Gudrun Klebeck. Vortex

The motif of the vortex, which has been at the centre of Gudrun Klebeck’s work since 2016, attracts attention because of its dynamics, even before one has become aware of the stylistic and media characteristics of these pictures. Its suggestive form triggers so many associations from different contexts that one can hardly escape the need to define them more precisely. What are these structures? Is it water draining from a sink? Are they swirls in flowing waters, as Leonardo da Vinci drew them over 500 years ago, or are they whirling hurricanes seen from a great height? Perhaps even schematically depicted spiral galaxies in space? As stubbornly as such ideas are tied to their motifs, the works of Gudrun Klebeck persistently deny any possibility of defining them objectively. For these are primarily abstract graphic motifs of form and movement, and as such they draw the eye of the viewer in spiral motion into the centre, to where, paradoxically, the turbulence comes to a halt and offers a point of rest in the middle of the action. Since the vortex forms in Klebeck’s works – on closer inspection there are only three different ones, which are always varied – are elliptically distorted, they evoke the spatial idea of perspective distortion. At the same time, however, as structures anchored in the surface, they refuse consistent spatial legibility.

The contrast between flatness and spatial illusion is further enhanced by the way the vortex forms are positioned in the picture field. In those works in which they are framed by more or less monochrome surfaces painted with acrylic paints, the strong contrast of movement and stillness, of diffusion and focusing is added. In all these pairs of contrasts, the fundamental peculiarity of vortices comes to the fore, which Gudrun Klebeck explores artistically: the meeting of chaos and order. Although vortices dissolve existing orders in a chaotic manner, they are themselves subject to structural laws.

A closer look reveals that the vortex zones are based on a different mediality than the painted parts, and that both image components are displayed via different image carriers. The artist has created the vortex forms on a photographic basis, processed them on the computer and printed them on textile fabrics. These are inserted into the correspondingly trimmed canvases and firmly sewn to them on the back. Gudrun Klebek initially developed the technique of “implanting” (photo)graphic elements into a painted canvas during her studies; she has been developing the method and exploring and testing its potential ever since. ‘Image montage’ is the term she uses to describe this combination of photo-printing and acrylic painting – a procedure that, for her, is nothing more than an extension of painting.

That Gudrun Klebeck is indeed primarily concerned with painting and its specific questions is undoubtedly evident in those pictures whose painterly gesture can be recognized as a continuation of the graphic vortex motif. In these pictures, it looks as if the painting hand had taken up and furthered the impulse of movement, but had chosen not to imitate the graphic structure; rather to translate it into autonomous colour and gestural brushwork.

The work entitled “Welle” (Wave), which is composed of five vertical canvases, has a special status. With a format of 210 by 242 centimetres (6’10” x 7’9”), it is by far the largest painting in the Vortex series. What is remarkable here is how the fields with the vortex forms are executed in different widths and inserted into the overall picture field at staggered heights. These variations, the twists and truncations of the identical original motif, and the use of black and white inversion, result in a rhythmically structured or syncopated overall form that allow the eye to wander ceaselessly. The five individual elements add up to a series that is somewhat reminiscent of the motif of a Kármán vortex street, familiar from fluid mechanics, with its counter-rotating swirls. The task of the painting is to provide this complex sequence of movements with a large, gently swinging resonance space. Particularly at the lower edge of the pale yellow surface, one can clearly see how many layer so of paint were applied, offering a gentle echo to the wave of the vortex forms.

Particularly striking are those works in which Klebeck used colored photo prints as her source material. Since she also picks up the red-green contrasts of the spiral whirling forms in her gestural painting, the boundaries between the two pictorial components repeatedly dissolve in contemplation. Colour, contrasting colours, and gesture – classical themes of painting – gain the upper hand here and dominate the effect of the pictures. Despite the small format of only 40 by 40 centimetres (approx. 16”x16”), these pictures thus gain a strong presence that radiates far onto the surface of adjacent walls.

Peter Lodermeyer

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