Kerstin Kartscher

Galerie Giti Nourbakhsch

Doodle or drawing? Kerstin Kartscher's work combines the pleasures of both. The German artist, who resides in London and Berlin, has used a rather paltry set of tools—three magic markers (red, black, and blue) and two fluorescent pens (orange and yellow)—to produce a series of fantastic landscapes on paper that could almost be the efforts of an idle temp talking on the phone or an amateur artist trying to master the human figure. Even the spelling mistakes in the checklist seem to augment the work's dilettantish, almost kitsch appeal. Whatever Kartscher's intentions or methods, the exhibition (wryly titled “A Holiday Unwasted”) demonstrates that a complex utopian vision can emerge from even the most common office supplies.

What does utopia look like? At first glance, Kartscher's images—stormy seas, crystal mountains, musical notes, playing cards, giant eagles—seem to recall cover art for rock albums from the '70s and '80s, like those of ELO and Styx, who revived macho romanticism with synthesizers and electric guitars. Kartscher's dreamy landscapes are inhabited exclusively by women, appropriately decked out in ballet slippers or sporting wispy, feathered bangs. While these heroines may dress like damsels in distress, they command their hostile environments with an ease and aplomb that makes heroes superfluous, if not unwanted.

Take Flow and Arrest of Thoughts, 2001. A lone woman in a long robe slouches in an antique chair, coolly strumming an acoustic guitar. She remains impervious to the turbulent red sea that surrounds her and crashes on a rocky shoreline—complete with gigantic chains and a geyser spouting birdhouses. In The History of Architecture, 2001, another woman, on her knees, slaves over architectural drawings, a trusty box purse at her side; she works at the foot of a castle staircase, near a wavy sea with gliding swans, floating musical notation, and a volcano shooting out light beams. A wall drawing, Ice Skater, 2001, features a woman skating with her eyes dosed in the middle of a barren plateau. Although an oversize eagle threatens to swoop down and pluck her from the ice, she appears as placid and immovable as the mountains that surround her. By placing realistically rendered women into fantastic settings, Kartscher seems to suggest that women are no longer passive objects of fantasy but have become its active creators. Indeed, the landscapes could double as their dreams, thoughts, or nightmares.

Beyond the figurative details, Kartscher evidently takes pleasure in exploring the possibilities of line. Her preference for common marking pens appears to be a challenge to see just how much a line can accomplish without any technical extras—a welcome approach in an era of big art productions. Whether adding repetitive, almost obsessive details (the waves in a sea) or forming vast landscapes (a crystal mountain range), Kartscher moves easily from the small detail to the big picture, combining the perspective of a bud with that of a bug. While these works have the familiarity of kitsch, they hold many surprises for eyes willing to take time for closer inspection. The only thing missing is the music.

Jennifer Allen