Floating Colour | Reinhard Ermen

 | 1998 | Translation by Inge Goodwin

A first attempt at a verbal approach seems a trifle feeble: Her paintings are monochrome.That tells you everything, and very little, quite apart from the fact that the shock once associated with that term is long past. To work thus (in monochrome) has, since the 50s at the very latest, become one of the 20th century’s standard means of artistic expression, and by now tells you about as much as „abstract” or „representational”. Formulations such as these only become meaningful in connection with the corresponding conception and – to use a hackneyed platitude – what matters is not what you do but how you do it, and what it signifies. So, to try again: Her paintings are monochrome; how does she do them?

In the late ’80s the essentials of Ines Hock’s painting down to the present day were emerging: massive surfaces built up of several layers of paint, laid down by a one-way action of the painter. The mass of colour was swept horizontally across the canvas. In the beginning it was acrylic paint, later oil increasingly took over. This concise, almost dour statement came slightly curved, like a segment of an outsize LP disc: the visible part of an imaginary circular movement which the painter’s arm had, so to speak.animated. A special predilection for tall format, still valid today.was especially striking at that time, where the curved horizontal was set against that format. The mass of colour thus appeared as though cut to the format out ofa large continuum. The substratum made a good substantial alliance with the sculptural accretion of a colour laid down in several layers; the colour projected from the wall into the room itseff.

From about 1994 Ines Hock’s work undergoes a slight change of emphasis.The paint continues to be biult up, but the shade is a summing up of several differentiated layers. The single-minded solidity which previously struck the observer has given way to a beautiful obscurity.The slightly curved horizontal increasingly loses itself in a web of horizontal and vertical layers. The colour no longer stands up, it floats, even apart from the fact that layers saturated with size or glaze at times give a gloss to the paint which further distances the actual shade. This is not in the least to draw up a profit-and-loss account: there are simply changes which by their growth drjve other qualities into the background, the fruitful loss of paintings still show the same handwriting; but now, to take an example, a red work carries a hint of a colder concentrate beneath the surface, and altogether, submerged layers occasionally form pools of colour which yet fit into the general monochrome effect.

Such „pictures” (the term in a way obsolete, yet it still holds for easel painting, for paintings in general), such works demand a completely different visual approach from the viewer. Colour-concentrated painting like Ines Hock’s, be it a sculptured mass or a summarising monochrome, fundamentally requires an exploring contemplation, which a sen-sation-sated contemporary cannot always muster; for the works up to ca. 1994 it needed more of a focused immediate view. True, even in the gently curved horizontals there were nuances to be discovered, which in the play of light and shadow were continually revealing: but the colour was there, the painter’s gesture unambiguous. The material excited first the feelings and then the brain (which does not imply a hierarchy of perception).The colour-layered pic tures, on the other hand, bring the time element into prominence in quite a different way. It is not simply the time spent in exploratory contemplation, but rather the passage of time conveyed by the picture. In other respects Ines Hock’s more recent pictures do not express a new departure. The natural difference in visualization between the works before and after l994 – possibly overstressed here.for there is no absolute frontier between the two procedures – this difference resembles that between prime painting and accumulated coloured layers (instead of up to 10 as before, there are now usually more than 20) brings in another time element – or, to use Gerd Schütte’s designa tion, „The Slow Pace of the Pictures”* becomes crucial.

As Ines Hock documents the growth of her works pretty precisely, one can reconstruct very well what happens in the course of half a year.Take, for instance, one work produced in 1994, i.e. at (the beginning of the intensive colour-layered paintings. It is a „typical” tall-format, finished – meaning sealed off with its final topcoat – on 28 September 1994.The final colour effect could be described, necessarily imprecisely but adequately, as bluish-violet. It was begun on 1.3.1994 with Indian yellow, which continued to be built up until 1.4. (several layers applied.with drying-out periods in between). On 14.4. green (slaked with linseed oil) is superimposed, on 19.4. pink, and on 28.4. a dark mixture of orange, permanent green and indigo.The condition is then stabilised on 6.5. with madder glaze and cobalt (both light), and on 17.5. whitish-yellow is applied. On 25.5. a green glaze is rubbed in, and on 6.6. a pink glaze. After this the work is left for about two months, and then the 18.8. sees the beginning of a final build-up, in 3 layers, of ultra-marine-violet, white, phthalic green, cobalt blue and ultramarine red, up to the 28.9.1994. Now this developmental history is not the same as the time experience of the viewer face to face with this picture, but: The colour grows! and one’s mind can follow that process. The physical appeal (the gut feeling) should be all the greater for this enumeration, yet through glazing and rubbing in, complementary contrasting layers, the material monochrome is subsumed by floating (also monochrome) summation, whose creative triumph lies in that pinch of uncertainty that has lodged in the multi-layered surface of the colour.

The time spent on the picture, here made tangible by the pictorial history diary which Ines Hock recorded for the archive on a kind of file card, can also diversify into Space: in place of the time experience the observer gets from a picture the experience of the space. Now though Ines Hock is primarily a painter whose work is focused in the classic sense on easel paintings, she does at times make excursions into other media – sometimes works on paper, which is in any case naturally close to easel painting, but on occasion she enters room space, fitting her painting to a wall on site or, in the case considered next, on to the ceiling. The „Moltkerei” in Cologne (situated on the Moltkestrasse, hence the name) is a venue primarily catering for performance art. Sometimes this extends to actual painting, though the installations have to fit in with the ephemeral customs of the house. In 1996 Ines Hock achieved a wall space there, or rather a ceiling space, spreading her procedure of layered painting over a whole surface area.This took the form of a sequence of narrow stripes, a reflection of the floorboards.These ceiling stripes unsystematically juxtaposed dark brown, dark blue, yellow, ochre and salmon-pink. So what was visible on the ceiling was a succession of nar row stripes, swelling or shrinking according to the saturation of paint on the brush, flowing areas of colour. These corresponded, not only as regards orientation, to the characterful markings of the floorboards. Superimposed, in a lengthy painting progress, they would have produced an ambiguous reddish-brown shade summarising the floor. The observer fortunate enough to enter this installation during its brief fortnight at the Moltkerei found himself as it were in the middle of a picture, at his feet a possible summing-up, above his head the sentively arranged stripes which had not yet experienced the time-experience of layering.

Monochrome serves as the model, it is present as a possibility, as the distance between heads and feet. The painting gives a lead, the viewer can build on that and relish this late successor of the classic painting as a sophisticated experience.

* „Die Langsamkeit der Bilder”, exhibition (6.3. – 9.5.98) and catalogue, Galerie Schütte, Essen, 1998