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Brezing’s lonely figure may yet still find hope in a crowd

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Thomas Brezing's 'Bunting'

Thomas Brezing's 'Bunting'

Thomas Brezing's 'Bunting'

THOMAS BREZING Bunting 

The Black Forest, with its oak, Scots pine and spruce, looks dark, almost black. Thomas Brezing knows; he grew up there, in small-town Nagold. His father, a blacksmith from a long line of blacksmiths, worked the forge. His mother helped. “I have never seen two people work so hard.”

They lived ‘over the shop’ and Brezing, now Balbriggan-based, remembers “the constant noise, the smell of metal” and could see, reflected on his neighbour’s house, “the buzz-light” from his father’s welding.

“My parents spent most of their waking time there. They had accidents. I have scars from a couple of accidents and though I rebelled against that world, it filtered into my art. I never escaped from it.”  

There was no art at home. At school a painting of his was held up by the teacher and was “verbally ripped to shreds”. But when Brezing was 20, a girlfriend, preparing an art portfolio, insisted they paint together. “She began at one end of the paper, me at the other end, meeting in the middle. It sparked something.”

Now 51, Brezing paints an “inner landscape”. Marriage, children, his parents’ deaths shaped his art, as do environmental issues. His mother’s recent death “brought a darkness and also energised me in unexpected ways. She was my home. Without her I feel homeless”. 

His new two-person show with German-born Vera Klute is called The Loneliness of Being German. Growing up, Brezing says, “It’s impossible to quantify or verbalise how much the war affected my father. He never spoke to me about it. That generation of men was like a sealed container.”  

His mother lived through traumatic experiences and 30, 40 years on when the town’s sirens were tested, “my mother would start shaking and crying. I don’t know why the town still tested those same sirens”. 

A sensitive boy and a daydreamer, in a place that was “rough and sometimes brutal” where “people were often gaudy, brash, sharp-edged, especially the men”, Brezing learned to toughen up. “The ghost of the war still loomed over the country in the 1970s and 1980s. The older generation was traumatised, bitter, angry, sad as clowns and probably depressed. Some classmates had alcoholic fathers who beat them and their mothers.” 

But Brezing thinks that “there’s a trace of loneliness in everyone because we are mortal”. “A country,” he says, “can also be lonely. There is no Danish or Swedish angst but there is German angst due to history, World War II, outrageous racism that led to the Holocaust. I say, ‘I am German,’ only when asked, but add right away, ‘I have been living in Ireland for a long time.’”

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Yet, he is “someone who thinks and looks back a lot instead of ahead. The happiest people don’t look back. I put my pain into my work”, adding that “the purpose of art is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”.  

‘Bunting’, a mixed-media work, uses ink, oil paint, batik on paper. “In Germany, during Fasching or Karneval, hardworking, reliable, dedicated people do foolish, wild, un-German things. They fantasise, dream, play, sing, dance. In ‘Bunting’ a lonely figure walks into somewhere that promises something.” Despite the jaunty, upbeat title, “the townscape is bleak, fractured, empty”. Made when his mother was dying, there are dead birds, lower left, but one bird lives. “It seems that the lonely figure could be me.”    

‘The Loneliness of Being German’, Thomas Brezing and Vera Klute, at Limerick City Gallery of Art until September 12. thomasbrezing.weebly.com; Instagram: @thomasbrezing 

Two to view

Claire Murphy
Murphy’s Here is Where I Am, a photographic installation at South Tipperary Arts Centre, was inspired by her own family during the pandemic. Her photographs document ordinary moments in daily life; quiet images prompting contemplation and “unknowable narratives for us to ponder”. Until August 28. southtippartscentre.ie

Cecilia Bullo
Bleach Those Tongues: Dystopian Assemblages by Irish-Italian artist Bullo is a new sculptural work based on the philosophical and botanical concepts of the Rhizome, a modified subterranean plant. Bullo “interrogates healing mechanisms involving rituals and signifiers in the context of social issues”. Hillsboro Fine Art until August 7.


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