Seeing People
Plasticity, light and colourspace as compositional elements of the figurative painting of Caterina Albert
By Ulrich Fürst

When experts introduce an artist, they often assign him to a place within a spectrum of the current trends. The artist then comes across as one who moves within a hermetic microcosm of Art, one who latches on to the newest tendencies and trends, connects with lines of development, and seeks attachment to groups. He also comes across to us as one who, paradoxically, is given to unremitting reflection on his role in this network of connections because he would like to take his place within it, rather than one whose artist’s identity has been formed. At most, he is outdone by the art critic in the degree and extent of this reflection. In that case, thus presented, the artist would acknowledge – and declare his allegiance to – the great names and trends, so that some of their aspiration and importance might devolve upon him.

If one wishes to study the pictorial world of Caterina Albert, the latter process should be put aside. The already routine discourse of the international ‘Artists’ Republic’ – self-mirroring while skeptical and enlightened at the same time – is not her concern. This is because she feels herself engaged on a mission, because she and her powers of imagination are constantly concerned with pictures: both with the images and impressions she gains from this world, and also with the pictures she produces from them. As one who thinks in visual terms this painter is concerned with seeing, direct visual perception, and the power of the images.

Once again, figurative painting demonstrates its uninterrupted vitality. It was already able to stand its ground during the 20th century alongside the triumphal procession of Abstraction, conceptional art, and the repeatedly postulated ‘Death of the Tafelbild’ [i.e. the demise of painting on a flat surface], and it will continue to do so; such a degree of prognosis is permissible. That interest in the human form has been extinguished could only in all seriousness be presumed by irresolute gallery owners or impudent patriarchs of culture. In this respect, the works of Caterina Albert have been, all along, a counterpoint to mainstream conceptional art, which has renounced the power of pictures.

However, her works should not constitute a mere starting-point for reflections and discussions, which soon leave this external collision behind them. Instead of ‘Art after philosophy’ (Joseph Kossuth), Caterina Albert is concerned with the figure in its created form; content is presented as a configurated theme. The themes are put on show for the onlooker.

From the above, it is apparent that Caterina Albert’s works speak for themselves; they have no need of learned commentators, but onlookers who want to use their intellect to understand the paintings and their content. The brief dictum ‘what you see is what stands’ endures here. Nevertheless, I would like to define some principles of composition, in order to point out what gives rise to the particular quality and extraordinary effect that these paintings have.
The signum of this figural art is its incredible plasticity. Often, parts of the body are only shown ‘flat’ or sketched in an out-of-focus manner. However, where certain parts of the body are concerned, particularly the head, the plasticity reaches the highest degree. Here, ‘plasticity’ does not refer to commonplace matters – three-dimensionality, the depiction of a body on the canvas. The word has a second essential meaning, which characterizes plasticity as an intuitive quality and a creative value. Here, plasticity is a living, outward-burgeoning force; this is about figures ‘which in their form appear three-dimensionally as being completely filled with their own vitality’ (Kurt Badt). From this emanates the besetting bodily presence of the personae, and the lasting intensity of its expression; the plasticity also creates spatial depth for the figures, and space around them.

Of prime importance for this quality is the second compositional component I would like to mention: light. While, on occasion, it is evident in the form of twilight or as a colourful glow which can provide atmospheric denseness, a hard, glare-like lighting predominates. The cold, white light does not stem from the sun, it assails from the side as if there were spotlights in the paintings; just like the chisel of a sculptor it accentuates the forms, in all their plasticity.

The particular spatial qualities constitute the third criterion. This has nothing to do with constructed inner spaces with furnishings, nor with landscape or natural scenery. In this art, the location does not belong in the familiar everyday world, but has its own conformities. I would like to call this phenomenon ‘colourspace’. This colourspace rests on a monochrome background, which is often applied in numerous layers of paint and exhibits varying colour reflexes and coloured overtones. The monochrome background therefore never appears as a neutral surface. With its special colouring, it is the foundation for the atmosphere and mood in the painting and in addition, it can awaken the impression of depth in every gradation, which can extend from the relief-like ground that appears like a solid wall, to a dusky depth that loses itself in infinity. These singular inner spaces impart something other than a style of living: they give expression to the quietness of an inner space, the screened-off quality of a casing, the intimacy of an interior. We see not an outer world, but an inner one – in each instance attuned to the personae depicted – through colour, light, and intrinsic texture. For this reason, one understands the pictorial spaces as the autonomous action-space of the forms. The onlooker thus draws near to them, without having to feel like an intruder. He gains a nearness which is immediate, but not obtrusive: proximity and distance in a finely-balanced equilibrium.

The three components – plasticity, strong light and colourspace – are hallmarks of these paintings and are able, through reciprocal interaction, to achieve the highest intensity. They are also responsible for the associations with other spheres of art which constantly enter the mind of the specialist: recollections of the chiaroscuro in the works of Caravaggio, perhaps, or of the historic grand masters of graphic expression such as Giovanni Pisano and Michelangelo, or of the role of the torso in the work of Auguste Rodin. We are by no means dealing here with ingenious allusions or collected quotations. These associations arise because Caterina Albert employs elemental and timeless basic categorizing elements of fine art in a new way, and for her own pictorial inventions.

Translation: Jill Pittinger