THE NEW PINK
"Spiegelungen: Modelle & Malerin"
Paintings by M-M Modlmayr
(12 Pairs of Paintings; each pair consisting of one Model, one Self-Portrait)
The first pair of paintings, like a new pair of shoes, arrived before my eyes in pink. Rose-pink, to be exact,-- two portraits, each one of a woman's face and shoulders, painted in luminescent skin and getto grey, set onto (or into) a thickly painted pink background. Now, we all know that pink has its own special place in the world of meanings; pink in the girly sense of "pretty pink", in the jovial, sporty sense of, "oh, I'm feeling in the pink!" and that "all is well with the world" rose-colored glasses type pink. But these two portraits are not like that at all; their faces, their figures, their "subjects", as we will call them here, are neither overtly "pretty", nor particularly girlish, and they are certainly far from jovial. The discrepancy between the choice of background color and its application may be likened to a promise, unspoken perhaps, but implied, that is slightly, and, I suspect, deliberately-- broken. In fact, throughout the work as a whole, a set of 12 pairs of paintings,> it seems that the artist is not interested in keeping such promises and, I believe, she enjoys, rather, breaking them, in order to shake us up a bit. That way, we are called to examine once again our own desire; what we come to the portrait (for these are all portraits) for, and what we have come to expect from portraiture on the whole.
If the portrait, in its classic sense, has the function to offer us a "closer look at", a "getting to know" the painted subject, what do portraits, such as these, that fall somehow short of fulfilling this proposal, offer in and as consolation? Like in "life", it is often an unfulfilled expectation and its accompanying disappointment that wake us out of our slumbers into a new realm of consciousness, and, given half a chance, these paintings tend to do exactly that. They "disappoint", in that their characteristic surfaces, be they hair, facial feature, skin or cloth, offer only a bare minimum of information about their subjects, which have, rather, an almost cartoon-like two-dimensionality. The hair is almost wig-like, the eyes, often only a stroke with a dot in its center, the clothing; a band of horizontal paint is a shirt collar, etc. In the classical portrait, on first glance, depiction of the model is its main function, (or at least seemingly so). In Modlmayr's portraits, however, it is the subtle absence of visual or "biographical" information, --this "broken promise", that moves to center as the paintings new first function, its new subject, encouraging in us the formulation of a new understanding. In each pair of portraits, we look at two models: the model in one painting, the artist's self-portrait in the second, but without "knowing" them better for the act of looking (although they are indeed the only and central figures on the canvases). This, in itself, is,> of course, not exactly new. If we consider the 20th century portraits of Dali, Picasso and Bacon (there are many others), the model is not painted in the purely representational sense. His/her image has been disrupted;--exaggerated, rearranged, deconstructed, ---and we are encouraged to find meaning in what is other than photographic likeness; i.e. in the act of disruption itself. For some of us, even a century later, this is still a stretch, but we have all learned to accept and even appreciate it as an act of either artistic freedom, necessary rebellion or the inevitable evolution of painting. In Modlmayr's work, the photographic likeness to the model is, however, still enough "there" to be recognizable, though trembling. Or rather, let's say, there is enough likeness to be "some" likeness, "a" likeness, --be it real or fictitious—to a model. And so the shift, the displacement away from representation is a very slight one, and for reason of that slightness, all the more "unheimlich", in the Freudian sense of the word. This is also due to the fact that in these portraits, the subject still intends, or pretends (this we cannot know) to be "true to life",--it stays dutifully in its position at the center of the canvas, and thus in the center of what we sense is either "real" or possibly so. Dutiful but not passive---for in some of the paintings, the subject either literally "turns its back" to us, revealing only hair and shoulders, in others it looks mostly away from us. In another portrait, where the model is blond and blue-eyed, Modlmayr paints her self-portrait using the same yellow and blue palette, as a blond with blue eyes (in all other portraits, she is, a brown eyed brunette). These playful, and at times surprising variations remain, however, still very much within a realm of possibilities we can imagine as "real", and are, for that reason, less unnerving than the subtle and continuous displacement on the level of representation throughout. By extension, that which is, at first glance still representational, even anachronistic, may be seen as that which, after further consideration, is what is most stunningly current about the work. For it is Modlmayr's restricted use of the representational which allows a new sense of subject to emerge---one that is neither biographical, literal or analogical, but one that is also not disruptive to these, the biographical, literal or analogical.Through a very keen understanding of (be it conscious or intuitive) of the truly subversive nature of disruption, she moves our attention ever so carefully to a new treatment of the question of simple likeness vs. non-likeness. The head, the face, the shoulders, these are all painted, readable, understandable, but skillfully reduced to a carefully measured minimum, and it is that minimum, with its delicate, proportioned use of likeness, that provides this work with its very particular tension, originality and unique charm.
It is, finally, as if the act of depiction has been here newly poured into a form, and thus reinstated for a generation of artists, in a new way. No longer is portraiture the depiction of a model, a person or a theme,--yes, that is all there, but not that only---but rather a depiction of painting itself, i.e. the act of looking and seeing as subject, the choice of colors as subject, the stroke of the brush as subject, the texture of paint, i.e. a thickening at the neckline, its thinning around an ear; the background's waxy strokes—as subject.
Modlmayr reminds us that painting was, and still is, above all things, application of paint on canvas, and that is, in itself, enough. But not abstract painting, not color or form and texture only. Or rather, not the one and not the other, but rather the inclusion of both and of all. And so as we emerge slowly, finally, out from a period of many years of deconstruction—we are all more than ready to greet this new consciousness, one of a re-construction; the revitalization of elements, ideas, forms and meanings, in such acts as these paintings are, of what may be understood as the intentional creation of new consciousness. Lord knows, Art and all of us could use it. --