Look into the No-Man’s-Land of the Invisible
Thoughts on Pat Rosenmeier’s Black and Gold Paintings

All perceiving is also thinking,
all reasoning is also intuition,
all observation is also invention.

Rudolf Arnheim

Daedalus is not just one of the best-known figures from Greek mythology: He was also considered an extraordinary builder and, above all, one of the best artists of his time. Nonetheless, he initially became more famous for the inventiveness that helped him to overcome gravity; this became necessary when he was imprisoned in a tower together with his son Icarus. He built functioning wings out of bird feathers and candle wax and, with their help, he and his son were able to boost themselves up into the air. The story that follows is familiar. Icarus’s youthful exuberance had dire consequences: The sun caused the wings to melt and he plunged into the sea — his father unable to help him (i). What is most interesting about this is not the tragedy of a story of partially successful and partially unsuccessful liberation, but the overcoming of spatial boundaries through the daring of a single artist.

The question might now be whether, since Daedalus, the task of the artist has perhaps primarily consisted of overcoming traditional spatial structures. This act of overcoming could be applied to the sphere of real space, to the political sphere and, not least, to the social sphere. We can derive the following thesis from this: Without exception, the overcoming of personal limitations in art culminates in an attempt at liberation from spatial constraints, and its artistic ancestry can be traced back to Daedalus.

A great variety of artists and writers have accordingly made reference to this myth. James Joyce, for example, gave the protagonist of his novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man the name “Dedalus.” In order to find personal freedom, he also turned to the arts and left his country — just like Daedalus had once done. In the first chapter of his memoirs, which he entitled “Portrait of the Artist as an Idiot,” Mark Rothko would later take up the idea once again in order to reflect on the artist’s role in society.

Peter Paul Rubens had already dealt with the subject in an oil painting of 1636. The small-format painting (ii) is dominated by the colors gold and black, and it depicts the fall of Icarus in a particularly striking manner. Rubens uses exclusively broad brushstrokes over black to depict the deadly sea’s roaring. The way Rubens uses his choice of colors to so adeptly enhance the drama of the event and its lethal consequences is characteristic. The black of the sea draws in the gaze of the viewer, who falls into the water in Icarus’s place, anticipating the end of the story. Gold and black are colors that will continue to occupy us over the course of this text.

Edmund Burke gave thought to the effects of blackness around 100 years after Rubens. He felt that black functions like a void within the image, causing a “relaxation” of perception as soon as the eye meets it — a relaxation from which the eye recovers with a convulsive jolt only when it views a bright color.(iii) He compares this relaxation of the eye with sleep, which overcomes us through the relaxation of our limbs — and it is no coincidence that most people experience this state like the sensation of falling. Black is accordingly said to be the color that subtly eludes the viewer’s critical gaze, directly slipping away from it and dragging the viewer with it into a state of free fall.

In the course of the 20th century, black became the color of theory and thought, and it is thus hardly surprising that, with his Black Square of 1913, Casimir Malevichnot only sought to overcome the old European culture but, in his opinion, believed he had found the zero point of painting. After the Second World War, America’s Abstract Expressionists continued to develop this approach.iv Painters with ways of working as diverse as Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt also later continued to paint their own “black paintings.”v Gold, which performed an important function in the Rubens painting describe here, also continued to serve as a theme. Judd’s seemingly gold cubes or James Lee Byars’s directly obsessive celebration of gold can be cited as examples of this.

Before this gigantic art historical backdrop, the artist Pat Rosenmeier paints her large-format paintings with an astounding single-mindedness: almost invariably black and gold magnolias, mysterious depths of the sea, coasts or islands. However, the concept of representation is itself already misleading and the first of many traps that have been set. In Rosenmeier’s work, the magnolia is never the subject of the painting — unlike the case of Georgia O’Keeffe, whose paintings certainly also celebrate the beauty of nature alongside the liberation from the prison of abstraction and realism. Rosenmeier, on the other hand, does not depict the magnolia. Instead, she reveals a contradictory, painterly movement: a simultaneous pushing forward and forcing back, an assertive movement towards the motif and a timid movement away from the motif. The magnolia itself is directly arbitrary in this context. According to the artist, it could have been any other plant or any other object. For her, it is enough to know what she is working on or,vi to put it differently, she seems satisfied to know which motif it is from which she is currently distancing herself far enough that, in the end at least a hint, a shimmer or a sense of magnoliality remains.

It seems as though she wanted to demonstrate the thesis of her predecessor Agnes Martin, who once said that absolutely anything can be painted without representation.vii In her most recent series, Nine Gold, which consists of seven gold and one almost entirely black painting, Pat Rosenmeier shows this across the whole spectrum of painterly possibilities. At times she paints nearly monochrome, as in Black Black Beauty and its golden pendant Blind Spot; then she lets the colors run into forking net-like forms, as in the pictures subtitled “Mycelium”, or in other cases there is a realism-association, as in Mars, Dust Devil or Späher (Recon scout). Aside from the magnolia, however, these paintings have something far more important in common; they often resist any possibility of objective description — the “painterly sensations at the scale of a beer coaster” are too minute.viii This fact is surely connected with the impossibility of photographing the works, because when craters of paint, layerings and streaks define the entire drama of the painting, photography — which has always obliterated all painterliness — can no longer keep up.

Thus, the painting of Pat Rosenmeier is surely also always about the unavoidable loss of images within a digitized visual economy and, inherent in this, about the general impossiblity of speaking about images. Hers point out the distinctive character of painting, which has not yet been attained by any other artistic medium and is based on the simultaneous presentation of something while concealing far more in doing so. The fact that it is not about the magnolia has been understood by this point — it is, first of all, about painting itself. And as soon as curious viewers are confronted with the painting, then what is surely the most exciting aspect follows, namely: the question of what we see when we look at art.

Her paintings have the power to seduce us into a curious gaze, into discovery and strolls taken with our eyes, or to put it succinctly: the full promise of painting. The question of the reason why she formulated this promise in black and gold still remains unanswered. Where does this persistent exploration of these two extremely different colors come from? If we once again call to mind Rubens’s Fall of Icarus, then we find these two chromatic systems colliding in a way that is similar to Golden Magnolia #11 (Vertical), from 2009. While, in Rubens’s work, it still remains entirely self-explanatory the color appears entirely to serve the content of the image, the color has become almost entirely divorced from the motif in Rosenmeier’s work. It is autonomous and suddenly seems to have taken on a voice of its own. The color speaks and, what it has to say talks about Rubens, Malevich and Burke and thus also about falling into the painting. The black of the magnolia is framed by gold, like an aureole, and the gaze that otherwise threatens to plunge into the painting finds something to hold on to in this gold. Burke argued that gold — as a divine color and as a heightening of white, the color of light —— stands in opposition to black, which is its complement and the color of the depths of night. Traps and floating, heaven and earth — no other colors could be used to better encapsulate the most elementary oppositions. Gold and black return balance to a world that has gone off the tracks by revealing its fundamental tension.

Something that is just as defining for Rosenmeier’s paintings as the selection of colors is their strong verticality, which invests her pictures with an undeniable sense of the bird’s-eye view. If we look at the paintings, then intuitive associations of aerial photographs of rivers, mountains or desert landscapes impose themselves, calling to mind a Google Earth aesthetic almost as a reflex. The fact that the artist has been an active pilot since she was 16 will be mentioned here just as an aside. What appears far more pressing is the logical rigor with which the young painter has made use of a spatial perception defined by the objective camera footage from outer space and has faith in a complete, scientific comprehensibility of the world. Her painted landscapes suggest painted maps of a fictive, unreal world, and clearly reject this widespread faith. She succeeds in returning its innocence to the “view from above” and liberating it from the fantasy of omnipotence provided to it by increasingly professionalized aerial photography. In the beginning, when air travel was still a new phenomenon, the new technology was still creating entirely unaccustomed images that led to problems of interpretation. Our gaze first had to be sharpened in order to be able to see more than just abstract patterns in these photographs.ix Futurist and Suprematist artists quickly positioned themselves at the forefront of this new way of seeing the world and gratefully adopted the new spatial order for their purposes. This resulted in works like Malevich’s 1915 painting Airplane Flying,x which anticipated the possibilities of a new art and aggressively turned its back on art history, as the representative of an old idea of space. A spatial revolution took place, which took hold not just of the understanding of architecture and war plans, but also brought a radical reevaluation of artistic concepts and perspectives. In this context, Pollock’s drips are equally to be evaluated as an attempt to transfer the new concept of space into painting, just as Rothko’s celebration of the horizontal organization of space is to be seen as an attempt to persist in an old order. Today, in the age of worldwide medial interconnectivity, these problems have become secondary. We no longer need to move through real space to the same extent,xi and Rosenmeier’s view from above is thus also something else. Her gaze is less dogmatic and, instead, reveals painterly secrets, which she unites together on the canvas.
Alongside Rubens, there is a contemporary artist whose meticulously composed paintings correspond to Pat Rosenmeier’s in many points — the reference is to Andreas Gursky. He also loves the view from above and even goes further when he says that he sometimes has the feeling of “looking through the seeker with the gaze of an extraterrestrial being.”xiiIn this way he gives voice to an old fascination of photographers that assumes the view from above liberates the artistic individual and brings him or her to new, still-unused and (in a positive sense) ahistorical ideas. Like Rosenmeier, Gursky does not tell any stories, instead presenting master images that present an archetypical closer examination of everyday phenomena. While Gursky works on his “Enzyklopädie des Lebens” (Encyclopedia of life), doing so by photographically penetrating medially contaminated sites like Formula 1 racetracks, supermarkets, stock exchanges and even North Korea, Rosenmeier sets her sights on the history of painting and autopsies its repertoire in the image. The comparison with Gursky pushes us to ask the question of whether Rosenmeier’s painting is perhaps to be understood as a declaration of war on photography. Our idea of space and world was certainly lastingly shaped by photography, which provoked visual fine art to engage in statements and counter-statements. Rosenmeier’s images are thus not so much a declaration of war as a counter-statement. Wherever, as in Golden Magnolia #1, swirling overlapping elements rotate with audacious drips, where the painterly is satisfied with the pure suggestion of thickness itself and the painting develops its own rhythm is where we are most strikingly presented with the fundamentally distinctive artistic quality of her painting. In Golden Magnolia #6, Mycel, of 2009, the drama of countless visual decisions become transferred over to the viewer. In the swirl of black and gold, we literally feel that we see the fall of Icarus before us, when our gaze plummets unchecked into the black passages, in order to immediately become ensnared in the seductive appeal of the painting. Pat Rosenmeier’s paintings transform her viewers into a contemporary Icarus who, in his plunging into the picture through reckless drips, is caught and held by the subtle layerings and the delicate manner of painting — in short the complexity of the painterly sensations.

Frank-Thorsten Moll


i See.

ii Peter Paul Rubens, The Fall of Icarus, 1636, oil on wood, 27 x 27 cm, Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique

iii Edmund Burke, “Section XVII: The Effects of Blackness,” in: Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful (New York: Routledge, 2008) [orig. publ. 1756].

iv Caroline Käding, “Herz der Finsternis: Monochromie und Bildhaftigkeit in schwarzer Malerei,” in: Caroline Käding et al., Back to Black: Schwarz in der aktuellen Malerei, 2008, p. 166 (pp. 164-171); Käding 2008, p. 65.

v See interview with Veit Görner at

vi in the original she said: „Anything can be painted without representation.“,

vii See Agnes Martin, Writings / Schriften, ed. by Dieter Schwarz (Ostfildern, 1998), p. 37.

viii Veit Görner, “Abstrakter Realismus – Die Bilder von Pat Rosenmeier,” 2007, published online at

ix See Asendorf, Super Constellation, Flugzeug und Raumrevolution: Die Wirkung der Luftfahrt auf Kunst und Kultur der Moderne, 1997, p. 36.

x Casimir Malevich, Suprematist Painting: Aeroplane Flying, 1915, oil on canvas, 57.3 x 48.3 cm, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

xi See “Schleusen und Dämme,” Christoph Asendorf talks with Michael Albert Islinger and Katja Schrul, Weimar, July 17, 1998.

xii Frank Nicolaus, “Andreas Gursky – Reporter des Weltgeistes,”, Feb 26, 2007,

xiii Michael Diers, “Grauwerte – Farbe als Argument und Dokument,” in: Michael Diers, FotografieFilmVideo – Beiträge zu einer kritischen Theorie des Bildes, 2006, p. 60 (pp. 52–83).