Anja Luithle


Metamorphoseon imaginum, or images of transformation
The drawings of Anja Luithle

Drawing, the earliest method of image creation in the history of mankind, is the most direct visual realisation of artistic ideas. With its versatility and range of expression, with the combination of aesthetic autonomy and the self-imposed limitation of artistic means, drawing is still a key element in contemporary art today. Within Anja Luithle’s oeuvre, in which her poetic and enigmatic art objects first come to mind, drawing occupies a special position and constitutes a particularly fascinating chapter. The title of this essay, borrowed from the magnum opus of the great Roman poet Ovid (‘Metamorphoseon libri ’, or ‘Books of transformations’), is intended to point from the outset toward something essential that is made visible when we view these drawings. Just as in mythology the word ‘metamorphosis’ means a change of form (for example in the Fifth Book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses: ‘Perseus: “Avert your eyes!” And by Medusa’s face he made the features of that impious king a bloodless stone.’), Luithle’s drawings operate in a nuanced game of appearances and reflection with the transformation of an object into an image that is perceived very differently. Only the transformation does not happen as if by divine miracle, as in the myths, but rather inside the head of the person viewing the work. The representation of the objects and their transformation into metaphoric mirror images of mental states happens predominantly on the level of the artist’s personal impressions and memories, which impart a clear emotional contentuality. The items she draws are ordinary, everyday – usually textile – objects taken from her surroundings, but they draw on subjective moments from the past, or on events and pictures from childhood, or they are linked to her dreams and visions, which are projected onto them. But in addition to a retrospective look into the past in whatever form, these works also touch on the fundamental problems of the immediate present, doing so precisely through the use of metamorphosis as an artistic method. In his recent, posthumously published volume The Metamorphosis of the World (Cambridge, 2016), sociologist Ulrich Beck claims that the term metamorphosis has come to mean something specifically new in a world that appears to be unbalanced, a world that is – in an unprecedented way – becoming increasingly difficult to understand. ‘The world is unhinged,’ he writes, ‘[it is] out of joint and it has gone mad’. Anja Luithle’s metaphoric similes are on a par with Beck’s splendid comparison, and they give the viewer conceptual aids with which to contemplate our rapidly changing world. The frequently occurring references to textile fabrics, which are also often a characteristic feature in the artist’s three-dimensional works, recur here with great effect in the two-dimensional representations. Where the subject of the drawing is revealed upon closer inspection to be an ordinary bedsheet, it is transformed on the paper into a wonderful mountain landscape. Likewise, the tablecloths become undulating water surfaces and the curtains become mountain ranges. As in Louise Bourgeois’ work, in Luithle’s engagement with fabric we see a cross between the artist’s personal biography and an age-old symbol of femininity. However, in the works, these interconnections in no way comment on romanticising variations of a ‘femininity’, however that is understood; they become, rather, symbols of imagination and reason, and in equal measure highly charged projections of conflicting mental and emotional states. Anja Luithle is also a technically adept ‘transformation artist’. Her drawings, which might at first glance appear simple, are rich with references and are executed using subtle stylistic methods. In addition to the nuanced colour schemes, one of the most notable features is the use of elaborate networks of lines. The lines, in their parallelism and wave-like, welling horizontality, are actually laid out two-dimensionally, but another, more powerful impression is superimposed upon this one, namely the effect of a formation of space that illusionistically breaks through the surface. The colour lines roam the space on the white paper, or they congregate to form undulating fields by – each one separate but in harmony with the others – tracing the same curves and similar contours, but formulating other coordinates in between. And everything happens in a constant dialogue with the given, perspectivally implied structure. The English painter William Hogarth called this wave-like or S-shaped line that was a characteristic of his work ‘the line of beauty and grace’, and he wrote a treatise on aesthetics based on it. The curved line is beautiful, he wrote, because it ‘leads the eye in a pleasing manner along the continuity of its variety’. It achieves a balance between predictability and liveliness. The simplicity of the individual motifs and the contrast between the empty fields and the exact forms point, on one hand, to rigidity, a static state; on the other hand, they stand in contrast to the pictures’ wealth of formal structure, which transforms the trivial-seeming clarity into a mysterious ambiguity. The aim of this peculiar interaction is to see, to discover something new in ordinary things, even if delusion is the price that has to be paid. The French baroque painter Georges de La Tour often said that man was perpetually deluding himself and that this delusion possessed its own beautiful but sometimes also dangerous truth. However, for him, the artist, it is a liberating truth. While the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (400 years before Ovid) accused painters of being fraudsters because they had devoted themselves to appearances and had never produced anything useful, La Tour believed that for the true artist the real value of art lay precisely in its illusory nature. Anja Luithle’s drawings are correspondingly rich in visual ideas that create new pictorial realities as an antithesis to the dominant reality, and that prove to be the territory upon which the seen and unseen are illustrated in a way that places the relationship of the viewer with the objective world in a subjective investigative context. We have, in the draughtswoman Anja Luithle, a poet of space who is anchored both in the past and the present; an artist who transfers her everyday observations into a new environment using associations and an archaic tool, the pencil. When viewing her work, the observer believes himself to be in a peaceful, bucolic, scenic space, and is at the same time electrified and thrilled by the hachured tension of the visibly present original textile material, with which she – through a metamorphosis that is in no way inferior to mythology – imaginatively structures her multilayered pictures.

Alexander Tolnay
ancient director of NBK Berlin