Peter Lodermeyer: Painting in Process. Dorothee Joachim's new works on paper
Seeing does not necessarily mean understanding. Even a long and concentrated contemplation of a work of art may ultimately lead to incorrect assumptions, which in turn have a retroactive affect on the gaze. “You only see what you know,” so the adage goes that applies to much more than looking at art, a statement that loses none of its validity even though we cannot prove that it comes from the pen of its purported author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The recent works by Dorothee Joachim being presented in the Cologne kjubh exhibition room confirm this sentence par excellence. Already the fact that, roughly divided, two different types of works are being exhibited, gives visitors to the show cause to speculate about their inner connectedness. In particular those works that are attached to the wall on a rather thick picture carrier seem to call for explanation. The fact, namely, that their color fields are each surrounded with white margins sporting lots of traces of paint, spatters, strips or smudges indicates a dynamic painting process whose characteristics, however, are not immediately obvious. This applies all the more to the color fields themselves, the irregular, “chaotic” color “clouds” and their porous inner structure. At least it is immediately clear that these color forms were not applied with the brush in the customary manner. Moreover, the question arises about the context of these works with respect to the second type, the thin pages completely covered with paint, which have been attached with tiny magnets on spacers in a way that they float in front of the wall, bulging from it concavely or convexly due to their inherent tension.
We regard Dorothee Joachim’s works on paper, which she has been creating since the end of 2014 in a different light and with new attentiveness once we know at least the most important facts about their production process. At the beginning was Joachim’s discovery from the end of the 1990s that while painting with water colors fascinating color structures emerged on the backs of the paper, which followed an inner logic of the working process and whose different nature turned out to be just as interesting and artistically productive as the actually painted surfaces. The customary hierarchy of the two sides of the paper as a picture carrier – an intentionally worked front side that was worthy of being termed art and an irrelevant reverse side, at best randomly covered with paint – was suddenly called into question with this discovery. In connection with a work stay in southern France in 2010, where she exhibited watercolors that she had done on site, Dorothee Joachim became increasingly aware that there was yet a third aesthetically relevant color surface, namely the very surface upon which the paper lay as she painted. In September 2014 she then began to probe these phenomena more systematically and by using various kinds of paper. In the case of classic watercolor paper, the colors seep from the paper’s edges in between the paper and the underlying surface, bringing about structures on the back that remind us somewhat of the growth rings of trees. By contrast, with the much thinner, finely pored and absorbent Japanese papers, the color works its way through the entire sheet to the surface below, thus in turn creating entirely different color forms. Hence, each painting process yields two different results, which may optimally come to constitute two works of art: the Japanese paper, which is not only covered on both sides, but is also completely saturated with the paint color, and the surface below made of Bristol cardboard primed in each case in white, or with paper-covered foamboard, which, upon contact with the paper lying above it, transforms into a picture, as it were, all by itself – hidden from the artist's view.
Anyone familiar with Dorothee Joachim's paintings over the last some twenty years might be surprised by the recent, multicolored works on paper. At first glance, the earlier paintings are easily misunderstood as being full surface painted monochromes. At least we might think so if we depart from the assumption that they are primarily about creating a color effect, which arises when gazing at them from a certain distance. But if we closely examine these works, which have been painted with hundreds of layers of extremely thin acrylics upon primed MDF boards ground porcelain-smooth, it becomes clear that they are certainly not monochrome but built up from several colors (in fact always yellow, red and blue). In addition, we then take note of the unusually differentiated microstructures in the paint material, a fine texture, which does not stretch across the surface homogeneously at all, but forms strange variants particularly along the edges of the painting. It is precisely these structures, craquelées and irregularities that come about on their own through no part of the artist that Dorothee Joachim seeks – forms that are not intentional though neither may they be termed random, since they result from nomological necessity due to the specific characteristics of the materials used (MDF, primer, water, acrylic binder, pigments). But exactly this is what connects the paintings with the new works on paper, since these also result from the, only partially controllable, intrinsic nature of the materials involved. This intrinsic relationship is the reason why Dorothee Joachim has integrated two MDF-works with roughly the same colors – an indeterminate greenish gray – into the exhibition at kjubh. The two paintings from 2008 hang exactly opposite each other, thus establishing a virtual central axis in the main room that helps us in our orientation, (whether or not this is consciously or unconsciously perceived), among a host of 30 works in total that are on display.
The painting process for the new works on paper is reminiscent of scientific experiments and laboratory conditions. Dorothee Joachim has repeatedly changed the parameters in order to research how this affects the result: Japanese paper in various thicknesses and various dimensions, the use of different colors, trying different methods of moistening and different degrees of saturating the paper. But ultimately it is impossible to completely control factors such as the hygrological and hydrololgical procedures, drying processes or the chemical reactions among the pigments themselves. It is precisely this last trace of uncontrollability, which constitutes the exciting moment in the painting process. It brings about exactly the growth and development of the paintings from the intrinsic dynamics of the materials that so vitally interests Dorothee Joachim. Granted, the artist is able to make decisions (what colors and in what order she uses them, the intensity of the colors...), but what actually happens in the painting is something she may only conditionally influence. Contrary to a scientific experiment, not every result is significant. This is about aesthetics, not about knowledge, and thus, it is for the artist alone to decide what result she accepts as a work of art and – in the case of the works on Japanese paper – which of the two sides and which alignment is considered valid (since the vertical alignment of the sheets of paper – unlike with the paintings on MDF, which are always aligned horizontally – is a predetermined constant, there are exactly four possibilities in each case).
Hence, the color structures grow in a formation process that is analogous to nature from the interplay of liquid paint, paper and the physical contact between the paper and the primed sheet below it. To use an old philosophical term, we might refer to natura naturans, nature in its immanently creative, formative potency (the opposite of natura naturata, leaving natural things just the way they have been created). Dorothee Joachim's concept of painting, which acknowledges the material in its own willfulness as an equal partner in the painting process, corresponds to a processual gaze, which – wholly aware of the conditions under which they have come about – traces the works in all aspects of their colorfulness, materiality and presence in the room and in this way learns to understand them as the catalyst for possible aesthetic experience. Peter Lodermeyer