Exit into the Picture
Recent works by Stefanie von Schroeter

The precarious relationship between (two-dimensional) painting and (three-dimensional) reality has been considered a contradiction in terms since no later than the end of the 1950s. In reference to the friction between Art Informel (the European counterpart to Abstract Expressionism in North America) and Pop art, Laszlo Glozer summed up the problem in 1981 in his Westkunst catalogue with the words: ‘Exit from the picture, return of the outside world’. As the Dadaists had to some extent already attempted to do, artists at this time were vehemently challenging the dichotomy between the concepts of ‘abstract’ and ‘figurative’ in particular, but also of pictures and objects.

It is thus no accident that Stefanie von Schroeter references Art Informel in her works and frequently juxtaposes it with stylistic elements from comics and Pop art. Imbuing her pictorial works with reality in this way is a primary concern of the Berlin-based artist. Yet the combination of these two aesthetic styles, which once seemed irreconcilable, is just the first step in the artist’s process to achieve this end; the second entails the integration of three-dimensional compositions in her ‘paintings’. As such, von Schroeter does not withdraw from the pictorial medium but goes instead in the opposite direction, attempting as it were to retreat into the picture.

Before continuing, however, we should first take a closer look at the artist’s paintings which, as mentioned above, use the abstract vocabulary of Art Informel, with paint applied in ‘rapid and emotional gestures’ with the aim of ‘expanding the spectrum of abstraction’, as Martin Hentschel aptly describes it. This expansion allows her to approach figuration in her works, drawing among others on the world of comics as previously noted, yet it remains an approach and is never fully realised, (still) persisting in maintaining a well-calculated distance.

This distance is later completely abandoned by von Schroeter in her ‘bone works’ which she began around 2010. For these works, she selected animal bones, which she then boiled, cleaned and painted. As the long shapes of the bones invoke the painterly gestures of her canvasses and are further removed from their original context through the application of colour, they become pictorial in a certain respect: the ‘bone works’ are thus a deliberately choreographed interplay between two- and three-dimensionality. This interplay also takes up elements of von Schroeter’s paintings, as the artist, with her abstract Pop style of applying paint, again creates ‘a web that simultaneously covers the plane as well as the spatial depth of the picture’ (Martin Hentschel).
These painted bones are also highly charged in terms of content, conjuring up the image of skeletons, i.e., all that remains of life after death. For this reason, bones often appear in vanitas paintings, especially in the form of skulls of course, representing the ‘ruins’ of the body.

Other works created by Stefanie von Schroeter comprise banal objects from everyday life such as sieves, clothes, shoes, plastic chairs, laundry baskets and umbrellas, which the artist paints and then partly destroys, for example, by kicking, hammering or burning them. Thanks to the artful application of paint, the external world of objects is brought a step closer to the pictorial medium in these works. The partial destruction of the objects—an artistic strategy that was introduced by Gustav Metzger with his ‘self-destroying art’ in the 1960s—makes their materiality seem fragile, ‘mortal’, transforming them into trashy Pop art motifs that could at the same time belong to the terse, bleak imagery of a vanitas painting, thus spanning the poles of low and high culture.

In her most recent works, the artist forces her exit into the picture, this time by bringing together her two-dimensional painting and her three-dimensional objects. Standard plastic sieves are affixed to the canvas, and paint is applied to both in von Schroeter’s typical style. In a final step, the three-dimensional ‘painting’ has been burned in places, scorching and creating holes in both the canvas and the sieves. The sieves are thus an integral part of the work and are not treated differently in any way from the more classic painting surface of canvas.
Her approach to the supposedly dual systems of flat planes and bodies, of art and everyday life, of application and destruction is undiscriminating and free of hierarchies, and it is precisely through this approach that she achieves her objective of instilling her works with a sense of reality. The contradistinction between picture and external world seems to have been lifted momentarily in Stefanie von Schroeter’s art.

Raimar Stange, Berlin October 2015