Katinka Lampe’s studio is located in an old school, with brick walls. A large corridor calling industrial architecture to mind leads to the studios of the artists working in it. In Katinka’s studio, two large rooms are lit by large vertical windows, casting a cold but serene light. The artist is in her world, resolute, tall, slender, very alert, with a direct way of looking at you. She has sure gestures. As our conversation starts, she talks to me about concentration, a “bubble” which makes it possible to leave everything there is around you: for her, painting is a shrewd mixture of solitary reflection and time. Every day, with a very precise timetable, she goes to her studio and sets to work: “I know exactly what I have to do when I get here. I can make different paintings at the same time, because when one picture is not working, I start another. It’s only through painting that I can find solutions. Each picture is a problem to be solved”. A picture can become clearer in a few hours; it can also take months. But there is indeed an inner logic which governs each canvas, based on private laws which belong solely to the artist in front of her work. Her concentration becomes fruitful when she listens classical music and opera; one and the same piece, time and time again, so as not to lose the thread…Collecting, Presentation and Pictoriality
First, Katinka Lampe collects pictures which strike her in fashion magazines and the press. For her latest paintings she has also worked using images retrieved on the Internet to do with an extremely provocative American social phenomenon: Child Beauty Pageants. Little girls, all dressed up, show themselves off in beauty contests, based on oddly old-fashioned rituals. Like so many little living dolls, the only thing they are looking for is glamour before their time, polished, as they are, like false fingernails. Babydoll childhood disappears behind the make-up, the false eyelashes, the lipstick that is too red, the sequins and the extravagant poses. The artist works on this phenomenon in order to appropriate it for herself, first by re-creating the settings of a photographic session with young models. In a very joyous atmosphere, her friends’ children get involved in the game, having fun being little stars in front of her lens all “make believe”, heavily backed up by make-up and props. This first photographic stage may call to mind the work of Bettina Rheims: the images produced belong to a strange zone, somewhere between aesthetic glamour and iconic construct. Like in a film shoot, Katinka gives stage directions, but she is well aware of what separates her from the coded sessions of fashion sets. The model looks over her shoulder, smiles, seduces, puts her hands on her hips, and knows how to catch the cameria’s attention.
It is only after the photo session that the artist chooses the image which will be the starting point of her painting, a photo which she incidentally relinquishes very quickly, because it only serves her as a mental back-up, and is quickly embeddedin her consciousness. As an “intermediate reality”, the photograph helps with the swing towards the reality of the painting. The painting takes over. The portraits that she then constructs on canvas are not individualized or psychologized portraits, but rather mental portraits, with no personal history and no characterization. It is not a question of making the portrait of an actual person. “This is why I work using child and teenage models, and not grown-ups: grown-ups have too much history behind them whereas children’s histories still have to be constructed”, explains the artist. So these portraits do not convey any “truth”. Paradoxically, “the canvases have a very realist look, but I reject the idea of realism: if there is a reality to be looked for, it is the one that each viewer brings through his way of looking”, she specifies. Now, looking at a large portrait of a young girl with almost white hair, the eye pierces the vision of a specific face and is drowned in the layer of oil paint, applied in a very light manner, all on the surface, with no shine. The eye draws closer and sees the brush strokes in vertical trails, blurred zones which call to mind the portraits of Gerhard Richter, with the fluidity of a transparent touch, which spreads into the paint. Katinka refuses virtuosity and the well-painted, and sometimes even gets involved in a process destroying forms whose contours are too precise and linear. “I work in a dangerous zone: I am not a portrait painter, even if all I paint is portraits”, explains the artist who thus turns her back on any potential for resemblance or truthfulness: it is the quest for the pictoriality of the face which matters above all, as a surface of fantasies, an emotional expressive vector. We might mention John Currin and the uncanniness of his portraits on the borderline of caricature and deformity, in an interstice between fascination and discomfort; and the performances of Vanessa Beecroft, in which the specific features disappear in the flood of an identical canon. But, in Katinka Lampe’s work, beyond any context, the forms stand out oneven and perfectly clean coloured backgrounds, which propel them into the foreground, like a young girl with thick blonde hair, and diaphanous skin, exposed on a particularly deep, magnetizing and magnetic orange background.Masquerade and Becoming Other
During the sessions with her models, Katinka Lampe works with props: masks, wigs, disguises, boas, and the like, which she bargain hunts in novelty stores. But—unlike an artist such as Cindy Sherman whose masquerade is a method of carnival-like transfiguration—the masks are there to reveal and not to hide: like a second skin, they merge with the face and give it a new outline. A young child looks down, her eyelids half closed, and communes with herself in her transparent mask. In the Pose series (2007), the artist placed a mask painted black on white skins, a way of railing against the pranks and tricks of appearance, and the craziness of people of both sexes who want to become different, victims of a world where plastic surgery is one possibility among others. In her studio, slightly to one side, we discover small canvases, and fragments of bodies revealing high heel shoes and frail ankles: they are perhaps the artist’s shoes, the way people have dreamed about Vincent Van Gogh’s tired old boots… Buthere, there are high heels, like those worn by real seductresses. On closer inspection, we discover that they are much too big for the small feet wearing them: “Here there is an innocent process of little girls who want to become real women, who are looking for their female identity, and end up by disguising themselves as what they will one day become. They say to themselves: one day I will be grown-up, one day I will be beautiful, one day I…”. In 2012, the artist incidentally titled one series: I Will Be Bigger Than Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell; and she got portraits desperate for approval to say: Do You Like Me Now?. Becoming other. Acquiring a new face. All portraits comply with a phenomenon of transfiguration, of forming something inaccessible, an unknown force hidden behind the features of what we commonly call the face. It is indeed for this reason that Katinka Lampe is a portrait painter, but in the noblest sense of the term. Drawing inspiration from Frans Hals—her fellow countryman from the Golden Age, and painter of flesh that is both thick and light—she frees up her gesture and lends an eternal youth to beings in the making.Léa Bismuth
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