"The Picture Differs From The Depiction"

Daniel Spanke


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


The Picture Differs From The Depiction
Friederike Feldmann’s Pictorial Concept in “Altars”, “Carpets”, and “Gestural Paintings”

The development of Friederike Feldmann’s painting is astonishing. In 2005, I had invited the artist to contribute some works from her series of “Altar Paintings”, painted with pigmented silicon-acrylic mass, to an exhibition devoted to the opportunities and risks of the religious picture[4]. These “Altar Paintings” have something peculiarly indirect about them. Their mode of depiction seems more to remove them from what they ostensibly depict than to make the latter present. The paintings are more reminiscent of postcards of altars, and they evoke more this already depiction-like visual experience than the experience of an actual altar painting, not to mention that they could never substitute for one. These are “altars”, not altars. This media-like “double exposure” of the picture in these works places what is depicted at a distance – which corresponds to the reality that precisely sacred images have always risked being accused of falsification (and thus of heresy). This “distance from depiction” has to do, first, with the easily surveyed format of these works, which creates an optical accessibility – and second, quite decidedly with their downright informal-seeming mode of painting. Friederike Feldmann almost forms these pictures using sausages of paint squeezed in part from an icing bag, rather than painting them. The silicon-acrylic mass, stable in itself, needs no canvas or paper to carry it; the paint and the body of the picture are identical here. The formed shape develops a life of its own that carries the depiction in it, but that simultaneously also brings into the world an object with its own reality, like a material painting.

The relationship between picture and depiction, between a work and transparency for a physical thing whose material qualities are quite different from the work, is a basic theme in the artistic work of Friederike Feldmann. For in a later series, the carpets, the artist focuses on a theme in which this disturbing entanglement is inherent per se: the ornament. Isn’t the ornament itself, even before it is realized in some material or other, a picture that is abstract and as if mental, even if it must be drawn, and that can be applied in a wide variety of techniques and contexts? Precisely that the ornament remains the same in a wide diversity of pictorial techniques (drawing, carpet…) reveals its abstract character, independent of materiality. The pattern is woven into the carpet. The carpet can no longer be separated from this picture it bears. No question: Friederike Feldmann’s works in this series are not carpets, but, as jute on a stretcher frame and painted with silicon and/or acrylic paint – paintings. And yet the textile reality of carpets is effective precisely where the artist permits gaps in the brushstrokes to show in the painting. In a knotted carpet, too, the textile framework of warp and weft becomes visible where the pile wears out. And Friederike Feldmann not only uses a coarsely meshed jute, which indeed looks like canvas textile on which a carpet could be woven. The extremely impasto mode of painting, which leaves tiny protuberant points where the brush is lifted from the swath of paint, also supports the impression of something haptically experiencable and touchable, like a carpet. Feldmann calls these pictures Ten Years After.[5] And yet the artist has not simply depicted fading carpets. For the irregular, unpainted passages develop a form power and overall image of their own, which, in interplay with the unruly mode of painting, prevents the work from closing and condensing to a purely depicting surface. The works of the Ten Years After series, too, are pictures very different from their depiction.

In the most recent phase of her oeuvre, with brushstrokes gesturally surveying the picture surface, Friederike Feldmann abandons precisely this unruly method of painting. In these works – paintings on jute and canvas as well as wall paintings – she turns more strongly to the form power of the empty parts of the picture. To drive a wedge even more powerfully between her pictures and the depiction, she no longer even realizes the expressive, informal painting in her picture, but copies it negatively as a self-produced model that is projected onto the surface to be painted. That is, the artist paints on the picture with a thin, evenly spreading paint and pigmented Indian ink – around the brushstrokes of the model. So the picture she paints is precisely the interstices, the “holes” in the model. The gestural models she draws do refer to the Informal Painting of the 1950s and 1960s. But these models are only a means to an end, not the real work. Friederike Feldmann uses her art-historical reference precisely as she also used altar postcards or carpet patterns from advertisements for the works of her previous series. Once again, the artist’s conceptual approach of gaining the picture in distance to the depiction becomes clear. Her interest is in the picture that can be extracted from and even against the painting. Through the newly created picture, the work moves past the model in the depiction.

This new work series could also be called “Gestural Painting”, in analogy to the “Altars” and “Carpets”, whereby the quotation marks are essential as indications of a non-literal meaning of a word, transposed (namely, to a picture).[6] For in them, the field of the picture is ploughed through to its boundaries, as if by means of the movement of a hand, which remains visible in the brushstrokes. If the picture can be described, precisely in Modernism, as a structure, a surface to be covered, then these “Gestural Paintings” thematize the picture field in an especially self-referential and conspicuous way. They are pictures of pictures and paintings of painting.

Because these pictures respond sensitively to their own boundaries and the latter’s internal structure, they can also establish sensitive relations to the space around them. It is only logical that Friederike Feldmann takes this plan for pictures onto the wall itself. The picture is no longer something mobile and placed upon the wall – like a canvas on stretchers – but goes into the wall. And precisely the brushstrokes around which the artist paints, leaving them out, were always already the wall itself. And so there is no free space anymore; there is no part of a wall thus turned into picture that isn’t picture. These picture walls make it visible that such a room, too, takes on form, a specific gestalt quality, in this case a “Feldmann pictorial space form”. This form is characterized by Friederike Feldmann’s specific interests in knowledge and forming. But because this artistic interest refers to characteristics of pictures as our cultural organ for reality, the form created by the artist can actually make the shape of reality experiencable.

[1] Gott sehen. Risiko und Chancen religiöser Bilder. Kunsthalle Wilhelmshaven 2005/06. Vgl. den Beitrag zu diesen Werken vom Verf. im gleichnamigen Katalog: Altar und Altäre. Die reine Kunst von Friederike Feldmann, in ebd. S. 48-51.

[2] S. dazu Björn Egging: „Neue Teppiche“. Zu den aktuellen Arbeiten von Friederike Feldmann. In: Kat. Friederike Feldmann. Neue Teppiche. Kunsthalle Bielefeld 2005. Köln 2005, S. 19-21.

[3] Die Bezeichnung „gestische Malereien“ wurde im Gespräch mit der Künstlerin gefunden.

[4] Gott sehen. Risiko und Chancen religiöser Bilder. Kunsthalle Wilhelmshaven 2005/06. Cf. the writer’s article on these works in the catalog of the same name: Altar und Altäre. Die reine Kunst von Friederike Feldmann, in ibid. p. 48-51.

[5] On this, see Björn Egging: “Neue Teppiche”. Zu den aktuellen Arbeiten von Friederike Feldmann. In: cat. Friederike Feldmann. Neue Teppiche. Kunsthalle Bielefeld 2005. Cologne 2005, p. 19-21.

[6] The term “gestural paintings” was found in conversation with the artist.