Sabine Fernkorn – Klaus Honnef
"Think and feel", these are the magic imperatives. The rest takes care of itself. George Cukor, the subtlest of the Hollywood Greats, once said this to Joan Fontaine, who would later become a star. Although this advice was given with respect to working before the film camera, it may be easily applied to the arts in general. Not lastly, painting. Doesn't every painted picture have an inherent trace of what is referred to in Anglo-American usage as "acting" or "performance", something that involves physical activity? A corporeal element, isn't painting the embodiment of a completed action?
Earlier, before Sabine Fernkorn found her way to her unmistakable style around 2000, she painted distinctly gestural pictures. Such paintings are listed in the literature on art under the misleading title of "Informel Painting". More fitting would have been to apostrophize it as "Tachism" - the French word "tache" being translatable as spots or a trace. The indexical moment of the trace was, for the most part, overlooked nonetheless in favor of the formal and aesthetical moment. In fact, the paintings document not only the movements of the painting hand of the artist, but also the movements made by the entire body.
In the western tradition of painting, the body merely occurred as the object, not as the source, of painting. It was not until the middle of the 20th century, when Jackson Pollock and George Mathieu transformed the canvas to arenas of downright performances, that the performance became established as an individual direction of art. K. O. Götz and KHR Sonderborg finally transferred the energetic powers of the body to the canvas lying on the floor, under conditions of extremely condensed time limitations. They raised the paradox of objective speed to the realm of the visible. And even the black bars in paintings by Franz Kline and Pierre Soulages, which result due to the concentrated movements of their bodies, have textures that attest to the previous presence of the authors. In all of these paintings, the essence of the work performed by the body of the painter becomes manifest.
Back then, when they were exhibited, the Tachistic-Informel paintings, which were only accepted as paintings after some hesitation, blocked the perception, frequently reaping the accusation of being "smears". But it has long since been acknowledged that they are the expression of an intensive interplay, of the interaction between thought and feeling and the physical in highly condensed form - everything but formless, and not informal at all. The expressions of an action merely for the purpose of liberating painting's energy potential from all external constraints and to make it clear in a nutshell.
Back in those days, these paintings were mainly interpreted with a psychological slant, as visual equivalents of an existential attitude in the wake of the world wars and in the shadows of immeasurable crimes to humanity. And physical aspects were simply blended out. The body of the painter as a decisive element of their paintings' make-up was not a theme. But it would be just as false to over-emphasize the physical components at the expense of the psychological ones. Perhaps instead, I should follow Max Imdahl and refer to the "Leib" (trunk and limbs): "The "Leib" is the body with soul." Particularly because the painters mentioned above developed their "forms" exclusively from the paint: as irregular forms of color. Frequently these were limited to the polarities of colors - to black and white. The concurrence of thinking and feeling finds its expression in the particular character of this painting, which also bears the much more fitting title of "action painting". These are paintings resulting from an artistic action. The integrated collaboration between the physical and the psyche, the measurable and the immeasurable, makes itself known in the painter's unique action.
Sabine Fernkorn's seemingly more contemplative paintings bring to mind the meshing of thinking and feeling to an added extent because they strike a precarious balance that one should not imagine as a balancing of tensions, but as an amalgam, however. Granted, these gestural and corporeal interventions are still visible. But they do not emerge as independent crystallizations of the working process. Rather they are tied into a painterly process, whose function expressly consists of assisting the paint to a heretofore-unseen subtlety. Without a doubt this is a bold statement, considering that one of the central objects of painterly explorations in the last century was, ultimately, color. And yet the paintings by the artist differ from paintings of Color Field painting just as they do from Monochrome or Analytic Painting. The latter has been updated to become Radical Painting.
Despite all of this, with their tendencies cited above, these paintings also reveal numerous things they have in common. First of all, it is about "pure" paintings in that - as Peter Lodermeyer puts it - "these pictures have come about as the result of the pure means and processes of painting". Moreover, her paintings are without a doubt the results of arduous probing, the outcomes of inestimable experiences gleaned from many failed attempts. What her art shares with the Color Field painters is that she traces the immaterial qualities of color. What she has in common with the analytically operating painters is that her endeavors, for all their openness, certainly have a methodical character, and at least have been and still are intuitively goal-oriented. Consequently, with respect to her paintings, through her specific use of color, elusive spaces open up, which appeal to the sensitive potential of the viewers, and on their part, are filled with emotions of manifold types. On the other hand, her paintings do not forego clearly structural statements. Even if these withdraw to the scenario of the paintings, they do not disappear, but become self-evident components of the painterly "form".
If we are to define an overarching principle in Sabine Fernkorn's paintings, then it may only be a dialectical one. One that does not cancel out the opposites in a synthesis, but rather maintains them as active factors, and even uses them to imbue the paintings with pulsating vitality by having them interact with one another. The paintings are dominated by a restrained, subliminal tension between diverse appearances that mutually exclude each other, though they resound together in the paintings, and, depending on how the viewer gets a look at them, the one or the other side will come more to the forefront: opaque and transparent, structured and blurred, firm and flowing, decisive and diffuse, cloudlike and compact. In the eyes (and the bodies) of the viewers it is an issue of "think and feel". The paintings constantly oscillate between the poles, without a chosen preference for the one or the other. While looking at them, they persistently change. Even when viewers stick to one vantage point, they are not in a position to nail down what the paintings show. And for this reason, due to the works' subtle suggestive powers, viewers also feel compelled to change position.
Of course, color plays the most essential role. Sabine Fernkorn uses acrylics. The quickly drying acrylic is optimally suited for the realization of her artistic intentions. The painting process that the artist strives for is not only irreversible, it also demands swift and continuous working. It is not possible to correct the results. When painting, Sabine Fernkorn signs over everything to the imponderables of chance. This is important to her in order to maintain the spontaneity of the inspired moment and convey this as directly and unfiltered as possible. Mistakes inevitably force her to break off her work on a piece.
For the artist, the discovery of acrylic was a revelation like the experience on the road to Damascus. In numerous layers, she covers the picture support of nettle cloth or paper that she has first primed with thinned paint. This grounding she undertakes herself, sometimes with a lively gesture or with several coats. The individual glazes applied over the grounding never display the same color hue. In the finish, they often seem like veils wafting softly above the surface of the painting. Color transitions come about by means of the calculated pressure to the brush, thus by means of an additional physical effect, sometimes less, sometimes more; and at times also due to the fact that the paint on the brush she is using becomes less and less as the stroke reaches completion, or that conversely, the canvas, still fresh, literally absorbs the paint. The color transitions are responsible for the fluid, rhythmic effect of the painting surface.
The application of the paint takes place in an all-over procedure. No particular spot is given preferential treatment. Each segment of the paintings is equal to the other segments in the viewing process. Comparatively short, line-like segments of paint distributed across the painting surface irregularly in varying diagonal placements are the flashing through of deeper-lying color layers. They seem to float above the picture ground, although they actually shine from within. This confusion is intentional. Sometimes they are light, redolent of flashes or tails of comets, and other times they are darker, evoking associations of threatening stellar constellations, although none of the paintings bear reference to known conditions of the visibly real. The titles of the works signalize painterly components - traces of light, rhythm-light or painted strips. In one way or another, these are color events on a translucent surface.
What is unusual is the visual sound of the color that sets the tone of the finished painting. It is just as impossible to clearly define as the overall painterly actions or the spatial appearances of the painting surfaces. The surface color is the product of the many underlying layers of paint. In this respect, the color is never pure, but deeply saturated. In a seemingly gray hue, we find other colors resonating, such as orange, ochre, yellow, black, and in violet there is gray, orange, green, white, and the red possesses a rare density, as does the blue. The longer we contemplate the paintings, the more they open and reveal themselves, gradually also taking a physical hold on the viewer, and we discover a world that at once fascinates and confuses, sensitizes and touches. The longer our eyes rest on the paintings, the more they discover, and the more they are able to lose themselves.
In a characteristic way, the paintings by Sabine Fernkorn are oriented to contemplation and mobilization at the same time. They invite us to immerse ourselves, simultaneously provoking us to action. They redeem what painting in general can be. They make use of their inherent powers by countering the view that painting is a supposedly static matter, and instead make it plausible as a dynamic action. Norman Bryson ends his informative book "Vision and Painting. The Logic of the Gaze" with the paragraph stating: "To understand the painting as a sign, we have to forget the proscenic surface of the image and think behind it: not to an original perception in which the surface is luminously bathed, but to the body whose activity - for the painter as for the viewer - is always and only a transformation of material signs."
What it takes is the opposite of a gaze that conquers the visible and dictates a place to each material sign according to a precisely calculated mathematic pattern. It is the open, sweeping, scattered gaze that retains the integrity of the visible and its conditions - a gaze governed by "think and feel" in like manner.
Emanuel Levy. George Cukor. Master of Elegance. Hollywood's Legendary Director and His Stars, New York 1994, p. 125 f.
Peter Lodermeyer. Light, Traces, Painting, in: Sabine Fernkorn. Lichtspuren, published by Galerie Nero, Wiesbaden, exhibition catalogue Bonn 2009, p. 9.
Max Imdahl. Zur Kunst der Moderne. Gesammelte Schriften Vol. 1, edited by Angeli Janhsen- Vukićević, Frankfurt am Main 1996, p. 538.
Peter Lodermeyer (see footnote 2), p. 9.
Norman Bryson. Vision and Painting: The Logic of the Gaze, London 1983, p. 171.