THE WAY TO ROSAFARBEN
When art critic for New York magazine, Jerry Saltz, saw a reproduction from Adriane Strampp’s recent series of landscapes he wrote that it seemed to him to describe a ‘Metaphysical Highway’. More precisely, since they acknowledge no deity, these works insinuate a circuitous passage: from detailed Victorian dresses, to flowers on textile, to accurate yet unnervingly humanoid animals, eventually arriving at a one-hued, contrived, rather than observed destination that recalls Jean Baudrillard’s notion: ‘the simulation of something that is real by proxy; something which never really existed.’ At the same time they counter the postmodern preoccupation with the end of aesthetics.
Running through diverse subject matters is a mastership of her medium—a delicate touch with a tough or tragic commentary—despite their femininity. Among the Victorian ball gowns painted from 1991 to 1998, that are historically a female preoccupation, is a wedding dress without either a bride to wear it or a groom to marry. Complete with finely described bodices and expanded skirts, these dresses stand disarmingly, surveying rolling fields and hedgerows that customarily convey romantic sentiments, but here summon an existential air. Albeit with supreme subtlety, this landscape might just consume them.
A stay in Umbria in 1998 led to the analysis of the Renaissance art seen there. Consequently, conventional composition was disrupted to produce a divided picture comprising details of period clothing, again with an unseen wearer, and close-ups of fabric detail. A not quite hyperreal white hare also takes a prominent role in a re-engineered landscape in which flowers occupy an unnatural position across the canvas. In the next series, enormous flower heads, sometimes without stems, sit lonely and transcendent, as if sensing a painful fate as they sink into the canvas like ash into soil.
In 2011 Strampp was offered a residency with Taronga Zoo. On contracting pleurisy and finding herself too weak to paint, she made finely drawn and gently modelled, almost life-size sketches of its residents, notably the tapirs, focussing on their vulnerability. Again the hare joins them to warily, yet knowingly, observe their viewers. These charcoal drawings, by definition in shades of black and white, were succeeded by landscapes in which subjects are insubstantial, momentarily incandescent and described in monochrome.
It is impossible, given the inclusion of road and tree-like imagery in the Rosafarben (pink) paintings, to read them other than as depictions of journeys and landscapes, and there is in fact an autobiographical impulse in a 2012 return to her birthplace in Wisconsin, USA, when Strampp reacquainted herself with its local forest trees. But to define these works as pure landscape is to locate them in the terrestrial and thereby limit their scope. The Wisconsin scenes were remembered indistinctly and were not exactly as they had once been; as they were seen through from a car window they were not perceived clearly a second time around. Everything about these works is at least once removed; there is a familiarity, but it is an insecure recollection. Sometimes there is a step back, such as in the use of the German word ‘vorbeigehen’ (to pass by) for a series title, so as to create a distance between the work and the viewer, suggesting at once a cloudy impression of autobiography—in that Strampp has German ancestors—and long gone landscape standards such as those in work by Constable and Turner.
Painterliness is as important as the narrative stimulus from which it arises. Aqueous pigment is allowed to run freely allowing chance to take fleeting compositional control while images appear and disappear as mists and reflections. With the use of wax and delicate washes images dissolve and at the same time disconnect, so reflecting Strampp’s own peripatetic childhood that due to constant upheaval, was experienced as separation, transience and loss.
In the Rosafarben works, the Australian, harsh-continent landscape model is contradicted, suggesting the watercolour rather than the oil tradition, while positing an emotional, yet powerful reinterpretation of it as female.
© Traudi Allen 17 March 2016
Dr. Traudi Allen is a writer and art historian and an Adjunct Fellow with the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University. She has recently published John Perceval: Art and Life (MUP).
- Saltz, Jerry, Instagram, 30 Dec. 2015
- Fleming, John and Honour, Hugh The Visual Arts: A History, 3rd. Edition. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York, 1991. p. 680-7.
- Described by Frederic Jameson as ‘a culture of degraded landscape of schlock and kitsch’, Jameson, ‘Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late Capitalism’, New Left Review 1984, p. 65, 55 in Contemporary Cultural Theory, Milner, Andrew, p.107.
- Email communication between Adriane Strampp and Traudi Allen, 5 March 2016.
- Traudi Allen interview with Adriane Strampp, studio, 236 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 26 February 2016.
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