Caroline Bachmann, Nuages reflet (Cloud Reflection), 2021, oil on canvas, 15 3⁄4 × 11 3⁄4".

Caroline Bachmann, Nuages reflet (Cloud Reflection), 2021, oil on canvas, 15 3⁄4 × 11 3⁄4".

Caroline Bachmann

Caroline Bachmann started painting Lake Geneva and the surrounding mountains from the vantage point of her studio almost a decade ago, setting the landscape in frame-like openings within the composition. She lifted the device from the American painter “discovered” by Marcel Duchamp in 1917, Louis Michel Eilshemius, who often painted frames around his naturalistic scenes. Bachmann’s outlines are wonkier than Eilshemius’s, and those that contoured the depictions of ridge, lake, and sky in her exhibition “Nine Landscapes, Two Portraits, and One Candy Bar” resembled the windows of planes or trains, sometimes warped and often in shades of red—and yet the scenes did not appear to be passing by in a whoosh. The sense of a still as seen from a moving vehicle is nevertheless apt because, while Bachmann’s repeated portrayal of her alpine view appears artificially frozen, these paintings were concerned with the passage of time.

This course of time refers in part to the history of painting. Negotiating that inheritance is a primary driver of Bachmann’s work, as well as of her pedagogical practice as head of the painting and drawing department at Geneva University of Art and Design. As indicated by this exhibition’s inventory-like title, Bachmann takes classical painting genres as the basis for an experimentation grounded in repetition. Her landscapes by moonlight and at dawn, the focal point of the show, are strategically generic, recalling the uniformity of depictions of the region by artists who traveled to Switzerland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The simple and subtly peculiar shapes that comprise these loosely symmetrical compositions, however, make Bachmann’s paintings immediately intriguing. Take Nuages reflet (Cloud Reflection), 2021, for instance: A thin black wriggling outline contains a trail of rounded cloudlike forms that are scattered across the canvas like bread crumbs or clunky punctuation marks, their irregularity accentuated by gray gradating to pink in layers of translucent glaze. An oblong belt shape—the hazy silhouette of a mountain ridge melded with its cragged reflection—cinches the center of the canvas. Bachmann arrives at these forms from hasty sketches made in the liminal hours before night turns to day, annotating her pencil drawings of moon hitting water or wind pushing clouds with notes indicating shifts in color. She transposes these amorphous shapes onto the canvas and illuminates them in a synthetic palette. While initiated in direct observation, her paintings are not representations of reality but, instead, depictions of the process of perceiving it.

Since 2014, Bachmann has been painting portraits of women artists in her community, using a similar methodology. Mai-Thu Perret, 2021, and Emilie Ding, 2019, punctuated this exhibition. In these, the artist is explicitly concerned with addressing portraiture as a genre designed to reinforce patriarchal power structures. The heroic masculinity associated with pictorial representations of the Alps, also historically painted almost exclusively by men, is certainly a subtext in her landscapes, too. But ultimately Bachmann’s repetitive, almost durational investigation of pictorial genres becomes a way to supplant their representational function in favor of an understanding of painting as a mechanism for marking time. A just-perceptible melancholy lies behind these works’ measured guardedness. So does a sense of the insomniac artist up before dawn’s blue hour, reassured perhaps by the world’s daily rhythms—regular, miraculous—and by a persistent illumination, however faint. But lest things get sentimental, Bachmann throws a Mars bar into the mix, labeling a fiery orange mass hovering in a painterly brown expanse with the chocolate’s iconic red-and-yellow logo. Mars, 2021, could be a signal not to take anything too seriously, a reminder that painting’s purview reaches far beyond reassessed genre to encompass the likes of a planetary pun.