Susanne Kühn returns with four emotionally-charged canvasses and five watercolors that represent a change both in her approach to landscape and the palette she has worked with for her entire career. “My interest in landscape has not changed,” explains Kuhn, “I just shifted my focus to the transition from the landscape to architecture.” In this cycle of works Kuhn has drawn deeply from the Old Masters—the foundation of the new paintings both in terms of structure and content are Domenico Ghirlandaio, Hans Holbein and Fra Filippo Lippi and Albrecht Dürer.
Scanning “Katja Melancholia” from left to right, the landscape undergoes a metamorphosis from a watercolor-sketch to Japanese woodcut to Dr. Seuss-like trees—all staples of Kuhn’s work to date. In the background of “Melanie Melancholia” is a stylized Italian pine landscape, while in the foreground the figure of Melanie crouches in a fantastical garden with artificial looking trees. In “Hannah 1482”, inspired by Ghirlandaio, the landscape refers to Kuhn’s home in the Black Forest.
“During my last travels to Italy I realized that the landscape dominant in Renaissance painting is still there, and that many of the painted houses and streets are also still there. So time has moved on, and now we can stand there in an almost-Renaissance landscape with all we bring with us: technological advancement, knowledge, fashion, Zeitgeist.”
Kuhn’s complex paintings are layered with the historic and the contemporary; intensely private interiors are juxtaposed with exteriors that draw on multiple traditions (Japanese, German, and comic-book artificiality to name only three). Figures and objects belong to the artist’s private realm: friends and family, personal and mundane household objects, furniture and fabrics. Kuhn’s postmodern awareness of the mulitiplicity of sources permeating our everyday lives extends even to these details: Playmobil rock-structures and trees made in China, her daughter’s elephant chair from India, shiny red bamboo railings she observed in the U.S., an IKEA shelf.
Besides landscape and architecture, Kuhn’s paintings in this exhibition explore the theme of Melancholia. For Kuhn “Katja Melancholia” represents a kind of intellectual melancholia drawn, in part, from Durer’s famous etching. “Melanie Melancholia”, on the other hand, represents an emotional state of melancholy inspired by a Lippi painting of a Madonna with child. Says Kuhn: “A friend gave birth recently to a disabled child which might not live long. The absence of the baby, the heart-chair with rock-castle, the distant landscape in the back of the room and the strange mutated trees in the garden where she is sitting and thinking underline the emotional emptiness.”