Painting religious figures and icons in an Old Masters style wouldn’t initially bring to mind the ideas of standing up against a system. With Michael Triegel, having grown up in communist Germany - his depictions of grandeur, innocence and the Holy are just that, an act of defiance that led to his own enlightenment.
Faith and belief are the two characteristics that allowed people to act obediently to the homogenising forces of communism in post-war Germany. They’re also the two things, or at least the search for them, that gave Triegel the opportunity to imagine a master beyond mere man.
Consumed by a search for something greater than himself, Triegel found faith blocked by his sense of procured rationality, limiting his willingness to sacrifice a sense of control to something that he couldn’t see - although he could certainly feel it.
Preoccupied with the brilliance of faith, just like the pure visceral horror of evil, it becomes so simple to overlook its banality. Faith isn’t all biblical epiphanies. It can come in plain moments, as with Triegel, whose own epiphany occurred when he was asked to attend a 30-day bible study group.
Immediately, the faith he’d pictured and painted materialised into something physical, a manifestation that wasn’t of his doing - not intentional like his art - but something more subliminal and overcoming.
A moment he recalls as being the catalyst came when he was commissioned by the Bishop of Regensburg to paint a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI.
This opportunity led him deeper into the world of Catholicism, Triegel fondly remembered, “I was able to attend the creation of new cardinals in Rome. Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the former bishop of Regensburg, had invited me. We know each other because he once asked me to paint the Pope. At the front of St. Peter’s Basilica Pope Francis was preaching, I was seated in the second row, right behind the new cardinals, and underneath Michelangelo’s dome.”
“Unexpectedly Benedict XVI also entered the Church. Really a perfect moment. It was nevertheless clear to me that I was not looking for all that. The artist in me was moved, but not the believer. You know, I was also concerned with mostly practical issues: when do I kneel, when do I stand up again? Am I behaving properly?”
Catholicism’s behaviours were alluring enough for Triegel to pursue the faith, but it was the sensuality and deeply human characteristics of the art that ensnared him more fully. A painter, with a deep respect for aesthetics, the Leipzig artist’s relationship with Catholicism is multifaceted. Due to this relationship’s depth - both personal and professional - the paintings must be considered part biography.
Every stroke is imbued with a part of his own life, both religious and otherwise. Importantly, the art he strives to create is idealistic, driven by a passion and an idea that through a certain belief, and its associated behaviours, we can improve our condition. He’s the preacher than never preaches with a sermon devoid of any words. His congregation is his audience and, whilst they collect to look at the rich figurative portraits the German creates, they all come together in his church.
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