Bricolage is the central ordering principle of Elfgen’s oeuvre. Early works in particular also find the artist employing such readymades as a Vespa, for example, a Mercedes-Benz classic car and other modes of transport. Subtle interventions to these vehicles, their quasi-theatrical staging and integration into thematically dense spatial artworks add an almost mystical dimension. They point to travel as a rite de passage, but also clearly evoke a confrontation with death, the last great rite of passage for any of us. The objects are regularly accompanied by inlay works depicting skulls, falcons or owls, most of which directly meet the viewer’s gaze. These same motifs take the lead role in a number of installations. As symbols they embody both the end and a new beginning; they appear to guard a threshold between the worlds of the living and the dead.
The artist’s spatial installations, created with an acute sensibility for unconscious effects, usually encompass a vast array of collages, assemblages and works in various different media. They are to be understood as total works of art. More recent assemblages in particular show Elfgen’s increased use of objets trouvés: elements ranging from wicker chairs to a skateboard ramp to a monastery’s confessional. Cobbled together with fiberboard, resin or clay, they have something of a fragile character. His collages consist of found images, various textiles, paintings and inlays. The diffuse spatiality of their black-stained background recalls icons or panel paintings from the Middle Ages. Animals including rabbits, foxes, or cats are a recurring motif in almost every one of Elfgen’s installations, as are figures with averted faces, ties, umbrellas, and puddles of oil. The symbolism of these elements—also reminiscent of the art historical iconographies of René Magritte or Joseph Beuys—alludes to the human being’s place in the cycle of nature and the failure of conventional ideologies of technology and progress.
Robert Elfgen’s works thrive on a specific kind of narrative and symbolic density, on biography, everyday observations and an acute sensibility for the subliminal poetry of myths and rituals. Keenly focused on the threshold experiences of human life, their extraordinary intimacy conjures a multitude of different associations. The visible traces of their production reflect the fragmentation and improvisation that define our contemporary existence. Elfgen’s oeuvre amounts to nothing less than a highly poetic aesthetic of being.