Review by Douglas Stockdale •
How might we ‘see’ the unseen, whether it is too microscopic to discern, moving too rapidly to distinguish or in the case of the root structure of trees and vegetation, buried out of sight? Likewise, how might we imagine something as indiscernible as moisture and water moving within a root structure of a tree that provides one of the essential elements that support its life? This appears to be one of the questions that Regina Anzenberger’s artwork and related book Shifting Roots investigates.
The word ‘roots’ has multiple meanings; that what holds us in place, provides stability, as well as nourishment, both literally and figurative. A house becomes a home where we have put our (emotional) roots down. Roots are the fundamental structure to the existence of plants and trees. When Anzenberger observed the clinging vines growing on the exterior of trees in the forest near her, she could pre-visualize how these growing tangles of vines could represent the unseen manifestation of the complex root structure of a tree.
She intertwines a rich narrative composed of traditional natural landscapes, both black & white and color photographs, with mixed media artwork creating visual narratives with various combinations of paint, graphite lines and augmented with found objects. For paint, she utilizes dense gouaches, a type of opaque watercolor, and acrylic that can vary in translucence and opaqueness, in how she either conceals or provide hints as to the underlying pigment ink structure. The juxtaposition of found objects, either floating independently or appearing to extend out of the pictorial frame allude to the three-dimensionality of her artwork as objects and can only be hinted at when re-photographed for this book.
Her straight black and white and color landscape photographs have a lyrical quality, which still encompassing surrealist moments, such as the first image below, with the inclusion of the reflected trees that appears similar to the complex root structure of a tree. The sharply focused stark white plant structure in the foreground, the indistinct and middle-toned lines that are submerged in juxtaposition with the contrasting dark shadows of the unseen trees reflecting in the still waters, creating an elegant, delicate and poetic narrative.
The unmanipulated documentation of her natural landscape provides a sense of contemplation and study of the forms, structures and complexity of the natural world. After studying this body of work, I find these straight images appear to be pre-visualized for subsequent painting as evident of the vines and related lines present. Perhaps similar to a new coloring book in which we would get to play on the uncolored images using our own color palette. Would we follow the lines, fill in the blanks or some combination of the two, as well as what might else might we introduce into the mix? Would we paint a small bit here and there or create a wild expanse of color leaving nothing untouched? How might we reinterpret this natural landscape?
For Anzenberger’s hand-altered artwork, she utilizes a translucent paint to define the image’s boundaries. There are hints of the pigment ink understructure and the painted edges functions similar to a pseudo-mat creating a transition from the pigment ink image to white PhotoRag paper (print structure). She uses a symbolic light-earth color, (similar to Naples Yellow) for this border effect. These expressively painted borders utilize loose brush strokes appearing to be laid down quickly that emulate the randomness and unevenness of her natural environmental subject. These artwork borders are not neat, tidy and delicately painted, but rather provides a sense of dynamic energy and bold urgency to her artwork.
On occasion Anzenberger works the entire image, but predominately she utilizes line and singular marks within her artwork versus employing color mass or create large shapes. Her graphite and painted lines, in conjunction with found objects, create extensions out of the pictorial frame. Where she does consistently employ large color-mass is how she creates a border at the transition point of her artwork its supporting paper structure, as mentioned earlier.
Frequently her lines and marks are painted blue, not as much to set a mood (sorry Picasso), but as a representation of the element of water, the life-blood of the trees and all vegetation, that needs to flow upward from the supporting root structure and the indirect subject of her investigation. The painted marks provide a poetic quality, appearing playful in its application with lightness in the brush stroke and do not appear heavy-handed. The solid colors place emphasis on the vines as an external root structure to draw emphasis on the complexity of this natural element. The painted strokes are not carefully following the natural lines providing more of an impressionistic gesture.
Another element is the use of graphite to draw and extend lines out of the pictorial frame, even at times beyond the encompassing painted borders. I have a sense that this is equivalent to a full bleed photograph that hints at the image you see is only part of the equation; that life and events extend beyond what you see and questions that the photograph is a static work of art. Lines or objects extending out of the pictorial frame disrupt the idea of a bordered image and the representation of a two-dimensional object. This act can be both unsettling as well as liberating.
The found objects are all related to an aspect of nature and the landscape being investigated. These add another dimension to the reading of the work and include insects, flowers, stems, debris. These add a three dimensionality to the resulting artwork and can only be hinted at when re-photographed for this book.
Her hand-written text is in her native Austrian, thus for an English speaker, her fluid handwriting appears similar to the abstract flow of lines applied within her artwork, a wonderful combination of drawn line and handwriting.
The thread binding allows the book to lay flat and provides an enjoyable reading experience without any of the image content becoming lost inside a gutter. This book, similar to her artwork is small in size, thus many of the images are printed close to actual size. The book is easy to hold and handle, a pleasure to read.
Second to the last plate in the book, last image below, is probably my favorite artwork which reminds me of the best of the Abstract Expressionist and the likes of Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning. Anzenberger adds translucent color gestures and smears to her trademark lines, in conjunction with additional graphic pencil marks adding another layer of complexity and mystery to this artwork. Like this entire body of work, beautiful objects of desire and very inspirational.
Shifting Roots, Regina Anzenberger
Artist: Regina Anzenberger, born and resides in Vienna, Austria
Self-Published (AnzenbergerEdition), sold thru her gallery, AnzenbergerGallery bookshop, copyright 2020
Essay: Regina Anzenberger
Text: English and Austrian (German)
Hard cover with (American) dust jacket, thread binding, folded booklet with German translation, signed and numbered edition of 350 copies, printing and production by Tea Design, Sofia, Bulgaria. ISBN: 978-3-9503876-1-2
Photobook Designer: Regina Anzenberger
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