Text: Alec Coiro
All Images Courtesy of Tennis Elbow
The intelligence and insight of Emma Kohlmann’s ideas about the materiality of her work is matched by the deftness of her execution. Basically she has it all covered as is the real deal.
In terms of the materials, she is using sumi ink (most often used in calligraphy) and watercolors. In a kind of spiritual surrender, she recognizes that the watercolor will smudge and swirl her ink; she allows it to happen; and then she masters the effect. The result is a milky texturing that is so well realized that it almost jumps off of the paper. While the combining of the ink with the watercolors is what first catches you, when you look closer (and you might not catch this if you don’t see them in person), you see that the edges where the watercolor meets the white field of of the paper are so careful and sharp that they could have been created with a very fine pen. These fine lines juxtaposed with the flowing, spreading ink, showing Kohlmann’s range of sheer skill as she imposes a very clearly defined order on the playfulness within the painting.
While remarkably skillful, Kohlmann is not interested in applying this skill to representation (at least not in this show). Her work draws on medieval and classical art, and the shapes she creates with her fine lines immediately recall that Grecian urn style that Keats loved so well. The two-dimensional human figures and the animals with human faces invoke the European medieval artists peculiar (from our modern perspective) understanding of the human figure. Modern ideas about perspective are, perhaps, a relic of a lost modernity. It’s possible that three dimensionality is now the realm of 3D technology, and painting is in the process of rediscovering old forms created with new techniques pioneered by artists like Kohlmann. This occurred to me while looking at Kohlmann’s work, not because the work suggested it, but because the work is extremely stimulating. There is a painting of what look likes algae that perfectly made use of Kohlmann’s technique. The underwaterness of the subject matter was brought to life by the watercolors and the texture created by the ink was so compelling I was tempted to swim down and touch it.