Abstract Realism—The Paintings of Pat Rosenmeier

Veit Görner

White magnolias were the final flowers which Florette Lynn brought to the hospital for her friend Eva Hesse shortly before her death, and magnolias are the first paintings which Pat Rosenmeier shows to us. It is not a matter of magnolias or of a hidden tribute to Eva Hesse. That would look different. Of course there is a White Magnolia, but also a Black Magnolia, an Urban, a Hurricane, a Frozen, a Snotty or a Boisterous Magnolia. Pat Rosenmeier is a painter. And the variations on the magnolia are always nothing other than new painterly investigations which she seeks to answer. In any case, these are pictures which cannot easily be reproduced. They are too big for that which they offer in terms of finely detailed painting. Painterly sensations corresponding to the size of beer coasters, when it is a matter of pictures measuring a minimum of two-and-a-half square meters, far exceed the technical possibilities of reproduction for beer-coaster dimensions. The prospects don’t look good for catalogue illustrations or invitation cards. Loss of data equals loss of delight in looking. I have never observed a more striking discrepancy between original and reproduction. Walter Benjamin would confirm this observation.
Painting has always encountered a great challenge with regard to developing a uniquely potent impact which could not be equaled by any other medium, at least until today. Ad Reinhard’s black paintings (as well as his few white ones) were clearly intended to stand in the way of photographic reproduction, at a time when younger, militant dreamers sought victory in the competition with the camera through the strategy of photo-realistic painting. Numbering among them were Franz Gertsch, Chuck Close and even the technician Richard Estes. Warhol was more clever. He “painted” his pictures with reproduction techniques*[1] or peeing*[2] VIPs.
The full-blooded painter, in contrast to the storyteller or interpreter of reality,[3] <#_ftn3> is only marginally interested in objectivity. In the best case, it serves him as inspiration, motivation or simply as the pretext for picking up a brush and using it to spread paint across some surface or other.
Pat Rosenmeier’s magnolia was a gift from her best friend on the artist’s twenty-sixth birthday and awakened a small, but apparently large enough desire to preserve the feeling of this moment, this heartfelt gift—as a drawing, as a watercolor. The original magnolia had long ago faded: a light, almost white blossom, not the dark violet variety which blooms a few weeks later; and it remained a watercolor painting placed in a prominent position—a daily sight, a daily reminder. Rosenmeier subsequently selected the birthday reminder as a pictorial motif for her painterly exploration. Scanned and projected onto the canvas in order to be sketched in rough form as an approximative formal pattern. The work of seconds. A reason for spreading paint across the canvas.
During her academic training, she had turned her attention to  Hard-Edge Painting. To Sarah Morris and Gary Hume, who were almost her contemporaries. Masking or layering or setting different colors alongside each other, dry and free-hand. A painterly technique which had already been used by the Hard-Edge painters or the Concretists. Barnett Newman, Josef Albers, Max Bill or Richard Paul Lohse. Ideas concerning the simulation of a precise definition or exercises in technically precise definition. Still caressed by the eyes of the viewer standing at a distance. But what is revealed by nearness beneath the magnifying glass? Paint oozes beneath the masking tape, the hand trembles. Grand theory. Views from far and near have both already proved fatal for many painters. Effect and precision. This is a tale which may be told by printers who peer at their proofs through linen testers. At the beginning of the twentieth century, art had the Pointillists at its disposal for these artistic experiments involving color-screen points and later, when everything became bigger, there were Roy Lichtenstein and the early Sigmar Polke.
That which with these “tiny point painters” was still painstaking work by hand entered into the domain of guided randomness with the décalcomanists or frottagists, as in their first and best representative Max Ernst, or the watercolorists on canvas such as Sam Francis and Paul Jenkins. It was the significance of chance happening, at the same time as the discovery of relativity theory by Einstein and psychoanalysis by Freud, which during the nineteen-tens was recognized as a possibility, as a means of artistic design, and appropriated by art. Variation as state. Jean Arp’s randomly fallen snippets of paper, glued into a pictorial collage. Man Ray’s darkroom experiments or Duchamp’s radical, self-shaping Le Readymade malheureux from 1919 were only the beginning of a radical extension of the definition of art in the twentieth century. Following after chance events were improvisation, action, performance and later the “viewer as actor.”
In any case, Max Ernst wanted to create pictorial microstructures which could summon up memories but which could not be painted. The discovery of the technique of rubbing imprints, namely frottage, represented a fortunate solution for him. The floorboards of his makeshift studio in a hotel room in the French city of Pornic generated perfect, surrealistic landscapes, forests, flowers, skies or birds and earthy grounds.*[4] The Entire City from 1936 and even more, Europe after the Rain II from 1936/37 process this sort of secret structure. Ernst would have found enjoyment in (and raised technical questions about) Rosenmeier’s Black Magnolia, 2007. In the paintings of Pat Rosenheimer, there is an idea of depicting reality, not just of generating intoxicating and dreamy associations to it, as with Ernst. She shares a quite decisive visual experience with only a few. As a trained pilot, she sees the world from above. The world of Google Earth is only a faint echo of that perspective. Just like a river delta discharges into the sea: spreading out, billowing, merging. She is familiar with the treetop landscapes of Canada or the Amazon. The view from above is different. And she can define the heights, the distance and therefore the degree of abstraction. How do pictures, paintings arise out of this?
Morris Louis turned his gaze to Barnett Newman, the theoretical purist among the American painters. First of all separate the colors, also define the borders, decide how the line of demarcation along and between the colors should look like. Adjoin or separate, isolate. Louis chose flowing edges. Paul Jenkins and Sam Francis looked at Louis and Jackson Pollock. Jenkins made his choice for a chance solution which could be influenced; Wols had strongly impressed him in Paris. The canvas as a watercolor painting, the preparation of colors, moist in moist, so that they could flow into each other in a controlled manner. Gradual changes, just like swelling clouds in the sky. The mastery lay in an ability to guide, in as controlled a manner as possible, the automatism of the wet runnings of paint. Sam Francis paid attention to Jackson Pollock and watercolored that artist’s drippings.
Pat Rosenmeier already seems here, at a young age, to have achieved a noteworthy analysis. She is familiar with the issues and procedures of the great-grandfathers of art, as well as with Richter’s squeegee technique, and with the paint trickles, as in Urban, Snooty or Hurricane Magnolia she has developed a further variation of active, chance-generated painting which she uses in a sovereign manner. Her pictures often resemble the street-structures of American cities. Ordered structures out of vertical and horizontal lines, with seemingly irrational diagonals in-between such as would never have been permitted by Manhattan in Piet Mondrian’s Boogie Woogie.*[5] Rosenmeier depicts Manhattan with its diagonal Broadway.*[6]
Kandinsky as well as Kupka always saw in Abstraction a possibility of transcendental experience. Bill and other Concretists saw in Abstraction an objectification, an intersubjectivity of art and especially of painting. Pat Rosenmeier always utilizes her abstract realism as a stage for feelings as well: painterly, analytical research as a possibility, just like emotionally accentuated compensation work for personal wounds. The creating of art as catharsis would be a biographical note for biographers, if it possesses any significance at all. What is instead much more important is the fact that here a young artist operates with deep knowledge of the traditional history of painting and is apparently in the process of using a combination of procedures to formulate her own contribution, which is both innovative and full of potential for the future. “Where do you stand with your art, colleague?” Jörg Immendorff once asked in relation to political contents. “Where do you stand with your painting?” Pat Rosenmeier would inquire, in order to stimulate the current investigation of one of the oldest artistic procedures.

Translated by George Frederick Takis


*[1] Warhol took the silkscreen printing which had just become known and turned it into the central procedure of his pictorial creation. He edited and revised found newspaper photos or Polaroid models with the silkscreen process, and then produced variously colored, serial pictures.

*[2] In 1978 under the title Oxidation Paintings, Warhol created pictures whose appearance was fixed in a random manner through the oxidation of paint and urine. Oriented entirely towards sensation, he invited prominent figures such as Mick Jagger for the purpose of design.

*[3] Storytellers can collage reality and fantasy into scenarios in order to illustrate a “literary” image or a certain set of contents. Rendezvous der Freunde (Meeting of Friends, 1922) by Max Ernst belongs to this category, just as do Guttoso’s Café El Greco and Jörg Immendorf’s multipartite Café Deutschland, which is dedicated to Guttoso. One can also mention Mark Tansey, along with Peter Doig or Neo Rauch; with the latter two, however, the narrative element recedes in importance in favor of the painterly composition. Interpreters of reality, on the other hand, draw from the almost endless storehouse of images offered by photography or moving pictures. The one part by Gerhard Richter, Luc Tuymanns, to some extent Wilhelm Sasnal or Eberhard Havekost, to name only a few typical examples.

*[4] In his essay “Beyond Painting” (quoted according to Lothar Fischer, Max Ernst, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1969, p. 73 ff.), Ernst described the discovery of frottage as the painterly equivalent of the “automatic writing” of the Surrealists, which required as complete an abandonment as possible of cognitive control and, in its place, strove after chance-guided production. Free from the schooled, learned or adroit “paw” of the producer. Intuition and free fantasy were the means of expression. “I decided to investigate the possibilities of symbolic expression offered by this compelling power; in order to help my meditative and hallucinatory capabilities, I made a series of drawings of the floorboards, namely by laying sheets of paper over them, however it chanced to happen, and I rubbed the grain with a soft lead pencil … and I was astounded by the sudden enhancement of my visionary capabilities as well as by the hallucinatory succession of contrasting images…” (p. 70). Ernst perfected this technique of imprint rubbing until in 1926 it was able to provide him with every desired structure for his 34-part drawing cycle Histoire Naturelle. Afterwards he applied the principle of frottage as “copying technique” or décalcomanie to oil painting. The first picture produced in this manner was The Hundred Thousand Doves in 1927.

*[5] Mondrian “painted” his Manhattan pictures with colored masking tape, which he attached at right angles to the canvas in order to formulate concrete structures and clear edges, inspired by the rational urban plan of Manhattan.

*[6] It is nothing more than a footnote, of course, that Broadway, just like Mondrian, had Dutch roots and is derived from the words “broad way.” And like no other street, it runs through the rational transportation network of New York in a strongly diagonal manner.