I paint, therefore
Katja Brinkmanns painting as a never-ending story
When I paint and constructJosef Albers
I try to develop visual articulation
I do not think then about abstraction
and just as little about expression
I do not look for isms
and not at momentary fashion
that art essentially is purpose
and seeing (schauen)
that form demands multiple presentation
The works of painter Katja Brinkmann are characterised by an astonishing, not to say intractable formal consistency. It is usually possible to recognise monumental oval and egg shapes in them, which intertwine and may frequently suggest either landscapes or ornaments despite the fundamentally abstract understanding of the image.
Not least, it is the unusual colours that lead the viewer to see something in these paintings that is not even in the slightest intended. Colour and form are the two main ingredients of her work, which positively resonates with the determination of a pictorial programme (1), as Stephan Berg once remarked with admiration. It is surely important in this context to point out that in her paintings, form and colour should not be viewed as separate from one another. It is the very wilfulness of her colour choices that leads to the impact of the forms and their outstanding incisiveness. At the point where a rich bright blue meets a decorative peppermint green flanked by a flamboyant orange, initially we might think that we have encountered a faux pas on the part of the painter, but from a certain moment onwards it appears surprisingly natural or harmonious. An ambivalence is demonstrated here, in which the colours arrive at a common denominator through the circumstance of their artificiality.
Like thieves in the night, the minimalist American avant-gardes with their preference for non-specific materials now enter the stage provided by Katja Brinkmanns painting and its colours, which clearly admit their origins in the spirit of artificiality (2). Indeed, as she is a descendant of modernist painting, the intention of painterly narration is alien to her as alien as an artists vanity in face of commonly voiced associations, which place her works in line with wallpaper designs from the sixties or seventies, or see sunglasses in their elliptic forms. She can afford this lack of vanity because ultimately, she seems to be concerned with entirely different painterly problems like, for example, the eternally relevant question of how to set the figure in relation to the background or how painting can be understood as a space-consuming element without employing the traditional tricks of illusionism and perspective.
But her artistic debate with such questions does not only take place in front of the canvas with a brush in her hand; it usually begins with an idea that she tries out and tests many times using the image processing program Photoshop on the computer. In this context, she consistently employs the computer as a form and colour simulator in short, as an analytical tool to help confirm that her creative ideas can be realised practically and implements trials which, when she already has hundreds of print-outs in front of her, culminate in the translation into painting: a translation into a panel painting, the reference of which to anything outside of itself is initially restricted by its refusal to make statements, but is later re-imported manifold via the backdoor of the viewers function and ideas.
Katja Brinkmann has a precise concept of each painting in mind from the beginning. She carefully feels her way towards the knowledge of the image that is anchored in her imagination. Like the circular figures in the paintings, the dynamics of her thought and work seem to be elliptical; a movement that constantly circles around itself and thereby forgets itself, although it frequently threatens to run at the edges like the colour transitions in her paintings, but never indicates any uncertainty about its own solitary and unmistakable status.
Image-creation is a long and drawn-out process, demanding much time and concentration for the construction of numerous layers and glazes. This wresting of something from time and its subsequent staging in the painting not only seems to be the meaning and driving force behind her work, but also the reason why her pictures have a rather unattainable aura, a sense of resistance to our grasp. This resistance may explain why, against her better judgement, she consistently uses acrylic paints in her painting which is essentially defined via complex colour gradients and does not switch to oils, which would be far more suitable. Obviously, she prefers the hard and stony path to the short-cut and in this way she constantly challenges herself not only as a painter, but also and above all as a thinking person. That is perhaps why she is determined to meet her own self-inflicted limitation with cheerful ignorance and to celebrate a very personal mantra in the repeated re-invention, so directing the focus of attention towards the process of painting itself and away from a container of ideas called painting, which is often historically overburdened.
Could it be that she is so attracted to the circle as a form because here, too, it is impossible to determine where the beginning is, and where the end? And is it also possible that the contents of the paintings that surge outwards, that literally seem to want to explode the picture frame, create such an energetic effect because ultimately they define the inner space of the painting as a sphere that should be seen more as potential for crossing boundaries than as a boundary in itself?
Her site-related works underline this idea; when, for example, she transfers the pictorial language of her painting to the medium of textiles with the carpet picture in the rotunda of the Palace of Monrepos in Ludwigsburg (Bilder und Montagen, 2002).
In general, she is not obviously concerned with loss or difference in her space-related projects, but far more with the productivity of translation, which does not compare the one (painting) with the other (carpet or mural), but understands them both as part of a super-ordinate project. In the case of the mural works in particular, e.g. Untitled (Wall Picture), 2005, which she realised at the Goethe Institute in Budapest, it becomes evident that she repeats the theme in a dialogue with the given space: as a mural painting nestling into the space like wallpaper.
The wallpaper motif should be interpreted as more than a reference to the transparency and permeability of constructed spaces. It is a matter of testing the traditional reading of things, which is described in a fascinating way by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in the short story The Yellow Wallpaper from the year 1899. The story is not only regarded as some of the earliest literary evidence of an awakening intellectual confidence among women; it should also be seen as an attempt to dissect, with painful precision, the way in which exceptional psychological circumstances become interwoven with the rooms or spaces surrounding us. In this story a woman is suffering from postnatal depression, and in order to cure it she is isolated from any form of intellectual stimulation, committed to absolute peace and quiet in the seclusion of her room. The monotony of the sickroom and her inescapable depression rapidly correspond to her intense contemplation of the monotonously patterned wallpaper, which she finds revolting. While the woman becomes increasingly lost in contemplation of the wallpaper, the faulty pattern of which fuels her obsession as an observer, the wallpaper appears to come to life uncannily. At first, the protagonist believes that there is something living underneath the wallpaper, and finally she becomes firmly convinced that a woman perhaps her alter ego is imprisoned behind it. The wallpaper and whatever is concealed behind it gradually take possession of the woman and the short story ends with her desperate attempt at escape: the woman tears the wallpaper from the walls like a fury and gives herself up entirely to depression.
In Brinkmanns work as well, it is only in the course of intense observation that a striking diversity emerges from the supposed repetition and monotony of similar motifs. Transitions, sequences of colour, layers and pictorial depth are elements that come to life in her paintings as soon as one permits oneself to become involved. And so it is the viewers own exposure to an all-encompassing, space-consuming painting that makes him think about the construction of both architectonic and social space. Her innovative image creations, which are similar in formal terms, employ the power of the image the specific image that she carries in her mind and turn to the outside time and time again, so triggering this very thought process.
While the protagonist of The Yellow Wallpaper attempts to find meaning in the wallpaper in order to create an image of herself but ultimately fails to do this, Brinkmann simply goes on working with an almost mechanical, cool precision and turns around the aspect of monotony and repetition by replacing the feeling of being exposed with the creative.
It becomes clear that in her painting Katja Brinkmann is obliged to struggle with the same artistic issues that troubled previous generations of painters. She resolves them by consistently continuing to work on those same problems. This type of artistic research could be described as total. Here, the words of Maurice Merleau Ponty hit the mark; he once wrote of the artist researching in this way as someone who, as soon as he has arrived at a certain skill, has to acknowledge that he has only opened up a new field, where everything that he was able to express before must be re-expressed in a different way. This research is therefore incomplete per se, since the findings lead on to new research. The observation is especially applicable to Katja Brinkmann, whose paintings permanently revolve around one theme; one that she implicitly lays out as a never-ending story so that and surely we may speculate to some extent here she will not run out of images for a long time yet.
(1) Stephan Berg, Bildertaumel, in: Katja Brinkmann, Bilder und Montagen, 2002, ed.: Heinrich Schmid GmbH & Co. KG, Reutlingen
(2) Stephan Berg, 2002