"Strictly Flowers"

As the title for a painting on canvas, Strictly Flowers sounds directly defiant within the context of a discourse examining the societal efficacy of contemporary gestures of the greater geo-social whole, or at least new forms of participation at international presentations of art, and very clearly dedicated to content presented in a persuasive and explicit mode. Form seems secondary. If indigo is the message, pieces of cloth soaked in this color can hang however and wherever they want. On the other hand, any art medium occupying itself with its immanent aspects or its historical lines of inquiry seems to have been disavowed, threatened with a no-go label, especially in painting: a fate that has befallen it repeatedly since its death. Since Monet, every floral motif of modern art has already been done. However, unlike the production of things, artistic activity does not orient itself with an eye to the market, to demand or to the preferences of the audiences of its day. Artistic activity follows the inescapability of a personal commission to oneself. Gaps, ruptures, failed experiments or repetitions reveal their quality to this driving force — as well as the quality of those working with discourse.

Willem de Kooning, among the great pioneers of non-objective art, has been cited as saying: “It’s really absurd to make an image, like a human image. With paint, today, when you think about it … But then all of a sudden it was even more absurd not to do it.” This continually moved him — like his friend and fellow painter Jackson Pollock — to integrate women, bodies and heads into his abstract works of painting.

With her pictorial programs, Pat Rosenmeier clings persistently to the possibilities of painting: primarily to abstract painting, but one that almost always latches onto objectivities. Her abstract realism feeds on this.

With her new series Strictly Flowers, we might think that she is building on the Magnolien (Magnolias), which formed her debut 10 years ago. But that is only superficially the case. Floral associations are once again making their way into Rosenmeier’s thoroughly abstract painting, sometimes provocatively clearly and sometimes invisibly without the painting’s title, purely as an assertion. As always, this is closely related with the motto describing all her painting: Appear and disappear.

After Magnolias (2006–2009), her most extensive series up to that time, viewers subsequently imagined themselves among Arctic archipelagos, the Sealands (2010), Flüsse und Deltas (Rivers and Deltas, 2008), animal worlds beneath and above the water, such as Neptun traurig (Neptune Sad, 2010–2011) or Rückkehr der Maden (Return of the Maggots, 2011–2013). It was not until the Derwische (Dervishes, 2015–2016) that unified and obviously representational connotations disappeared.

Pat Rosenmeier’s reason for painting is the act of painting itself, the pleasure of spreading paint on the canvas. Or as Frank Stella put it: “I wanted to get the paint out of the can onto the canvas.” Period! She pursues spontaneous and random inspirations — illustrations in magazines or catalogues, invitations to art exhibitions, aerial photographs or advertising brochures. Never sought — always found. She does not obey any established model in terms of her motif: an object defining the image, a narrative, a subject or a compositional scheme. Her way of working is the impulse of painting as movement, as an expansive and bodily gesture. Her tools are more or somewhat crude, not always just brushes — as was also the case among most of America’s Abstract Expressionists and Europe’s Tachistes and Informel artists.

Rosenmeier’s paintings emerge through the process of painting itself and then become finished at some point — sometimes faster and sometimes more slowly. It is a purely visual and intuitive decision. Where there is no definitive goal, there can’t be a finish line either. For Pat Rosenmeier, the moment arrives at the point where the “painting speaks to her.”

Until the Dervishes, Rosenmeier’s painting was defined by the alchemic effects of a wet-in-wet technique. The extremely fluid acrylic paint formed expansive puddles and seas, streams or networks, ranging from the finest branching to watercolor-like flows of paint, always in the form of a thin film on the canvas. Rosenmeier was familiar with the technical possibilities of how she paints and was able to effectively steer the alchemic or physical effects on her canvases lying on the floor, even if chance was a welcome guest. She was always forced to take a break when she wanted the paint to dry in a state she had accepted. In this liminal state between the paint’s continuing fluidity and instability and its drying out and becoming become fixed, extremely delicate textures crystallized before she could move on — often only after days. The process is slow.

From the first, almost watercolor-like Magnolias to the Dervishes and the most recent Strictly Flowers, the surface of the paintings becomes more tactile, even lumpier at times. Rosenmeier repeatedly recycles her own paintings. This is the result of decidedly radical self-criticism. She rejected an entire year’s work before the Dervishes and used a freshly applied ground to neutralize them. What is not valid in her eyes is erased — sometimes even after years. At the same time, every overpainting leaves behind a texture, a topography of revision. In the past, she had to remove the canvases from their stretchers on account of the desired surface, but now she profits from the irregularities of her overpainted pictures. Her radical attitude towards her own work has limited her current oeuvre in the extreme — less than 100 works in 10 years.

The German-Canadian artist provides her paintings with titles in the same manner as she invents their compositions: Purely associatively, she often finds them long after the pictures have been painted. Of course, her titles represent only a very personal proposal and thus a chance to steer her viewers in a certain direction within the endlessness of abstraction — “What you see is what you see” (Frank Stella).

The gestural figures on a grayish-white ground were followed by abstract, allover paintings that expand the dynamic rhythms of the Dervishes across the entire picture plane. After more than a year, in February 2017, she accepted the first canvas as valid. It is a transitional painting, the first of the current series Strictly Flowers, but was still far from bearing that name.

On an agitated, violet-gray foundation undoubtedly laid on top of a black painting preceding it, a tornado of paint roars out from the center and over almost the whole canvas. However, instead of hovering like the figures in the Dervishes, a funnel stretches down and connects it to the lower right corner, grounding it.

The picture that followed shortly after it is defined by a chromatic dichotomy — a luminous pink is centered around three round focal points on slightly different levels and grows paler as it becomes lost in white of the upper third of the canvas, while an equally luminous forms a pedestal in the lower part of the painting. Three vertical lines surging up out of the green link the upper and lower sections.

Along with the division of colors with their varying intensity, an angular texture has overgrown the entire canvas: an allover technique previously unseen in the painter’s work. For the first time, we see luminous colors in Pat Rosenmeier’s paintings and can no longer identify any brushstrokes. Instead, the colors seem to have been pushed and pulled or “slapped” onto the canvas with something resembling a squeegee technique: The primarily short motions have led to the angular impression, and there are only occasionally longer, sweeping motions. Our eye cannot come to a rest. It is sent on from one place to the next, but a mode is nonetheless conveyed.

Even only taking its tonality into account, Strictly Flowers #3 still resists the floral associations implicit in its title. Sweeping passages of gray and black with white streaks and a very striking (despite the homeopathic dosage) and luminous pink in the center define its scale of colors. This is hardly to be found in the world of plants. However, as with all the series’ paintings, this picture has a similar structure. A one-, two- or three-part focal point in the upper third of the painting is connected with the base beneath it through vertical axes (“stems?”).

Strictly Flowers #4 overwhelms us with tones of blue punctured by pink and green. The two focal points lying close to one another at the top as well as the focal points in the lower third of the painting are all framed by a light, almost white, contour-like, flowing lines. Again, there are two light, vertical connectors. Through the lines, the painting conveys a very delicate impression, more drawn than painted and strongly reminiscent of Giacometti’s elongated figures. At every moment, we are prepared to see two faces on long, spindly necks, but they could also be irises in the artist’s garden.

One more painting and the title Strictly Flowers had been found — self-confidently and with no fear of pigeonholing.

On the contrary, Pat Rosenmeier had found another dominant modal pictorial structure that she would vary in additional experimental arrangements. The bold colors become divided up into many individual nuances: Within a painting, they jump between shifting densities and tones, like a shimmering mosaic, particularly in Strictly Flowers #9.

Beginning with #10, the floral associations quietly retreat: Appear and disappear.

With Strictly Flowers, Pat Rosenmeier presents what she has to offer to the current debate in painting on abstraction and abstract realism — in the colors of the moment. Painting is alive as long as pictures are painted.

Veit Görner
The author is an art historian and former director of the kestnergesellschaft, Hanover. He lives in Stuttgart.