Magnolia happened to her

Early on, in 1919, Gottfried Benn revealed the sole aspiration of his artistic endeavour in his Creative Confessions: I do not find art within myself, but in an [...] involvement with the single problem that confronts me, that of the southern word.
What might this be, this darkly gleaming ‘southern word’ that is supposedly the single problem of his artistic endeavour? How does it come about? What does it bring about?
Benn continues: I once attempted to describe it in the novella The Birthday (Brains); I wrote ‘the olive happened to him’, not: the olive was there in front of him, not: the olive caught his eye, but: it happened to him, although the article would be better omitted. So ‘olive’ happened to him and it streams the structure in question beyond the fruits’ silver ...
‘The olive’, no, ‘olive’ as a ‘south word’. Detached from grammar and context, almost broken out of syntax and semantics. The word doesn’t come about, isn’t made, but happens, abruptly and unpredictably.
‘Olive’ as an occurrence, an event, as a linguistic and tonal image suddenly becoming real. As an irrationally associative mental image (irrational precisely because it is no longer anchored in a logical context of meaning, nor will it be integrated into one). With this alone, according to Benn, it is possible to burst all predetermined meaning or blindly accepted everyday attribution and open up unimagined relationships from fluid to solid.
A word as an eventful occurrence is the epitome of openness. ‘Olive’.
The word sensationises me without any regard to its descriptive character purely as an associative motif and then I perceive quite concretely its nature of the logical concept as a traverse section through condensed catastrophes.
The word, the ‘south word’ as a condensation or immense agglomeration, whose implosion causes the entire hardened reality of logical terminology to fade into rubble, yet is still able to take into itself and express all that has been, whether joy, grief, happiness or horror.
The word is no longer an expedient description of facts. On the contrary, it becomes existential. It doesn’t describe a context, it creates one. And it is not a replacement for this context; the word itself is the context.
Compared to this Benn sees the modern, rational consciousness as a meaningless torment of fake security and feigned interpretation, against whose inhuman mania for order and classification he writes with vehemence: And because I never see persons, but only being, because I know no art and no belief, no knowledge and no myth, but always only awareness, eternally meaningless, eternally assailed by anguish – these are basically the things I react against with the southern crunch, and those that I strive to channel off into Ligurian complexes until they elevate or extinguish in the beside-oneself of rapture or decay.
Benn transfers the ‘southern crunch’, provoked by the unfettered, enraptured word, into wider associative contexts which he calls the ‘Ligurian complex’. By causing reality to break down through words, word groups or word structures that are entirely themselves, he leads the eye and the mind into previously unknown territory.
The poem, the work of art, no longer describes a world, but makes one, is one.
Perhaps words are now converging, promiscuously, clarity not yet noticeable, but their cilia feel it out. Might that be a befriending for blue, what luck, what pure experience! [...] think of this eternal and beautiful word! Not for nothing do I say blue. It is the absolute south word, the exponent of the ‘Ligurian complex’, with tremendous ‘stirring value’, the main means of ‘piercing through contexts’, after which the spontaneous ignition begins, the ‘lethal torch’ and the far realms flow in.
Through the work a different, faraway world erupts into our dull reality. With the blue of the Mediterranean, the European south – always the place of yearning, or more aptly the constantly imagined state of longing, for the austere northern islander Benn.
‘Blue’ and ‘olive’ are stirring words that occasionally, behind the pierced and unravelled curtain of everyday reality, allow us to see and think quite differently. Although the blue of the ‘Ligurian complex’ is itself the occurence, as an alluring blueness or the abundant southern blueing that liquefies the world and causes it to re-emerge in a surging rapture of associations and colour.
All his life Benn bore witness to this marvellous occurrence of the word.

And Pat Rosenmeier?
Magnolia happened to her.

In the beginning it is a magnolia. A magnolia branch, an unexpected gift, suddenly in the studio.
At first with a tenderly locked bud, then opening into expansive, luscious corporeality, blooming white, and finally, announced by a light brown on the edge of the petals, wilting via brown into grey.
It was a defining moment, as unremarkable as it seemed. Things usually reveal themselves in the moment of their decay. We become painfully aware of them, and it becomes apparent what we are about to lose. At the moment of loss their being and having been is accomplished; it can be seen what distinguished and distinguishes them. However difficult such a loss is to accept, it in fact perfects the richness that was particular to a blossom, an object or a person. As Benn says, the flame needs the fading-out, or the blossom the wilting-away. Only together do they bring each other about.
In painting, ‘magnolia’ is for Pat Rosenmeier what ‘olive’ was for Benn – a promising south word or south motif, if you like. A motif she doesn’t simply reproduce or depict. It became her impulse to pierce through objective appearance and have the paint blossom, surge, radiate and wither away on the canvas itself.
And not in different images, but always in the same one, continually and presuppositionlessly summoning up the cyclical becoming and passing away of life as an indivisible occurrence from nothing more than the paint itself.
At times the far too obvious comparison with Georgia O’Keeffe imposes itself here, but Rosenmeier is not concerned with a coded, erotic or otherwise loaded symbolism. Her paintings symbolise neither magnolias nor anything else. Their grasp of the magnolia blossom is more immediate, more fundamental. Her earlier paintings are magnolias because they phenomenally correspond to and live through its becoming and passing.
For what the word was to Benn is to Rosenmeier colour, those dark unformed substances from which the light and the formed must continually be wrested.

And just as Benn’s artistic sensorium has fine cilia for the lyrical feeling-out of existential phenomena, Rosenmeier’s brush and painting tools seem to be similarly sensitively equipped.
The beginning is an enraptured flow. A swiftly executed preliminary sketch, whose graphically hardened structure gives an initial hold on the empty canvas, is inundated with a flood of paint that is whipped across the surface in unbridled confrontation, until Rosenmeier cautiously paints or tilts the roaring waves of colour into form.
Then comes the waiting. For the swift surge of whirling paint needs a long time to calm down and dry like sediment or mottled enamel. Every painting has such tides of accumulation and running off, and they bring about quite astonishing formations.
In this it is remarkable that Rosenmeier manages entirely without drawing, solely trusting the individualism of her paint. For as soon as the surface drying sets in, linear boundaries appear between the separate colour zones, which are outlined solely through their opposing inner contrasts and attain very distinctive form.
In regard to her selection of colour, however, it can be seen that she doesn’t generally make use of overemphasised complementary or demonstratively primary contrasts. Instead she pursues a discreet and sensitive half-tonality – from an almost black nocturnal blue to gleaming white, or from tender pink to a blackening grey, for example – with which she generates the subtle colour spectrum of the painting, with a distinctly musical sense of chromatic modulation.

A painting like Hurricane Magnolia (2006) shows the flower of the title clearly, but then again not so clearly. The adjectival storm is certainly present, as the painting is indeed a kind of frozen cyclone. Only the eye-shaped calyx provides a holding point, like the staring eye of the storm around which forces of colour break out, all the more powerful for not belonging to nature.
Rosenmeier holds the painting in an alchemistic limbo between the motivic figurativeness of the still or already recognisable blossom and the pure materiality of the surging colour. Matter and form, shaped and unshaped, flow into one another, agglomerating at one end, only to melt away at the other.
The surface materiality of the paint is combined with a further element, as the translucent and sometimes transparent layers of colour here and there create the effect of real fabric lapping around an immaterial material figure like wind-blown robes around a body. This too is an immense vitalisation of the paint and goes far beyond the mere depiction of a magnolia blossom.
As in Magnolia with Ghost (2007) there is a spectral intermediate state that is common to all Rosenmeier’s paintings. We don’t literally see a flower, but more comprehensively its blossoming and fading. The painterly form here corresponds more to an intimation, and so it is hardly surprising that the images do not set figuratively. Instead they possess an unconfined openness that is richer than a literally shown object. In this sense the paintings are not figurative. What they are, however, is physical. In abundance. Bodies of colour – like the gracefully rugged wiped-on phantom body Magnolia with Ghost, somewhere between concretionary sediment and shiny dripstone. Background and figure can no longer be differentiated; they continually oscillate into one another, dissolving here, materialising there.

A further distinctive feature is the overall appearance of the paintings. Although they rear up above the viewer in their massive large formats, they were painted with the canvas lying on the floor, which gives rise to a marked change of perspective when viewing them. For despite all their frontality they still look like overhead shots or aerial views. This explains an extensiveness in Rosenmeier’s paintings that can without doubt be linked to the flat vastness of the North American topography – particularly when as a pilot she is used to looking at the world from outside and above.
Although dizzying heights can be found in America, the basic experience of its landscape is that of wideness, flatness and distance. And so Rosenmeier’s magnolias always contain the impression of a broad landscape of colour.
This topographic extensiveness is expressly found in a painting like Snattered Magnolia (2007). ‘Snattered’, Irish slang for the deranged consequences of the excessive enjoyment of alcohol, is exactly right, for the magnolia can be felt to teeter. It is neither clearly embedded in the background of the painting nor harshly distinguished from it. It staggers and wavers between the spheres. It has a distinct outline, but is worn out within. Only the map-like topography of the reticulated background stabilises the figure, as if it were following invisible coordinates – like a Dublin drunk meandering home.

But all at once the hitherto bright colouration reverses into darkness. Black Magnolia #10 Undine (2008) begins as a magnolia, still recognizable to some extent in the blossom-eye, but the plant sinks into gloomy waters.
The entire painting sinks in gloom, except for a few lightly shimmering parts, like an apparition in the depths of a lake or the sea, luring through the blacks. Almost as if Rosenmeier’s naiad were a female revenant of the ominous Man with the Golden Helm. The painting is covered with a dense network of streaks of paint which overrun the canvas like creepers. Beauty and menace go hand in hand.
And more importantly, Rosenmeier goes into the water. She identifies her artistic means with her thematic content more deliberately than in the first magnolias. She doesn’t depict water, but has the paint become it.

Delta #1 (2008) is similar. An unfathomably deep pictorial space in nocturnal blue, honeycombed with fine silvery runnels that flow into transparency, settle into crusts or dissolve into a dark nothingness.
Rosenmeier gives her paintings titles once she has finished them, as it is of primary importance to her to be able to deal with the paint in an uninfluenced manner. The development should be free, not subject to intention. And in Delta #1 it can be seen that the sprawling iridescent runnels do in fact come together and flow into a kind of (paint) delta.
Rosenmeier unites two opposites here, to borrow from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: on the one hand the smooth, boundless, fluid and flatly unfolding space, on the other the striated, curled, crusty or contained space. Her paintings constantly span the unformed and the formed.
This can be seen, for example, in Abstract Painting #3 Mississippi (2008), with its golden flare of copper piercing through the leaden black background. This is a painting that explicitly goes back to Rosenmeier’s own experience of nature, as she has often flown over the Mississippi, whose waters are contaminated with waste oil and heavy metals and shine gold by day.
It is paintings like these that brought forth the subsequent Sealands series, in which great crusts of colour emerge from the encounter of rushing currents and calmer zones – with porous shores, brackish waters and, instead of salt marshes, granular fields of pigment, as in Sealands #5 Deepwater Horizon (2010), which takes its imagery from the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico of the same year: the rubicund copper-gold spreads out over a blue background, forming washes and islands, dry crusty zones and bands engulfed in the blue.
These are cryptic images, despite their warning. And despite their foregrounding of environmental catastrophes they are almost an apotheosis of the polluted river or the contaminated gulf. The transfiguration lies both in the impression of gold, as a transcendent, extra-terrestrial, divine colour, and the absurdly artful connection between actual oil in and on the water and the unnatural oil paint on the canvas. As if the addition of oil + oil = gold. Almost as in Greek mythology, in which the transformation into another material can be both curse (Midas) and salvation. In the painterly gold the dead water undergoes an unexpected transformation, which glorifies pollution in a painfully vital purity.

Rosenmeiers Nine Gold now take gold, as actual golden pigment, further into the heavenly spheres we know from medieval gold backgrounds and icons. Paintings like Golden Magnolia #4 Blind Spot (2008) or Golden Magnolia #8 Mycel (2009) look like the incursion of a long unknown ray of heaven into the earthly sphere. They transform the marine landscape into pure light – and here they can certainly be compared with Yves Klein’s attempts to bring about the experience of transcendence with monochrome works of fire and gold, but to the same extent with the concentrated clusters of light in the late work of Rembrandt.

The gold here is the result of an ideal transformation, a purifying perfection of material things and subjective experience that is concentrated in recollection into a unique visual moment.
In as much as she is an adept in dealing with the experience of nature, Rosenmeier is also well acquainted with art history. Yet while painting she is little concerned with her historical predecessors, but rather unconsciously preserves certain moods and sensory impressions of a landscape or painting.
Immediacy in dealing with the paint itself is more important to her. For Rosenmeier nature and art are phenomena that she relives phenomenally in paint and colour. For in order to exist in a painting, an earthly phenomenon has to be almost ‘unrooted’ (this is the unnaturalness of the gold, for example). At the boundary between idea and recollection it has to be recreated and transformed into something pictorially present. It has to be felt naturally from out of the paint itself. Perception and the act of painting become one.
This becomes oppressively obvious in Rosenmeier’s recent series Neptun traurig [Neptune Sad] (2010, ongoing).
Her palette oscillates between a polar-cold glittering white and vibrant ultramarine. In Neptun traurig #1 (2010) the colours atomise in watery transparency or interpenetrate in fine veins, lying weightlessly on the canvas, billowing without gravitation, with an upwardly looking eye formation below the centre of the painting as the only holding point. These images – if we also include Neptun traurig #5 Julia und die Geister (2011), named after Fellini’s film Juliet of the Spirits – see a return to the schematic form, however. Figures emerge like ghostly apparitions from the mist of spray and colour, now clearly recognisable, now dissolving back into coloured ‘air’.
This ability to cause painterly life to come about and pass away again, to create singular pictorial situations that encompass and embody entire lifespans while also freeing the gaze, is one of the most wonderful qualities of Rosenmeier’s work, and certainly the most existential.
Almost as if in a waking or clairvoyant dream, in that they themselves are perceived as natural phenomena, her paintings express the deep, boundless, ancient foreignness between human beings and the world, to quote Benn once again. A foreignness that pervades every life, as so often we experience ourselves as detached observers whom life simply passes by, for the greater picture can never be seen at one glance.
This is where Rosenmeier’s paintings, with their spectrally dreamlike impression, begin to make their effect. They take an unremarkable, detail-like isolated perception – of a flower or a landscape – remove it from its passing temporality and wrest from it a singularly escalating rapturous storm that know nothing but itself, yet at the same time allows the concentrated, cumulative, all-embracing drama of every individual existence to blossom out and wither away.

It is a revelation that offers the viewer the great possibility of experiencing the span of life, between fixed and fluid, dark and light, what has been and what is to come – of being in between things, amidst the contradictory tides of colour, whether in the ‘Ligurian complex’ or in Neptune’s demi-realm.
Magnolia happens to us and the images become world – they only need to open their wings and millennia are ceased in flight.

Christian Malycha