SELF-PORTRAIT OF A RUBENSIAN IN TROMPE L’ŒIL TECHNIQUE Interview with the painter Michael Lassel

Feature photo: Der Glücksbringer

© Michael Lassel / Courtesy of Michael Lassel


Article by Roxana Florina Popa

Discovering the art of the painter Michael Lassel in a moment of serendipity is like finding long, long-awaited fruits. A powerful experience of “it exists”, “it is magnificent” and “it is rare” I made when visiting his exhibition at the General Consulate of Romania in Munich, feeling very proud that this contemporary painter was born and studied in Romania.

I had just finished re-reading “Duveen” by S.N. Behrman. As Sir Joseph Duveen acquired only the best paintings to sell to his rich and powerful clients, such as the banker Morgan and the industrialist Frick, so I imagined the pleasure Duveen would have taken in charming his interlocutors and explaining to them Michael Lassel’s modern and unique Trompe l’Oeil technique.

Michael Lassel does not manipulate the reality; he actually draws forms and objects with the finest accuracy, revealed Prof. Carl Michael Hofbauer Santos de Almeida in a 2008 exhibition inaugural address. Duveen would have immensely enjoyed seeing the awakening of new realities and perceptions in the eyes of beholders.

Invited to exhibit at the British Museum in London in 2008 – 2009, Michael Lassel was the only one to be present with contemporary paintings in the exhibition “Babylon – Myth and Reality” next to illustrious creations dating from before the XIXth century. His paintings have been part of exhibitions in Germany, Paris, Tokyo, Geneva, Brussels, New York and Miami.

foto Lassel

Portrait of Michael Lassel

©Katharina Frömel / Courtesy of Michael Lassel

He is among the few artists who experienced and can also convey to us the closeness and the sacred of the rare relationship disciple master in its enriching and passion-for-art-sharing form: the relationship between him, the Romanian painter, Corneliu Baba and the Old Masters.

Between 6 October – 6 November 2015, the Exhibition “Analoge Welten” in Berlin organised by the Romanian Cultural Institute together with the Tiny Griffon Gallery is an invitation to experience our relation with the reality and the imagination at the same time, the authenticity of a historical past alive, the desire for money and many other ideas and environments seducing us daily into our own modern-life reality. Michael Lassel, who is seen as reserving space in his works for his self-portrait, just like Alfred Hitchcock used to shortly appear in his movies, will offer us the tools to create and explore new realities.



© Michael Lassel / Courtesy of Michael Lassel



© Michael Lassel / Courtesy of Michael Lassel

Roxana-Florina Popa:        Seeing your paintings for the very first time at the General Consulate of Romania in Munich, one of my first thoughts was at Rembrandt and the Flemish painting. You are born in Romania, to a German family and you were inspired by a French art movement. 

How can your affinity for the Flemish painting be explained?

Michael Lassel:                      Painting’s big crown wears Rubens. Many think of Rembrandt, but I see myself as a Rubensian. For me, Rubens is God’s representative on Earth in the art of painting. He gives the definition of the soul of painting.

My paintings do not look so much like Rubens, except for the perspective and approach I apply. I have refined myself in Rubens’s art. I know exactly what he painted in his various paintings and what his workshop painted. He was the only one who painted skin as it is. He painted such intricacies for the eye’s sense: a felt regard is something different from a watched regard.

I have been working all my life with the sense of sight. Helping tools like literature, music, philosophy and all other senses make a personality complete. I have always stayed true to my work just like my father, a shoemaker, concentrated on the shoe last.

RFP:     Your inspiration comes also from the painting of the XVIIth – XVIIIth centuries. Which messages have these centuries for nowadays’ art of living and art of being?

ML:        From nowadays’ perspective, these centuries look so lively and our souls so dry. This impression one gets only by listening to Beethoven or reading the rich language of Balzac. Montaigne has already taught us so many things.

Looking with humour, the human being can be defined as head, heart and liver. When one thinks only with the head, this is something so strange for me. A human being is a summum of complex forms of existence and development. Each human being has the subconscious which is so individual and cannot be exchanged. One can take so much nourishment from the subconscious. One needs to trust himself and, out of this self-confidence, one has to create. This source is there in each living person.

My intention is not to escape to the XVIIth – XVIIIth centuries. I want to assert myself here and now. I want to bring something new. I like seeing a human being as a whole, just as I can smell the entire scent of a flower. By these means, I take someone as he is and so, I can appreciate his life.


Stillleben mit Arkaden

© Michael Lassel / Courtesy of Michael Lassel

RFP:       What fascinated you to become part of the Trompe l’œil/Réalité  movement? Were there also other parallel painting movements at the moment of your decision?

ML:        Two years after I arrived in Germany, I participated in the Salon d’Automne at Grand Palais in Paris. This wish fulfilled itself as in a dream.

There were many sections showing the variety of modern art: Surrealism, Art naïve, la Séconde Realité, Trompe l’oeil. It was 1988 and it was the first time I took contact with this art movement. I was totally amazed. I prayed to God to stay alive and be able to paint like this.

I was so fascinated by this lie being equally a truth. I felt completely regenerated. I was new born at the time I saw it. I had waited so long and I did not know what I was waiting for: something to newly define me, where I can feel at home and where ideas come abundantly to me.

I started buying books about the old Trompe l’oeil to learn. There was also a painter whom I liked enormously: Jacques Poirier, a great master. I thought he was God and Pope altogether. I met him immediately, we talked and I worked with him for a long time. This was the missing step for me. I am so lucky to have met this man and to have matured in his world. For me, this was no Occident, but purely accident:  my soul freedom, my inspiration.

RFP:       How do you select the protagonists on the stage of your paintings?

ML:        There are so many criteria. To the extent one becomes aware of the knowledge and conscience of other artists, one becomes a competitor. Having the same elements as other painters is a problem. Besides having a distinct illustration manner, one needs to have also elements which were less used by others. When I do not know what to do, I prefer to take a walk in the forest or do something else instead of painting something that makes me disrespect myself. I am a bonhomme with the others and very demanding with myself.



© Michael Lassel / Courtesy of Michael Lassel

RFP:       If we could imagine that Corneliu Baba visited your exhibitions, what would you say to each other?

ML:        Hermann Hesse wished also that Thomas Mann visited him on the occasion of his secret sojourn in Switzerland. Thomas Mann comes by indeed and Hermann Hesse does not open the door because he could not believe that Thomas Mann could visit him. Thomas Mann writes a note and puts it in Hermann Hesse’s mail box. The story is told by Hermann Hesse in a short novel.

One needs something, one wants it and when it comes, it feels so strange, so overwhelming that one is frightened and cannot master the situation.

Corneliu Baba studied first Romanian Literature and Philosophy. His father had studied painting in Vienna. After the return of the painter Tonitza from his journey to Paris to the University of Iaşi, Corneliu Baba becomes his student. For Corneliu Baba, communism was not welcome and he suffered a lot. Because of a stroke, he could not speak for a long time. He was a wonderful man and also a phenomenal musician. He played the violin perfectly and was George Enescu’s friend.

I was not his direct student. He was a consulting professor. I was very fond of him. He was over 66 years old at the time I graduated. I used to spend my summer time in his workshop. I also play violin passionately and this is how we became friends: I, an aspiring young man and he, the Olympus.

What would I say to him? I would not say anything. I would only listen to him. When one has a magnificent professor before him, the greatness and the distance of immense respect remain. Even if I met him when I were 80 years old. However, I was so close to him that I would understand each movement of his face muscles. It would be a great tacit understanding. As for him, I am sure he would watch my paintings really intensively.

RFP:       Is it possible to touch anything in your paintings, something like an essential reality, or make a discovery?

ML:        I love the subject to such extent that it becomes an alpha-subject. I want to bring it forward and share my joy about the subject. The shadows between the objects are like a comma which allows the connection with the light of the nearby objects. The light is so precious, although seeing light is something that we do every day. I value this feeling. What I do with my paint brush and my being is to prepare the light and give it to the eyes of the beholder for his sense of sight.


Chevalier des lettres

© Michael Lassel / Courtesy of Michael Lassel

I do not know what people perceive. Each person sees with her own abilities, her intellect, her manner of processing and propagating. I only give the formula. In each painting there is a mirror of the viewer. Good paintings are paintings with lots of viewers and which move into universality.

There is no magic. It happens every day. This is a perspective of the world that I love very much. The light in my house is exactly as the light in my paintings. The painted books were printed first in the XVIIth – XVIIIth centuries and I bought them from Paris. So, I have many book-paintingsBücherbilder.

Vision der Wirklichkeit                                          DieEwigeStadt

        Vision oder Wirklichkeit                                                              Die ewige Stadt

© Michael Lassel / Courtesy of Michael Lassel

RFP:       What does the Trompe l’oeil seduction want to do with the viewer?

ML:         It’s all about things one did not pay attention to in life. In my paintings, one can see them very closely. They do not move. Due to the painting’s form, one is confined inside the square, one cannot go further to the right or to the left, up or down. One can only look to what is inside the square and cannot escape any of the painting’s composing pieces. The viewer has now to search like a dog. He looks over and over again and he feels it is nice to look at the painting, but the painting is not easy to understand. There is very little Trompe l’oeil under this form. One sees every-day objects before his eyes. I intend to illustrate exactly these objects with which one has daily contact.

Aeon                                     DerletzteHafen

               Aeon                                                                                     Der letzte Hafen

© Michael Lassel / Courtesy of Michael Lassel

RFP:       If one of the greatest American bankers visited your exhibitions, what would your conversation focus on?

ML:         I would talk about money and the banker would talk about painting.

For me, money is not a value in itself as beauty is. Each nation puts the best it has on its currency. We have Brâncuşi, Eminescu, Iorga, our best personalities from all times on banknotes.

The creation and illustration of a nation’s culture becomes currency. This is a very nice idea I got when I started painting money and its texture. At that time, I did not have money, but now I have it. I paint money because it is very complicate. A bunch of banknotes, even terribly difficult. One has it every day in one’s hand, but it is very difficult to paint it. I do this because others do not want to do it. I always choose to do something else and it feels good I do this. Now I need new things to incite me.


Bankier in guter Gesellschaft 

© Michael Lassel / Courtesy of Michael Lassel

RFP:       Which are these new topics?

ML:        This is the big question mark. I do not know what the next day brings. I started working on the adoration of David and the three graces. I want to show also the beauty of the masculine body. It was predefined by Michelangelo and I would like to bring it back to our memory.

RFP:       How does the “Trompe l’oeil” movement get along with the principle « what you see is what you get » ?

ML:        There is no connection. When one wants to realise what one wants to see, then one gets tired with the time. My work on the painting is something very usual, daily. The painting receives so many regards until it is ready. The same painting is not so fresh as for someone who looks at it for the very first time. Then, involuntarily you start seeing plenty of energy inside the painting.


RFP:       Which experiences in “Analogue Worlds” does the painter Michael Lassel invite us to on the occasion of the exhibition at the Romanian Cultural Institute in Berlin?

ML:         In Berlin I am quite known. I have already had two exhibitions. The people who met me there will come again.

An experience is something great. Each person has her representation which she prepared at home before the exhibition. Then, she goes to the exhibition and checks the things she imagined. This is a very beautiful process. It is nice to look at what people brought with them, what they expected to find and what they see. The paintings are getting constantly new with every regard.

Special Thanks go to master Michael Lassel and gallery founder Cristina Simion

⌘         Michael Lassel’s works-

⌘         Tiny Griffon Gallery from Nürenberg is an art & design gallery founded by Cristina Simion, former General Director Edipresse Romania, with the purpose to promote contemporary artists and designers and contribute to the vibrant artistic life of Nürenberg. Tiny Griffon Gallery organised the personal exhibition of the painter Michael Lassel at the General Consulate of Romania from 25 June to 24 July 2015.



This article has been selected into the book “Beauty Elegance Creativity – 12 Interviews on the Act of Creation” published by Roxana Florina Popa

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