Painted Distance

I paint something and I see it. (Jasper Johns)

Winter caps, shawls, and scarves present painted surfaces that form a contrast to the sharply marked contours of eyes, nose, and mouth. When Iris Schomaker calls her pictures icons, the artist does not have in mind the original significant subjects from paintings of the Middle Ages or the early modern period, but their formal qualities: icons exhibit a specific canon of gestures and facial expressions, and frontal or axial depictions are preferred. These clearly structured forms are intended to emphasize that at issue is not the depiction of reality. In purely formal terms, despite the sometimes identifiable figures, these are abstractions, if we understand the term in a rather broad sense as transference to something general by way of reduction.

Iris Schomaker’s faces, figures, and landscapes are works on abstraction using iconic forms. In this field of tension, she engages with fundamental questions of painting by combining parameters of painting, weighing them against one another: line and color, surface and space.

Her anonymous portraits, painted on wood and hung as objects on the wall, are also reminiscent of icons in their form of presentation. But the far more prominent material used as a support in her painting is paper; 2.4 meter-long rolls of paper allow for accordingly large formats. Iris Schomaker first draws the contours of her figures with coal, whereby it is characteristic of her work that the searching movements of the lines that document the path to the form sitting in format are left behind, and combine with the paint applied. The painting is in turn done using thin layers of watercolor, gouache, or acrylic with an oil varnish. If too much paint is applied, it is sanded away, wiped off, or washed away. Willem De Kooning described in his memoirs how he could spent hours, even days on a woman’s knee, “It is really is very funny to get stuck with a woman’s knee.” He here describes a process that in Iris Schomaker’s work is a significant part of the finished image, when she visibly moves her figures into position.

But while De Kooning creates (erotic) intimacy in his women’s pasteous application of paint, in his work with paint as flesh, giving the impression of being available to the touch, Iris Schomaker seeks distance. Layer for layer, she glazes veils of paint across the image. Her palette consists largely of black and white, enriched with nuances of blue and green. The images in which bathers are standing on the beach or dip in the water are not warming, the painted water is cool, colors freeze to snow. But the gender of the figures seems insignificant: they are no models whose individual, physical characteristics are translated to painting. Instead, Iris Schomaker reduces them to geometric or even ornamental signs.

Her specific application of paint, a superimposition of brushed, rubbed in, and running paint, is a work on the image surface and depth, with formulaic surfaces that structure the image, and with layers that Iris Schomaker sets in relationship to one another. This coexistence or opposition is especially impressive in her more recent landscapes. If in Rainy Mountain (2008) clear landscape formations can still be recognized through the rainy veils, contoured formations dissolve and a play with structures is translated into colorful layers in Cold Water (2009) or in Seashore Green (2009).

Iris Schomaker hangs her large format landscapes of paper directly on the wall without a frame, so that the works seem to extend across the wall and into the room. Their dimensions are dependent on the format chosen, which in turn cannot be big enough, it seems. Icons are attributed the quality of making present something that cannot be grasped with the representative character of painting, and thus forming a space. Referring to this potential, but ignoring its religious implications, Dan Flavin termed his works icons, and made an unexpected link between the reduced forms of minimal art and traditional art forms. For him at issue is not contouring an emotional space with light, but simply the fact that light intervenes in his objects in the surrounding space, changing them and restructuring them. Iris Schomaker’s works also create spaces in their presence, without a frame they demand space, they want to be seen in and with the space.

Iris Schomaker works simultaneously on various subjects, whereby in each case specific questions are central. The large format is necessary, for only then do these close ups emerge, which in contrast do not show every detail: the more close up, the more reduced they seem, and make figures into landscapes. .

In this way, visual formulas emerge in her works that link together man, landscape, and animal with one another. In so doing, she is not frightened by a subject like the horse, which has a rather poor reputation as a subject of genre painting, although a series of contemporary artists also engage with it. But De Kooning already noted in light of his interest in the female knee that not everything in painting has to be rational. “It’s really ridiculous. It maybe that it fascinates me, that it isn’t supposed to be done.”

Her subjects are a possibility for Iris Schomaker to explore painting and its potential for abstraction. Their visual solutions evoke peace and distance, and perhaps also make current moods visible in the isolation of the figures. The quality of Iris Schomaker’s painting is that it does not take sides.

Antje Krause-Wahl
(Trans. Brian Currid)

Jasper Johns, “Untitled Statement” (1959), in Stiles and Selz, eds., Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artist’s Writings (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 323.

Willem de Kooning, “Contempt is a Glimpse: Interview with David Sylvester,” in Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz, eds., Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artist’s Writings (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996): 198.