exhibition view: FLASH Susanne Kühn at Beck & Eggeling Düsseldorf, photo: Linda Inconi Jansen

A text by Susanne Kühn from the publication FLASH which will be released in February 2021 on the occasion of the exhibition FLASH at Beck & Eggeling Düsseldorf.

Flash, sketch, flash realism, realism, document, information, language and technology – these terms have been circling around in my head since I started trying to get a verbal handle on what was happening in my studio during the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020:

I made nine medium-sized paintings featuring my studio and familiar family places. On the one hand, they are characterised by the physical absence of people, on the other, they thrive on human presence, which is expressed in the legibility of a complex, multi-layered life situation and its various digital channels of communication.

Flash Sketch 5, 2020, 160 x 130 cm, acrylics on canvas

Due to the necessity of minimising social contact and limiting one’s personal sphere of action to a few places in order to contain the spread of the virus, the need grew in me to examine my working methods and thematic interests as a painter. I believe that my relationship to time and place in particular has changed as a result of the measures introduced to control the spread of the virus, and I would like to try to describe this in the following.

In previous groups of works – for example, in the paintings from 2011 and 2012 – made specifically for exhibitions I was involved in, I was concerned with how I could appropriate places and patterns of behaviour from paintings in the traditions of European art and place them in relation to the natural world that surrounds me. The people depicted – my friends – served as mediators between urbanity as a carrier of (pictorial) history and nature as a current, contemporary living space. In addition, they are indicative of our times.

Following on from these lines of thought and compositional concerns, but also from the observation that my paintings are able to develop a bolder impact if an alter ego or avatar of mine appears in the composition, I painted Robota in 2018. In this painting, which dissolves towards the edges and absorbs the tonality of the surrounding space, I can be seen performing three different actions: working on a machine (factory work as a teenager that was part of East German school education), reading on a bench (citing the Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden) and stoking a fire by the fireplace (at home with my parents). The narrative of the painting is fixed within a complex composition. Different actions in natural and urban spaces are formulated in controlled visual languages that refer to art history, society, technology and time. The colour, its impact and specificity, its material and technical brilliance and mode of application, its aesthetic language, deliberately run the whole gamut from A to Z, both in concert with and against one another.

This painting is very important to me because I have the impression that it connects with the space both formally and thematically, and has the power to trigger connections: image and space, image and the person, image and place, image and time.

I cannot quite pin down precisely why, in my eyes, the compositional success of Robota did not prompt me to continue this self-same strategy in the seclusion of my studio during the first lockdown. Rather, I would like to claim that in a time of extreme social flux, in which people’s lives are existentially threatened by a pandemic and which consequently also engenders social instability and change, a specific form of artistic expression is called for, that is to say, what has worked up to now needs to be questioned.

Specifically, I have changed various aspects of my painting in the works shown here in the catalogue: I have redefined what is represented, reduced the complex visual languages, changed the pictorial conception, and I have once again asked myself how I can activate the relationship between the painting and the viewer in the space at a particular location.

At this point I would like to go into two of these changes in more detail. One is the mode of the representation, the other is what is represented.

In connection with Robota, I spoke of the fact that, in my painterly practice, I have developed a complex informed visual language that has enabled me to engage with the pictorial history of painting up to the present day. This means enriching my painterly language in an informed way, both technically and diachronically, so that the simultaneous disposition of glaze painting, comics, digital signs, etc. consciously supports the substance and content of the painting, thereby creating a dynamic of its own.

With regard to the paintings of my immediate private surroundings, i.e. my family and studio, that I now wanted to make, these characteristics seemed irrelevant or somewhat overloaded. Rather, I was looking for a mode of painting that was as uninformed as possible in order to emphasise the immediacy of the momentary situation. Uninformed, because I wanted to prevent the painted reality from being overlaid by the whole nexus of values inherent in past methods of representation.

Consequently, the pictures of my desk in the studio, my computer screen, the Zimmer frame in my family’s stairwell or the tablecloth with Hutschenreuther onion-pattern plates and the face mask have been hastily sketched, they are an immediate and uncorrected, unembellished document of what I saw, wanted to capture and share. They correspond to the reality I experienced; the depicted objects are themselves carriers of reference or meanings and my aim is to evaluate the visible as little as possible through painting itself.

In doing so, I make use of the efficacy and power of modern pigments and their highly-potent acrylic media, which have the ability to reflect light energetically and electrify the given location of the painting, in the same way that the light of a computer screen has the power to make pictures glow.

Flash Sketch 9, 2020, 120 x 160 cm, acrylics on canvas
Flash Sketch 9, 2020, 120 x 160 cm, acrylics on canvas
Flash Sketch 5, 2020, 160 x 130 cm, acrylics on canvas
Flash Sketch 3, 2020, 160 x 130 cm, acrylics on canvas
Flash Realism 2, 2020, 160 x 130 cm
Flash Sketch 6, 2020, 50 x 40 cm, acrylics on canvas
Flash Realism 7, 2020, 50 x 40 cm, Acrylics on board
Flash Realism 7, 2020, 50 x 40 cm, Acrylics on board
Flash Sketch 8, 2020, 100 x 80 cm, acrylics on canvas
Flash Sketch 8, 2020, 100 x 80 cm, acrylics on canvas
Flash Sketch 4, 2020, 170 x 130 cm, acrylics on canvas