Ina Barfuss

Ina Barfuss is among the few West German women painters who has managed to keep a high profile in the Federal Republic since the advent of “New Painting” at the end of the ’70s. Painting in Germany is still a male domain, and the question of why this is so has yet to be satisfactorily answered. Conventional role consciousness is still more widespread in painting than in any other medium. Barfuss’ works specifically address this problem while at the same time reflecting on the more general question of the relationship between the sexes. The artist does not illustrate these relationships but instead creates pictorial codes for dependency, suppression, and also for “happiness.” At the heart of her work is the invention of a “body language” whose extreme gestures and postures suggest a contemporary “image of man/woman.” The body becomes a “symbol” whose meaning the viewer must approach associatively. Archetypal elements, religious allusions, and experiential and intellectual clichés are suggestively interwoven.

Barfuss says that her work is “concerned with ‘beautiful illusion.’ It’s about the marketing of the ‘positive man/woman’ who is constantly being foisted upon us in fashion, everyday life, and politics. My paintings are about the egoism of elegant mindlessness that determines the contemporary image of man and woman—even in art.” By addressing such issues, Barfuss has maneuvered herself into a difficult position. She tries to avoid the cynicism that is the basis of many artists’ works today, rejecting their art, which—always from a “metalevel”—affirmatively illustrates the surface but not the substance of reality. Barfuss’ paintings create a paradox: fear and desperation are coupled with cataclysmic laughter and the grotesque. Here is an apocalyptic humor that above all confronts the onanism of today’s neostyles with an attempt to introduce an immediacy into the relationship between art and experience. These works point, then, to all of the issues that contemporary art represses in order to avoid looking at reality. “Art on art,” the pathos of the “universally human”: these are the counterpoles of Barfuss’ pictures. Expressed in the pictorial language of the present, her paintings are both anxiety-inducing and liberating at the same time.

Wolfgang Max Faust

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.