Dancing Around the Middle

Anna Ballestrem

Dörte Kraft’s pictures usually have no start, and no end either. The appearance conveyed is one of a continual rotation around a central point, a circle interrupted – some times more abruptly, at other times less so. Again and again, the lines form snails, whirls and vortexes as the immense, complex universes of the artist unfold like kaleidoscopes on oversized canvases into unique worlds.

While most of Kraft’s pictures are enormous in terms of proportion, it does seem that the twodimensional canvas does not suffice for her. With self-confidence and vigour, she applies the colours in a thick impasto style in relief to the canvas. In her more recent pieces, she has enriched the paintings by adding sand and lightly iridescent glass granules in order to effect a spatial dimension to the painterly efforts and achieve a penetration into space.

The works by the artist, who was born in Berlin in 1966, can be divided into geometrically representational pieces and gestural abstract painting. Her nonrepresentational gestural paintings, created in the informal tradition, have a highly detached and bountiful effect. They are darker in terms of their colouring and impress through their fathomless, intoxicating energy.

It is as though one could almost divide the pieces into Dionysian and Apollonian works. For while some of them are so free and tumultuous, others seem so structured and clear – in their colouring as well. And with these pieces, Dörte Kraft initially accords them a large ordering form: A bird, a star, a circular system from which the image then continues to “grow” associatively to a certain extent. In the course of this, with the assistance of circles and stencils, she divides the pictures in a highly systematic manner into countless spheres which, in turn, are then arranged and structured anew. And from this shimmering pool of abstract expanses brimming with spirals, circles, waves and lines, objectively representational figures suddenly emerge.

The shapes and symbols are usually familiar: Mandalas, columbas, astrological signs or Aesculapius’ staffs. And again and again the single vigorous human figure – archaic, bald-headed and faceless – who has to overcome something; whose bearing is strained, tense or in motion.

All of this usually manifests itself within the optical flickering of sparkling, colourful refulgence. Again and again these fine rays emerge in all colour variations and strengths literally as a leitmotiv and usher light into the pictures.

On the one hand it seems that Kraft wants to make waves and force fields – or in other words levels hidden from the naked eye – visible here, while on the other hand these are formal references to the abstract relationship of colour and light and the ornamentation of Op Art.

The pictures presuppose a viewer in motion, one capable of inferring en passant the interweaving colour nuances and their interplay – just like the birefringent crystals in the mirrors of the kaleidoscope. And this virtual movement implies a phenomenon fundamental to Kraft: Time.

Dörte Kraft’s pictures address the topic of time. A certain temporal progression is implied in the images through the comprehensibly protracted painting process – due to the detail and refinement – and the endless layers and levels. It permits new objects and perspectives to be experienced almost physically through discovery.

The subject is however also to be found in the motifs, and especially in the repeatedly occurring snail shapes. Not only do the snails symbolise sensitivity, but also slowness, deliberateness. On some of the pictures the snail is in fact a spiral, which is commonly regarded as a sign of the transience of everything earthly and its return in a new guise, such as with the seasons for instance.

The spiral is the entering into and the re-emerging from as a sign of death and resurrection. As with the seasons or feelings and moods, the spiral is always in motion. And just as time is an object of – and inseparable from – Kraft’s painting, progression or change is too.

She thematises these phenomena in the form of mussels, larvae or snakes, the latter which renew themselves repeatedly by shedding their skin.

On picture X 1695, the individually depicted phases of the moon even provide a framing device for a geometrically abstract arrow pattern situated over a human figure of soft earth, that is purposefully swimming forth from bright prisms of colour and into uncertain darkness.