Light, Traces, Painting. – Peter Lodermeyer

I. One of the criteria attesting to an artist having found her own way, her specific theme, and her creative means is that after a certain point in time, her work may no longer be attributed to any of the customary stylistic directions. Until 2000, the works of Sabine Fernkorn were in keeping with what we would expect from a critical study and contemporary interpretation of gestural or Informel painting. What now denies any customary classifications had crystallized after her move from Cologne to Bonn and after switching from painting in oils to the acrylics she continues to develop further today – a factor probably even more decisive. Since 2002 Fernkorn has been designating her art idiosyncratically as “LichtsPUREnMALEREI” (pure painting of light traces), a term not meant to be a stylistic concept, and in fact, not meant as a concept at all. The term indicates the exacting standards she places on her painting and suggests at the same time its central theme. The concern is for “pure” painting in a fundamental sense that these pictures have come about as the result of the pure means and processes of painting. This has less to do with the purist ideologies of the Modern Movement, its aesthetic laws of purity and lists of sins, than it does with the simple fact that this painting strictly limits itself to the use of brush and paint, thinner, and varnish as well as the picture carriers of cotton or paper. Just as important is that she avoids references to objects and does not permit any use of interim media such as photography or electronic picture processing or preparatory drawings or sketches. We need to understand the term “Lichtspuren-Malerei” by perceiving its dynamics: as something that happens, as a dialogue with the means of painting, whereby the painter constantly reacts to what the paint material produces through its characteristic qualities, including unexpected effects. Through its specific means, painting the traces of light makes visible something which it, and only it, may accomplish. It is “pure” because it restricts its own theme only to these painterly processes and their results.

II. Just as there have been some literary critics who have claimed that there are only two great subjects in literature, love and death, we could also find good reasons for claiming that painting “as painting” only has a very few themes as well: most certainly there is light, and anyway color, and form… and then we have to stop and think. Light then, light traces, traces of light, genitivus subjectivus or objectivus? Traces the light leaves behind, traces of light or traces that lead to light? All of these possibilities exist in Fernkorn’s works. In her early, gestural paintings, echoing landscapes often enough, light was for the most part a light that fell upon what was going on in the picture from somewhere outside. In her pictures of light traces, on the other hand, the picture light is decisive, which (not physically, but visually) shines from out of the picture, sometimes light and clear, often veiled or cloudy, at other times only visible as a weak shimmer. (Fernkorn’s light traces may also be reflections, traces of the memories of an experienced light, of landscape light, preferably the light at the sea).

III. The different formats Sabine Fernkorn uses place wholly different demands upon her coming to terms with the painting. Therefore in her work there is a certain phenomenology that is dependent upon the format. The small and medium formats call for a more stringently formal breakup order, a close structural cohesion of the painterly gestures: In the “Quadraturen” (Squarings) measuring only 40 x 40 cm it is the geometric breakups of the surface; in the medium format “Streifungen” (stripings) it is parallel vertical strips, whereby the halting of the brush movements produces bright edges and through these, rhythmic structures. The larger the format is, the freer the arrangement of the individual elements becomes, especially the light traces in their will-o’-the-wisp dynamics. (Because the eye always deceives itself here, it must be mentioned that Fernkorn’s light streaks and spots are never placed upon the painting ground, but rather shine out as “negative” forms, as lighter areas, from the deeper lying layers of paint, producing light from uncertain depths.) The works on paper come about as a necessary deviation from the format rule. These are extensive series, mostly in a DIN A4 format, bearing titles such as “Summer Papers”, “Autumn Papers”, and “Winter Papers”. They are arranged as free studies and elaborate exploratory forays into the unfathomable area of the effects of light and color.

IV. “Light flows, paint flows” – what constitutes a skewed picture in terms of language, fits precisely to the visual impression that Sabine Fernkorn’s painting continues to evoke, however. The flowing qualities of her watery acrylics lend her pictures a fluent, flowing charm. Her pictures, especially the most recent pictures, often seem as if the paint had been thinned to homeopathic doses and the light created in its finest gradations by washing out the pigments. Sabine Fernkorn’s “ritual” habit whenever she paints a new color of adding to it trace elements of thinned paint substances she had used before reveals the painter’s claim of allowing a basic tonal impulse flow through all of the colors she uses in a picture, and thus to connect them in this manner. There is a totally subtle anthropomorphism in these works containing light: Their surfaces seem like human skin, just as tenderly nuanced and just as vulnerable. We may make the rare observation in Fernkorn’s most recent works that paintings may actually pale or blush.

V. Like any ambitious painting Sabine Fernkorn’s light trace paintings also show their individuality, or we might refer to it as their dignity, in the fact that in principle they may not be translated into another medium (and for this reason may never be suitably photographed). Moreover, these pictures so defy any reduction to “visual information” that what is essential about them, the effect of light and color, may not be “incorporated” into memory. What distinguishes these works is that they are only accessible if we gaze at them patiently and directly. We may not grasp them as we pass by. Their “content” may not be understood conceptually. And how should the light sensitivity of these pictures be described, the fact that their effect is dependent upon the most minute changes in light conditions? We need to see how the works bloom and open, close again, depending on what environment of light they happen to be in at a given time. We need to see how their colors light up or darken, enhance or make milder, subject to the neighborhood of other pictures, in which they happen to be at this moment. In contemplating the paintings of Sabine Fernkorn, especially the works of the last years which have been increasingly formally reduced, the relativity, the subjective quality of experience of color and light perception becomes an aesthetic experience.