The human hand is an indication of the kind of work we do. Calloused hands betray a life of manual labour, soft hands may indicate a less physical endeavour. Scars, tattoos, colour and condition can tell a story without any words. It's with hands that CASE Maclaim interacts with the world.
CASE is one of the original members of the East German Maclaim crew - a pioneering group of painters that have pushed photo-realism to new highs and into new directions. For CASE, his main focus has been the human body, predominantly focussing on the hands. In what might sound like a limiting approach - the breadth of his exploration of what a hand means, who it belongs to and what it can do is breathtaking.
In one image, the focus is sharp. It's a hand writing something. It could be a goodbye letter or a note to say they're going down to the shops. That part isn't for him to decide. It's something that, even inadvertently, we can all relate to. Communication by the letter might seem like a relic now, but that's more a sign of our changing times than the handwritten word becoming devoid.
In more complex pieces, the hands become the vehicle whereby the body can express itself. Either tightly grasping a bat in a sporting event where the persons hope is kinetically stored within their finger tips. History could be written by this swing. Conversely, all hope could similarly become history. It's a moment caught in time that's balancing on the precipice of expectation and reality.
In other scenarios, the hand becomes a symbol of comfort. A woman holds on dearly to a man's jacket, clearly longing for a sense of hope and strength through the fabric. Her closed eyes shift the viewer's focus to, once again, be on her hands. Is it a dead husband? An absent lover? Is her husband working away or having an affair? The open-ended interpretations act like cinematic snapshots into the most intimate moments of peoples lives. Standing alone they are like stills. What happened before or is about to happen next comes down to our own experience and what we project onto it.
It's not just love-stories and the hands of adults, but also those of children - portraying childhood friendships and simplicities that are bound to become something more complex over time. In a piece created in Florida in 2016, CASE painted a young black girl holding a book on a wall in an elementary school's playground. The book is, naturally, much more than just that. It is her escape, her way out. The world can be a cruel place. For children, knowledge is power.
Bolstering the image is the girl with her hand on her friends shoulder. Her blonde hair partly obscures her face as she gazes lovingly over her friends shoulder. It's a moment shared, not only by the two characters, but by the children that see it everyday, the parents and the teachers. It confronts issues of education, race and the importance of friendship in a child's formative years.
CASE graduated from university with a degree in art restoration and conservation. It's perhaps his scrupulous attention to detail that gave him the freedom to create art of the calibre that he has. In a degree that tends to hold reverence of the classics, CASE rejects the identikit mass-produced replica aesthetic of contemporary consumer-society's art. It is this feeling that pushes him to create everything by hand and goes a long way in explaining the respect he has for this particular part of the body.
There is an inherent melancholy throughout his work. It's as if all of the hands are desperately trying to hold onto something - the past? A memory? Their emotive presence, lacking a face, or at least a more tangible claim to being, makes them feel less like stories untold, but ones that have been left unfinished. Be they the eager hands of youth or the loose hands of age, they're a part of a timeline - not the end of it.
Thanks to CASE's incredible technique, the realistic nature of his subjects makes them exist off of the page, albeit anonymously. Hands, a part of everyone, are our gateway to the world. It's how we feel things - the person we desire's hair, the Lego blocks that are building our castle or the brushes with which we paint. Hands are the possibility, without being the polished trophy at the end. They portray the suffering, the work and the time that's passed. No matter their colour, or size, they belong to someone. That we often can't see them means that the hands in his paintings could be someone we know. They could even be ours. As CASE discovers the world with them, so too can we.
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