In spring 2019 I had the opportunity to spend 2 months in New York. The goal was simple: to meet old friends and make some new, to explore as much as possible of the city, the museums and galleries, and to come back with a comprehensive body of new works. Many of my inspirations and motifs for new works are collected while traveling, always curious and open to discoveries outside the usual pathways.
Just before I left for New York, I saw the 'P&D: Ornament as Promise' exhibition at Mumok in Vienna, an overview of the work of the Pattern and Decoration movement (1975–1985), which for me became a life-changing experience. Working now for twenty years with patterns, the movement and most of the involved artists were completely new for me. It is almost unbelievable that I could never have seen something that seems so fundamental to my own work, but it also shows the prejudices about the decorative as well as the feminist in art, which are still huge and make important works disappear in the archive. I was thrilled with the overflowing energy and color of their works, showing the revolutionary and theoretical potential of patterns. There were large-format pattern-paintings, mosaics, and huge textile collages, without any of the reservations of modern art towards folk art, decoration and the joy of being colorful. Many of these artists, like Miriam Schapiro, Joyce Kozloff, Valerie Jaudon, and Robert Kushner were committed feminist artists, who used the techniques of artisanship and various ornamental traditions as protest against a purist, misogynist and racist environment.
Many of the former P&D artists are now living in New York and the planned trip became a sequel and a search for traces to the exhibition. My perception was focused on the possibilities of the decorative. In a shop in Chinatown I found old Vietnamese festive decorations, flowers of metal-coated paper in red, pink, and green, probably offered in the store decades ago, dusty, yellowed, wrinkled. They became my material, I took themapart and combined them with my painting into new compositions. As a result I was able to bring a series of about 30 new works to Austria.
The lack of clarity is a central concept in my work. It always opposes rash understanding.A painting, that you can grasp at a glance does not interest me. I'm interested in gettinga labyrinthine look, distracting from supposed centers and staggering layers so thatultimately it's impossible to decide what's in front or behind. And besides, what is 'behind',overpainted and invisible, is still there, it is part of the painting. I see my paintings notonly as the top layer of paint, on which everything takes place, everything is visible, butas a temporal staggering of layers, which includes what has become invisible. The temporaldimension is important, because the paintings are constantly being reworked, remainunnoticed, are brought out again. Spatial aspects also flow into the work. I travel withthe paintings, I always have unfinished work in my luggage. A painting may have beenstarted in New Zealand, then further processed in Lower Austria, and perhaps completedin Spain. While I'm on the road, the work takes on influences and color, traces of mymovements and reflections. It is important not to erase these tracks for the sake ofsome superficial clarity.
Michelle Kuo: Postcards from the Edge. in: Yinka Shonibare MBE: Criminal Ornamentation
Valerie Jaudon & Joyce Kozloff: Art Hysterical Notions of Progress and Culture. 1978
Esther Boehle, & Manuela Ammer: Pattern and Decoration. 2019