Saruul Tal

In the history of art, painting’s development has often been influenced by external factors that were neither planned nor foreseeable. New findings in science, encounters with fresh visual phenomena, or the unfamiliarity of non-European cultures played their own particular parts, thus allowing – quite literally – a change of perspective.

The present exhibition and catalogue project at the Städtische Galerie (Municipal Gallery) Waldkraiburg also unfolds against the backdrop of powerful sensory impressions and experiences owed to the artist’s encounter with a unique landscape she had not seen before. It shows Katja Brinkmann’s most recent paintings and, for the first time, photographs taken in Mongolia, where the artist has been travelling regularly for some years now. Her starting point during these visits – often lasting several months – is the capital Ulaanbaatar, where she also accepted two long-term teaching assignments at the local art academy recently. From there, however, Katja Brinkmann undertakes long excursions into the Mongolian steppe, or even lives for some time in the open country as the guest of a nomadic family. In addition, therefore, the exhibition shows a selection of landscape photographs that Katja Brinkmann has brought back from her travels; these enter into dialogue with her painting in a very specific way. For although the painter adheres to her hitherto customary, non-representational working method, numerous references, analogies and intersections between the paintings and the photographs soon become apparent. This results from the fact that in her photographic works, Katja Brinkmann is not primarily interested in technically perfect landscape photography; instead, she focuses her attention on colours, forms and unique moods of light.

“I take the photos as a painter.”

But let us go one step back: Katja Brinkmann’s painting practice combines abstract spatial compositions with an idiosyncratic colour palette. This is also very true of the latest paintings shown here, which were produced using acrylic paints on paper. Although in principle the artist has employed the same vocabulary of forms for many years, something has changed here by comparison to her previous works. This may be due to a fresh working method. For unlike earlier works, the current images have not been created on the basis of pre-planned computer drafts. Instead, Katja Brinkmann now works in a processual manner, developing the image directly on the paper. The only predefined aspect is a central line (with a view to her photographs, we could speak of the horizon line), whereby its form varies greatly: sometimes sweeping out broadly or forming as a narrow chink of light. The pictorial space is developed from semi-transparent bands of colour that overlap partially and seem to glow from within. Often executed using strong contrasts, even going as far as complementary colours on occasion, they cause the entire picture space to vibrate until apparently fracturing at the central horizon line. Everything else is the outcome of direct processing and the calculation of controlled chance: the artistic means that Brinkmann employs here include drips at the edge of the brushstroke (the width of which determines the respective coloured lines), transparencies that are sometimes weaker or stronger because the drying process of the paint cannot be predicted exactly, or unplanned internal structures. As a result, the visual outcome remains lively, open, and, despite its explicit non-representational character, also landscape-like and sublime in the broadest sense.

“I am not interested in recreating something concrete, but in pursuing the idea of landscape.”

The rounded, curving shapes in the picture are therefore reminiscent of the sweeping ridges of hills in southern Mongolia. The colourfulness of the Mongolian landscape has also served as inspiration in the choice of colouration, without being adopted as a direct quotation, however. But the special atmosphere of light across the vast steppe throughout the changing seasons plays a key part. This is particularly noticeable in the lucidity of the colour bands, and it becomes obvious in the frequent use of white, as omissions or as opaque colour. Finally, Katja Brinkmann’s work reaches a high point on the occasion of an art festival in the Gobi Desert: in a performative act, Brinkmann uses earth found on site to mix colours in addition to the acrylic paints for her paintings, and these take on a rich, specifically earthy tone as a consequence. A fortunate moment in which matter and light, the real and the imagination, nature and art meet and ultimately become manifest and tangible in the picture.

When calling this catalogue and the exhibition “Saruul Tal” – which means something like “wide, light steppe” in English – Katja Brinkmann is referring to a well-known traditional Mongolian song of the same name. This not only describes the beauty of the real landscape but also highlights the hardships and existential challenges faced by those living in and with the steppe. A deeper understanding of things in the face of breathtaking nature is an attitude also conveyed by the photographs. Against this background, the juxtaposition of painting and landscape photographs again makes it particularly clear how the artist’s encounter with the vastness of the Mongolian steppe and the world of the nomads, with their typical colours and patterns, has influenced the painter’s explicitly non-representational working method. Despite all this, however, Katja Brinkmann remains absolutely true to herself in the latest works: this is not about folklorist acquisition but about intense experience and enduring impressions, and thus also about the powerful influence that the painter found inescapable when encountering the magnificent, unique landscape of Mongolia. Both exhibition and catalogue show that this process has led to some extremely intense and personal paintings as well as exciting and beautiful photographic images.

Elke Keiper

Translation: Lucinda Rennison