Gudrun Petersdorff · Malerei und Grafik

Gudrun Petersdorff – Touching the world through the senses
Ina Gille; englische Übersetzung: Oliver Kossack, Leipzig
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For Gudrun Petersdorff, the act of drawing entails accessing external reality through the senses. From the very beginning this has been central to her work. Most of the sheets are drawn from life and are tied to the visible, to that which the artist considers interesting and challenging. Seldom does one find in her imagery a narrative or symbolic blend of associations. The secret of Petersdorff's art lies in her particular way of perceiving the outside world, in her transforming what she sees through the process of drawing and painting, making it speak – poetically. Defined thus, Petersdorff's paintings and drawings appear inseparable. Yet, they define two individual and parallel areas within her oeuvre, variously interrelated and disparate.

In contrast to the paintings, the works on paper seem more intimate, occasionally more rigorous or cautious: in any case they reveal a more unmitigated gesture and are executed in a shorter time period, under greater time pressure. They act as a means of finding and collecting subject matter, which then – in a simplified form and retrieved in unusual colour harmonies – merge in Petersdorff's idiosyncratic paintings. These are already potentially contained within the drawings. For, drawing kindles the artist's imagination, inspiring her to charge what she sees with tension, to grow: minor shifts, alterations and distortions succeed in turning what she sees into art within the two-dimensional surface. Resembling a mesh of references, the drawings – as substitutes of reality – account for her oeuvre's conceptual and compositional base. Her oeuvre has its origin in the drawings – the most intimate and direct manner of artistic expression. The drawings serve to monitor and control her work.

Gudrun Petersdorff's work is marked by confidence and clarity of line, whilst being emotional and empathetic at the same time. Drawing becomes a means of transformation, transposition, identification and self-discovery. In this sense, Petersdorff continues within the tradition of her teacher, Bernhard Heisig, whose maturity as an artist was inspired by his study of painters such as Max Beckmann and Oskar Kokoschka. Paula Modersohn-Becker, the Surrealists with their dreamlike imagery, as well as the admired draughtsmen, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, are also present, albeit as almost imperceptible inspirations.

By appropriating art history both as a template as well as a challenge, while trusting her own artistic endeavour, Gudrun Petersdorff forges her own authentic course as an artist. In countless works of varying sizes executed in pastel, charcoal, ink and watercolour on different kinds of paper, the observer may trace the artist's experiences and interests as in a diary – yet without being forced into the position of a voyeur, besieged by intimacies. There survives a sense of exclusion: Petersdorff's drawings remain the place of transformation, whilst also offering a new spatial construct. The harmony to which she aspires – between what she sees and what she feels –is neither sentimental nor transfigured; her work is much more aloof and unwieldy, characterised by a certain cool distance.

Significantly, her subject matter is everyday, but not banal. Petersdorff's oeuvre seems to evolve in constantly growing thematic circles, the drawings being an integral part, if not indeed the prime source of this overall movement. There are the streets in her hometown, and streets in other places, houses, parks, rivers and circus scenes. There are views of landscapes and nature – in faraway places and closer to home. Gudrun Petersdorff draws portraits of her friends and acquaintances, nudes, and repeatedly tries her hand at self-portraits.

Her nude drawings appear almost classical, without petering out in standard academic issues as to 'right' or 'wrong.' The clear outlines, sparse crosshatching and airy lines transfer the depicted figures from their state of anonymity to becoming socially tangible individuals. Especially in the early nudes the incidental detail in the background – the room confined by a masonry heater, a parabolic heater or a playpen jutting diagonally into the picture – conjures the atmosphere of those years and ties the depicted persons into a palpable milieu, that was the artist's social and working environment at the time.

Such an atmosphere is not only prevalent in the nude drawings. It may also be found in the cityscapes from the 1980s and early 90s, albeit somewhat differently. Here it is manifest in the barren desolation of the Leipzig streets, lacking cars or people. Beneath the grim sullenness often aglow in muted colours, resplendent Wilhelminian houses resemble enchanted castles, awaiting their saviour. Time seems frozen; a menacing sense of peace embraces the industrial area in Plagwitz. Quite casually, these drawings refer to a – historically – very real context, without losing their poetry or privacy.

The artist brings back from her travels intricate pastel and crayon drawings, gouaches of brilliant colour and raw, provocative power, as well as black ink drawings marked by almost abstract reticence. Many of the sheets showing Renaissance and Baroque gardens were created in the places they depict: their dreamlike quality is to be found throughout the painter's work. Labyrinthine spaces, punctuated by mysterious fountains and sculptures beneath a canopy of bizarre, drifting clouds. The sombre, dark green colour scheme interspersed with mottles of pink also derives from the preliminary drawings.

Over the years, Gudrun Petersdorff attentively pursues her love of music, attending concerts as well as going to the circus and variety theatre. This inspires large, colourful works that are thematically related to her paintings and collages. An irritating multilayered viewpoint is a signature constant throughout her work: space seems to shift, as if wrong perspective creates spatial congruence, spatial depth is flattened out to reconfigure within the viewer's mind – as space.

Gudrun Petersdorff achieves all this without enslaving herself to a constraining style, allowing her works to issue naturally from her hand. Her drawings are never boring or conceived of as a necessary evil on the way to some greater ideal; neither are they marked by laborious crosshatching nor rendered to the ends of calculated effect. Petersdorff's art is governed by a sense of curiosity and tension, by vital energy, passion and the almost childlike urge to marvel at the ways of the world. Her diligence and amicable, life-affirming approach enable her to come to grips with (her) daily life. This allows her to touch the world with the senses, predominantly defining the singular quality of her drawings.