Tradition, Heritage or Autonomy?
WHEN DESCRIBING HOW HER CREATIVE PROCESS STARTS, CLAUDIA KAAK SAYS THAT, ‘WHEN I SPEAK OR OBSERVE ANOTHER PERSON, I OBSERVE EVERY LITTLE MOVEMENT. AN INGRAINED PATTERN I AUTOMATICALLY FOLLOW. I END UP ASKING MYSELF IF OTHER PEOPLE PERCEIVE THE WORLD IN THE SAME WAY, TOO.’
The process reaches deep into the past of the artist, makes its way across memories, is reflected in the present and launched into the future underpinning trailblazing thoughts on humanity you can find in her paintings. She opens a channel to self-awareness and discovery for her viewers, without judging them, giving them a peaceful place devoid of any preconditioned values. The word ‘independence’ crops up for the first time in the essay of this edition, yet it has been a flickering light living inside her ever since her childhood. She was left to deal on her own with emotions early on, feelings adults were barely capable to cope with.
The deep emotions that come to life in the paintings of the artist often result in depictions of children, adults and elderly people, alone on the canvas. Oil on canvas paintings painted with a sensitive and empathic touch. People recount their experiences, their chaotic and sometimes subtle swaying emotions, they tell us how hard their life can be, and yet in all this solitude they’re still independent. Even if it’s difficult to find ‘independence’ in her paintings, her work opens up a window and offers us a space to be on our own, emotionally decoupled, and does so mercilessly.
Every painting is independent.
Her work also contains autobiographical references, feature inner names and emotions of the artist. Some remind her of situations, feelings, overheard statements, reflect literary content or film excerpts. Serie 12 is based on a poem known all over the world. Kaak says, ‘Serie 12 is symbolically based on the Erl King ballade by J. W. von Goethe (1782). A father rides with his ill son at night. (…) We never find out what ‘kills’ the child. (…) Yet we find a stylistic clue in the last verse, ‘In his arms he’s holding the groaningchild’, ‘The child he held in his arms was dead.’ (…) The son symbolises a rape victim, the Erl King is the perpetrator, while the father represents the people who turn a blind eye and trivialise those events.’
Kaak refers to inner values, societal values, without pointing the finger. She archetypically peels the figures away from their perception and human experience. People strive for freedom and independence, and here we have the artistic measure of the artist which is confronted by the fact the creative process is constantly rooted to its social setting. Cultural and traditional references impose themselves on the artistic process.
The concept of (portrait) painting is saddled with a long, heavy tradition and features countless moments of comparison which are, seemingly, held up to current, young paintings which they have to measure up to. These moments give us a flash of the style used by the old masters, seen only on a second or third level, and make us smirk when we think about our archetypical perceptions of people and being human and their portrayal. Those kinds of associations are no qualitative gauge of art.
In Claudia Kaak’s paintings, we see typologies of humanoid faces that the viewer somehow recognised from older paintings or movie scene of our not so distant past. Superficial knowledge, a dilemma plaguing consumers. And not only them.
Who creates this dilemma? After all, is it not just nature being nature and humans being humans to want to associate new ideas and values to our understanding and experience of the past? Our cultural heritage lives on in us just like our genetic heritage, yet the fight against cultural tradition harbours more success than the rebellion against our genetic makeup. Besides these complete series, the works can be combined outside of their overarching theme as individual works. Every painting is independent. When exhibited, this results in associations, and vignette-like excerpts and moments that depict and change the portrayed values every single time.
The combination of the works and confrontation with other genres from other painters, which are exciting and possible, can be interpreted differently depending on the theme as well as being ‘expanded’ thanks to the viewers’ interpretation. This is what it means to be an ‘open work of art’. Every work is independent and a complete work of art, regardless of its belonging to a series. Content creation is filtered by traditions known to the artist and current, contemporary perceptions influence a given position, giving her independence during the creative process. The result is independent work and a new treasure trove for the arts and humanities.