Crucified in the Act

K.H. Hödicke, Potsdamer Straße, 1970, polyester resin on canvas, 190 x 270 cm
© Photos of artworks by K.H. Hödicke, Jochen Littkemann and Roman März

K.H. Hödicke, born in Nuremberg in 1938, looks over nearly sixty years of artistic production. The former student of Fred Thieler exhibited in the Galerie René Block as early as 1964, along with KP Brehmer, Sigmar Polke, Manfred Kuttner, and Gerhard Richter. As a member of the Neue Wilde, Hödicke was a catalyst of German neo-Expressionism, and helped shape the New Figuration movement. He also observed Berlin’s peaceful revolution from the window of his studio, and he taught at the city’s Academy of Arts for decades. Arguably, a pretty classic career. 

© Maxime Ballesteros, nylon gradient, Berlin, 2013

And then there is photographer Maxime Ballesteros, born nearly a half a century later in Lyon, France, always appearing as if he has just stepped out of the techno club Berghain (although this is not even half true). His work references subjects of excess, fetish, and nightlife. At times, his documents are so intimate that the viewer can almost smell and taste the latex. Ballesteros works between worlds, from taking the portraits of actress Tilda Swinton and musician M.I.A. to capturing a single moment of the everyday, freeing it of its surrounds, and depicting it as raw and beautifully flawed.

When juxtaposing selected works by Hödicke and Ballesteros, we find intriguing intersections, allowing the viewer to make two key discoveries. Firstly, there are the clearly identifiable motifs and subjects to be found repeated throughout their works; although decades lie between them, the parallels in the artists’ thematic focuses become virtually iconographic.

K.H. Hödicke, Masken, 1991, polyester resin on canvas, 150 x 190 cm
© Photos of artworks by K.H. Hödicke, Jochen Littkemann and Roman März

© Maxime Ballesteros, 5am in Berlin Mitte, 2013

Here and there are women’s legs, intertwined, hyper-sexualized, and almost naked, losing themselves in a vague setting; street scenes as the quintessential picture of urban life; a striking object—a gas mask—at the center of an image. In the latter, a generational shift in symbolism is evident: an icon of death and ruin from World War I until well into the Cold War (Hödicke, Masken, 1991); in the twenty-first century, particularly in the West, the gas mask has become a fetish symbol and an object of leisure, as depicted in Ballesteros’s 5am in Berlin Mitte (2013).

K.H. Hödicke, Kreuzigung (Detail), 1985, oil on canvas, 190 x 130 cm
© Photos of artworks by K.H. Hödicke, Jochen Littkemann and Roman März

Though, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most visually powerful image is that of the crucifixion—a motif that echoes throughout both artists’ work. While Hödicke presents a scene of human crucifixion (Kreuzigung, 1985), Ballesteros reinterprets its meaning with an image of a defenseless, bleeding, male hand pierced by a stiletto shoe. In so doing, Ballesteros’s love letter (2016) merges both fetish and Christian iconography.

© Maxime Ballesteros, love letter (Deatil), Berlin, 2016

It is at this point that the second insight from this juxtaposition reveals itself. Namely, and contrary to popular belief, that photographic work cannot and should not be considered a document of the real. That photography simply is incapable of capturing things as they are, in actuality, is well known, yet we often slip back to believing it otherwise—all-encompassing and too easily accessible are the possibilities of digital image processing that the mere flashing of a camera lays claim to reality. As Roland Barthes reminds us, in his 1980 short book Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, “whatever it grants to vision and whatever its manner, a photograph is always invisible: it is not it that we see.”

K.H. Hödicke, Sackgasse, 1987, polyester resin on canvas, 150 x 190 cm
© Photos of artworks by K.H. Hödicke, Jochen Littkemann and Roman März

The juxtaposition of Hödicke’s paintings with the photographs of Ballesteros also brings the fictional impetus of their respective mediums to light. As vivid as they may appear, we as viewers are not, in either case, confronted by reality. Every brush stroke sits where Hödicke intended it to sit, and so becomes part of a premeditated and imposed reality. Ballesteros, in turn, offers us a meticulously planned composition, equally powerful in its fiction.

© Maxime Ballesteros, late check out, Berlin, 2012

This dynamic becomes particularly evident in the aforementioned crucifixion scene by Ballesteros, which overtly foregrounds its own orchestration. The photograph depicts a painter’s studio; the bleeding hand resting on an oil- and acrylic-encrusted stool. In the background—as if from a bygone era—lies a painting. As though demanding an answer, the work seems to be screaming at the viewer, “What makes the painted image and its constructed world so special? The photograph does the same, but better!” To sample the words of media theorist and art critic Boris Groys, “Today, the photographic image, first and foremost reminds us of the painted image. The photographic artist employs the computer mouse, as the painter once employed the brush.”

Just as Hödicke’s works do not show an actual crucifixion or the legs of a real woman, so too should we be wary of interpreting Ballesteros’s work as depictions of reality. For wasn’t it the painter, photographer, and Bauhaus professor László Moholy-Nagy who warned us almost a century ago, “It is not the person ignorant of writing but the one ignorant of photography who will be the illiterate of the future.” It is only the knowledgeable who can fully devote themselves to fiction.



Karl Horst Hödicke (1938–2024) was a contemporary German artist known for his Neo-Expressionist paintings. The artist’s broad brushstrokes and specific colour palette provide his works with a sense of seeing a place through memory – specifically Berlin with its ever-changing cityscape was a central motif in his work. Having moved to Berlin in 1957, Hödicke became one of the spokespeople for a small group of impetuous young lateral thinkers who wanted to revolutionise painting. No sooner had German post-war modernism rejoined the international artistic trend towards the abstract than they revolted against this new doctrine with a revival of...
Read more