The Productive Power of Imagination – New Paintings by Ina Geißler

by Peter Lodermeyer (Translation from German Elizabeth Volk)

A major theme for Ina Geißler is painting picture spaces. This defines the productive contradiction that feeds her work, and infuses her paintings with their specific pictorial dynamics: It is the conflict-turned-fertile between the flat picture carrier and the interlocking units of spaces, composed of numerous painted lines, surfaces and structures that are interwoven to form a highly complex picture whole. The spatial effect of the pictures arises from the visual cooperation of the viewer. To an exceptional degree, Ina Geißler’s works require an active attitude in terms of reception. It is viewing as a conscious act.

The fact that in her treatment of spatiality the artist initially tried out working with architectonic parts, was particularly obvious in her early picture series and photo collages; whereby it must be emphasized that this never had to do with architecture in the sense of the art of building, but rather with elements that shape our everyday living spaces functionally, decorate or disfigure them. In her earlier works, balconies, banisters, awnings, stair steps, etc. could be seen more or less clearly in illustrations showing the dissolution of their respective functionality. These architectonic references have increasingly disappeared from Geißler’s pictures over the past two or three years, leaving more space for a pure painterly treatment of her theme. All unmistakably identifiable fragments of reality have now been obliterated from her most recent works. Thus, for example, only circular forms have remained from what were once satellite dishes in the earlier works, and these have virtually become a leitmotif throughout the latest picture series of Ina Geißler: as “swarms” of circular lines, disks, and peepholes, which allow for a view into deeper layers of the picture (and nevertheless, often enough visually jump to the forefront), or as concentric arc segments, often interrupted with corners, which dominate the picture and hypnotically draw the viewer’s gaze into the painting and its complex worlds of space. The circle is of particular significance to the extent that, of all basic geometric forms, it constitutes the severest contradiction to the traditionally rectangular picture form, thus creating the highest formal tension. The circle form allows the artist to break open her picture surfaces visually; the forms overarch, so to speak, into space (picture space or the real space), thus highlighting the basic theme: the tension between the material picture surface and the illusionistic spatial elements.

The illusionism of the picture means is a given in the painting of Ina Geißler. One would need to delve into more research as to why the modernist art theory of the 1960s zealously tried to expurgate from art any trace of illusionism. For a minimalist like Donald Judd, alone the fact that different colours evoke different illusionistic picture depths, was a grave objection to painting at all.[1] Illusionism is a question of the visual process. Brain researchers and neuro-aestheticians would certainly be in a position to provide plausible reasons for why each seeing has an inherent illusionist moment to itper se. What bears much more weight than scientific explanations in our context is the experience from the practice of painting. This is why Gerhard Richter once said in reference to his gray monochrome pictures of the 1970s that undeniably came about under the influence of American minimalism: “ At the time I was trying to prevent this illusionistic functioning of the pictures, only to realize that precisely these pictures display the most rigorous illusionism.”[2]

“Illusionism” sounds too much like tricks and sleight of hand – but what it is really all about is the fact that a picture is never simply a “given”, but rather requires the active viewing cooperation of the person looking at it. In other words: it activates the viewer’s productive powers of imagination. A reflective artist such as Ina Geißer is wholly conscious of the fact that the viewer is a co-constituent of the picture. The genesis of the picture during the act of viewing thus becomes a topic in itself for her. This comes about in particular due to the complexity of the spatiality. In principle it is not possible to locate the numerous potential spatial compartments in an overall spatial whole. And therefore, the viewer’s gaze is repeatedly challenged to venture hypotheses with respect to the spatial conditions, and when these fail, begin anew. It is an aesthetic experience of a special nature (which no reproduction can ever record and convey), when one lingers before one of these paintings, or even better: walks back and forth in front of it, observing how the space-evoking elements take on ever new configurations for our perception, how the paintings assume new form (in the sense of Gestalt psychology) and how, upon longer contemplation of the pictures, they may be experienced as a harmonious whole, although this does not resolve the contradictions in the spatial set-up. This harmony is a result of the convincing powers of Ina Geißler’s painting.

Beyond a doubt these works also reflect the experience of technically produced pictures, especially via the Internet with its myriad possibilities for interlocking the most diverse levels of space and perception. All the more remarkable is Ina Geißler’s resistance against competing with computer aesthetics, against providing her works with a smooth, technological design. On the contrary, in order to “ground” the experience of virtual picture spaces, as she refers to it, she consciously employs one of the oldest methods of binding pigments with a binding agent, namely the technique of egg tempera painting, with its very specific colour effects. If one gets close enough to the painting of Ina Geißler, so close that the illusionistic effect vanishes, one becomes aware of the exceptional quality of the painterly facture.

No less important is the technique of watercolour painting. In this medium Ina Geißler achieves painterly etudes of captivating succinctness. On these pages the basic forms, especially the triangle and circle, find their ways to ever new configurations, and appear as models. But models for what? Models for nature, the world, our consciousness? Most likely these are Mind Maps through the boundless and illimitable universe of painted picture spaces.

[1] See Donald Judd, Specific Objects (1965), in: Donald Judd, Complete Writings 1959-1975, Halifax / Nova Scotia / New York 2005, pp. 181-189, especially p. 181f.

[2] Interview with Hans Haase, 1977, in: Gerhard Richter, Text, Schriften und Interviews. Edited by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Frankfurt a.M. 1993, pp. 85-88; quote p. 87.