"The Deconstruction of Informal Painting"

Silke Hohmann


in Friederike Feldmann 21 Bilder, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walter König,
Köln, 2008


The Deconstruction of Informal Painting
Friederike Feldmann examines Informal Painting with the Means of Painting

Friederike Feldmann’s painting comes after the painting, actually. For in contrast to the artists of the Informal Painting of the 1950s and 1960s, to which her painting alludes, her theme is not primarily what brush and paint do with the format of the canvas. She goes beyond that, investigating in her work what happens “between the brushstrokes” – in the spatial interstices, but also in the temporal interim. One of the things she thereby seeks to learn is what this once revolutionary direction, Informal Painting, may still have to say to us today.

At first glance, her paintings and wall works seem as if from the period when Informal Painting arose and somehow came to represent the term “abstract art” – with all its incomprehensibilities and trickiness – in general opinion. It was an art that no longer had anything to do with obvious technical virtuosity. This painting apparently no longer adhered to rules and motifs, and it thus eluded the mode of viewing paintings that had been practiced for centuries: these forms could not be deciphered or analyzed.

But in reality, Friederike Feldmann’s paintings are created with definite virtuosity, though this is not their most significant characteristic. She analyzes precisely these forms. The gestural, wild, seemingly uncontrolled quality she brings to the canvases and walls is in reality the result of an extremely controlled process of transposition. It could be said that, in producing her pictures, she captures the process of painting in several phases, distills it, and sorts it out anew. At the beginning is indeed the gestural drawing. But then she reproduces this original version, copies parts of it on the computer in such a way that black and white are reversed, transposes them only as a foil, multiplies the motif, creates overlappings by means of projection, and thus “paints” with other media. And then she applies the result with great precision to the canvas or wall.

The picture, indeed painted with brush and paint, presents itself as a layering of brushstrokes, whereby the respectively last applied one covers the one below it. But Friederike Feldmann’s mode of production differs from what her pictures might suggest: in reality, her compositions are created as a meticulous side-by-side of elements painstakingly transferred onto the canvas or wall. The painter Friederike Feldmann deals analytically with painting, whereby she uses the means of painting.

For her, painting pictures means simultaneously extinguishing other pictures. Perhaps the term “principle of exclusion” is a suitable approach to describing her method. Friederike Feldmann carries out a kind of ex negativo painting. For in her carefully thought-out recopying procedure, the empty space becomes a painted motif and the brushstrokes become a gap. The excluded areas are present, the supposed gestural painting motions are actually not. The painter thereby formulates a substantial challenge to seeing.

“One sees only what one knows” – this much-cited statement by Goethe is often mustered in support of knowledge: What we don’t know remains hidden to us. The more we know, the better is our position to recognize the world. Only knowledge can give us the maturity, judgment, and ability to make the right decisions.

But the sentence also has another side that has less to do with the Enlightenment: It is equally true when understood to mean that we are only in a position to see what we already know. “One sees only what one knows” then also means that only the known can be seen, while everything unknown must remain unseen.

So are we cognizant only of things that we re-cognize? That would mean that everything we know, i.e., everything we have learned, stands in our way, because it prevents us from seeing new things. Especially because the eye is a very knowledge-hungry organ that is able to learn. To obtain information faster, it takes shortcuts as soon as it thinks it knows the way. It does not reconfirm contexts, constructions, and dimensions again and again, but relies blindly on its own archive. Well, only almost blindly. Because there is this point where the eye forgets its knowledge and begins pacing off the entire route anew. And that is perhaps what is most delightful about Friederike Feldmann’s painting: that it puts us in a state in which we can once again see as if for the first time.