Bright, audacious colours in geometric forms spread over the gallery walls, a wallpaper of precisely-rendered paintings in hues of blue, teal, green, grey and bubble gum pink. Elsewhere, canvases burst forth with feathered hatchings of various colours, some producing rainbows of confetti, others rainstorms of thunderclouds. These two different yet complementary series play with and speak to the space around them, at once individual works and an integrated part of the space in which they hang. In ‘What You See, Is What You See’, new works by German artist Carsten Fock and British-Balinese artist Sinta Tantra meld into colour abstractions to create an immersive synergy within the gallery space, running from of 4th July – 27th of July at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery.
For Carsten Fock, bold walls of colour inject bright hues onto segments of gallery walls, framing the delicate feathering of his brushstrokes. For the well-established artist, “the presentation of the paintings is no less important than the paintings themselves”. Previous exhibitions have utilised architectural features such as slanted walls on which to display the work, part of Fock’s ongoing exploration of how to collaborate with existing architecture when presenting art. The work itself, a profusion of semi-abstract shapes and forms, including dense hatching and increasingly non-figurative forms, belies an intense precision, drawing on a vast and complex accumulation of art historical influences, from Philip Guston to Barnett Newman and beyond.
In recent years, Fock has arrived at a stage in which, while he still integrates the surrounding space into the installation of his works, there is a much stronger focus on the paintings as autonomous beings in themselves. “From the very first works I made, before I went to art school, I had always been interested in the presentation and the context of the works,” he explains. “Over time, my works increased in volume and size – I myself feel constantly in motion and reflection, which means I am also constantly shifting my focus.”
It is this composite assemblage of art historical and cultural influences that has produced Fock’s unique output, a visual tapestry woven from many threads to perform a new, cohesive whole. “As my old professor Per Kirkeby said, painting without architecture, without content, is stupid, and I think he is still right,” he muses. “Without content, you cannot move beyond a simple expression or formal meaning – that’s not enough for me.” Drawing on German culture, history, Pop art, and topics as diverse as the Second World War and the history of Germany painting, Fock’s oeuvre is an amalgamation of various experiences and visual and mental stimuli. He always begins with the composition itself, adding strokes and colours, an expression of immense freedom through the act of painting.
Fock’s colour palette also plays an important role, with a profusion of purple evident. “My grandmother was Jewish and my grandfather a Christian officer in the German army,” says the artist. “I was given Christian scripture lessons from an early age and discovered purple as a colour in the sense of the sacred as well as the spiritual. Other colours hark back to my heritage too, such as the use of ‘kasselbraun’, which we had in East Germany; it was the cheapest brown you could find.” His choice of colours also depends on the time of year and location. Paintings produced in the summer in Mallorca, for instance, are different from those produced in wintertime in Vienna. “Above everything, we live and we think – and thinking, for me, is what makes me an individual,” he says. “This is the most important to me as an artist and as a human being.”
Like Fock, the paintings that Sinta Tantra will display in the exhibition follow in the footsteps of her previous work – site-specific murals and installations that bring together considerations of colour, space, scale and light. They draw on the viewer’s engagement with the artwork, often working on a large scale and in-situ, harking back to the works of Sol Le Witt or Frank Stella. “I want to create a feeling of total immersion, of diving into the colour and into the surface,” she explains. Bold geometric patterns and colours seek to create “a more intimate relationship with what you see in front of you – an awareness of material and colour and the solidity between the two.” This immersive state creates a visual vortex of sorts, through which Tantra seeks to both seduce and repel. “Seduction enables one to daydream, to forget about words and to take pleasure in looking and ‘being’,” she says. “I use a variety of materials, from shiny to matt, solid to reflective – to physically draw you in and draw you out – going back and forth between the two states.”
For Tantra, part of her fascination with colour comes as the result of a unique mix of cultural influencers, with a background that melds Balinese, American and English heritage. Like Fock, she points out how light is different in various parts of the globe – warm and yellow near the equator, and harsher and whiter elsewhere. “My interest lies in ‘colour semiotics’, how certain colours have a particular cultural significance for particular individuals,” she says. My palette could be described as a reflection of a narrative – my narrative – combining a pop-tropical aesthetic with the cool tones of an English heritage.” Of these tones, it is pink that plays a major role in her work, a hue that she has enjoyed developing as part of her signature palette, pushing both the physical and cultural perception of this colour. “Pink is a colour that people either love or loathe,” she says. “It is associated with little girls’ rooms, strawberry ice cream, flesh, femininity. I am interested in coupling this ‘femininity’ with ‘masculinity’ – the hard edged geometry of painted lines, the vast architectural scale of motifs, and more ‘masculine’ colours to create rhythmic tensions across a space.”
Tantra also seeks to challenge our understandings of geography whilst playing on notions of globalisation and localisation by deconstructing what she refers to as our modern obsession with brand. “A brand is about creating a visual identity and embedding this in various locations, contexts and media,” she explains. “Whilst a brand is ‘fixed’, most would argue that identity itself is ‘fluid’ and constantly transforming. I guess I am interested in playing in between the notion of ‘fixed’ and ‘unfixed’.” For her, it is the slippage between pictorial and physical space that opens up new ways of seeing the world around her, consequently challenging us to turn our thoughts inside out and allow ourselves to feel very much within the artwork itself; it is the act of engaging and activating the viewer that lies at the heart of her practice. “It’s not just pictorial depth that I want to achieve,” she explains. “I’m presenting artwork that needs to be viewed from different angles, different lights – on the boundary of a two dimensional and three dimensional world.”
It is within the immersive, visually bombastic and intricately-developed works of these two artists that the viewer is taken on a journey into art history, geometry, architecture and the semiotics of light and colour – as well as a certain transcendence of being. All of these influencers come together to create an environment that is at once the sum of its parts, yet manages to render tangible some of the intangible.
Text by Anna Wallace Thompson