POWERFUL EMOTIONS ARE AT THE HEART OF MARIA LASSNIG’S CREATIONS. SHINING THE LIGHT ON PHYSICAL EMOTIONS AND FEELING ONE’S OWN BODY ARE THE FOCUS OF HER BODY AWARENESS PAINTINGS. THE ARTIST CAPTURES HER OWN EMOTIONS ON PAPER, BURSTING WITH HUMOUR, SERIOUSNESS, SENSUALITY, AND MERCILESSNESS. HER DRAWINGS DEPICT WHAT SHE FEELS, NOT WHAT SHE SEES.
She has her feet planted solidly in the outside world while still retaining an introspective awareness of her body. Her portraits are based on a thorough study of reality. However, the observation of animals and people go well beyond copying the merely visible, include the core of the individual’s traits and experience the unique elements by highlighting opposites.
This intimate conversation with the inner and outer world, with feelings and reality, is something Lassnig develops on paper in an especially illustrative manner. This intimate medium turns directly into the experimenting ground of spontaneously placed lines and chromatic fields, creating new perspectives and themes. Despite all the intimacy afforded by drawing on paper, monumental, painting like compositions appear on it. The idea of sketches and the first draft were taken up and discarded by Lassnig ages ago, turned into an autonomous artistic expression on paper. Even in the paintings the intensity of the drawing, the vibrato of individual lines as well as the radiance of the watercolour feels visible and tangible. Maria Lassnig, together with Louise Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell and Agnes Martin is one of the most important artists of the 20th century. She made her body the focus of her art at an early stage, even before body consciousness and the relation between man and woman became key themes of the international avantgarde movement.
Lassnig was born in 1919 in Carinthia, trained in Austrian artistic traditions at the Vienna Academy, but it’s on a trip to Paris at the start of the 1950s that she receives some important inspiration. She finds reasons to intensify the implementation of visible and tangible conscious emotions with the help of abstract, formal and physical languages. From here, she soon develops her own pictorial language and focuses her attention on the implementation of body consciousness in the visual pictorial texture; however, at the same time, she keeps connected to visible reality. ‘You paint how you are,’ says the painter and confirms the tension and contrasts in her, indispensable elements that allow her to be in touch with the inner and outer world. Self-portraits are the main subject of the artist, giving them a whole new aspect to this traditional form rooted in history of art. The choice of colours on its own plays a key role due to the interpretation of its opportunities: cold and blue hues are opposed to pale yellow. Different shades of red jump to the fore in a vibrant call for the spotlight.
Lassnig as an artist picks up suggestions from her teachers and aspects of new styles swiftly, assesses them and then develops them. The first Körpergefühlszeichnungen were produced at the end of the 40s, calling them ‘introspective experiences’ at the time. By doing so she placed her own female body at the heart of her creative process before all other comparable positions in Europe and America. Together with author Oswald Wiener she went on study trips across Italy and Greece as well as alone to Rome, Oslo, and Stockholm. At the end of the 50s her ‘Körpergefühlsaquarelle, »-gouachen« und tachistische Gemälde‘ (introspective gouaches and watercolours as well as Tachisme paintings) come to life. She moves to Paris in 1960 to divest herself of her stylistic ‘compulsions’. The large Körpergefühlsfigurationen (Strichbilder) are the result of this period, and will turn to be decisive for her following years. She’s friends with Paul Celan and his wife, French drawer and graphic artist Gisèle Celan Lestrange, with Jean-Paul Riopelle and Joan Mitchell, from America, a representative of abstract expressionism.
In 1964 her mother, who she was very close to, passes away. Her death leads to an existential crisis which finds expression in the Beweinungsbildern. In 1968 Lassnig moves for a decade to New York. As a reaction to the lack of understanding which is met by her art there, she developed a style akin to American realism: the expression Körpergefühl becomes ‘Body Awareness’. After taking part in an animation course at the School of Visual Arts in New York, she develops drawings of countless animated films based on her idea of ‘Body Awareness’ which make her incredibly successful. Lassnig is cofounder of Woman men/Artist/Filmmakers, Inc. in New York, an association of feminist artists producing films. The association included artists the likes of Carolee Schneemann, Silvianna Goldsmith and Martha Edelheit. At the same time, she starts working on a series of self-portraits with animals.
Self-portraits are the main subject of the artist, giving them a whole new aspect to this traditional form, rooted in history of art.
A bursary of the Deutschen Akademischen Austauschdienstes (DAAD) allows her to stay in Berlin in 1978 for one year. Lassnig creates landscapes drawings and watercolours as well as graphic body awareness and consciousness studies. An intensive dialogue with author Oswald Wiener on cognitive psychology influences her work. Lassnig then returns to New York and takes part in the 3rd Biennale of Sydney. In 1980, Lassnig returns to Vienna and is appointed at the University of Applied Arts: she leads the masterclass in posture between 1980 and 1989. She tackles experimental postures and focuses on painting and animated films. At the 39th Biennale of Venice she represents Austria with VALIE EXPORT.
After taking over the Chair at the university, Lassnig paints self-portraits that tackle overloading and dependence. On her holidays in the Mediterranean in 1980 she produces watercolours and landscapes featuring mythological themes. In 1988, Maria Lassnig is awarded the Große Österreichische Staatspreis for visual arts, making her the first woman to ever receive the recognition. In the early 90s, Lassnig develops chromatic figurations (Be-Ziehungen and Malflüsse), which are connected to the Strichbilder of the 60s. In 1997, she takes part in the document x in Kassel with her 1960s and 1990s drawings. She officially finishes teaching at university in Vienna, despite not having actually worked there anymore since 1989. In 1998, she’s awarded the Oskar-Kokoschka prize, and in 2002 she is awarded the Roswitha-Haftmann prize in Zurich as well as the ring of honour of the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, the Rubenspreis of the city of Singen (which makes her the first femal artist to receive such a prize), and the NORD/LB art prize.
The year 2008 represents the moment her international fame booms thanks to an individual exhibition at the SERPENTINE Gallery in London featuring her ‘drastic pictures.’ In 2013, during the 55th Biennale of Venice, the Career Golden Lion is awarded to her. In 2014 follows the individual exhibition at the MoMa PS1, Long Island City. Maria Lassnig passes away on on 6 May of that same year at the age of 94 in Vienna. This snapshot of some moments of the life and her renowned awards allows us to see just how much the dynamic presence of her work had an impact on art and how much of her work is characterised by innovation and artistic power. I am convinced that Maria Lassnig will be a recurring name in any publication of some import tackling international art after 1945. Her independent contribution, her determination, her aggressiveness, her vulnerability as well as brutality and scathing self-critique are being recognised on an international level just now.