WHAT BECOMES A LEGEND MOST: THE ART OF FRANZISKA MADERTHANER

Renée Gadsden

The wit, irony and fast pace of modern life combined with the precision of Old Master painting techniques in the classic form of oil on canvas: a kaleidoscope of ideas occur when the work of Franziska Maderthaner comes to mind and view.

Her painting process begins with collages. She looks for photographs, often photos where painting is a coincidental by-product in the pictorial image, and arranges them in collage formations. Her method in some ways is reminiscent of John Cage, when he composed using the I Ching: FM is known to number snippets of pictures, and to pull them out and arrange them guided only by her own system of chance.

When she is satisfied with the composition, the image is prepared on the computer. The collage is printed out and projected onto a canvas. Nothing more is changed. The process of creating the image to be painted takes weeks and sometimes months to achieve, but once the composition is set, it remains as it is. The painting process begins, a process of extreme attention to detail, using fine brushes and demonstrating a masterful understanding of the technique of oil paint.

FM’s paintings are based on photography and are projected onto the canvas – they are unthinkable without the interplay of modern media tools. However, she redefines painting through the medium of photography, and brings it back “where it belongs”, back to the canvas. Her work is a celebration of chromatics and balance. FM shows how individual elements of form and color, sensitively combined in the tightrope dance between deliberation and artistic accident, come together to create exciting, dynamic paintings.

The images themselves fluctuate between high art and the hobby handyman. Painters such as Jackson Pollock, Yves Klein or Hermann Nitsch enter into the paintings, as do saws, drills, and images of anonymous women and men building, fixing and repairing various things. Fairy tale themes are also recurrent, as are images of food and genitalia, often in gigantic proportions. There is a comic element, sometimes ironic, sometimes playful, that is always present but does not exclude cruel or brutal images of blood, used tampons, or police violence. The symphony of images in FM’s pictorial vocabulary are vibrant with a Baroque richness and homogeneity. From James Rosenquist to the Dutch tradition of surrealistic painting, from current Jeff Koons to Gerhard Richter, FM can clearly be placed in the context of modern and contemporary art.

FM’s personal journey into the realm of art began in 1972. While visiting her German grandmother in Kassel, she visited the Documenta 5. The d5 is still considered the most important turning point in the history of the Documenta to date. Harald Szeeman’s concept “Questioning Reality, Pictorial Worlds Today” was carried out in sections of the exhibition devoted to photorealism, hyperrealism and the dialogue between psychiatric art and kitsch. Experiencing a kind of satori, FM began to devote her artistic efforts to developing her drawing and illustration skills in a photorealistic way. At the time of her entrance exam to the Vienna University of Applied Arts, the technical brilliance of her drawings and paintings was met with skepticism, for no one could believe that a formally untrained art school aspirant could produce such works.

During the university, in the master classes of Herbert Tasquil and Oswald Oberhuber, “Wild Painting” (Wilde Malerei) was the dominant paradigm. For 3 years in the early 80s FM abandoned her own style and painted “wild”. Not only did she incorporate the freedom and emotionality of that painting style into her own creative voice, this period also sharpened her realization of how male dominance was manifested at the school. Her wild painting was an attempt to show the men that she could match them at their own game. Achieving consistently satisfactory results, this phase was an important step in the development of her self-confidence and self-assurance as a painter.

While still an art student, FM worked as an assistant to the artists Albert Oehlen and Martin Kippenberger. Especially as a consequence of working with Kippenberger, FM developed a keen understanding of humor in art, and over this bridge she was able to leave wild painting and return to her own personal style, armed with enriched formal possibilities and a broadened depth of field.

In the 80s and early 90s FM explored the sociological and cultural context of art as it was to be understood in the heart of Europe, parallel to her never ceasing activity as a painter. She organized exhibitions focusing on art and politics, wrote art criticism for local and international publications, and collected material for a documentary book “Ideal Zone Vienna: The Fast Years 1978-85”. In addition, FM created Art Work, an agency that was also a think tank designed to cross the borders between fine and commercial art. FM was able to combine her interests in illustration, advertising, large-scale art in an architectural context and commissioned art while furthering her understanding of the role of art in society. Her practical and theoretical explorations of painting led to her being named an associate professor for painting at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna in 1987, moving up to the position of university docent for painting and graphic design in 2000.

What becomes a legend most? People who change our common, shared reality by their insight into their own creative processes in relation to that reality. FM moves us between art magazines and mail order catalogues, between the museum and the advertising agency, between the computer keyboard and the sable hair brush, between photography and painting. Her canvases are lovingly executed; the colors flawlessly mixed, often by hand, as behooves the tradition of oil painting on canvas. The images on the canvases however are an array of recognizable visual impressions from contemporary Western society. At all times, the variety and multitude of the images remain in a formal and visual balance. Despite being many layered and visually profound, FM’s canvases are inviting to the eye, emanating an almost musical harmony.

FM believes in legends and gives power to legends with her canvases, bold in color and content, examining the scope of modern life: from fast food to fast sexuality to casual violence and the media hype of them all. An ironical eye accompanies an open, good-natured humor, a love of glamour goes hand in hand with the sweat her brow as FM continues to expand and probe the medium of paint with each new canvas.

Renée Gadsden

New York art historian Renée Gadsden is now based in Vienna. She has worked for the Vienna Secession and Vienna Museum of Modern Art, and is currently a radio presenter and art and cultural affairs editor for the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation.