Blues Men


Watercolor and ink on Arches paper (6 elements)

38.6 × 29.1 cm (15 3/16 × 11 7/16 in) (each)

Blues Men is a series of seven paintings of major figures in black American music: Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Mississippi John Hurt, B.B. King, Guitar Slim, Bukka White, and Elmore James. The German artist Thomas Schütte strips them of all accessories (one might have expected a representation of their instruments) to concentrate solely on the face of each musician, whose portrait he painstakingly paints.

Composed in rapid strokes, accompanied by notes of black and white which cut through a plain, deep blue watercolour background, these portraits forcefully soak into the handmade paper. Each figure is animated by a distinct emotion, referring to the sentimentality of the blues, while endorsing a regularity of representation: the paintings are indeed based on very famous photographs of the musicians. Here, Thomas Schütte navigates between pop quotations from global culture and the exploration of a shared heritage. The blues of the American musicians is also the blue of the German Romantics: it is the colour of melancholy, anguish, and the feeling of inadequacy in the contemporary world.

The series occupies a specific place in Schütte's career, which usually involves the destruction of memorial figuration. These painted tributes are a way for the artist to inscribe two artistic movements—a national heritage on the one hand, a personal passion for transcontinental art on the other—in the same lineage.