Her subtle canvases are conversations – between colours, between shapes and most importantly between herself and the ever evolving canvas in front of her. Interviewed for the Turner Prize, she explained, “I start with nothing really… I make no sketches before I start painting. I paint directly onto the canvas” (Tomma Abts in conversation with Jan Vorwoert in: Tate, Untitled, 2006, video, 0:53). Each canvas is, therefore, the organic process of trial and error, built up over multiple layers and many sittings. Working on more than one work at a time, canvases can take years of reflection to complete. There is only one rule that Abt’s brings to her practice: size. Each canvas is consistently sized at 48 by 38 centimetres. By continually returning to the same artistic arena, her focus centres much more strongly on the space inside the canvas. Like a scientist keeping a constant, it forces experimentation. For the viewer, it allows us to single-mindedly focus our attention on her creative process.
In Zaarke, Abt’s paintbrush carves out jagged bands of colour that seem violent, almost aggressive if it wasn’t for their delicacy. Rendered in deep hues of maroon and red, they form painterly incisions into the depth of the canvas that play with our sense of perception while drawing attention to inherent flatness of painting. Shapes are overlapped and intertwined, oscillating between foreground and background. Like a chessboard, this complex constellation of shapes and colours organically changes as she works. It is in this status of flux that the works acquires its energy, and more, its mystery.
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