During Melbourne’s austere lockdowns, Adriane Strampp was restricted to her Collingwood home for months at a time, separated from her studio in Fitzroy. In this forced stillness, she has created a new series of work that turns toward the subject of the domestic interior as a site for contemplation, studying the light changing through the seasons, and night light reflections on restless nights.
Strampp’s images are so delicately and finely layered onto linen, that if the light falls at a certain angle a glimpse of something tangible can appear, then leave without a trace. At other times roads, rivers, distant lights, smoke and other signs of life come into view through painted swathes of canvas that cast shadow or emanate light. These tricks with materials and brush are what make her work so compelling. In them exists an otherness between truth and fiction. Are these places real or conjured from the imagination? Excerpt from essay by Marita Smith
Video of gallery installation with narrative by artist here. (3 minutes).
Image: Untitled #10 2018 oil on birch panel 20 x 25.5 cm
Latin limin-, limen
A threshold below which a stimulus is not perceived or is not distinguished from another
Strampp’s process begins with a collection of photographs, obscure and obscured source material, a compilation of information gathered from places once visited which continue to have some pull or gravitas.
Fragments of reference material are rearranged, merged and edited to create a new ambiguous reality and sense of discord, a response painted from the artist’s personal experiences and broader response to the present global climate.
There is also a playfulness with scale, small things are made monumental and the monumental represented in a small format, whilst the painterly process oscillates between depictions of the real and explorations of the material. Not all is always as it seems.
This exhibition addresses themes of connection, dislocation and the pull to return to places once familiar. Coming from a peripatetic background there is a longing for familiarity and sameness however inevitably things are rarely as remembered.
Rather than the traditional art historical landscape, this work explores aspects of a landscape remembered or places once visited, the memory of which remains long after, and the shifting experience of revisiting as an outsider. The horses return as metaphor for the artists’s own restlessness and journeys of the past and of the future.
In this latest collection of new work by Melbourne artist Adriane Strampp, Pilgrimage expands on the artist’s ongoing interest in connection, memory and spatial relationships, and in particular, our relationship to particular places or things meaningful to us. How do we remember the places we once knew? Fragments of memories reconstituted to a fluid fusion of elements that we recall, pieced together to recreate a new reality, landscapes made of multiple locations creating a universal sense of familiarity. In The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge,(1910), Rilke compares the collation of memories to the house:
I never saw this strange dwelling again. Indeed, as I see it now, the way it appeared to my child’s eye, it is not a building, but is quite dissolved and distributed inside me: here one room, there another, and here a bit of corridor which, however, does not connect the two rooms, but is conserved in me in a fragmentary form. Thus the whole thing is scattered about inside me, the rooms, the stairs that descended with such ceremonial slowness, others, narrow cages that mounted in a spiral movement, in the darkness of which we advanced like the blood in our veins.
Whilst continuing an ongoing interest in the landscape in terms of revisiting of places once familiar, Pilgrimage includes a more intimate look at connection through the interiors and personal possessions of other artists’ homes and studios. Both the interior and external landscapes take the position of observer separated by subtle barriers, shadows, reflections or distance, a reminder that we can only ever be the observer, not the participant in other people’s places.
Using subtle shifts in tone and hue, Adriane Strampp’s nuanced paintings conjure familiar yet elusive memories of place, emotion and feeling. Her shadowy compositions, built from thin layers of oil and wax on linen, convey a paradox; being at once monumental and intimate, internal and external, familiar and foreign.
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.
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.