Susanne Kuhn: ‘Pansy underwater’, 2023 – on display in the initial London exhibition of @blueriderart . @__susanne_kuhn__ will be talking about her work there at 18.00 on 12 Oct There’s a lot going on in what might seem a simple flower painting by the German artist Susanne Kuhn. For a start there’s the scale: two meters high, making the lead pansy the height of a human figure. That’s appropriate, because pansies have been bred to display increasingly apparent ‘faces’. Moreover, Kuhn tells me the German for pansy is Stiefmütterchen, which translates as ‘little stepmother’ - and we might also think of them having thoughts, given that penseé is the French origin of their English name. Not only do the pansies suggest people, as is made explicit by the replacement of their leaves by cartoonish bodies, there is a specific reference. The main figure echoes Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein’s ‘Goethe in the Roman Campagna’ 1787. The smaller figure sitting on the principal’s knee could stand for one of Kuhn’s children, consistent with the painting as a self-portrait of sorts, with Kuhn gently mocking the pretensions of the German classical heritage from which she follows on. She tells me that the pansy depicted comes from her garden, and the detritus at the bottom of the picture is from items she uses. Then we come to the setting: underwater, as indicated by the bubbles, the algae in the background (lifted from a 19th century collection of pressed specimens) and the coral front left (drawn from an aquarium in Basel Zoo, close to Kuhn’s home city of Freiburg). Having realised that, the combination of drowned flowers-come-figures with non-biodegradable waste is bound to summon the climate crisis. So yes, no shortage of content! Yet the primary impression remains how all that is summoned in paint: through bright modern colours that Kuhn says can be obtained only in acrylic, used at a scale which allows the abstract qualities of her mark-making to take centre stage.