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Lea Schäfer: Colliding

Lea Schäfer: Colliding

Location: EMDE GALLERY - Mainz

Lea Schäfer: Colliding


Emde Gallery is very pleased to present the exhibition "Colliding" with paintings by Lea Schäfer. On display are paintings on canvas, and wooden panels created over a period of approximately two years. The exhibition also includes Lea Schäfer's latest compositions, and thus offers an insight into her artistic development.

For several years now, the artist has been dealing with grids in different variations in her artistic work. Inevitably, a connection between the grid and the pixel and thus the computer is established. In addition, Lea Schäfer questions the grid as a motivic pictorial formula. The flatness caused by the two coordinates pushes back the reference to the real world in the picture and once again emphasizes the autonomy of abstraction in the 20th century. In her works, Lea Schäfer reflects this art-historically strongly connoted dimension of the grid as well as today's digitally influenced one with the aim of transferring the grid back into the material world.

A characteristic feature is that the artist fleshes out her paintings very intensively in terms of material and colour, and subjects them to several revisions. Her painting practice includes various techniques and experiments in the application of paint. She builds her multi-layered compositions up with brush, stencil, roller and palette knife in lacquer, acrylic, wax or oil paint. In some cases, she uses wooden picture supports which, in combination with transparent paper and/or mirrored cardboard, become the carriers of collages. The different materials and colours are applied in several layers, repel each other, merge with each other or coalesce. The result is grids with only slight deviations up to more fragmentary traced structures.

The background of her painting entitled "09102022", for example, which can be seen on the cover of the brochure, shows a grid-like structure of squares of the same size sprayed on the back, which presses through the canvas from behind, and is overlaid in the upper part of the painting by a violet grid running out towards the edges. In places, a dot-shaped red grid also appears. Another layer is formed by a watery veil of red and violet paint that spreads across the canvas like a pool. The front section of the painting is formed by four rows of loosely grouped, longitudinal rectangular areas of colour without outlines in powerful shades of blue, the irregularity of the colour application heightened by the irregularity of the colour fields. The eye jumps back and forth between the grid-like ground and the blue areas that seem to float in front of it or to be suspended from it. There are also streaks, drops and blobs that bring the picture to life.

The grid is considered the epitome of modernity and a rejection of figurative painting. It stands for repetition, geometry and the repression of the reference to the real world, in which narrative components are replaced by purely abstract ones in order to emphasize the autonomy of the work of art in relation to the object by means of abstraction. Lea Schäfer also dispenses with any reference to the object in her painting and manages without narration. This also includes the fact that the titles of the paintings do not provide any information, but merely refer to the date of their completion, and that her paintings are always in vertical format, as the artist herself says, "to avoid landscape connotations." In a few pictures, however, one thinks one can recognize figurative motifs; the picture "06092022", for example, is reminiscent of a window. Alberti's comparison of the picture with the view through an open window ("finestra aperta") suggests itself as an art historical reference. Other works, on the other hand, can be associated with highly pixelated photographs.
Lea Schäfer, in contrast, consciously refuses the strictness of the modernist way of painting, in that the grid for her is merely the starting point, the (grid) field on which a gestural, free painting can unfold.

The painterly is at the centre of her work, the questioning of painterly qualities such as colour application, colour surface and their limitations. What is remarkable in this context is that the different grids that form the compositional framework of her paintings and that are sometimes laid over the picture surface as supporting elements, sometimes as ornamental patterns, do not extend to the edges of the canvases or the wooden panels, but are left out and thus emphasize the picture's foursquare. Patterns can thus not extend indefinitely as in a wall painting, for example, but are limited to the medium of the picture.
Due to the many superimposed layers, the grid usually appears only fragmentary and scrappily in the picture. In some paintings, the artist additionally blends the strict geometry of the grid with transparent paper and/or mirrored cardboard incorporated into the paintings, such as in the smaller-format compositions on wood. The peculiarity of the surfaces made of differently translucent and reflective layers as well as the peculiar sheen of the mirrored cardboard gives the works a special effect.

Many of her paintings are characterized by a powerful colourfulness and strong colour contrasts, which sometimes also create a certain spatial depth. But there are also decidedly delicate compositions whose colourfulness is rather subdued. Lea Schäfer's paintings can be of quiet simplicity, but also of overwhelming complexity. What connects all her works, however, is the desire to experiment with different materials, also out of curiosity to see what happens - whereby the process of creation is rarely visually comprehensible at first glance.
Not in illustrations, only in direct sight do the individual components become visible in their range of variations. If the viewer stands in front of an original, attention soon turns to the painterly qualities of the picture's surface. If the works often seem smooth in reproduction, a multitude of optical and haptic impressions open up in their physical presence. There is no particular distance of observation, no single, correct point of view - at least not for the larger canvases. On the contrary, one must literally wander around them, they virtually invite one to look at them from close up, from a distance, from the sides, etc.

The large-format painting "16102022" brings all these aspects together once again in an exemplary way. It is made up of several layers of paint, one on top of the other, with a diamondshaped grid running through it. The grid, which is usually either printed, rolled or applied with the help of stencils and spray paint, was created here by pouring liquid latex onto the painting, which was removed again after it had dried. This is a method in which the upper layers of paint are broken up and at the same time the layers underneath are exposed again. The latex is also used to remove parts of the underpainting, so that in some places the structure of the canvas is visible and the stretcher frame shows through.
The artist deliberately works with chance here. The tearing off of the paint through the use of latex is a process that cannot be predicted exactly, the result can only be planned to a certain extent. The result is an exciting composition of a casually applied, thick layer of paint and a reappearing undersurface with a relief-like, sometimes quite coarse structure reminiscent of a diamondshaped grid.

The title of the exhibition "Colliding" alludes to the clash of opposites in her paintings, of free, gestural form and ordered, gridded surface, of the planned and the controlled as well as the intuitive and the random, from which the paintings draw their inner pictorial tension.
In our time, the grid often stands for the visualization of a pixel structure, for the individual pixels that make up today's television, computer and mobile phone screens. In Lea Schäfer's paintings, the grid becomes a display, which is again filled with materiality. The pictorial-painterly is emphasized, the haptic quality stands in contrast to the digital smoothness. Her pictures thus also form an antipole to the digital, which shapes our world today. The cool distance of the geometric structure is contrasted with a moment of tactile perception.

Lea Schäfer lives and works in Mainz and Wiesbaden. In 2016, she first completed her studies as a master student of Prof. Anne Berning at the Kunsthochschule Mainz, and the following year she also completed her art history studies at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. Lea Schäfer is an artist and works as a curator at the Museum Reinhard Ernst in Wiesbaden.

Dr. Annette Emde

Interview between Lea Schäfer and Sabine Tress (artist, Cologne)

Sabine Tress: My first question is directly related to something very obvious in your current work namely the grid, which is always visible in your painting in some way. How did you come to it? Have you been looking for it for a long time? How has the grid changed recently?

Lea Schäfer: For over a decade I worked figuratively, driven by the question of what painting can tell today. I was primarily interested in transferring historical visual images from the 17th and 18th centuries into the present day. At the end of my studies, I created a series dealing with the Cage People of Hong Kong. Here, grid and lattice structures appeared for the first time as a motif of the cage. What attracted me to the series, in addition to its content dimension, was the growing tension between printed, patterned surfaces, and free painterly colours on the canvas. In a roundabout way, I had thus formulated a new question that did not require narration. Initially, I was interested in the contrast between painting and graphics, or between painterly gesture or free line and rigid, printed pattern. In the meantime, this question has expanded further. Going beyond questions of decoration and ornament, I have been concerned with the history of the grid as a motivic pictorial formula. Since Malevich and Mondrian, it has stood for an autonomy of abstraction, as the flatness of the grid, determined by the two coordinates, pushes the reference to the real world out of the picture. Today it reminds us of the ordering system for pixels that generate our digital images. I deal with this current as well as historical dimension of the grid in my painting.

ST: The title "Colliding" seems to me to be an apt description for your painting, because the grid sometimes also meets the surface or color very violently and a kind of conflict arises which, however, does not necessarily have to be negative. Do you agree with that?

LS: With the title "Colliding" I wanted to describe precisely that clash of opposites. I would describe the resulting conflict as a kind of tension that makes the picture interesting for me. In addition, different materials collide in the process. Some repel each other, some mix and merge. When painting, I try to specifically target these situations in which materials, forms, surfaces get out of control. In these moments, the unpredictable happens. These surprises keep me working.

ST: How do you choose your painting surface? Could you also imagine working on an unstretched, huge canvas?

LS: In my artistic work, besides the choice of paint materials, the painting base grounds play an important role. They essentially determine the painting materials and possibilities. A few years ago I started working on mirrored cardboard. I was fascinated by the reflective surface, which makes the colors glow and always throws a person looking at them back onto themselves. In the meantime they have become part of collages on rigid picture carriers. Small and somewhat larger wooden panels I use as a base for different material experiments. They allow a completely different type of work than the canvas. Discoveries I try and transfer to large canvases. In the process, they at times lie on the floor, paint is poured on top or I work on their rear sides, because the fabric is very fine and permeable.

However, mounting on a stretcher frame is essential in this process. I can not imagine working on unstretched fabric, because the distance to the wall and the object-likeness of the painting with its limitation of four corners are important to me. Without the stretcher, my work would be considered in the field of mural painting, as patterns can potentially expand in all directions. Where does an ornament begin, where does it end? I am clearly concerned with questions about the so-called panel painting or easel painting. Patterns end well before the edges of the picture and emphasize once more clearly: this is also where the picture ends.

ST: I understand your need to maintain limitation in your painting, but that doesn't preclude a monumental format, does it?

LS: The question of format is a difficult one. I prefer portrait format to have a counterpart on the wall and to avoid landscape connotations. Often canvas sizes repeat, it's certain aspect ratios that I like to work in. A monumental format is not out of the question.

ST: Do you do preliminary studies? Do you have concepts or ideas that you write down? How do you choose your colors?

LS: There are no preliminary studies, sketches or anything like that. As I described, it's the work that formulates the next questions or suggests new directions. I find that very relieving, that for me there is no need for theoretical considerations or research. During my studies and also now when I work at the museum, I have the great privilege of dealing with art, especially painting, all day long. Many paintings I encounter there reverberate in some way during my own work in the studio: Many a color tone or texture is found again in my paintings without my having actively thought about it. The pictorial memory is an infinite storehouse that guides one's fortune now and then in the process.

ST: The question about the necessity of painting: can you imagine painting all your life?

LS: I can't imagine not painting all my life! For the longest part of my life I have been engaged in painting, both on a theoretical and practical level. Certainly, some constants that I have worked out and that now give me support will change, questions will develop in a different direction or new materials will open up unknown paths – and that is the exciting part. Each work poses a different question that I can pursue on the next image carrier. One is never finished, never arrived, and can never be sure of what one is doing.


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