Dr. Annette Lagler | Director Ludwig Forum for International Art – Aachen | Germany

Judith Sturm - The Principle of Contrasting Pictorial Effects

Dr. Annette Lagler | Director Ludwig Forum for International Art - Aachen | Germany

At first glance, Judith Sturm's painting seems easy to understand, for the artist paints models and models, motifs familiar from advertising. It is all about female shells and bodies, dressy patterns and a carefully coordinated colour palette. But even at second glance, a complex artistic concept opens up to the viewer, which allusively breaks through expected clichés, cleverly uses colour-physiological effects and symbolic internal structures, juxtaposes surface and depth like aperture and view, and in the process quite naturally addresses painting in a self-reflexive way.

In 2005, Judith Sturm began a series of works in which pink was the dominant colour. The artist uses the entire colour range of "pink", which oscillates between pink and salmon and, depending on the mixing ratio, is able to express coldness and warmth, closeness and distance like no other colour spectrum.

In 2005, Judith Sturm began a series of works in which pink was the dominant colour. The artist uses the entire colour range of "pink", which oscillates between pink and salmon and is able to express cold and warmth, closeness and distance like no other colour spectrum, depending on the mixing ratio.

She uses bluish pinks for a refined spot pattern, light peach tones for the skin and delicate raspberry pink for the entire background, which sets the atmosphere of the pictures. She often applies the different colour nuances over and next to each other, rubbing them together and partly wiping them out again, so that contradictory colour-physiological information is conveyed to the viewer. Judith Sturm also applies the principle of contrasting pictorial effects by using absorbent salts to give the skin of her protagonists, who appear girlish from afar, a blotchy effect - seen from close up - that corresponds camouflage-like to the background of the picture.While the viewer expects immaculate skin in the face of young women, on closer inspection he discovers a painted surface reminiscent of decomposition processes, the supposedly attractive body withdraws, everything "tangible" dissolves into filigree, abstract structures and thus entangles the viewer in a discourse on figuration and abstraction. Sturm also uses the depicted garments in a similarly sophisticated way. In some paintings, a black, patterned strap top that traces the contours of a slender woman's body forms the pictorial theme. The neckline shown, with the shoulders and the base of the thighs, stylises the body into a classical torso and, instead of the facial features, puts the focus on the girl's summery shirt like a portrait. Although the moving drapery breathes breath into the figures and suggests the "envelopment" of a sensual woman's body, the internal structure of the dress-like polka dot pattern cancels out this illusion. The pink tone in the circles corresponds to the background colour, while the restless, pulsating internal structure resembles skin. The polkadot design thus appears as a pattern of holes, a chador that reveals the view through the body like an X-ray.

The unexpectedly vital inner life shows a transparent substance with blood-body-like dots, reminiscent of a condensed formula for "life". Once again, Sturm deprives the pictorial motif of any strikingly erotic mood and instead suggests a connection to the female cycle through a narrow, blood-red stripe on the thigh.

The paintings with stripes from 2006 are a counterpart to the paintings with dots. The picture detail shows women from the shoulders to the knee. They wear a tube-like, tight-fitting dress with red and pink stripes. Like twin sisters, they stand opposite each other in mirror image or sit with their legs bent. The pose seems uncomfortable, unnatural, the body appears cramped and as if trapped, so that the striped pattern looks like tying ribbons. Thus, two red ribbons leading tightly out from the dress over the edge of the picture are reminiscent of two tightening straps, and in view of the black and pink striped background, one associates not only a summery blind but also prison-like bars. Thus, the enigmatic pictures thematically complement earlier works that deal with the scope of movement allotted to women.

First, however, the artist devotes her painting to the play between innocence and seduction. Sturm repeatedly breaks through the sensual expectations aroused by patterns, clothing style and gestures. The liltingly flowing miniskirt with its "almost" lower view and the "sizzling" encounter of two women scantily clad in black lingerie and dessous ultimately reveal nothing, despite the daring perspectives. While garments and postures, such as the black bodice or the leg-length stockings fastened with garter straps, play around the erotic effect, the dotted pattern covering linen, wallpaper and bags hints at the innocent prudery associated with 1950s design. A - in some pictures - boldly placed red bar against the pink background also symbolically underlines the contrast between girlish innocence and self-confident eroticism.

In 2006, Judith Sturm began a new series that is strikingly different in its use of beige and sand tones. The detail of the picture has been enlarged once again. The female nude now also shows hands, feet and breasts. The mostly standing figures have their clothes, such as shorts, skirts or shoes, left out. It is left to the viewer's imagination to fill in the missing parts and to choose the appropriate fabric, patterns and colours, to dress the figures and to finish them off with the typical female everyday fetishes, such as handbags and slippers, which are also listed. The nude becomes the dress-up doll. The artist explicitly refers to this childlike, playful rehearsal of female role-play by painting clothes with paper tabs on some of the pictures. Symbols of classical iconography - such as the scattered painted physalis, which as a fruit in a red, leaf-like cover refers to ripeness and fertility - metaphorically take up the theme of body and cover.

At the same time, through the interplay of finished and unfinished, painted and unpainted parts, the female body appears visually radically dissected and dissected. Even in places where no garment is intended, the body seems to be cut in half, for instance at the waist. The lack of a woman's centre here gives the clothing role-play a psychological significance. The recurring blood-red ribbon, sometimes knotted around the arm, sometimes stretched to the breaking point and at other times running through the picture as a graphic line, can also be interpreted - apart from a sewing-utensil - as a sign of life and the vulnerability of female innocence and immaculate appearance.

In her latest series, Judith Sturm places physical-looking garments such as tank tops, denim skirts and pumps in contrasting juxtaposition to the body cut-out for which the respective clothing suggestion is intended. Even more clearly than before, Sturm resorts here to a strikingly condensed pictorial language in advertising graphics, which praises the effect and advantages of an article of merchandise in the style of a "before-and-after demonstration". In this way, the artist follows a line of art historical development that began with Andy Warhol in the early 1960s and found a European variant in the early works of Sigmar Polke, for example. Judith Sturm contrasts this historical context with a convincing, unmistakable artistic concept. By expressing distance and rapprochement, stimulus and distance in a multi-faceted and reflective way through the shell and body, she succeeds in setting new, contemporary impulses in a traditional genre.

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