Colourpainting
Dr. Barbara Rollmann-Borretty

Maria Wallenstål-Schoenberg's new paintings are a meld of relationships. What the viewer first becomes aware of is the predominance of irregular, spherical forms. Their positioning on the canvas indicates that they are integral to a system of references. Then the relationships between the colours strike the viewer. And further examination reveals that there is more and more to discover in the paintings. The eye moves on, studying the edges where the spherical forms touch, noting the rich tonal gradation and the handling of the multi-layered paint surfaces. All of this creates a subtle interplay of relationships where no individual element can be isolated. The relationship of the elements to one another and to the composition as a whole produces a matrix of seemingly endless associations. This is a key element in the paintings.

Wallenstål-Schoenberg is, basically, an artist with a traditionally conservative approach. She leaves nothing to chance – every brushstroke is well thought out, tried and tested. Yet the final result conveys precisely the opposite impression. The works are weightless, bright and visually communicative. There is no outward evidence of technical expertise or demonstration of her artistic thinking – but the presence of both can be felt.

Impressionists and post-Impressionists like Monet and Cézanne adopted something of a similar approach. Over a century ago artists, battling for innovation, concentrated on their subjective vision, combining sheer determination with artistic techniques. If we look at a Cézanne still life of apples and compare it to one of Wallenstål-Schoenberg's later works, it is easy to see what the paintings have in common. The reduction of form leads to greater intensity in execution. A number of the still lifes of her early, naturalistic period display a similar reduction of forms.

But of course Impressionism, a period as firmly embedded in our cultural heritage as modernism, is not her only source. And modernism – probably one of the most fertile periods of renewal and change in the history of art – is itself a major source of a great many of today's artistic and intellectual developments.

Wallenstål-Schoenberg has good reason to reference the work of one of the modernist masters – Johannes Itten, an exponent of colour-contrast theory. She produces complementary and simultaneous contrasts much along the lines of Itten's teaching. This brings tension and vibrancy to paintings that emanate harmony and strength. The growing intensity of optical effects produces a subtle but effective impression on the viewer. The thinking behind this particular legacy of Bauhaus teaching led to Concrete Art and to Colour Field painting. Wallenstål-Schoenberg is indebted to these schools. Even in her early, naturalistic work abstract tendencies are evident. In her first purely abstract works she set out to arrange space geometrically in a series of wall-objects. However, sculptural and conceptual concerns gave way to an increasing preoccupation with painting. She began to juxtapose areas of colour and abandoned the hard edges of geometrical objects in favour of softer contours. Her paintings developed from sharp-edged geometrical perfection into painterly objects in which colouristic effect dominated.

In her Colour Field paintings she experimented with the use of diffuse contours and solid areas of colour, and in other work with the flat-colour surfaces of Hard Edge painting. But her priority has always been the interaction between areas of colour and securing the maximum effect from colour contrast. She has consistently pursued these aims. It has led her to confront the challenge of the questions raised by Colour Field painting where form and colour serve as a radical framework.

Her adoption of oil painting about two years ago was a logical step. She had exhausted the potential of acrylics. In her recent work, her paintings have acquired new optical impact. The canvases breathe. The colour segments and forms, applied with a narrow palette knife, have an organic integrity. Even in her earlier work with its debt to Hard Edge painting, the blocks of colour developed irregular, spherical shapes resembling a square with the corners trimmed. In her oil paintings the spherical forms assume something of a sculptural character. They seem to differentiate between an 'inner life' and a 'skin'. Their edges are heavily accentuated, emphasizing the material quality of the oil paint. They define the outer limits of forms and where the forms touch, evoke their relationship with one another and their melding potential.

In the oils, the role of the ground is equally important. She handles it very carefully, building it up in delicate, semi-transparent layers in soft, pale tones. Her grounds recall the subtle flesh tones created by painters like Rubens, Renoir and Lucien Freud. The ground provides the essential backdrop for the main elements of the image and underlines its organic integrity.

Wallenstål-Schoenberg's new work can be interpreted as an expression of the search for the ultimate form in painting. Symbolic in content, her work contrasts interaction with separation and equality with making distinctions – two of life's fundamental dichotomies.

Dr. Barbara Rollmann-Borretty
December 2008