NEAR THE DISTANCE
Near the distance
Gerlinde Thuma’s work is an example for the interaction of a variety of media in the field of tension between painting, graphics, sculpture and land art. Nature is the point of departure for and the basis of both her reductive variations on canvas and her installations in the landscape, which intervene directly in nature. The question of whether nature and art are two systems standing in contradiction is one for which painting has long been seeking an answer. “Why,” asks Umberto Eco, “should one devote one’s attention to the image at all, when it is so much more impoverished than the real sand, than the unendingness of the material that nature puts at our disposal?” (1) In looking at Gerlinde Thuma’s work one can also ask oneself the question of why the artist approaches the phenomena of nature, with their immanent passage of time and especially their filmic and musical aspects, in the static medium of painting. In her works, Thuma is notating the score of an abstract composition, which in the best case awakens an impression of familiarity in the perceiving beholder. Atmospheric observations in the landscape, like light and shadow, moods and temporal processes, are brought to the studio in a state of fleeting memory, where they are rescued by the artist retracing her thoughts and coalesce on the canvas. Citing Eco once more, it is art that is able to organize the raw material of nature, (2) and as a sort of opposing model to nature it is able to create a consciousness of and a sensibility for those areas that retreat from the hurried pace of our everyday perception.
Gerlinde Thuma studied painting and film animation in Maria Lassnig’s master class at the University of Applied Art in Vienna. The principle of developing a continual temporal progression using a drawing that becomes a moving image in an animated film is something that Thuma has continued to develop in her double paintings. While film lets the images proceed one after the other, painting stops the passage of time. The before and after immanent in time is conserved in the process of painting and in the application of many glazed layers of color over one another, and also in charcoal drawing, a medium whose developmental process presupposes temporality. From the working process involved in creating the two images that have been brought together, a new third image arises in the present.
Two images, which through the horizontal or vertical division twice formulate the same artistic intention, the same thought, first become a valid statement when they are juxtaposed. Painting and drawing in charcoal find themselves together at the points where levels intersect. Through these points of interface, the abstract structure of the image is perceived as a spatial stage, but without depicting actual landscape. “Between places” a lyrical tone resonates through Gerlinde Thuma’s pictures; they seem to suspend time, like a tranquil moment between the past and the future. Through her painting, Thuma provokes the perception of differentiated “layers of reality,” opening up a view into an undefined space that stretches out into infinity. She refers to this approach toward the surface as a “balancing act between gesture, meditative outreach and exact form.” Thus her works represent a tensed arch between purely formal painterly matters like color, surface and space and the digressing impressions of sensuous and emotional perception. She works directly on the canvas, drawing on it at first with charcoal. The colors, which in part are applied as a homogeneous, exact surface over the drawing, or which are strongly glazed and follow the movement of the charcoal drawing, determine the dimension of the space. Depending on the amount of glazing used, the color surfaces are either more transparent or more opaque, darker or lighter, and thus they raise the drawing to a certain level in the image. Although the drawing seems to sink further into the canvas, it at the same time hovers in the foreground before a dark surface. While the graphic lines of the charcoal drawing are generally applied to the canvas gesturally with great confidence and expressivity, structured formal criteria determine the aspects of variation, as does the division, which is always set strictly in the middle. The possibility of using mirror imaging becomes especially apparent in the series “Around the Center”. Here the open textural lines of the charcoal drawing yield to the outline of a closed surface that stands out from a nearly homogenous background in black and white as a stone form. Through its anchoring around the middle axis of the picture, the stone does not just accent the principle of a mirror image, but also the complex relationship and deviation of possible variations. It begins to rotate around its axis, seemingly inscribing itself into the homogenous color field. The gentle breaking open of the closed form lets the stone’s red color diffuse into the background.
The delicacy of the shadow on the horizon
“... and suddenly I saw a picture. The catalog informed me that it was a haystack I was looking at. I numbly had the feeling that the figure was missing in this painting, and yet I noticed with astonishment and confusion that the picture had made an indelible impression in my memory. What was perfectly clear to me was the unsuspected power of the palette, which had heretofore remained hidden to me, and which exceeded all of my dreams. Unconsciously, the figure was discredited as an unavoidable element of the painting.” (3) Kandinsky wrote these lines in reaction to one of Claude Monet’s “haystack paintings” (1895). Although Gerlinde Thuma consciously chooses forms that give rise to associations with nature, her paintings are in a true sense nonfigurative. Her painting evokes a seeing that is no longer tied to the object and its conception. For the painterly process, nature forms the archetype of a formal repertoire, which similarly to Monet’s haystacks represents a point of departure for bringing to the canvas general phenomena of atmosphere or queries immanent to painting. The artist is interested in the point at which minimal primary recognizable traits are sufficient to link the depiction to the recognition of a landscape or a figure – a sort of phenomenological deliberation on the power of imagination. Thus her figures also frequently appear as mere silhouettes, bedded in the black of the charcoal surfaces applied around them. Despite – or precisely because of – the depictions’ lack of individual characteristics, they demonstrate a realization of differentiated emotionality and affectivity. Here nature is beyond a literally determined or documentary viewpoint: it is a universal authority, something silently elementary.
Space and time, as well as the differences in the ways they are perceived, are an essential aspect of Gerlinde Thuma’s work. And yet the transference of time onto the surface of a static medium presupposes a knowledge of the continually transforming realities of space and objectivity. In order to make temporal processes – segments in time or the variation of a formal idea – visible, Thuma uses the diptych, almost without exception setting her pictures together on two canvases in vertical or horizontal confrontation. It is precisely by taking up and continuing one and the same formal idea that the transformation becomes representable. Just as time does not allow an event to be experienced identically, Gerlinde Thuma’s paintings, although they seem to depict the same thing, are also variations on the same point of departure. It is through the repetition that they are given their spatial and temporal dimension. The beholder is challenged to view these works in a manner that opens attention to minimal differences, that only sees the picture as a whole in relation to the second canvas. The effect of a temporal process is also supported by the gestural charcoal drawing’s rhythm of deepening and heightening. The compact form thus achieved appears to focus a great variety of associations, feelings, shapes and color interactions on a single point. “Painting becomes an independent form of writing. Here the instruction given to the painter could well be the following: observe bamboo for ten years, become bamboo yourself, then forget everything and paint.” (4)
Translation Chris Barber
Umberto Eco, Opera aperta (Milan, 1976).
V. Kandinsky, Rückblicke, in: Sturmbuch (Berlin, 1931), cit. in Max Imdahl, Farbe (Munich, 1987), p. 19.
Eugen Herrigel, Zen in der Kunst des Bogenschiessens (Bern, 1951).