One or two aspects of Michaela Zimmerâ€™s paintings
By Richard Neal
Thereâ€™s a medium-sized square canvas, with a creamy background. The colour is in itself essentially nondescript, yet has a certain tang, and you could imagine it having been ripped directly from some school or hospital corridor a couple of decades ago. This impression of an old, out of place backing surface is furthered by the paint treatment at some of its edges, which scrapes over the sides as if it had been a workbench or notice board, used and abused for many a year.
Not only the edges and background, though: also the paint in the centre at first appears to have been put down with a force that does not take much account of to what it has been applied. Splats and splotches, some just beginning to smear, fill the central areas in a way that leaves an inchoate whole of nevertheless distinct elements and layers, but one has to concentrate to distinguish one from another. One could (as I did) at first glance make a mistake, and think it just a, if not random mess, then maybe an uncomposed one. Just how mistaken, and not mistaken, one might be at that point provides one of the key interests of Michaela Zimmerâ€™s paintings.
In this case, one would be wrong. And the truth reveals itself slowly, to these eyes at times at any rate. The layers of splashes and smears â€“ in undiluted ochre, white, ultramarine and cadmium yellow â€“ form a complex and complete structure with its own internal dynamics and balances. Itâ€™s finely judged, indeed perhaps a little cunning in its artlessness. The pure, unmixed colours are a wholly different key to the background. What binds fore and back together is the common, perhaps misleading, sense of something found rather than made, a seemingly arbitrary dynamism.
To take another case, I feel I must betray a secret from the artistâ€™s working process. There is a diptych, this time with a blue that again has the diluted slight dullness of wall paint applied some time ago in some office or school, surmounted by white-dominated splats that to the left outline, in the same haphazard way that combines the randomly imprecise and the decisive, a thrusting vertical form, tapered at the centre, extending beyond the canvas like a close up of a hyperboloid tower. To the right is an arc of apparent abandon around a void that nonetheless counterpoises the overall architecture forcefully. It turns out that this thoroughly designed arrangement was obtained by placing what had been used as a palette on the canvas. It was later judged to have whatever qualities necessary to remain as a work â€“ the qualities I just tried to enumerate above.
And itâ€™s these qualities that are key here, not the process by which they have been achieved, which may be misleading. Chance is used not as a privileged game for its own end. Results are not accepted regardless, and what is seen is a decision that originates in the artistâ€™s eye, no matter at which stage she chooses to employ it, before or after the laying down of the paint.
Yet the presence of chance is a visible subtext. There is not often a direct touch; we are a little disoriented in terms of sensing the origins of what our eyes address, so the process is indeed analogous to the painted image.
What we do feel is something caught. That something is a dynamic and not an object, something of great movement and energy, but there is no rhetoric of effort. Within the allowed coalescing of layers and elements, which may involve some time, there is then a certain economy and compression, centering in on a moment. We arrive at energy, presence, completeness, and the final figures appear to have just arrived, under their own steam, fresh out of nowhere, sometimes singing. This energy, willed with discretion and openness though also discrimination, amounts to a voice. One which allows the work to have its own presence, within a certain control, and perhaps stands back a touch, if only to let the painting come forward a little more.
What structure does mess have? And what expression of that might then be found useful for a painting? One more description: on a pre-printed canvas, this time a surface that certainly was found, the above dialectics are rehearsed on a new level. The found background is a roughly pixelated, finely patterned screen of naturalistic elements, probably digitally generated and brightly printed. It has a neat border of white. Itâ€™s hard to focus on, because of its own nature and that of what has been placed on top. On it has been applied, with what appears to be a certain glee, a morass of smudged acrylic and spray-paint.
The contrasts between background and foreground; form and mess; composition and sheer smear; materiality, space and music are even starker here. That they yet find a stronger resolution, with, at one glance, a look of a childâ€™s playing, and the next, an ocean of blue paint forms authoritatively dominating its territory like the continents on a colonial map, and any other reading you may care to find in between, gives the clue as to where the real painterâ€™s approach and presence may lie, both right on the surface swiftly moving in front of your eyes, and also right off, afar, and outside, watching you watching it, allowing it all to take place.