´abstract paintings`

writing by Karen Zadra for the online exhibition ´abstract paintings`, 2015, Galerie Karen Zadra, Luxembourg/Australia

With countless column inches of international art press espousing the wonders of Berlin, one may be forgiven for thinking that it is the über-city of Germany’s contemporary art scene. The true epicentre, however, is – and remains – the Cologne/Düsseldorf region. Long before the Bauhaus grabbed international attention for its highly influential approach to art, design and architecture, the Kunstakadamie Düsseldorf was educating generations of artists who have come to define German art. Founded in 1762 as a drawing school, the school has been home to a staggering number of the most powerful German and European artists as professors and students: Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer, Rosemarie Trockel, Andreas Gursky, Sigmar Polke, Paul Klee, Peter Doig, Helmut Federle, Jörg Immendorf … to name but a few.

It is at this formidable institution that Claudia Larissa Artz undertook her art studies, graduating as a Meisterschülerin (master student) of Swiss abstract artist, Prof. Helmut Federle. In the intervening decade, Artz has continued to evolve her own philosophy of the form in abstraction. Her work is informed by a serious and continuous quest to resolve the aesthetic duality of line versus surface, and the search for universal forms that express belief (Glauben) and affirmation (Bekenntnis).

The aesthetic arguments surrounding line/form versus colour/movement have divided and obsessed artists since at least the 19th century. The most famous antagonists are neo-Classicist painter Ingres and his Romantic contemporary, Delacroix. Ingres argued that truth was to be found in line and form, whereas Delacroix sacrificed those for colour and movement, believing that these qualities were ultimately more important.
Artz attempts to resolve this duality by combining the crisp formal elements of abstract composition with a reverential regard for the materials she uses. By slowly and sparely building up semi-transparent layers of natural pigments using a dry brush technique, the individual qualities of the support and pigments are preserved, thus creating an organic patina of colour and texture. There is an element of chance in the application of dry brushed pigments because the density of colour cannot be precisely controlled and brush marks are visible. Artz sees this technique as the means of reconciling the duality of line and surface; for her, the spare and organic use of materials brings the experience of viewing the work closer to the essence of the thing portrayed. Combined with the carefully defined graphic elements of her composition, the painting brings line and surface into harmonious co-existence even if the duality is still present.

Aesthetic considerations have a direct relationship to Artz’s philosophical explorations. One of her quests is to find universal forms to express states and emotions such as Unconsciousness, Angst, and Joy. With the discipline of a scientist, her works are a continuous development of depicting what is observed in our external world and its relationship to what is experienced internally. Line comes to represent what is seen and quantifiable; colour and texture carry our internal, intangible experiences.

Repetition of form is an important motif in Artz’s work. It acts to convey movement, and the interweaving of different scale connects the various levels within the piece. It also suggests an interleaving of time and space. Indeed, time is a key element of her work, which is exemplified by the slow, careful process of building up layers of pigment.

References to old cultures can be found in Artz’s work, too, either in some of the symbols she uses or in the role art played in recording and transmitting cultural narratives. She states that we are all subject to these influences, even if we are not consciously aware of it. This possibly explains why there is a subtle sensation of narrative when viewing her work, even though the pieces are abstracts, for in each work is a strand of historical DNA that taps into our cultural memory bank. The memory may be vague at first, but careful contemplation of the forms repeating across the canvas begins to crystalize fragmented memories into sharper, deeper relief. What each viewer sees, however, will depend on their own inner experiences.