Dear ladies and gentlemen,
“Perhaps this is the last privilege of art: to leave something perfectly accomplished in this restless world which is afraid of quality, a world which is greedy for an infinite series in which nothing finds its accomplishment but all is repetition.” Catalogue Museum Biedermann, Donaueschingen 2009
While our present (art) world is flooded with all kinds of media sensations, or even mere provocations predominate the actual artistic message, in the present exhibition a classical language has been used: painting.
Kurt Weill once said about music that it is never old or new but only good or bad. This is also true for painting. How often has it been insulted as being outdated or even the whole genre has been pronounced dead. But it is alive, and will always remain young and fascinating.
We are standing here surrounded by the paintings of Gabriele Vallentin and we are under the spell of the harmony of her colours, of the quietness and the beneficial atmosphere they emanate. And considering that strictly speaking painting is only a piece of canvas (or wood) with some colour on it, it is amazing what mysteries can result from it!
A fugue is a prosaic matter as well. The ingredients are called exposition, development, or inversion from which you can obviously create a good piece of music with respect to the right proportions. Already at school you can learn the rules of the fugue – they describe the form but they are not good as a manual of composition. In the works of Johann Sebastian Bach you can see their mathematical precision in the score, but as soon as they become sound your heart is being touched beyond all theory and something existential can be heard.
Gabriele Vallentin also composes, of course, not literally. Being the daughter of a composer, music with its harmonic sequences has impressed her since her childhood. She composes with her won medium, painting, yet not to apply the artistic rules as precise as possible but to touch a string of something immaterial, existential visually. It resembles the fugues of Bach which you could call desire, happiness, grief, hope, pain.
Let us have a closer look at the paintings, starting with the painting in the entrance hall. The title is “Winter” and with the measurements of 200 x 250 cm it is the largest painting of the exhibition, especially created by the artist for this show and therefore also her youngest piece of work.
As a result, extremely sensitive and delicate hues of colour enter into a dialogue, not to present a certain subject matter. The dialogue is conducted subtly, i.e. with a lot of sensitiveness, accuracy, precision, detailed and finely structured – and difficult to penetrate, almost like the wintery season itself. You can find unpredictable transitions in it, which could still be autumnal, such as the condensed brown colour fields in the painting suggest, or even anticipate spring – in the upper third some bold greens flash up.
It is pure painting in a dialogue with condensed and loosened parts. It deals with form and colour, with proportions, corresponding colour fields, and again and again with the balance of all of them. In her work the artist does not leave anything to chance but is constantly searching for a harmony full of suspension in an almost physically perceptible aesthetic. Aesthetic does not refer to a smooth uniformity, not flattering decoration but aesthetic meaning the doctrine of beauty, of the sensually perceptive or to put it in different words: G.V. arrives at crystallizing exactly that short moment which we fix as the absolute beautiful. It is her artistic achievement to find the instable always endangered balance, the fugitive moment when colours and forms find together in a total harmony. This has nothing to do with idyll. Gabriele Vallentin knows very well the impact of disturbance, disharmony, and deconstruction. She deliberately remains, however, in the moment of the consoling quietness, which also creatively inspires us as the observer.
The manner of painting of G.V. is very time-consuming and requires precise knowledge of the materials as well as extensive experience. The canvas has been primed with a transparently drying glue so that each following layer of colour has to be considered carefully. The compact consistency of the oil paint is resolved in several layers of colour and delicately balanced on the canvas. In this way the marks of the painting process and sharp transitions are being deleted for the benefit of airy luminescent “cushions of colour”.
This procedure can again be compared to music. As the soloist needs the grounding of the orchestra, also G.V. puts a visual orchestration under her basic theme and develops a complex carpet of sounds, which serves as an interlayer. In music, individual voices, rhythms and sounds come up, corresponding to the interlayers of G.V.’s colour traces and fields. In the same way as the experienced auditor only gradually can hear the individual instruments, the observer again and again discovers in the paintings of G.V. most delicate picturesque surprises.
In a quick contemplation the experienced art connoisseur could recall associations to the famous colour field paintings of Mark Rothko. At a closer look, however, you can recognize the difference. The colour fields of Vallentin are more vulnerable, basically lighter, more powdery, by far more transparent in their consistency and softer in the transitions. Her works also have a completely different history. It is developed from personal, sensual impressions which are very much object related, deriving from journeys to non-European countries. She is inspired by the charm of the foreign culture and myths which a number of times have triggered several series of paintings (of which also the titles of them relate). On location the artist captures the new sensual impressions either in water colour studies, which are still figurative, or she takes photographs of what she finds visually appealing.
In this way, she was fascinated by the Indian women during a journey through Rajasthan in 2007. “Fascinated by the colourful appearance of their saris and the hard work that they usually have to do (carrying heavy loads on their heads, beating stones and carrying them in construction areas, transporting water in huge vessels or plants, even trunks, on their heads), I devoted to each of them a painting in the colours of their clothes and the surroundings. In order not to show their faces which tradition requires I renounced the representation of personal details.” (quotation G.V.) She asked the permission of those few women who directly faced the camera. These photographs were the basis for the series called “Nari”, of which one of them has been used for our invitation post card (it is hanging upstairs in the hallway). The title “Nari” (hindi) means “woman” or the “female” and refers to the geographical and cultural background of the paintings. Although free from the original figurative context, the colour combinations permit the recognition and distinct correlation of the matching photos (the documentation file of G.V. proves the correspondence between reality and reminiscent impression of the following painted abstraction of her experience).
These are very concise works of a delicate beauty which still hint at the physical presence of the women behind the abstraction. I find it very exciting. In formal regard, each of the paintings is a balanced play of colour fields which interlock in gradations and resolve in “tamed dynamics” shifting between two-dimensional and linear elements. Actually, they are just as precise as the representational photos. This again proves that abstract paintings can be read just in the same way as photorealistic motifs.
“The composition of the image format is arranged according to the weights, bur neither strongly controlled nor prosaically constructed. The colour grey has a balancing role in almost all of the paintings. It brings quietness and lightness into the strong colours of the other colour fields. Each painting fathoms for itself its own balance between quiescence and movement in the course of colours and forms”. (Quotation G.V.)
For me, beauty has being defined as an attitude in the Nari paintings – beyond fashionable standards of attractiveness. It is this elementary beauty which gives hope because it is the constructive reverse side which everyone tries to capture: the integrity, intactness, freedom and vitality of a pictorial handwriting. It comprises everything which is good and thus also beautiful. Such as art if it is well accomplished also creates free space for imagination. Also emotions.
“Without emotions nothing goes. They only have to be well wrapped, otherwise we get a sentimental authenticity which only nerves the observers”, as the well-known Gerhard Richter recently mentioned who grounded his international fame as we know by the coexistence of abstract and representational painting. He as well always emphasizes his closeness to music. “Abstract painting can be just as exciting as instrumental music, for example, if you get involved with it”, as Richter puts it.
In her artistic process of creation, also G.V. moves from the concrete perceivable to the abstract in a constant change and becoming of forms and colours. For me, only the element of honesty is important in the abstract or concrete art: it is what it is, colour and form in a concretely visible combination – the gift of a hint which everybody can interpret for himself.
Dear guests, make use of this gift extensively in the course of the evening by searching the conversation with the artist. Mrs Vallentin certainly will be pleased to reveal to you the one or other secret of the 24 showed paintings and their titles exceeding this short introduction.
After so many words we feel the pulse of life in us and need food for the mind. To close with the words of the comedian Karl Valentin: “Art is beautiful but it also means a lot of work” I want to lead over to the social part of the evening and express my thanks to the BW bank, Mr Thoma and his team, who worked hard in carrying out and accompanying this exhibition. After the indulgence of art, let us all enjoy the palatine treat.
Heide M Roeder, PhD. Opening Speech of the Exhibition with Paintings from Gabriele Vallentin at the Baden-Wuerttembergische Bank in Donaueschingen, Germany.