Christa Näher

Galerie Der Stadt

This selection of 15 large-scale paintings by Christa Näher constituted the most difficult and also the most interesting portion of her oeuvre. These works, dating from 1984 to 1990, chiefly diptychs and triptychs, depict intensely dramatic scenes, somewhat resembling baroque and mannerist pictures of catastrophes. These scenes take place in darkness, at an immeasurable depth that is no longer illuminated by a neutral, reasonable light. In this terrifying darkness, only individual subjects, glowing wanly, emerge from an optical opacity—ghostly or blasphemous motifs that are penetratingly suggestive: phantom horses seen sharply from below, fleshless skulls of steers on stakes forming another Golgotha, conflagrations blurring into an indefinite distance and further darkening the murkiness.

In their long-impossible rhetoric of grand emotions, terror, and decline, such paintings, as merely naive private phantasms of an artist shaken by terrifying images, would be utterly ridiculous—if only because of their allegorical chattiness. However, Näher is a painter first and not a visionary. Rather than depicting allegorical images, her works are complex painterly traps for the eyes. She produces the allure of depth, the terror of darkness, and the terror of glowing things not by depicting them, but by giving free play to the effects of the paint. The motifs surface from an unfathomable darkness; they are picked out from the substance of darkness by an equally substantial light, a light of catastrophic matter, which is fire, flame, or burning. Thus, in the viewer’s perception, the subjects detach themselves from the surfaces and from the dark pigments.

The material aspects of the colors, the painterly aspects of their application and the surface, as well as their emotional and grandiloquent effects, all have the same value. Each of these levels, distinct in its perceptual logic, remains visible in and of itself, creating its own allegorical impact: the materiality of the canvas with its objective opacity passes into the blackness or darkness of the color, thus visibly changing into the imaginary and fictitious darkness of the apocalyptic scene. The terror of non-seeing is the flip side of a kind of seeing that kindles nothing but terror: in the scene, light is neither a medium for seeing nor a universal brightness; rather, it is a shock of illumination or revelation, an intense focusing of non-seeing and darkness into a white-hot point. Light is placeless in a darkness that brooks no orientation.

By the same token, light in these paintings is thick, chromatically intense, depicted by blurry dots or zones located on areas of darkness consisting of highly disparate, thin, and usually transparent layers of black and dark hues. Just as the opaque and semitransparent blackness cannot be identified as an optical surface, so too the blurriness makes the painterly surface melt into a hovering, unidentifiable, thick, measureless depth. And that is exactly how the canvas functions: through the thin, black strata, it remains partially visible as a placeless depth, a constant transformation from tactile, material perception into chromatic and imaginary spatial perception. The terror of pure vagueness and the vagueness of pure terror fuse into a darkness that is articulated only by the points of light: seeing is just as terrible as not seeing, the visible is just as dreadful as the invisible.

Johannes Meinhardt

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.