There’s nothing the internet generation loves more than time-sensitive memes and petitions. In the age of Covid-19, social media’s importance and prevalence has consistently amplified with each passing day. Representing a multitude of solutions, a beacon of hope, and space for escape, for many who are struggling to be heard or to overcome adversity, social media is arguably a landfill of all things trendy and hyper-social-conscious.
Amidst a sea of strange edits and videos reminiscent of a time not too long ago, where human beings walked the earth in crowds, free of widespread illness and masks, one German painter’s visual manipulations of famous Old Masters has surfaced in spite of the noise. Humorously morphing these iconic paintings into masked portraits, Volker Hermes has since dubbed this series of photo-collaged images, the “Hidden Portraits”.
On exhibition from now till 6th January 2021, at the Castello Visconteo in Pavia, a charming small town in Northern Italy, the “Hidden Portraits” series represents the role that art can play in times of crisis, whilst serving as a reminder for all who view, of the utmost importance of wearing a mask. The final series, which is a product of over a decade of research and careful planning, questions the social context of paintings, and delves deeper into the meaning of portraits, what function they have in representing the self, which kind of people were able to have their portraits taken in history, and how the codes of fashion or the meaning of the clothes each individual wore were symbols of self-representation and social status.
Perhaps the rise in popularity of Hidden Portraits could not have been more timely, but its original message, was one that intended to drag focus away from each subject’s face and unto more elaborate representations and incredibly telling details of their identity. In an interview with Vogue, Volker Hermes shared, “In my portraits, which are photo-collages elaborated via a self-taught photoshop process on existing images, I try to see masks under a humorous light, even if obviously the situation is all but humorous. I try to add a fashionable element, a bit of a relieving touch, so to speak. I try to make them seem beautiful and not threatening. I work on exaggerating details of the costumes worn by the subjects in the portraits, which leads to reading the image as slightly bizarre and ironic and funny, with an over-the-top quality that makes the meaning of the masked face less dramatic or threatening.”
Truly ahead of his time, the meaning behind Hidden Portraits may have evolved with time and reflection, however Volker Hermes’ dedication to spreading positivity and familiarity even with the unknown, is what has always made his work that much more intriguing.