,” Krewer says. “Finding my own language in painting would not have happened without him.” In their work, the two artists share an affinity for mythology and magical realism. Krewer, like Doig, pulls liberally from his own life for his paintings, using memories and photographs as starting points, and infusing the scenes with fantasy.

Many of the characters in Krewer’s new paintings are friends or people he’s met since moving to New York last year. But faces are obscured, or totally blurred—Krewer says he does not want anything to look too close to life. The bodies are often more interesting; in the exuberant falling flying (2019), for example, two dancers do flips in the sky. Fantastical animals, especially big cats, recur frequently across the works, their presence sometimes playful, sometimes sinister. Because Krewer works at life-size, on large canvases, the viewing experience is immersive—the velvety blacks and bright colors draw you into their world.

For six weeks in the spring, Krewer was sick with COVID. In captive (2020), made in the throes of illness, a male figure lies on a bed in a claustrophobic, coffin-like space surrounded by darkness; a monstrous creature rests at his head. “Between April and May, I saw no one but the postman,” Krewer says. Now he leaves his Bronx apartment most nights and goes out across the city, in search of people to meet and photograph—stories to begin and rewrite later with a different ending.

Published: December 18, 2020

Eyes on Fire” was on view at Michael Werner, 4 East 77th Street, New York, and at TRAMPS, 75 East Broadway, New York, through February 27, 2021.