Elke Denda

Johnen + Schöttle

We should not be misled by the lively, cheerful appearance of Elke Denda’s work. Though she likes Mondrian, Matisse, and Sigmar Polke, she has also been decisively influenced by her teacher at the Düsseldorf academy, Fritz Schwegler, whose work has been summed up by Luk Lambrecht as “an intimate work that looks like a strangely plastic reflection of a diary.” The basic features of Denda’s oeuvre are personal signs; simple colors and patterns; schematized observations of nature; stylized, minimalist painting; and observations of the past as well as the world of childhood. Most of these characteristics can be found in her recurring motif of the toadstool. She has said, “The fungus motif touches the heart of my work: it is naive and beautiful, it evokes associations with our childhood, but its tempting appearance is at the same time very treacherous and dangerous [to life].”

There were three silk-screen paintings in this exhibition—a frog/insect pattern in green and blue; a fish/seahorse in yellow and blue; and a squirrel in white, brown, and russet—and they constitute an exception in an oeuvre that is largely hand made. Is there a reason why the artist makes the meaning of ornament so central? In Denda’s case, there is something anxiety-provoking about the orderly, the almost pedantic way this issue is handled. Only the large ball seems to have a will of its own; its execution is no less orderly, but its size seems absurd, and its position makes it seem as if it is about to start moving. Motion would challenge the calm, seemingly endless treatment—the serial character—with which the artist tries to satisfy strict, formal rules (traditional unities of color and form); and thereby include her own experiences over and around this work. But then again, I realize that we should investigate the characteristics of the self and then charge them with the experiences of the other (the outside world). Does the ball want to roll? Probably not. Can one blame Denda? No doubt it is a basic misunderstanding: our conception of paradise is the opposite of remote. Or else I’m merely perplexed by the strict asceticism demonstrated here in both attitude and painting, for attitude and painting form a perfect unity in this work.

Jutta Koether

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.