Gudrun Petersdorff · Malerei und Grafik

Gudrun Petersdorff or: the Southernisation of the World
Andreas Höll
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“Two paths appear. They open to no one./ But sometimes, as you face them,/ one allows you to proceed./ Then you think you’ve lost your way.” This is how Rilke begins his poem "In a Foreign Park", revolving around the tentative steps of the flaneur. It is a measured-off area, where nature and civilization are interlaced with great artistry, opening up imaginary spaces. It is the sphere governed by the laws of "as if", where the organic and the constructed displace reality as well as enhancing it.  
Gudrun Petersdorff was drawn to the fascination of the world of "parks" described in Rilke's writing at an early age. The initial impulse came to her during a trip to Spain in 1988, equipped with a travel visa which in itself seemed almost unreal under GDR conditions. She completed her first sketches of the artificial paradises in the Royal Botanical Garden in Madrid and, following on from this, began to design her own park landscapes in countless paintings. Finding renaissance and baroque gardens particularly inspiring, with their ingenious geometrical structures, she developed her own perspectives, rearranging and condensing the architecture. Cylindrical cypresses mark out spaces, clipped hedges form rectangular areas, large box-tree spheres throw perfectly circular shadows, and cubes of foliage create archways or walls.

They are luminescent paintings that seem to emanate from a distant paradise. The colours radiate strength and energy; there is a subtle sense of iridescence when dark and pale shades of green encounter violet mountain formations, colliding with bands of ink-blue or orange sky.

Gudrun Petersdorff's works are based on sketches and drawings completed not only in Germany but on journeys to France, Italy, Switzerland, or further afield in Israel, Vietnam and the Caribbean. Themes often centre around the foreign, the exotic: boats plough their way through the magical blue of Ha Long Bay, flanked by mountains, pink water lilies appear almost to have been implanted in a pool in Turkey, elaborately layered stone formations rise up in tones of deep violet (Garden in Hue). 
But the home environment is also transformed. A meadow in Leipzig's Schönefeld is depicted as an abstraction of strokes and spots, the park in Niedersedlitz becomes a Mediterranean refuge bathed in winter light (Before everything turns Green), a wind farm near Bernburg appears as a bright summer landscape with blinding yellow fields of rape and filigree rotors. This is how the painter from Northern European climes works on her southernisation of the world.

Many of Gudrun Petersdorff's still lifes also seem loaded with the aura of an imaginary south. Close-ups of high-heeled shoes on raised showcase plinths appear to take on a life of their own, making reference to their absent owners. Then there are the paintings of cakes, wallowing in a multitude of patterns, or the stylised salmon rolls and sushi, which look like sculptures. Whether her subject is fashion, food or nature – the painter's works are characterised by a sensuality that is seductive and yet formally restrained.

Her townscapes also follow an aesthetic order with a harmony of its own, which even the occasional sharp contrast obeys. The labyrinthine architecture of a Moroccan coastal town, where three-dimensionality dissolves into coloured surfaces, brutal constructions in Tel Aviv (Unfinished House, Israel or Bus Station, Tel Aviv), dominating the city space, or the enormous cruise ship anchoring in the port of Nice – Gudrun Petersdorff's compositions transform 21st-century civilisation into balanced scenarios. "Sometimes I would like to paint an ugly picture", says the artist, "but somehow it is impossible for me." Even the motif of a suburban petrol station or an ungainly concrete bridge spanning a cheerless marina become ciphers of the south.
Gudrun Petersdorff's DNA seems to contain a powerful beauty gene that allows her to cast a spell over reality. It sometimes comes dangerously close to kitsch, but very rarely oversteps the mark. An antidote to the holistic idyll is provided by the blank spaces in her pictures, the element of fragmentation, reduction, two-dimensionality, occasionally even emptiness. An apparent naivety with a false bottom, pointing towards the fragility of these constructions. A sense of beauty that may be the premonition of a world that has made peace with itself, but also gives expression to a yearning that can never be satisfied. It is the moment of utopia once described by the philosopher Ernst Bloch as something that "shines into everyone's childhood and where no one has yet been: home."