January 27, 2017
Last week, Katharina Grosse opened her first-ever New York gallery exhibition at Gagosian West 24th Street. Known in the U.S. for her radical paintings that take over architectural space and form, this is the first time that New York audiences can see her equally dazzling and ambitious paintings and sculpture. Gagosian Director Louise Neri talks with Grosse about her approach to her art and an intensive year in the studio.
LOUISE NERI I think of your oeuvre as “expanded painting” because you bring the discourse and practice of painting—which usually revolves around one of painting’s many cyclical “deaths”—to a completely new place.
KATHARINA GROSSE “Painting in the expanded field” suggests to me that one starts with something finite and exceeds it. That isn’t really how I work. I am not crossing borders, or “transgressing.” Rather, I see paintings popping up everywhere. Color is not topical; it is not linked to space. It is totally independent of site, surface, or even object.
LN Painting has existed in the world for as long as human beings have, from cave paintings to frescoes to numerous other instances. At this moment in this particular field, however, it is largely confined to canvas, perhaps as a function of commodification.
KG It also has to do with the individual drifting toward such a radical subjectivity as to be completely independent of any power-inflicted network. And this is where I digress. Unlike traditional painting on canvas, my approach to painting is explicitly incongruent with the intended site. It reveals the gap between the medium and the site; it is fragile, tenuous, temporal. Its presence in situ underscores these qualities.
LN “Transgressive” may not be the right term, but you certainly do overtake space. There is a Baroque impulse at work in your interaction with space as a painter. You penetrate it, invert it; a complete upheaval occurs.
KG The spatial conditions coexist with the painting; it is a reciprocal relationship, an ecology. If I take the situation away, the painting disappears too.
LN What do public commissions mean for you?
KG Painting allows me the most direct transmission of thinking into action. Working in the public realm, I can develop images of direct, non-linear, and non-logical energy that generate clusters of compressed emotions.
LN Technically speaking, you use compressed spray rather than relying on hand and brush. This immediately confers a certain sense of power and freedom, because spray is a propulsive technique with which you can cover great expanses of territory quickly.
KG I use a range of tools to dramatically shift scale, so that I can propel myself out of the scale that I negotiate in everyday life. This is an open experimental field that I am part of; there is no hierarchy. I am not the author but an equal agent to color, time, volume, and so on.
LN Many years ago, watching you paint a site, I considered the fact of your being sealed off from your own process by the protective gear that you wear.
KG The protective clothing isn’t such an issue. I don’t notice it while I’m working. What is more important to understand is that my supply of material is very ample, so I can move around and paint for a long time without exhausting the source. I don’t have to go back to my paint pot and dip my brush and start again; there is no on-and-off, in and out.
LN Perhaps we could describe the experience as “oceanic.” The conditions—the clothing and the supply line—allow you to be completely immersed. Like a deep-sea diver or astronaut, you can be at once separate from and one with a field of totally other phenomena and stimuli.
KG I like this thought. It’s an interesting question, how do I connect with the field or web that forms the basis for these moments of intense experience? Being neither totally immersed in the process nor an author outside of it, I have an equal role to the spray, surface, time, and volume in terms of my ability to interact.
LN By virtue of its sheer scale, your working process certainly appears to be more immersive than that of the painter using brush on canvas. But at the same time, there is a heightened consciousness at work; you are immersed but not drowning. Can you describe what happens while you are working?
KG I am very specific about the elements I start with, not only in relationship to smaller groups of paintings that eventuate during the working process but in general. I work within an area that doesn’t use language or references or mimetic images. I don’t use signwriting or photograph-based input. I am fascinated by the image in which no identity whatsoever is being offered.
LN By being a self-conscious participant in this interwoven continuum of history and art history, how do you consider your own relationship to the orthodoxies of abstraction?
KG I work with the residue of painting from the beginning of time. My work has roots in all sorts of areas, some of which are repellent to abstraction, especially that modernist abstraction that has to do with some sort of sublimation of industrial production, or seriality, or generating highly universalized imagery from mimetic concepts.
LN Such as?
KG Toothpaste landing on the mirror while brushing my teeth; cave painting; Renaissance frescoes; the ever-changing movement on a soccer field during a match; bird shit landing on the windscreen; Hanne Darboven’s numerical fields: all this feeds into my impulse to find a totally new understanding of painting.
LN Can we talk a bit more about your process?
KG We began by talking about expansion; then there's compression. The constant pulse of expansion and compression that makes time shifts possible is a crucial factor in my work.
LN How does this pulse feed your process in terms of the current exhibition?
KG I work on a large number of canvases at the same time to generate a flow or stream of thoughts. It’s similar yet different to working on the expanded field of a site-related work. I start compressing disruptive layers together. The stencils are filters that define my input; they block it or let it through.
LN Can you speak about the relationship between the canvases and the sites? The conditions are obviously so vastly different.
KG Canvases are containers that allow for different temporalities. I can work on them for a day or a year, stepping in and out of my relationship with them. When I work on a specific site with all the extenuating conditions that it entails, I can do nothing but that; I must be completely engaged in that relationship until the work is there.
LN For the last year you have been working intensively in the studio, allowing thought-forms to migrate across different phases of paintings.
KG By choosing to focus more or less exclusively on works on canvas for this entire period, I increasingly intensified the pressure that I charged the canvas with. This often resulted in dense clusters. So, at the end of the year, it was a revelation to witness a process of inversion, where I produced works that were highly emblematic.
"Katharina Grosse" is on view at Gagosian West 24th Street, New York through March 11, 2017.