The woman is beautiful, vigorous and gifted, because she has given birth. What can it possibly mean to praise her talents as a painter? That men have the ambition to compensate for their inability to give life as God once did, is perhaps understandable. They pretend. And in doing so they feel confirmed in their role as creator when the beholder of their works reaches for a revolver, emits a lusty grunt, or pulls a sour face. But only too often, this artist fantasy ends up in an aporia, namely that men want their greatness to be admired by those they look down upon as simple-minded.
0. Conclusion for those in a hurry or with limited attention span
With her latest cycle of works, the artist Monika Fioreschy has created a large number of paintings that came about in a manner requiring some explanation. First she applied large areas of paint to paper using very different mixtures of primary colours (acrylic and tempera). Then she cut and tore these sheets of paper into strips of different lengths and breadths, and used wallpaper paste to stick them to canvases. Hence the designation Strip-Cut-Collage.
The look of such works points very clearly to strolls through gardens, because the individual pictures come across like flower beds. But as they are intended to be viewed not lying on the ground but fixed to walls, they suggest, if anything, hanging gardens. In this way, the form of presentation at an indoor exhibition cross-fades with the appearance of a garden.
In a garden, the weather plays a major role. The memory of different climates animates Fioreschy to create, in the exhibition room, such phenomena as colour weather, synaesthesia, and atmospheric changes.
Those who wish to understand how the present writer approaches the works, develops concepts and seeks to clarify certain points, are invited to read on.
1. Outpourings from the heart of an art-loving would-be gardener
In rural Holstein I had the opportunity in the early 1950s to get to know 'best rooms'. Farmhouse Sunday parlours were mostly adorned with printed reproductions or prints created using the woodcut, lino-cut or drypoint techniques. The motifs were altogether familiar: depictions of country tasks such as ploughing, sowing and harvesting, gardening and tending to livestock. When I asked why they had chosen these motifs, given that such scenes were omnipresent in their daily lives, men and women alike answered that flowers withered very quickly, the ploughed soil changed several times a year, foals and calves grew up, and the pigs were slaughtered. 'On the wall, you need something that lasts.' Ella and Heyer H., along with their smart sons joked together with the art-loving grammar-school pupils from town: 'When folks on something cannot call, they choose to hang it on the wall!'
Our art teacher Kuka, a pupil of Nolde's, told us in our painting lessons not to reproduce what we saw in front of us as bunches of flowers, piles of textiles or bits of cork and bark, but rather to express, mostly in watercolours, what we felt when we looked at the motifs. 'You have to feel the image, sense the atmosphere. Sophie Brock, fountain of wisdom, what do we call this?' Please Sir, heliophagy, chromophagy: eating the colour and light!'
The climax of the lesson was the challenge to every school year to do justice in painting to a 'bunch of flowers in agony', in a state of eternal droop. With a masterly gesture, Kuka would always extract the bouquet in question from a teaching-materials cupboard that was otherwise always locked. In my class I took the biscuit with my brilliant idea of artificially aging my painting and all the utensils in dirt and fire and presenting them as a craft arrangement in a vase together with Kuka's prescribed motif.
On a visit to Nolde's house near Seebüll/Niebüll in 1954, I had another opportunity to be too clever by half. I asked Ada Nolde how she saw her activity as the designer of a nationally famous flower garden in relation to that of Emil Nolde as a painter of flowers. It was even conceivable, said Kuka's favourite pupil, that she was growing real copies of what he had invented on the canvas. Or was she first planting what he then was supposed to paint? Ada embraced the questioner with his blond curls in an altogether ambivalent gesture and gave emphasis to her answer by painfully squeezing his left upper arm: 'In summer, I'm right. In winter he's the master! Never travel to the south, where everything's always in bloom and art limps behind. Never travel to the north, where even the most beautiful painted flowers only impose the longing for the real thing.' Then we had tea with brown sugar cubes.
But then after all it was the other way round, which I didn't dare admit to Ada: in Sicily, yellow dusty drought, but great art; in Norway, husker du, magnificent gardens and painting of evening-class quality.
2. Intensification or compensation
And then we would-be avantgardistes were sitting in Joseph Breitbach's apartment in Paris, and we asked ourselves, and him, why someone lucky in love and well-heeled, aristocratically elegant and decorated with all the honours Germany and France had to bestow, politically influential and important in the affairs of the day, should feel it necessary to be an artist too: 'Being the master is not enough?' Every high-ranking French politician would write a few books to demonstrate his intelligence, but not his artistry. German artists would feel superior, noble even, if they could be seen in the camp-following of some pretender, even though they despised his pretension and had no qualms about accusing politicians of abusing good faith. I have never understood, and that late-bourgeois poseur Nicolaus Sombart did not help me to understand either, how anyone can be motivated to write in lordly surroundings.
My disappointment was great when Breitbach answered, in principle, by paraphrasing the motto of the hack: 'Write to live, don't live to write.' That must be one of the most grotesque of false estimations, which only those on the verge of starvation and in need of compensation can be ready to accept.
For a hundred years now, Kandinsky's question regarding the spiritual in art has been answered pro libidine, in other words to intensify one's own gratification when intellectually overtaxed. So-called non-figurative, abstract art offered an inestimable advantage: it protected the artist from persecution by censors and those who employed them, for it is obvious that it is difficult to accuse a few entangled lines, a jumble of paint and manipulated shapes, of political incorrectness or moral turpitude. To paint abstract works meant at least a greater immunity from attack and control.
This form of disconnect between art and the real world has recently reached its most highly ranking perfect imitation in the disconnect between the financial world and the real economy. This is called the abstract economy. While some may wax euphoric that once again the anticipatory power of artists far outdoes that of politicians and economists, it is still a matter of regret that pay-as-you-earn lesser mortals were ready to pay for the fantasies of omnipotence indulged in by the 'masters of the universe', as the fat cats of the financial world called themselves, adding self-insult to self-injury by admitting that they had understood abstract finance no better than they understood abstract art, even after a hundred years of the latter.
4. Taking stock
So we have managed after all to bring together the main features that might allow us to characterise Fioreschy's artistic self-awareness: her work is non-figural, abstract. Social status and reputation are not enough for her. She reproaches nature not just with seasonal deficits. She treats the canvas as a garden. What she hangs on the wall is covered neither by production of goods nor by financial transactions. And she struggles against the prevailing confirmation by success; in other words, she does not pursue her activity with the highest degree of logical consistency and continuity just because the market value of her pictures rises equally continuously. But what counts beyond the market?
5. Planting the picture
Fioreschy paints various paper formats with acrylic or tempera paints: monochrome or in large-area mixtures of dry and wet, matt or glossy, transparent, translucent or opaque. Then she tears or cuts these lengths of paper into strips or bars: sometimes geometrically, with straight edges, and sometimes irregularly, depending on the dynamics of the tearing and the properties of the painted paper. Then she prepares canvases with wallpaper paste and sticks the torn or cut strips, which are of very different lengths and breadths, on to them. Often lesser or greater areas of the areas at the edge of the canvas remain uncovered.
The sections covered with stuck-on paper are smoothed under as much pressure as possible, then dried and smoothed once again, until finally a homogeneous penetration of paper and canvas, paste and paint is achieved. Mostly, this process is carried out with the canvas lying flat.
The three basic orientations correspond to the canvas formats: vertical, horizontal and a balance of the two, i.e. approximately square. Particularly dynamic internal structures are produced by vertical strips in the horizontal formats or vice versa. The beholder of the picture is free to enhance these effects by hanging vertical pictures horizontally and vice versa, and also by hanging them upside down.
The stiffness of canvas and paper prevents their free unfolding as textiles in space, which might actually suggest itself in view of Fioreschy's background as a textile artist. Nor is there any chance of using the individual canvases as repeats in large-scale wall-hangings, as, by dint of their different formats and internal structures, the individual works cannot be fitted together. They are neither tapestry nor wallpaper, neither cloth ornament nor layered look, but coherent units in their own right, in other words units of completion and perfection.
6. Hanging, standing, laying – floral theatre
As a result of the differentiation of characteristics between furniture, clothing, painting, sculptures, map, wallpaper, container et cetera, the way the individual bearers of design are treated has developed in very different ways. Paintings hung on walls and depending on perspective have always kept the beholder at a distance; items of furniture necessitated variations in the approach of the user to the object; statues propagated an all-round-view; carpets the capacity to be walked over; boxes encouraged handling.
The literal 'confrontation' of the beholder with the picture – even in a picture book – corresponded to that of the painter standing before the easel. When the classically poetic view that pictures were windows on to the world took hold in the fifteenth century, the wall on which it was hung became a non-negotiable component of the character of a painting per se. With the emphasis placed on the design of the frame, what came across was a unity of picture and non-picture, of painting and hanging-surface – until ultimately in the White Cube of the modernist gallery a complete presentation space became a condition of the perception of pictorial art.
Only when Jackson Pollock starting applying paint by using the drip technique did people get used to picture supports lying flat. The ceiling paintings and floor mosaics or inlays of old had been degraded to the level of architectural design. Emilio Vedova and colleagues extended the concept to all-round visibility, known as the phase-out of the picture, the painting of real space. In the expanded paintings it was possible to recognise a reconstruction of the pictorial perspective in three-dimensional space. Painters had once learnt laboriously how they could achieve a central-perspective simulation of spatiality by looking out of a window; now, the depicted garden, for example, was brought into the actual exhibition space and placed flat on the floor as a painted canvas.
The changing relationships between picture and exhibition space were intensified with the trompe-l’oeil painting of the seventeenth century and the orangery buildings of the eighteenth. In these overwintering places for tender plants, and most especially for exotic flowers, shortage of space meant that horizontal arrangements had to be shifted to the vertical, creating a new take on the ancient concept of the hanging garden. This was proved in the transfer of the orangery concept to the open air, where now, in the summer, even in our latitudes, flower and plant arrangements were piled up vertically, mostly in spirals, in the semicircles of the support frames known as 'floral theatres'. Artists such as Edvard Munch perfected this interplay between interior and exterior by, for example, placing paintings outside even in winter – a variant of the vernacular façade painting ('Lüftlmalerei') using easel-painting on canvas.
Here, we can invoke two topoi of artistic practice that are fundamental to Fioreschy's work: firstly, the 'hanging gardens' as a form of presentation, and secondly the equalisation of the interior and exterior pictorial climates. Normally, after all, the exterior weather conditions should be kept under control indoors through the use of artificial air-conditioning and heating. When Munch displayed paintings outdoors, the phenomenon of 'weather' went into the modification of the paintings themselves. This had, it is true, long been the intention with regard to the view of the light, when painters' studios were systematically opened to the lighting conditions that prevailed in northern climes. With the plein-air painting of the Barbizon school, paintings were exposed to other meteorological phenomena such as dusty wind, aridity and humidity, sun and the shade cast by clouds, as well as temperature differences. This gave the concept of 'landscape painting' a totally new character: the canvas itself became 'landscape' insofar as sand, bits of vegetation, minerals and traces of transport and processing found their way into the picture. When such pictures were in their turn abandoned in favour of actual space, the result was Land Art of the more recent sort.
7. Picture weather
In his self-assurances concerning 'pictorial thinking', Paul Klee analysed in numerous details how colour psychology and formal structures can be brought together in the painting. With respect to the works of Fioreschy, I would point to Klee's 1929 watercolour on board, known as Upper Egypt, or Steps (1929, oil and ink on canvas), Rock Chamber (1929, watercolour and pencil on paper), View from Window (North Sea Island) (1923, watercolour on paper and board), Exotic Garden (1926, oil on canvas) and Blossoming ('Blühendes', 1934, oil on canvas). Apart from this last painting, all these works by Klee consist of formal structures of horizontal stripes of varying thickness, length and colour. The focus on picture climate and colour weather is unmistakable even without reference to his analytical writings. The horizontal lines are, after all, according to Klee, essentially eye lines – in other words, confrontation parameters for the viewer.
If we can say that all factors of the proof that an organism is alive, including its metabolic processes, can be understood as 'weather' and that these conditions are shown to advantage individually, with reference to subjective perception in the form of mood, as psycho-energy or as atmosphere of social dynamics, then painters and architects in particular have always envisaged the results of their work by analogy with meteorological and climatic phenomena. Regardless of whether one painted cows on the pasture, bunches of flowers or historic events, or, as the case might be, designed banqueting halls or workplaces – what mattered in the end was the climate and the mood, traditionally described in the terms employed by composers when writing musical directions: vivace, con brio, doloroso, risoluto, scherzando, appassionato et cetera.
But it was not the visual arts, music or architecture that, with their influences on mind and emotions, allowed weather-sensitivity or what the Germans call 'Wetterwendischkeit' (fickleness, moodiness) to be recognised as basic facts of (artificial) environmental conditions. Only when it became proverbial to speak of productivity in factories, offices and shops as being strongly dependent on the 'social climate' or 'workplace atmosphere' or on the colour qualities of architectural spaces was there a readiness to concede a fundamental significance in the phenomenon of the weather beyond mere forecasts of highs and lows, rain and shine, cold snaps and heatwaves. In the technological field, the term 'infosphere' arose by analogy with atmosphere. But atmospheric pressure, isobar charts and the like are only interesting for everyday use when manifested as weather. If one wants to incorporate parameters of weather-formation other than the classic ones, in other words the data situation, the balance sheets, the information and anticipations from business life, then it is more appropriate to speak of data weather than of the infosphere, or of the social climate and atmosphere at party, company or club meetings.
We have daily reports of the movements in share prices on all the news bulletins, although it is a mystery for whom they are intended. Professional investors do not rely on them, and the man in the street cannot react to them anyway. The purpose of this dominance of market events for the assessment of everyday goings-on in politics and business is to make the public believe that their fates are not determined by manipulation on the part of interested parties or by the arbitrary exercise of power, but by higher powers, against whom we ourselves are powerless — in other words, reality. Just as the weather, in spite of atavistic rainmaking ceremonies and modernist cloud-milking, cannot on principle be determined by politicians or business leaders, science or art, conspicuous consumption or the wretchedness of failure, nor can the markets. True, the markets are just the psychology of the relationship between wishful fantasy and forward thinking, but the stock exchange climate represents a basic quality of our existence on earth. Just as we cannot stop breathing or eating or making love or voting in protest at bad weather, nor can we stand up against the stock exchange climate with accusatory references to power-seeking, propaganda effects or simple greed. Nothing we know about the weather, including the climate on the stock exchange, will change the markets; the only thing we can learn from the daily weather and stock market reports is to protect ourselves as best we can from the effects of storm fronts or market collapses. Seen in this way, the weather forecast has become the central type of the use of announcements of the official will or corporate profit-warnings or prophecies of the rise and fall of cultural validity. We can do nothing about them except protect ourselves against the foreseeable consequences. We cannot solve the problems, but we can usefully master, or manage, as we used to say, the way we approach problems which on principle have no solution.
8. Monika's hanging picture gardens
Confrontation with artworks has been used as a highly advantageous qualification on the part of beholders since the 1470s, when Piero della Francesca, recognising the tricks of the cloth salesmen at markets, enlightened the public as to how they could train themselves to look at paintings although he himself was prevented from painting activity by gout. Even disinterested benevolence has an influence on the discriminatory power of perception. Beauty is the name given to the highest function of design – of function and not functionlessness. Form follows function was the maxim of the modernists. But it is now clear that the highest form of functionality is experienced as beauty, as coherence, as holism, as the power of reasoning versus anything-goes, as freedom versus one-way obsessiveness. Everyone knows how to enjoy fine weather, even if they have no meteorological qualifications, just as they can enjoy a good and conducive atmosphere.
It is precisely in this spirit that Fioreschy orients herself to the postulate of the beautiful picture in the unity of completion and perfection. Just as, in the garden, in the various flower beds, raised beds and landscaped beds, the plants are not arranged in higgledy-piggledy fashion, but in considered arrangements with a view to their future pictorial quality, she works on her pictures as beds in the hanging gardens of art. The vertical formats are dominant, the horizontal formats more stable as the basis. Whether the basic hue of the individual panels is grey, white, purple, green, brown, red or blue, they always create balm for the eyes of the beholder, for Fioreschy gears her work to the ancient maxim of serving the eye by creating a picture. What is conspicuous, then, is the balanced nature of the colours and forms without any explosive trumping of the pictorial field by a central dynamic. There is no centrifugal effect, no destruction of the unity of the picture, no stirring, no outpouring, no whirlpool.
Great gardeners were always great picture-makers, and great picture-makers always gardeners of the imagination. Gardens are landscapes of the soul and fields of ideas. Moving through the garden, as through the exhibition, is a guide to translating the parcours into a discours, experiencing the change of perspective as a journey, and implementing this journey as a change of theme.