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"Form's narrative power is its freedom."

Stephanie Abben interviewed by Dr. Necmi Sönmez

Excerpt from the catalogue "Stipendiaten der Lepsien Art Foundation Jahreskatalog 2009/10", Düsseldorf, Germany; Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.

How was it that you started making associations with landscapes/the cosmos in your poetic, abstract pictures?

It was not my original intention at all. At the beginning, whilst I was looking into a number of colors in all kinds of ways, merely from a painter's viewpoint, while I was looking at them and even after I started painting the works in question, associations with landscapes automatically came into my head. As soon as I started drawing a line right across the format there was a horizon there, lines or shapes stretching upwards immediately represented something growing, trees, for example. In other words, it was not the case that I planned on making associations with abstract painting. It was rather that the painting itself made something recognizable visible in every shape. Perhaps this was because my painting, for example, always has had a gestural quality, unlike concrete positions in painting or pure abstraction. It was the painting itself that gave rise to these things; possible motifs or objects made themselves noticeable but then disappeared again, becoming mere traces of paint.

We can discern two different directions in your works. Firstly, the gestural drawings concerned with processes of movement, with musical rhythms. Secondly, semi-figurative works displaying a certain corporality and objectuality. The compositions remain abstract, their subject time problems during painting. The emotional rapidity of the painting process is tested and comes into play. At the same time, clearly recognizable motifs appear, such as huts, mountains, chairs. How do you handle these contrasts?

I always wanted to paint pictures about which I knew nothing, i.e., to paint something that I didn't know. The kinds of questions inherent in painting alone do not interest me. And when I paint, I go in search of a kind of motif. In this respect I do not see myself as an abstract painter. I often use rooms, because the overall composition features a strong contrast between light and dark. The law of light and shade applies in my pictures. Accordingly, nature-like phenomena come into being, phenomena from which I never could and never wanted to free myself. In them, a would-be chaos reigns, one that I find exciting and that I touch upon in my painting, as I paint. I want the physical act of painting to remain as visible as the motifs that emerge or the objects that could possess content. For me, these are contrasts that reciprocally condition and attract each another.

There is a strange simultaneousness about your works, characterized by an indefinable perception of space and the appeal of shapes and of materiality. Is it freedom of shape that is more important to you, or the narrative power of shapes?

For me, it is important that I create in my works something that can trigger memory - that the painting does not become lost in pure gesture, but that it also contains a "shape". I have gradually placed clearer shapes - objects and articles - into these spaces. My questions are: What exactly is an object and when is it recognizable as such? Or, what does this object have to say? I believe that developing the narrative power of a shape releases its freedom. In other words, when it comes down to it, the shape is untrammeled. What it wants to narrate is up to each observer. I merely imply something or allow something to be. The things themselves are never truly tangible. I want to create strange references. What I do is, in a way, deny the clearly defined. For me, this is a way of expressing the characteristic peculiarity of painting and it is something that I wish to work further on. Basically, I attempt to ask: What exactly is a picture? My work focuses on the representation of something, the perception of images or of close copies, as well as possibly visible references to the concrete or personal content of the motifs. I put all these things up for discussion in my paintings.

On your Website, alongside "Painting" I have seen interesting work groups such as "Wall drawings", "Photo drawings", and "Text works". These work groups make it clear that you do also take a conceptual approach. Can we talk about this?

In a number of these works what I want to do is expand the area where I paint. For example, I extend my painting completely into the room itself, by painting directly onto the walls. My aim is to broaden the classical scope of a conventional painting to include a physically perceptible spatial situation by working with the given spatial circumstances in a particular location. In the case of the photo drawings, I combine two media to create one.

At your Masters presentation at the Kunstakademie Karlsruhe, you showed your work "Wasserlache" (Pool of Water, 2009). Projecting films onto paintings makes for interesting "intermediary spaces" This work, with its process-oriented quality, seems to reflect your ideas. What were your findings in this context?

Here too, the idea was to discuss painting itself in pictorial/visual terms and to expand it by projecting video onto painting. Both media condition each other, becoming one picture that in turn becomes a motif. One does not exist without the other. The combination of painting and video creates a certain movement in the picture, one that continues infinitely. I am interested in slowness and closely observing the material and surface. Through the motif, I also attempt to focus on something repetitive, something that returns to the beginning, by completing a cycle. In this context, at the same time I plunge the relatively open motif of flowing water back into the abstract material of painting. Both surfaces illustrate the problems of abstraction and figuration or the concrete and the undefined in one picture.

Stephanie Abben 2017