Cheerful and Focused – Skadi Engeln surprises with extremely sensitive landscape paintings
Thundry skies hang over an intensely green landscape. The horizon blurs in an indefinite distance. Smears of colour lie on top of each other like thin silk scarves and finally evolve into a tone with many levels.
Spaces of colour open up in Skadi Engeln’s painting. They begin with memories of real landscapes yet reach far beyond, to an imaginary depth that is always unpopulated. People only rarely appear in this artist’s paintings. Space is the dominating theme – and how space again and again reconstructs itself in and with colour. Sometimes all shapes dissolve completely. Perspectives that have been hinted at disappear in a patched field. These paintings – like the artist’s impressions from a walk along the Way of St. James in Spain – are never just an account of what she has seen and experienced. She is not interested in describing what she has looked at but in the impressions that have grown through her observations and emotions.
Those spaces don’t allow narratives. However, they are flooded with life. This is mainly a result of Skadi’s sensitivity when composing colour tones. The evolving levels avoid sharp contrasts or minimize them with the help of blurred contours. Bright patterns spread over a dark background, floating in a delicate balance rather than melting together. Skadi’s sense of colour and her skillfulness when working with wide ranging colour spectra allow her to build up tension that captivates the viewer. At the same time the paintings convey a cheerful, serene calm.
When there are living things in the paintings, they are mostly animals like giraffes and cows. They appear to be relaxed, look at the observer indifferently and slowly meander through the picture. The worlds in Skadi’s paintings appear to present a counterweight to frantic life in the city where the artist lives. You will find nothing of the pace of the modern metropolis in “Landscape with Water and Clouds”. These paintings are far removed from nervous, hectic, aggressive life in urban centers, often described as “a life out of balance”.
On the few occasions when a tiny bit of reality has forced itself into the creative process, it usually manifests itself in a poetic form. In the series “Space between” Skadi describes her encounter with parents whose daughter had been killed by their son. It seemed to her as if the father was carrying a block of ice inside – sharp-edged, uncooperative and dangerously cold. While painting, she turned this block of ice into a boat that floats on water, “the symbol of somebody who is carried by the flow, a symbol of life and the transition to death” (Skadi Engeln). This series of paintings calls to mind the Greek mythology of Hades and the river Styx, which separates earth from the underworld; a connection is drawn between present real-life tragedies and Greek mythology.
However, Skadi Engeln rarely develops a theme in such a concrete way. Most of her works are close to complete abstraction.
Ever since art has thrown off the corset of representation, artists have followed different paths of abstraction. The spectrum includes nervous post-war Scratchings of Wols as well as Hard-Edge painting by Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko’s meditative pictures.
Rothko moved away from representational art and created flourishing tones and fields of colour, most of them dark. After World War II, representational art – already weakened by the success of photography – had come to its end. Western postmodern concepts rejected representation completely. It was considered important to prove to those promoting figurative art in the East that a free spirit was prevalent on the Western side of the Iron Curtain. Representation was considered suspicious, because it was presumed to be connected to Socialist ideology. At the same time, artists like De Kooning and Rauschenberg created abstract expressionism and for the first time developed a dominant style that was able to hold its own against art from self-confident Europe.
Nowadays the doctrine of abstraction has lost its dominance. Slightly surreal, neo-figurative art has been extremely successful in the last few years, and often this art appears to have something of an Eastern charm. As always in the history of art, landscape painting remained on the edges, with exceptions like William Turner, Claude Monet and Karl Hagemeister. However, even the works of Turner and Monet show how they moved away from representation and towards fields of colour. From here we can draw a line to Skadi Engeln’s highly differentiated levels of colour.
Skadi’s paintings are captivating because they are clear and unambiguous. Her pictures are like open rooms that breath independently and don’t need justification by trends, tradition or the history of arts. They manifest the painter’s awareness of her own artistic position. They float somewhere between complete abstraction and a hint of representation. As is the case with the work of Mark Rothko, forms dissolve to become a whole. This draws the observer into the picture with a meditative pull. However, contrary to the work of Rothko, who committed suicide in 1970, Skadi Engeln’s paintings always carry a touch of joy and lightness. This even applies to those paintings that could be interpreted to show rain falling on a landscape. The suspension in Skadi’s work does not have its origin in the threat of disaster, like Rothko’s late pictures. It has its foundation in a lyrical, poetic interpretation of the world and its landscapes. In spite of their abstraction, these paintings have profound depth and focus. This allows the painter to follow her very own, abstract path.
Skadi Engeln was born in the German town of Aachen in 1966. From 1990 to 1995 she studied sculpture with Robert van de Laar at arts college in Ottersberg. She also studied painting with Michael Kohr and Hermanus Westendorp.. She has been working as a freelance artist since 1995 and presented her works at numerous solo and group exhibitions. Since 2008 Skadi is a member of BBK (Association of Fine Artists) in Berlin, where she lives and works.
by Richard Rabensaat
translated by Sigrun Rottmann