Kerstin Brätsch redefines what it means to be a painter today – ARTnews.com – Aumag
Kerstin Brätsch has subtly redefined what it means to be a contemporary painter. She practices art during what some scholars have termed “post-abstract figuration,” working with offbeat colors and otherworldly imagery. Think of vivid, visual memories and inventive, imaginary fossils rather than storytelling or portraiture.
Brätsch looks back—several centuries, to be precise—to a time when most painters are determined to look to the future. It has revived methods and practices that could be compared to dead languages. To achieve this, she sought out “Old World” craftsmen living in Europe as collaborators. As a group, Brätsch admires craftspeople like these for being “experimental,” as she put it in a recent interview. With her expert help, she has revived almost forgotten, dying artisanal processes.
Brätsch now works skillfully in stucco marble, stained glass and marbling. Stucco-marmo, a technique in which pigments draw on plaster of paris, glue, and water to solidify pigments, was what she used to create her eerie reliefs that enliven the sixth-floor cafe at the Museum of Modern Art . The end result looks like painted marble. The paintings together form a work entitled Fossil psychics for Christa (2019), his name is a reference to her mother.
As a resettled German living in New York since 2005, the artist recently told me- “Sometimes it takes four hands to build a picture, two by a craftsman and two by an artist.”
Brätsch has many admirers. Curators have included her in such prestigious group shows as the current Venice Biennale, MoMA’s controversial painting survey The Forever Now (2014), and the New Museum’s Younger Than Jesus (2009), the first of the institution’s triennials. Since she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study art at Columbia University, she has received a host of other awards. Some are named after their well-known predecessors- Helen Frankenthaler, Edvard Munch and August Macke.
Funded by the Peill Prize, which she won just before the pandemic, Brätsch will have a solo exhibition at the Leopold Hoesch Museum in Düren, Germany, in September. At the same time, an entire suite of 100 works on paper created by the artist during lockdown in the nearby city of Aachen will be on display at the Ludwig Forum (several dozen were featured in her recent solo show at the Gladstone Gallery in New York). Although these dense, unusually colored works have recognizable imagery (birds, bodies, and vegetation), they are surprisingly abstract.
In 2001, an anything-goes attitude prevailed at the art academy in Berlin. In Brätsch’s classes with Lothar Baumgarten, there was a mixture of students who dealt separately with painting, sculpture, photography, graphics and the like. She was a painter who took photographs and made brochures.
When Brätsch arrived in New York, she was surprised by the ubiquity of fortune tellers. Finding these psychics—a fancier word she prefers—as a strange “contradiction” to her, she wondered, “How can I translate this into painting?” They became a leitmotif of her art.
At graduate school, Bratsch created his first psychic series and a psychic atlas. The Great Psychics are among her most abstract paintings; the little ones represent the heads to which she has always returned. Almost two decades later, she used the title Die Sein- Para Psychics for her recent works on paper at Gladstone, which are moving to the Ludwig Forum.
Like Brätsch, she “represents something that is invisible but exists”. In some cases, this can be energy. In other cases spirits. How do you represent heat or radiation, for example? The result is a painting that borders on abstraction.
In one work, Bratsch applied oil paint to mylar. Then she tried marbling, which is a chemical process. Since liquid pigments are in motion, no two prints are the same. According to Brätsch, this has “invited unpredictability into art”.
Brätsch leaned the large, framed oil-on-paper paintings at the entrance to the exhibition “The Forever Now” at MoMA against the walls instead of hanging them up. The blurred red, blue, yellow, and green spheres in these paintings actually emit dynamic force fields.
Working with stained glass gave Brätsch another opportunity to engage with a process from the distant past. She didn’t just want to paint on glass. Instead, she wanted to “sculpt a brushstroke.”
“The brushstroke,” Brätsch explained to me, “is the expression of the hand; What excites me about marbling and working with glass is how you can translate handwriting into fabric.” Physical processes like stained glass and stucco marmo enable her to achieve this.
In the sculpted reliefs on display in MoMA’s café, there are many discrete brushstrokes in distorted, artificial hues. When viewed as independent brands, they assert the abstract qualities of these works; When grouped together, they can resemble gruesome mask-like faces or even ghostly fossils. Brätsch suggests bringing these creatures back to life. She compares them to ancient runes.
The “Para Psychics” series that Brätsch recently exhibited at the Gladstone Gallery is very intimate. Executed during lockdown, the painter worked with what she had on hand- sheets of paper and colored pencils. In addition to working with craftsmen, Brätsch has previously worked with colleagues under the names DAS INSTITUTE and KAYA. During Covid she was isolated and on her own.
At first Brätsch thought of doing tarot cards. Then she considered making devotional cards. When she finally installed the finished works in the gallery, she placed them on shelves to suggest that they might be mixed. Gallery-goers, said Brätsch, could also come to a reading.
Brätsch spent a lot of time making each one. These are dense, unusually colored collages with elements glued on the front and back. The artist regards them as “cut paintings”. She introduced both hallucinatory images (birds, body parts, faces, leaves) and abstract elements (circles, grids of lines). For the artist, this was “a journey to myself”.
Framed by transparent boxes, “Die Sein- Para Psychics I” floats off the wall and floats in space. You may also suspect that they trap spirits. But that is one of the riddles in Brätsch’s art that the viewer has to answer for himself.