Ingeborg zu Schleswig – Holstein
Date: 15th January – 5th February 2011
Opening: Friday 14th January at 7 pm.
It is misleading to treat the work of Ingeborg zu Schleswig-Holstein exclusively in formal terms because its foremost aspiration has to do with an external referent. But since this referent is metaphysical or a noumenon, and therefore intrinsically formless and invisible, it requires a formally abstract means symbolically to render it.
It is precisely this apparent irreconcilability of formal representation and a formless metaphysical object that constitutes the central tension of SH’s work. And, as earlier writings have acknowledged, it is the reason why SH characteristically favors dispersed compositions and a treatment of light that resists a consistent directional component, or, for that matter, any technique that would tend to evoke a sense of dimensional mass.
In the case of a purely autonomous abstraction, these methods simply would evoke a formal tension with respect to other constituent features within the frame, and a more conceptual tension with the dimensional reality beyond the frame. But here, these traits are subordinate to a symbolically representational aim of revealing something that is both infinite and invisible by eschewing standard visual features of the finite and visible. Intuition of the physical would be inimical to the painter’s metaphysical premise.
Although Kandinsky had written On the Spiritual in Art, a seminal reference point of SH’s youth, it remains that the great majority of Kandinsky’s mature works do not aspire to represent metaphysical reality at all. Instead, whether or not what they represent is apparent at first glance, they are, in general, simply abstractions of recognizable objects or scenes. Perhaps, in this sense, Knoebel, whose abstractions for the most part also have a concrete referent, is more of an heir to Kandinsky than SH, except that Knoebel’s abstractions shun an emotional component, and their economy is far more extreme than Kandinsky’s.
But SH’s abstraction never rejects emotion, since emotional feeling is a precondition for the disposition to the spiritual. In this sense, her work, conceptually as well as formally rejects premises of the Minimalist tradition, not only by its implicit assertion that art presupposes a referent, but also in its assertion of feeling. In this sense SH re-affirms early Expressionist premises, since, after all, feeling, the etymological sense of the aesthetic, from the Greek aisthetikos (feeling), was precisely that which Expressionism sought to express.
Since to convey feeling was, for the Expressionists, art’s most fundamental aim; generally, Expressionism reveals a distaste for anything overtly pretty that one could construe as decorative, and therefore an obstacle to feeling that was by definition anti-aesthetic. This horror of decoration accounts for the temptation to roughness of aspect in so many Expressionist images, and for its steadfast attachment to figuration. But in an effort to render the metaphysical symbolically visible, SH’s work demands a formal language that is much more abstract, despite that, like Expressionism, it retains both a referent, and a strong emotional component both in its execution and in its effect.
Since light as a symbol of the Divine is both a medium and an object of representation in SH’s work, the artist does not shrink from a luminous color palette of natural variations of red associated with, among other things, the effect on nature of the waxing light of spring. Although each painting invariably comprises a white or gold element, that generally is flat and dimensionless, a representation rather than a depiction of light itself, the predominant reds and their variants symbolically evoke light’s effect while scrupulously avoiding the use of light to generate an illusion of mass or depth suggestive of physical reality.
As such, SH’s recent work is much more evocative of certain periods of Nolde than of Kandinsky – especially Nolde’s Red Poppies of 1920 and related images of the period. But it would be restrictive to suggest that SH’s color palette, and its relationship to Expressionist precedents that emphasize direct emotional impact over formal convention, were to be limited to Nolde who, as is well known, also came from Schleswig-Holstein. In fact, most often whenever Expressionism is pastoral rather than urban, it employs a related palette, not only in Nolde, Franz Marc, August Macke, but even in Kirchner whether he treated the pastoral or not, as in his Marzella of 1920, or his Frankfurt Cathedral of 1916, in which we might imagine that the red of the cathedral itself need not exclude a metaphysical association regardless of Kirchner’s own views on Christianity.
Reds and their variants traditionally evoke heat and ardor for obvious reasons, but since SH’s work is never distant from its metaphysical foundation, it is useful to consider the implications of reds from this standpoint. We have already recalled the association of red with the emergence of flowers, and therefore with the inexorable seasonal increase of light that is even more conspicuous in northern climates. Since light is the most pertinent symbol of the Divine in word and image – and certainly in SH’s paintings – it is reasonable to suppose that this indirect dynamic of red in its evocation of increasing light equally evokes an increase in the Divine presence that conduces to a state beyond the image that is potentially as apocalyptic as it is ecstatic.
In this sense, the recent paintings indicate a progression in the sort of emotion they connote that is more extreme than the discreet sense of metaphysical awe that infused earlier periods of SH’s experiment, much as they assert a much more extreme degree of formal abstraction than that of the early Expressionists.
Despite their unequivocal affirmation of the Divine, these images would not impose faith upon the viewer. But faith remains a logical consequence of their premises since any alternatives they might present are terrible to contemplate.
– Drew Hammond
A catalog with 40 images and texts from Rudolf zur Lippe and Drew Hammond is available