Base and Awesome
Conversation between Katharina Grosse, a Birmingham based artist working with acrylic applied with a spray gun and Jonathan Watkins, Director of the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham.
Katharina Grosse Installation at Ikon, 2002
Watkins came across Katharina Grosse’s work for the first time in 1997. Her work was paper based at this point but later after visiting her studio, it came to his acknowledgement that Grosse was embarking on a bigger challenge. Grosse had started spray painting directly onto walls. In 2002, Ikon Gallery in Birmingham invited the artists to her first show in which the entire space would be hers.
Ikon Gallery is a traditional building with plenty of varied angles forcing Grosse’s work to gain a sculptural quality. Katharina Grosse explains that her work is not planned but the ‘criteria and the ideas would emerge whilst doing the work’ along with the decision of what colours to use. The combination of the structure of the space and the spontaneous nature to the work makes the painting very site specific. Katharina Grosse’s first spray painting was in Switzerland in Kunsthalle Bern, after visiting the space she became “drawn up to the corner of the room” and questioned whether she could spray up there, even though she hadn’t done much spray painting. Previously she had only painted with a brush, limiting the amount of movement within a big space. Katharina says that her first sprays started with one colour, eventually she began to use more colours-
“It was really interesting that when I was spraying, the funny thing that came about was that the wall was covered with paint but at the same time the structure of the wall was revealed. I discovered also that I could connect spaces really easily and move really easily with the spray gun and ignore certain architectural limitations, which I can’t when I show canvas paintings.”
Katharina Grosse’s work is non-figurative and abstract just as the avant-garde artists of the Abstract Expressionists work from the 40’s are. Grosse’s work is still about something, it is the place and the experience, it is a painting and a sculpture. The finish to the paintings are matt and in places thicker than others often where the paint has dripped, this variation gives the piece greater texture as the wall becomes more visible in thinner area’s “as if you have blown dust against it and that tends to make the wall more visible.” The artist uses bright, fluorescent and metallic paints which sit on the surfaces differently, Grosse explained that this flared from a interest in how others apply paint to the surface, “when you use a paintbrush you actually cover what you paint.” Up until now, the artist has only painted on white surfaces but explains that she views this surface as a painting itself, at the Ikon she had thought about painting the space in a light pink in order to give a different atmosphere that would contrast with its historical features. It is obvious that her colour scheme is a important factor in her work, it is defined by the space, the source of light, the amount of white and also Katharina’s mood at the present time. Initially, the artist was strict on her use of colour, telling herself that once using one colour she couldn’t use it again. However, she was a “little helpless” when at Ikon and painted over things which she considered “wrong”. Katharina started painting on paper and canvas and says that she has been trying to find a way to combine both her smaller and larger works, however its success relies greatly on the space and in most circumstances, the work is stronger when separated.
Katharina Grosse- Two Younger Women Come In And Pull Out a Table, 2013
acrylic on latex balloons, canvas, fabric, soil and styrofoam / 4600x3300x2700 cm / 245x327x480 cm /Tilburg / interior
Katharina Grosse- Third Man Begins Digging Through Her Pockets, 2012
Acrylic on wall / 1206x1100x944 cm / Cleveland / interior
Katharina Grosse- Untitled, 2004
Acrylic on wall, floor and various objects / approx. 110 x 177 x 157
Katharina Grosse’s more recent work show a greater exploration with the space itself, ‘Two Younger Woman Come In And Pull Out A Table’ pictured above show a painted form in a blank industrial space. The paint and the circular balls work together to create a new form which when put together in a large quantity challenge size and colour relation. In other works, Grosse has painted onto a familiar space, for example a bedroom (pictured above) or a living room, questioning its relevance in the space, does it work with it or against it? ‘Untitled’ creates a destructive atmosphere due to Grosse’s use of colour that is not as bright as other works. Her decisions on her work rely on the space, in this case the space is messy, unlike the white cube space and this is reflected in the thick application of paint that is heavily dripping and dark in colour. The artists exploration in application creating varied texture is something interesting about her work, spray paint has a matt finish that is smooth. The natural quality to the paint has been highlighted in ‘Two Younger Women Come In And Pull Out a Table, 2013’ and fought against in ‘Untitled, 2004’. Another interesting thing about Katharina Grosse is the placement of her work, ‘Third Man Begins Digging Through Her Pockets, 2012’ pictured above shows the differences of the work visually when views from different angles. The modernist building with glass windows allows the viewer to see the work from outside the space, from this view the piece looses its texture and highlights its colour appearing almost as lights. In other cases, Grosse has placed her work outdoors, away from a ‘typical’ art space, this creates a image of sculpture more so than painting.