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Jürgen Schilling (2004)

On Kristina Girke’s Paintings

A complex world opens for all who look at the paintings of Kristina Girke, provided they are ready to be impressed. The lure of this world is there, but it is not closing in on the viewer. The viewer is taken on a fancifully visualised journey through space and time, reality and legend, dream and plausibility, distance and closeness. It is not without humour and irony that the painter opens our eyes for a view on seemingly unreal situations at fictitious places. She concocts constellations which are hard to decipher, demanding both the gift of combination and imagination, and she juggles with content and metaphor.


It’s not the images from the media, which serve, more and more, as the basic material for contemporary painting, which are chosen by Kristina Girke for her range of motifs. Rather she is inspired by found objects from different periods of time, very varied cultures, and contexts of art history which she links to each other. Elements from 19th Century art find their way into her work as well as stimuli from classical far-eastern painting and graphics. Finally, she makes use of the many-facetted motifs from those illustrated broadsheets and lithographed collecting pictures, which were once used for advertising purposes by department stores, margarine and cigarette manufacturers, the subjects of which spanned the whole range of contemporary life as well as historical events and put them so vividly and attractively into pictures.


Figures culled from the popular prints of the past provide the staffage in Girke’s scenes, like fighting lansquenets or a group of post-revolutionary Frenchmen transporting a piece of artillery across the alps. Mostly, however, we find anonymous figures in profile, which, by way of rendering and costume, can be interpreted as rococo people. The majority of them don’t show facial expressions, as they are shown without inner structure, monochrome, very much in the popular paper cut-out manner of the 18th Century. Precisely outlined in contour and given just a few accessories, they express subdued, or, as it were, stormy emotions only by means of a restrained gestural language. Their presence in the picture is as mysterious as their activity. Although once invented to fix characteristic traits of the outer appearance of a personality, these silhouettes seem to be depersonalised in the interplay with other precisely grasped and lovingly designed details of the paintings. And they stand for fictitious, abstract subjects. As mannered components they are integrated into the painting as a whole the same way as those transparent parts, painterly overlays on a previously created pictorial layer, which we have, in painting, known since Picabia. They correspond to double exposures and fades in photography and film. They make the levels of meaning, defined by figures and landscape, melt into each other, thus creating a new, ambiguous context, bringing into dialogue the parts not connected by content.


The elegant, ghostly figurines on the one hand mark the weight important parts of the composition, on the other hand they regulate the development of a hypothetical plot, even if they only appaer as passive onlookers or just on the fringe of the events. Constantly engaged in simple activities and confronted by inserts from our time, like funicular railway cabins or a helicopter flying into the picture, by which they are all but surprised, they move within romantic parks, between mightly wooded rocks or overgrown antique walls. We feel like being beamed into Poe’s fantastic „Domain of Arnheim“: „... there was a weird symmetry, a thrilling uniformity, a wizard propriety ... Not a dead branch – not a withered leaf – not a stray pebble – not a patch of the brown earth was anywhere visible. The crystal water welled up against the clean granite, or the unblemished moss, with a sharpness of outline that delighted while it bewildered the eye.“(1)


Kristina Girke registers details of such backdrops by adding single forms in a way tell-tale of knowledge of far-eastern linear arrangements. Intuitively placed lines of colour, without any fear of ornamental inserts, in rhythmic echelon and vibrating when they touch, outline spaces of colour in a draughtsman’s manner, which stand for rocks, clouds, and green; trees are pictured in a stylized way. They stand, especially if single, like icons, in place for vegetation as such. The natural object sparks the creative idea and a logical programme of representation springs from the existential experience of nature, in combination with an innovative staging of the subject.


The block-like tectonics of craggy, mighty rocks and bare stone, in which one may suspect cracks and caves, conveys a feeling of corporeality, different from the one in far-eastern painting or Japanese woodcuts, which belong to the sources of Kristina Girke’s art. In those, hills and mountains are piled up in a distance or rather close, but are seen as being essentially flat. Naturalistic deception of the eye, all shadows and roundedness, and, in consquence, all spatial illusion, is deactivated in them. Much in contrast, Kristina Girkw develops spatial and plastic effects by formally abstract means, very much in the tradition of European painting, and she conveys, without much reference to strict rules of perspective, a spatia depth to be experienced emotionally. Challenging, clear and vivid colours and an evenly distributed light defamiliarize the scenes. Regardless of the inclination towards a well-developed, concentrated finesse and rigorous partition of planes, we are impressed by the generous concept of pictorial design. Girke catches „the hesitation of the things“(2) in a fragmentary way, the inner structure of places impossible to locate or episodes defying to be checked; she doesn’t paint, to borrow a phrase from Caspar David friedrich, to render what she has got before her very eyes, but what she sees inside herself.(3)


There are many possibilities to construct subjective relations to traditional pictorial concepts, but intuitive reminiscences concerning some typical aspects of 19th Century painting seem to be clear: Kristina Girke has a visionary understanding of landscape. For her, it is a stage for myths, but unblemished by any ideological transfiguration or pathetically moved attitude from that era. We know exotically dressed, out-of-touch staffages, Teutonic warriors and theatrical knights, even bucolic scenes of a rococo party in a southerly park – by Anselm Feuerbach, for instance – from the art of the age of romanticism. The cascades and waterfalls, present in all sorts of variations in almost all of the recent paintings by Kristina Girke, have been known since Jacob Philip Hackert and Joseph Anton Koch founded the tradition of idealized landscape as the manifestation of a higher order. Those artists interpreted the waterfall not only as a symbol of life between source and uncertain end, but also of what was freedom-bent and dynamically unspoilt and natural. For them, water was an important element of the life of nature, because, as Carl Gustav Carus put it, "actively living, it surfs and roars to arouse and liven up emotion ... its cheerful and dark mirror [wakes] our endless longing"(4). The waterfalls of Kristina Girke show themselves as a different kind of spectacular show, and one of its own class. As parts of the design of the image, they hold central or structuring, embracing or dividing positions, enable vistas or block off. Constantly they concentrate the view on themselves as a dominating subject. Girke shows, how smoothly the stream flows downwards, finds a short-term form much in contrast to its nature, how it is slowed down, how it pours into the deep with noise and roar and flickering where it splashes into the still waters, or how rivulets, tamed by man, or constructed as an intricate staging, gurgle through terraced canals into the basins of a park decorated with fountains. Whenever she tries to render the idea of a colourless and transparent matter by heavy shadings of white, Girke freezes phases of a visually moved process of time and energy, and in a literal sense, too, as the impressive and bizarre forms of a frozen waterfall also serve as motifs. "The original, anyway, cannot ever be reached or surpassed, neither in its three-dimensionality, nor in its structure, movement, colour, smell, sound, tangibility and material quality, in short: in its uniqueness."(5)


Waterspray, amorphous yet designed, lies across parts of the painting like a foil; we have a foreboding of the power of water to inspire elementary collective images. "The geometry of a waterfall – this process of high and inspired styling, which pleases the pampered eyes of the travellers ... and the exclusive loner – drives away the fantasy creatures of the Brothers Grimm and Fouqué, the good and evil spirits of the folk tales, the tales of horror told secretly, the reports of natural imagination."(6)


Kristina Girke scoops from many sources to present the unseen. She uses her narrative talent to tell about untold tales and puts together a balance sheet of her imagination which is enriched by her individual signifiers. It is the viewers’ task to understand the nature and the essence of this resolutely defined counterpole to reality. His sensibility will also have to savour calculated cracks and caesuras as well as treacherous moments in a way of painting, which is showing itself to him as calm, collected and harmonious, defying to carry messages of any kind, relying on the

intensive power of expression of itself.


Translation: Charles Rump


1 Edgar Allan Poe, The Domain of Arnheim, 1847

2 Paul Cézanne talking to Joachim Gasquet, in: Paul Cézanne, Über Kunst, Gespräche mit Gasquet und Briefe, hrsg. Von Walter Hess, Hamburg 1957, p. 27; in French: „L’hésitation des choses“

3 See Caspar David Friedrich, Äußerungen bei Betrachtung einer Sammlung von Gemälden von größtenteils noch lebenden und unlängst verstorbenen Künstlern, um 1830, in: Wieland Schmied, Caspar David Friedrich, Cologne 1992, p. 44

4 Carl Gustav Carus, Von der Wirkung einzelner landschaftlicher Gegenstände auf das Gemüt, geschrieben in den Jahren 1815 bis 1824, in: Landschaftsbilder, Ausstellungskatalog, Kunstverein Hamburg, Hamburg 1989, p. 18

5 Dieter Asmus, Eine Stange Wasser, in: Kunstzeitung, No. 61, September 2001, p. 14

6 Karl Krolow, Märchenbrunnen, in: Der weisse Turm, VIII/3, 1965, p. 31

 © Jürgen Schilling, 2004


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