Martha Jungwirth's solo exhibition of new works opens at Thaddaeus Ropac

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Martha Jungwirth's solo exhibition of new works opens at Thaddaeus Ropac
Martha Jungwirth, Ohne Titel, aus der Serie 'Hexenflug', 2022. Oil on paper on canvas, 238 x 146.5 x 2.6 cm. Photo: Ulrich Ghezzi. Martha Jungwirth / DACS, London 2022.

LONDON.- A new series of oil paintings by Austrian artist Martha Jungwirth are being exhibited in her most extensive presentation in the UK to date.

Poised between abstraction and figuration, her paintings are inspired by what she calls conceptual ‘pretexts’ – impressions from her travels, Greek mythology, the appearances of friends and companions, as well as contemporary political events – capturing fleeting, internal impulses that are recorded in watercolour and paint. Grounded in closely observed perceptions of her environment, this new body of work draws on elements of the natural world depicted in the form of flowers, popular culture expressed through a portrait of Lady Gaga and static objects such as a colouring book. Taking its name from the publication All Will Fall, which Jungwirth has in her studio, the exhibition references Francisco Goya’s aquatint etching from Los Caprichos (1797–99) illustrating the fate of all those deluded by love and the works on view are reminiscent of the Spanish artist’s oeuvre.

The series Hexenflug (2022) is inspired by Goya’s Vuelo de Brujas (Witches’ Flight; c. 1798) from his group of six paintings related to witchcraft. In Jungwirth’s work, subtle dabs of lime green at the top and in the middle anchor the predominantly red and pink strokes, recalling her earlier works with more figurative allusions. The reference to witchcraft, which was seen as an evil and unnatural element, alludes to the role played by women in power and the threat this has represented for men over the centuries. Conjuring a sense of the body with colours suggestive of flesh and blood, a similar theme reappears in Lady Gaga (2022), where the American pop star becomes symbolic of contemporary female power in showbusiness.

Jungwirth’s figures often appear on small sections of her brown paper, surrounded by areas of untouched cardboard or collaged paper whose absorbent surfaces preserve her decisive marks which, once made, cannot be altered. By connecting her practice with oil paint, which she describes as ‘more massive, and dense’, with the ‘unified, liquid, transparent’ qualities of watercolour, her images are propelled beyond the easily identifiable. The layered clusters, forms and marks can be transparent, opaque, or somewhere in between, with some appearing deliberate while others seem accidental.

Over the past six decades, Jungwirth has forged a singular approach to painting. Mingling mythical or universal subject matter, her compositions reveal themselves to her during the painting process. The artist creates in concert with her materials to produce works that are poised between chance and calculation. At times more predominant in the pictorial space – as in the series Nicht mehr und nicht weniger (2022) – the ‘constellations of blotches’ never overwhelm her chosen surfaces. Referencing Goya’s Ni mas ni menos (Neither more nor less; 1796–97), in which he caricatures the portraitist as a monkey and the sitter as a donkey, Jungwirth’s dynamic composition seems to exteriorise the idea of missing visual links between imagination and reality. This blending of the two realms emerges from her fluid painterly process, which constantly explores the transition from a material to a transcendent world.

In contrast to the rational principles of Minimalism and Conceptualism that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, Jungwirth's paintings are grounded in the body and convey a palpable sense of self. Art historian Jrg Heiser has described her work as ‘liberated capturing’, comparing her to the American abstract painter Joan Mitchell. ‘My art is like a diary, seismographic,’ describes Jungwirth. ‘That is the method of my work. I am completely related to myself. Drawing and painting are a movement that runs through me.’ Filled with her vibrant brushstrokes, smudges, smears and lines, this body of work inhabits her ever-morphing zone of pure invention. With finger marks, scratches and even shoeprints remaining as a visceral record of her presence in the work, the physical intensity of Jungwirth’s tactile surfaces and eruptions of colour are balanced by her delicate sensitivity and restraint.

My pictorial reality is charged with passion, a language tied to the body, to dynamic movement. Painting is a matter of form, and then it receives a soul – through me. — Martha Jungwirth

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