Turning Insides Out
Further Notes on the Work of Kate Waters
By Gerhard Charles Rump
It is one of the great misconceptions to think that the impressionists really caught a momentary impression of nature and recreated it on canvas. Nobody can paint so fast to achieve that. The movement of the sun across the sky is much too swift, the situation of light and shade changes much too soon for any artist to reproduce a single moment. What the impressionists put on canvas were images representative of an impression, but composed of momentary recognitions and cognitive experiences. Their paintings constitute documents of visual experience, and that is what made their art so different from that of their predecessors. The impression lies in the eyes of the beholder, initiated by a certain way of painting, which stresses the interaction of light as colour and the painterly abbreviation of figural representation. Impressionism is painting, the production of images, not an attempt at recreating real moments like snapshot photography.
It is a great danger of every period to interpret the artistic past in terms of new, modern experience. So Carl Justi, a great art historian of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries in Germany, saw Velázquez's work with eyes overwhelmed by the experience of impressionism, which misled him. Velázquez may be judged to be the greatest painter in history, but he was far from anything like impressionism. Eye-deceiving techniques of painters like Velázquez, in whose work a dry stroke of black with the brush will appear like black see-through silk, or, as it were, Rembrandt, where the reflection of light turns, if seen at close distance, just to be a dot of yellowish white oil paint, should not be mixed up with any artistic -ism. They had a different starting point and different goals, their way of thinking was completely different, which doesn't devaluate their contribution to the history of art at all. It is only that we should try to do them justice - and not only to them, but also to the others, like the impressionists.
If we so say that it is the visual that counts, we must also do justice to the great and impressive work of Kate Waters. Of course she uses photographs for her paintings. Franz von Lenbach (1836-1904) and Franz von Stuck (1863-1928) did that. And there is evidence that Edgar Degas did it, too. So the use of photographs as a starting point, be it in a material way or in the way of the angle of vision or both, is nothing new in the history of art. It has long become a commodity. The camera has taken over, at least partly, the rôle of the sketchbook, and quite rightly so in an age that moves so fast that one has difficulties following things happening. For Kate Waters the photographs are just this: A sketch of a situation which is then turned into a painting. She starts with grisailles of the photographic sketch, where first decisions of what to stress and what to subdue (or suppress) are taken, then the colours are painted over the grisaille, and in that process of creating a visual image, further big decisions can be and definitely are taken. Kate Waters doesn't imitate, she creates.
That her paintings are near to the visual experience of photography is the knack: Attracted we are by a very familiar look only to find that we erred and find ourselves in front of the once familiar and again most modern visual experience: a creative visual, a painting. We are confronted with a vast quantity of new creative painting, of fresh yet valuable visual interpretations of the world, of everyday life, of special situations. Like in impressionist paintings, these are carefully composed and, however fleeting the situation caught in the images may appear at first glance, we soon sense that we are entering a world of quiet contemplation, where all movement has come to a halt and where we are kept in admiration of the way all representation turns into painting. The movement of a car in a street at night, something everyone of us remembers rather vividly, is replaced by a visual movement of paint on canvas, and what we know as black night isn't black at all, it has turned blue and still retains the quality of the late hours.
This is different from Velázquez' silk scarf, as the Spanish Old Master was playing a virtuoso painterly trick in a certain context of representation. In Kate Waters painting and its modalities are the subject and the context, but only one of at least two contexts, which are synergetically combined in Kate Waters' work. The other is, just like in the work of all artists, life. There are artists like HA Schult who do not produce paintings but prefer to create images in the heads of people by having their "actions", like placing 1000 life-size sculptures of human figures made from trash on the Great Wall, in front of the Pyramids, or round the Stellisee above Zermatt near the Matterhorn - but still they, and Schult does so too, explicitly stress the point that they are concerned with life. In this way, Kate Waters is part of the venerable tradition of all art.
It may be seen as traditional or elitist to produce canvases, which can be hung on the wall and be looked at any time one wants to. But this is an irrelevant and inadequate argument, as Kate Waters isn't any less progressive as HA Schult, Bruce Nauman, Bill Viola or others. The advantage of an artist like Kate Waters is that she both creates painted images and images in the head. Her images are so strong that they live quite happily inside our heads, inside our memory, and, like anything that's there, they are active, working, and influencing our way of looking at things. The "musée imaginaire" inside or heads is a place humming with activity, and the paintings of Kate Waters have already proven to be some of the most fervent agents in this ongoing process.
continued page 2 >>
Galerie Voss, Düsseldorf