Not all art has an apparent purpose in the beginning, but in the end, it turns out to be very relevant. Volker Hermes has been creating a series of "Hidden Portraits" for over 10 years, where he manipulates photos of classical paintings tangled up in head accessories. It seemed like an innocent play of imagination until it became very poignant when the COVID-19 pandemic took place.
Artwork itself is best at explaining itself. The second best option is an artist's explanation. Luckily, we have both options. Here's what Volker told Bored Panda about his project: "first of all, I am an artist, a painter. My photo collages are a reflection on the social meaning and our treatment of old masters. I don't paint them because I think it's no longer contemporary to paint that way, so I decided to do Photoshop interventions."
"I have great respect for incredible historical paintings. I don't add anything to the outside portraits, all the modifications come from the painting itself. I pay attention to the characteristics of the artists, brushstrokes, light, etc. My interventions should be as plausible as possible."
"Portraits were commissioned only by the elite. They were amazingly expensive and are full of codes and allusions in clothing or with attributes that refer to a high rank, which we no longer understand because our society is different. That's why we today look at the portrayed ones mostly in the face, because we don't understand the codes of the rest of the picture anymore. I block this access—I cover the person and one must now look at the painting completely differently. But I use allusions to our society today, so I bring together the past and the present."
"I studied painting at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. I started my project on historical portraits more than 10 years ago and have continued it consistently parallel to my painting. In my paintings, I often reflect on historical contexts, but it is anything but old-masterly.I taught myself how to edit images with Photoshop and I use this programme probably quite unconventionally, always from a painter's point of view."
"Since the project has been going on for so long, the current pandemic has not directly affected my work, because, of course, my project is not about medical masks. But I now know what life with masks feels like and that is really new. And the attention for my work has become much higher, which is absolutely amazing.
I have many painters that I like very much—after all, we are talking about a very long period of time. To pick out one would not be fair."