Blow up

Enlargement is one of the fundamental principles of Marina Schulze’s paintings, therefore BLOW UP is a logical title for a catalogue of a collection of her work done over the last five years. Not navel gazing, but an overview of the complex works in which, at first glance, nothing uniform is suggested. Nevertheless, a veritable, very hairy navel is to be seen. But what is the connection between this and naked skin, fishnet stockings, water surfaces, drops of water or mushrooms? Marina Schulze’s painting is spectacular because of the size and pictorial intensity and occasionally using considerable time and effort makes itself disappear. This will be addressed herein. An attempt to identify a system in the work follows its chronology but also the temporally changing theme, first of all, to come to the conclusion that a further fundamental principle underlies the pictures.

Before the legs with stockings (2006/07, Page 41-48) Marina Schulze painted naked skin, firstly whole bodies, then ever increasing detail, in ever increasing formats which can almost only be seen from a distance as being parts of a body. Oil on paper, often one motif spread over several widths. In the work documented here, it is the 2006 stockinged legs, which sometimes cannot immediately be recognised as such. However, the human skin is always, in many cases and to a great extent covering the complete surface, the basis over which, just like a second skin, the meticulously painted and refined network of the stockings is pulled.

In conversations with the artist it soon becomes clear what really interests her in her paintings. She paints surfaces with great, sometimes almost artistic gesture and also always allows the “behind it all“ to become visible. Skin is the surface of animal and human bodies. Without it creatures would not be able to live. It is structured in a complex manner and protects “against a host of environmental factors: through its tensile strength and elasticity it repels mechanical interferences (pressure, impact). The pigments of the malpighian layer build skin colour, absorb light and UV rays. Through the absorption of perspiration the skin is involved in the osmoregulation of the body and above all in temperature regulation. Furthermore, the skin’s ramified capillary network plays a major role in thermal output. Finally, the skin, equipped with copious amounts of sense receptors, is a sense organ which imparts a host of perceptions to the central nervous system.” This is how, slightly shortened, the Brockhaus Encyclopedia describes skin. Plants too have a skin, the epidermis, which lies without gaps and protectively around the organism. Figuratively speaking, the skin encompasses every thing, building the frontier between inside and outside. It protects and shapes the form, makes it attract or deter and uses colour as a means of self-portrayal. All this makes skin a favourite subject of poetry, literature, design, advertising and of course, art. The connotations connected with skin are various indeed.

Marina Schulze works in series. She greatly varies the different themes, and in so doing, increases her already outstanding painting abilities. One can feel the passion for painting in all of her work whether it is only examples in small format, oil on paper or on large canvasses. In so doing, she concentrates on the details of a part of the object. She goes up so close that in the eyes of the beholder it is not always possible to recognise what it is about. Perhaps though, it is not really that important to know that a structure, that reminds you of stone or sand desert, is the surface of woodchip wallpaper (2006/07, Page 51,52,54-55). The different levels are finely modulated into one field over which the eye can easily roam and relax, pleasant and yet as totally unspectacular as the water drops that cover a large canvas. Only through a perceptible surface tension, also in painting, as if held together by a skin, do the individual drops adhere to the glass. Obviously, the subject of water surfaces suggested itself as being an important issue for the artist (2007/08 Page 60-66). This subject integrates well in the set of painted structures, constitutes however a clear contraposition in its manifold dynamics. This time the painted picture connects quickly with the inner pictures of the memory to a beach, the course of a stream or river, to smooth or rippling water. The as it seems constantly changing, but finally also closed surface of water allows to look into the depth and reflects daylight. “Seascapes” have been a favourite subject in art for centuries and not without reason. These though, had a horizon in order to distinguish them as being part of the landscape. But this is not the point for Marina Schulze.

The point for her is painting, virtuoso painting. And for this, from 2008, she finds a new artistic field. First, it is once again skin that covers her new thematic object: The red, chapped skin of a fly agaric. Although this time it also fills the canvas, the mushroom is immediately recognizable through the perspective top view. And as with the real fly agaric one is attracted by the intensively vibrant red and also senses instinctively the danger signalised by this red. Then Marina Schulze goes yet another step further. She changes the perspective and looks at the mushroom from under the roof. She shows how the cap sits on the stem but is more fascinated by the gills - skin-like and destructible at the slightest touch – which stabilise the cap. And this is the way she applies her painting: vigorous in colourfullness, but filigree and careful in following the shape. With almost scientific precision she modulates the clear structure of the gills into the depths of the no longer discernible. Still it remains a painting that allows one to sense the softness of the material, its vulnerability, yes even its perishability. The often huge format leaves the beholder torn between astonishment at the pictorial brilliance of the pictures, mainly in terms of colour, and a sense of the artist’s caring protection for her “model”. Only occasionally does she let their destructibility be seen and gives a glimpse of the sky through a broken off gap in the cap of the mushroom. And so these pictures waver between structural abstraction and landscape adaption.

This also seems to be the fascination for her in a new series of work (2009/10, Page 32-39). Once more it is parts of the body. Pars pro toto. Such is the navel, mentioned above, in giant format. No title, as with all the other work. Perhaps such a title would be helpful here, would though also shorten reflection about what is to be seen and many considerations and presumptions would be lost. One looks into a tangle of seemingly trompe l’oeil, strongly curved, barbed shapes protruding out of the picture and which become denser towards its centre, then become lost in an unfathomable hole. From a short distance one can make out the underground in its flesh tones as skin and then identify the barbs as gigantically enlarged body hairs around a navel. It is as if one is looking through a magnifying glass or a microscope under which new worlds are opening up. The same applies to a much smaller format painting from this year, which shows a tattoo on hairy skin.

Marina Schulze is an outstanding painter but she does not leave it at that by occupying us with brilliantly painted pictures. She also uses her artistic skills to make them invisible as such. Trompe-l’oeil, optical illusion, has been a favourite medium of painters since the Renaissance and even the ancient Greeks used it to amaze and astound beholders of their work. One thinks one can see something plastic in the picture which sometimes can not be recognized as such at all and then discovers from the side perspective that everything has really only been painted two-dimensionally. Marina Schulze reverses this possibility of painting. She seeks an object or a raw element and paints it in such a way that it disappears in space. Such as a bench in the Municipal Gallery in Delmenhorst (26. March 2008, 16:00 hrs, Page 73) which although fully three-dimensional was, to the eye, barely in contrast to the ambient parquet flooring. Or a pillar in the Municipal Gallery in Bremen (31. January 2009, 14:00 hrs, Page 80) which she painted in such a way that it was almost invisible for the beholder. This seems like magic, and there is a little bit of that involved. It really only functions from a certain perspective – also an invention from the Renaissance by the way. This is the key to the supposed magic. And when one then looks into the corner of a room (Painted Room, 2009, Page 75) but on walking towards it bumps into a wall-corner painting which protrudes into the room, one can become considerably insecure, although the effect is rapidly lost because the perspective has been altered radically. In nature one refers to this as mimicry and means the ability of animals or plants to adjust to the environment in shape or colour so that they cannot be recognized, either for protection purposes or as camouflage when hunting their prey. It has, however, always something to do with a change to the outer shell, the skin. And now we once again arrive at what Marina Schulze has at heart: what is there about that which shows itself as the surface of something? What is it hiding and what is hiding behind it? She shows one thing and at the same time makes the other thing visible or at least brings it into the realms of the slightly imaginable. To a great extent, this embodies the charm of this artwork.

Heiner Schepers

July 2010

in: Marina Schulze, Blow up, Stiftung Burg Kniphausen, Wilhelmshaven