// Articles

TEXTE V // Image and World  // Hans Knopper, 1994

About the Philosophy of Painting in the Images of Ulrike Beckmann

 

Practically by way of a conclusion to his work Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus published in 1921, in which Ludwig Wittgenstein attempted - wholly in keeping with the spirit of positivism - to prove that all judgements are merely derivations of fact, he penned the following lines:

„6.52 We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all. So naturally then there are no longer any questions; and this is precisely the answer,

6.52.1 The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem. (Is this not the reason why men to whom after long doubting the sense of life became clear, could not then say wherein this sense consisted?)“

It is exactly at this point, where Wittgenstein suspends his deliberations, that the world of art begins. It inhabits precisely those areas that are very difficult to describe linguistically, and about which, if Wittgenstein is followed, we must therefore remain silent. Art makes the experiences and knowledge gained on the other side of this boundary perceptible in the form of pictorial imprints. The insights and misapprehensions of the painter are displayed quasi seismographically and are revealed to the observer on canvas, on paper. It is especially those forms of visual art that extend beyond the pure depiction of articles and afford space for expressive statement, which make the observer privy to the perception of the artist. The painting or the drawing constitutes the process of investigation of the explorative artist.

It is this context that the works of Ulrike Beckmann are seeking to be understood. Her images are seldom without some form of object: Figures, silhouettes, shadows, heads, ladders, windows - some perceivable at first glance, others only recognisable after a longer study. The pictorial investigation is not of the thing itself, but rather the manner in which these are interlinked, the nature of the relationship they have with one another and the surrounding space. Sometimes actions or articles are orally named in the painting: talking, silence, nose etc. These "linguistic images" within the painted image release the eye from the compulsion to identify objects. The view is cleared free for the observer to establish their own ideas, for the discernment of areas of tension between the individuals, between the sections of the image. The black or white lines are perceived as defined contours up front of an indefinite field of depth. These lines of realisation evolve into the initially indefinite areas of the image. In the 1993 work "Schatten" [Shadows], parallel lines that appear to explore the surface of the image extend outwards from a human figure. The lines are reminiscent of ladders that play such a role in so many of Beckmann ‘s works. The nascent interlinking of the pictorial surface is also propelled by the opposing coloured areas composed in blue and orange: small islands of colour begin to dissipate the confrontation and balance the contrasts.

The ladder can be understood as a symbol for the connection of the upper and the lower, of the heavenly and the earthly. Wittgenstein, frequently invoked by the painter, uses the image of the ladder of awareness which is to be discarded once it has been ascended. The ladder is negotiated in order to achieve true understanding. In the artist ‘s context, this means that he has to seek to surmount his formal creative resources in order to arrive at true depicted expressions. Just as providing answers to scientific questions does not touch upon the problems of life, the concrete application of formal creative rules cannot substitute the artistic aspect of the image.

Ulrike Beckmann has recently painted a series of heads. This sees her avoid creating surface forms that refer to characteristic peculiarities, nor does she produce any portrait in the classic sense, but instead she develops "colour events". These forms are in part subsumed into the shape of heads. Other elements applied here constitute abstract counterparts. The inner area of the head and the outer surroundings flow into one another and are inter-dependent. The heads are a place for the creation of the world; rungs are added to them here and there to serve as symbolic ladders that demarcate the limits of the articulable, or as windows providing a way out into the underlying reality.

 

 

TEXTE IV // Kathedrale [Cathedrals]  // Holger Wendland, Februar 2003

 

„The absolute is an abstraction and abstraction demands a power that counters the condition of our human degeneration“. Antonin Artaud

Hybrid terminologies seep into the principles of the explanation, the absolute exists as a function of the things that fathom the imperfect human spirit.

The symbolic teachings of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite comprise the basis for the art of light interplay, for the new departure in the design of the structure of the chancel by Abbott Suger in Saint-Denis. It is a fact that Suger‘s work influenced the design of every other cathedral that followed it: Light as the concept behind Gothic design structures.

„Colour ranks uppermost in beauty. Light is the force that imbues colour with its very character. Colour signals the victory of light over the twilight: God is light“. Dionysios Areapagites

Suger carved his theology into the Romanesque chancel, threw open walls and restructured the arches anew. In line with the transfigured, universal unity of Dionysius the Areopagite, the church is flooded with unrestrained light, bundled, fractured and reflected in the lustre of precious stones and gold.

The Romanesque rounded arches in Ulrike Beckmann‘s cathedrals are not resolved with Gothic vertices, but rather by the eruptive force of light that emerges from within. It attributes distance to the proximate and proximity to the distant. Bundled and reflected in windows, the built structures explode outwards. The gloomy spaces that envelop these black structures shatter with the power of colour animated by light.

This light provides the staging for the questions, explanations and principles, this hybrid terminology of the absolute. The first and last letter, labyrinths, spirals, serpents and crosses.

In the twilight with a "HOPE" denounced with subversion bordering on shrewdness.

There at the place where all light coalesces, where everything finds calm reflection in a homogeneous white, that is where Ulrike Beckmann positions her altars: Paintings, sculptures, ladders of divine ascent.

The painter does not rest with that. The colour is also given an intrinsic value, an intrinsic symbolic significance. It has similarities to the concept of icons, not just in the shift of perspective. It is a manifestation of the transcendence in the immanent.

The Iconodules formulated it so in 787 AD at 7th Council in Nikaia: "What the Word announces to the ear is that which is silently expressed by icons through representation."

Hope together with fear is certainly also a subjective original source of the attempt to explain our world, but what it actually is, that is a matter of dispute among philosophers.

And that is why Ulrike Beckmann writes "HOPE", because we are not all able to detect and fathom the subversive notions that have evolved within the English linguistic construct of the word.

"If you could capture a ray of sunlight and press it into a record, it would take the form of this album", writes a journalist about a CD by the singer HOPE Sandoval.

Ulrike Beckmann captures rays of sunlight, bundles them and lends them a hysterical note with her exaggeration of colouration. A hysterical note that is reminiscent of the blood mysticism witnessed in the medieval period.

PS. For the period from the 8th to the 16th century, the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite constituted an influential correction of formal-logical and contrary thinking. Hugo Ball, one of the founders of Dadaism, rediscovered this mindset and declared that his invented word DADA was a reference to the fact that Dionysius the Areopagite had twice touched his soul. Brockhaus Enzyklopädie

 

TEXTE III // On the pictures of Ulrike Beckmann  // Dr.Dr. Carol Stieber, Januar 1996

 

What can we humans not achieve? Travelling across and floating through space, jumping around on the moon, creating artificial intelligence, communicating by voice and in writing in a matter of seconds around the entire world, investigating the inside of the human body, modifying the genotype, splitting and combining atoms; the impressive list can be extended as long as one could please.

Some things, actually even more things still remain out of reach to us, but there is a good chance that we will be able to achieve these someday. One thing is impossible to us, just as little now as it has always been: to investigate and explain man. I am not referring to his physical-chemical properties and homoeostasis (that we call health), nor diversions from it (that we call illness or, in extreme cases, death) and not the diversity of his accomplishments, but man in his "Sein" [essence], "Dasein" [existence] and in the mystery of death.

The cleft between what is termed natural science and the occupation with man in his entirety, for which there are various terms and which was opened up long before Descartes, reveals itself repeatedly. A great deal of the unsolicited emerges from the gap created.

But we are unable to perceive any spark that springs from the spirit to matter and back again to form a join. Many of us suspect it is there, but will hear nothing of it, and whether not each of us will perceive it (should perceive it?) is questionable. The understanding to understand is therefore practically a case of aporia. Something of these intangible sparks penetrate into speech, perhaps even more into art.

What has all this to do with the paintings of Ulrike Beckmann? The answer is this: As a painter, Ulrike Beckmann is a "homo viator", as Gabriel Marcel terms a wanderer, a searcher. Her painting is not a work of coincidence, the unconscious much less a product of pure inspiration at the emotional level, and Lord knows, I do not mean to make any deprecative connotations by this. She is instead a contemplative yet intuitive person. She continuously challenges herself with questions of principle and meaning, and there, where reason is not enough (and pure reason rarely suffices), she imports her artistic intuition. Do not image that she abbreviates the distance to the core of the great questions - that is not the point of the exercise, for equi-distance should be clearly retained - but nevertheless she engages it with courage and with impressive and expressive, technical instruments and conveys to us an urgent inkling of these questions.

 

TEXTE II // Departure through history  // Michael Tesch, Solinger Morgenpost, 9.März 1996

 

The surprise of the exhibition with paintings by the Solingen painter Ulrike Beckmann in the Galerie Anna Franke - the first for years to appropriately present the artist‘s works in the town - is to be found in the gallery‘s rear-lying sky-lit hall. Because, in contrast to the two front spaces that contain a selected retrospective collection of newer and older works in the familiar "Ubi style", on the facing wall there is a still-life (Krfte [Forces]), comprising five panels covering almost the entire wall, a work that at first glance is not immediately identifiable as one by the painter. Five women‘s heads painted in a realistic style, each arranged disembodied around a U-shaped plinth. Four of the heads are those of famous women from history: Virginia Woolf, Marie Curie, Camille Claudel and Clara Schumann. A painted flower is placed beneath each of the bases. Only the middle of the five panels is flowerless. Just as the head placed over it remains nameless. According to the artist, the observer "should find their reflection" in this anonymous woman.

 

"Art can cross the boundaries of thought  // Monika Krebs, Solinger Tageblatt

 

A visit to the studio of Ulrike Beckmann/ her mission: Consequent painting

"It is the paintings that matter, not the painter", - words uttered by Ulrike Beckmann precisely 25 years ago. That is how she regarded her work back then. And now? "I regard my work as a philosophical investigation. Art can cross the boundaries of thought and provide answers in the form of the anticipatable. We are unable to formulate this anticipatability in words. But we are often aware that in a work of art, we have seen something that crosses the boundaries of thought".

This is what Ulrike Beckmann proffered with her latest series - "Kathedralen" [Cathedrals]. It was created in Uhlig‘s bright and airy studio hidden in a large garden. Ulrike Beckmann has a self-imposed rule - to paint every day. "I need continuity". Painting, consequent painting, stimulated with music, that is her mission in life.

Following her formal painting studies, at the Académie Française and under Professor Siegfried Cremet at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf she created cycles based on themes entitled "Gestik" [Gesticulation], "Socke und Seele" [Sock and soul], "Maske" [Mask] and "Identität" [Identity]. Ulrike Beckmann has maintained a low profile in Solingen - insofar as exhibitions are concerned. But her works can be seen in renowned galleries, in museums, public and corporate buildings both at home and abroad.

Ulrike Beckmann paints almost exclusively in oil. She favours strong colours that she applies with a clearly determined temperament. In this respect she has remained true to her style. Nevertheless ... her paintings have become more balanced, calmer in recent years. They are imbued with more symbolism. Collecting portraits of personalities that are of significance to the painter: da Vinci, Warhol, Claudel, Giacometti. Ulrike Beckmann: "Sometimes I simply want to have a completely definite face"

Wanted - a personal relationship to the painting

There is a great deal of representational substance in these paintings providing evidence of a wholly unique signature. This includes the enigmatic: Missionary zeal is alien to Ulrike Beckmann. She enjoys it when observers establish their own wholly personal relationships to her paintings. She maintains that .... the work is of greater importance than the artist. The painter is an intense reader of literature. Her particularly important places crop up again in diaries, as quotes between sketches. She is currently working on Volume 4.

 

TEXTE I // On the works of Ulrike Beckmann  // Prof. Siegfried Cremer, 1991

 

…“"Above all, meaningful art, music, literature are not new, as is, as must strive to be, the news brought by journalism. Originality is antithetical to novelty. The etymology of the word alerts us. It tells of ‘inception‘ and of ‘instauration,‘ of a return, in substance and in form, to beginnings. In exact relation to their originality, to their spiritual-formal force of innovation, aesthetic inventions are ‘archaic.‘ They carry in them the pulse of the distant source". George Steiner in "Real Presences"

"…“ that, in artistic endeavour, we are concerned with a resolutely unique anthropological base form.

But what is the essence of the unmistakable distinctiveness of art and how does the artistic encounter of the reality of things [Wirklichkeitsbegegnung] differ from other expressions attempts to appropriate the world [Weltbemächtigungsversuchen]?

Today it is indisputable that art is intrinsically different than the perceptual existence of nature, that the artistic figuration cannot be its repetition. Artistic modernism completed a radical turn against this self-perception of naturalistic art. As is well known it is concerned with emphasising the moment of the transcendence of the extant, indeed to assert the art work‘s autonomy from any ‘pre-givenness‘" (Hans Eckehard Bahr, Poiesis, Munich and Hamburg 1965).

Man within his complex relationships with himself and others, with the world and environment, this is the central theme grasped by the artist Ulrike Beckmann, which she investigates in repeatedly new artistic creative endeavours. This is a theme from which she has seldom departed (without really having left it), as in a group of works in which she has depicted giant flowerpots with minute, invariable withered plants, or better said plant remains with an almost dastardly niggardliness, in which the life is dried up, in which the world of articles has an all controlling importance. Profoundly pessimistic paintings with a great, suggestive power and a very unsettling effect on the observer.

Ulrike Beckmann works spontaneously. Her brush strokes have a nervous, staccato, indeed cool style, her presentation method a touch of the frazzled reality about it.

The contents of her paintings are not specifically discernible, they remain indeterminate as if something else is meant entirely.

Her paintings of individuals are faceless, the heads usually edged as if they had to have been knocked about everywhere. In her frequent group paintings, they are positioned closely together, but appear to have no relation to one another. Black constitutes the fundamental artistic tool in her paintings as well as in her gouaches and drawings. She employs the line rather than full areas as her creative resource. She employs colour sparingly; after black - in which a fine distinction is made between warm and cold - comes red, then blue, and very rarely yellow. Green hues are (almost) never seen in her paintings.

For a long time her paintings were in large format. The trend increased and some of her works were up to four metres high. However, most of the formats matched her own body size. So she had to paint from the shoulder joint outwards, the whole sequence of physical movements became part of the painting process. Only gradually did she become able to convincingly realise her depictions in a smaller format. Today she can readily master large and small-size formats in an artistically convincing manner.

During the course of her artistic development her images of humans became increasingly dissipated and today frequently consist only of gestural projected short-hand portrayals, placed on the image surface with no relationship or connection between one another. Frequently it is only possible to surmise at interrelationships. End of time images?