A bead of sweat rolls down in slow motion between the eyebrows, along the nose, past the corner of the mouth, and falls onto the dusty floor, following countless drops before it. In der Gießerei (In the foundry) from 1979 is one of the earliest works by the painter H.D. Tylle, a study of the light in the Hensel Ironworks in Bayreuth. With only a few minutes to capture the scene he requires, the artist himself is a picture of concentration. The canvas ripples in time to the rapid brushstrokes, while the paint seems to boil beneath his hands.
Thirty years later, in the factory buildings of Merck in Darmstadt, the artist is wearing protective clothing. Standing on the gleaming floor of the liquid crystal plant, the 55-year-old artist is in new territory, although he has painted at more than 100 companies. Merck is the first station of Tylle’s latest artistic project, Deutschlandreise, a Tour of Germany. It will lead to the creation of six pictures: of Merck facilities in Darmstadt and of the company division Merck Serono’s large biotechnology plant in Vevey, Switzerland. Modeled on the classic form of the altarpiece, with one broad central panel flanked by two narrower ones, the works form two triptychs, each representing one of the company’s two business sectors: Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals.
Tylle's Tour of Germany - First Stop at Merck
Back from the U.S.
Before embarking on his Tour of Germany, Tylle, who was born in Bayreuth, first had to return from the U.S., where in recent years he has painted a series of scenes from American working life. His new project, which is scheduled to run for two years, has now taken him home. All in all, he plans to create 40 large-scale works situated in around 15 factories, industrial plants, and shipyards, together with impressions of the landscape in which they are embedded. It will be a journey through Germany and German industry, ranging from pharmaceuticals to automobile production, plaster to reinforced concrete, and pesticides to shipbuilding.
Despite the disparity of these workplaces, Tylle is perfectly at home in all of them. That’s also because the workplace was his father’s world, a world in which manual labor was still very much the order of the day. “My father was a working man — a pattern maker in a factory. He made the casting patterns, or molds, into which the molten metal for machine parts was poured. I often used to visit him and watch him at work. That was when I painted my first pictures of the workplace. And it’s something that has gripped me ever since,” says Tylle in explanation of how he became a realistic painter with what is rather an unusual subject matter in contemporary art — one that was inaugurated in Germany by painters such as Adolph von Menzel (Eisenwalzwerk, 1875). Tylle’s father, who had always harbored an interest in painting, finally yielded when, in the 1970s, his son announced his desire to study art rather than, as his parents would have wished, computer science.
While at art school, Tylle’s work was already focusing on the workplace, though he also discovered a penchant for landscape painting. “Even today, that’s still a great way to recover after spending long hours in a factory or underground in a mine.” In the countryside, Tylle’s eye can relax in the greenery of the trees, and his artistic soul can snatch a moment of repose in the expanse and boundlessness of nature. And yet, landscape and industrial painting are perhaps not as far apart as one might imagine: “I have about the same time to capture the sun going down or a blast furnace being tapped. In either case, there’s only a few minutes to commit all the details to memory.”