Margareta Sandhofer

From 1979 to 1984, Elisabeth Plank studied under Oswald Oberhuber at the Vienna University of Applied Arts, then still known as the Hochschule für angewandte Kunst. This detail is worth noting, since there is something she shares with her former teacher who is still a close friend. It is the multi-facetted diversity of her work as well as the ease with which she has moved through various realms in her development. This can be seen in her playful way of balancing various stylistic means, always keenly attuned to her surroundings, to inspirations of any kind, be it literature, nature, her immediate environment or even artist colleagues and their art – these being contemporary and, most notably, historical. It is the environment, life that she assimilates, reflects, processes. All this has an impact, leaves a mark – without the viewer being able to readily recognize any possible inspiration. For all the diversity of facets in her oeuvre, Elisabeth Plank always remains true to herself, listening to her intuition. Her work springs forth from its own impulse only, following its intrinsic nature. This is the golden thread that runs so unconditionally, consistently through Elisabeth’s work. What we witness here is a strikingly dynamic art production whose development we are able to observe with great fascination. Her oeuvre is replete with entirely surprising twists and turns. One finds various stops in the series and groups of works that are directed to the beholder with compelling immediacy, straightforwardness, without any capricious imperative.

The section of her work presented here from her most recent production can be seen as a snapshot of her development, one that remains unforeseeable even for the artist. And her production seems to content itself, in a seemingly modest way, with the field of pure painting. Elisabeth Plank moves affirmatively in this classical, traditional realm in which she apparently touches no boundaries, her free spirit finding inexhaustible expanses.

Referring to this very series, called SHAPES by the artist, a title that eschews any thematic description and allows for any association, she cites her love for Piet Mondrian’s art as inspiration. She thus quotes a source I myself had never thought of, one that is certainly telling for the autonomy, the idiosyncratic nature of her art. The basic motif of the painting, the amorphous form developing concentrically from the center, this elementary shape can be traced through Elisabeth Plank’s oeuvre over a period of about three years. The large-format SHAPES canvases were preceded in 2018 by smaller paper works, the so-called PAINTBABIES. These can be seen as a “condensation” of the 2017 paintings of the ONLINE COMPOSITIONS.

Whereas the paintings from 2017 still expressed a churning, agitated emotionality, the same basic motive in PAINTBABIES has remained playfully suspended on the sheets with light buoyancy. Now in the SHAPES, this motif moves with sovereign determination and a calm, solid sensitivity on the ground of the painting.

Elisabeth’s works evolve in a silent, almost meditative atmosphere. In a state of high concentration, her brush stroke yields to an inner impulse, as if she were engaged in a dialogue with the piece emerging.

The individual work in the SHAPES series takes the center of the picture as its point of departure. On a black ground a white pulsating surface emerges from the primal flowing elements and develops towards the edge of the painting, which she subtly captures in some spots so as to extend its impact to the surrounding architecture. The artist first lets her painting assume form in a purely white state and then blossom into an atmospheric formation, whose shadow existence she then gives life to in a further step, lifting it from an abstract, immaterialized state into the presence of color.

Taking a holistic view of the painting, the artist re-appropriates the structure. Step by step, she captures internal oscillations emanating from a color composition that gradually unfolds. These are intensified and finally structured as a vibrating formation. The accentuated, dynamic forms that are brought to life oscillate between voluminous physicality and pure two-dimensionality. They allude to a corporeality that can been found in the brush stroke applying the semi-transparent paint – only to then withdraw into a two-dimensional pictoriality. These elementary beings seem to emerge from the black ground in the center of the painting, moving in a spiral turning outwardly into an ever-greater formal diversity and presence around this center, which seems to resemble a non-figurative depth. Its alleged void is activated by these swirling formations and filled with ideal contents.

Just as the individual forms rotate around the center of the painting, Elisabeth Plank also works from all sides, circling the painting. The formal, internal movement corresponds to her own physical movement while painting, while at the same time reflecting the artist’s unconditional mental focus on the emerging work. The dialogue between the artist and her work takes place from both close up and from a distance, when she pauses from the height of a ladder to reflect on the painting and then continues to give it shape. The dynamic between the artist and her work – the touching, moving away, coming closer again and once again touching – evolves like the gradually intensifying dance of a couple. Only when this process comes to an end, at the very outset, is the top and bottom of the painting defined. The form of presentation becomes clear when the work proves completed.

Up this point the composition of the painting is a process that evolves in real time without any preliminary sketch, without any defined placements and thus without any corrections. Elisabeth Plank makes do without any rigid fixation. She has thus also playfully freed herself from all narrative. She has suppressed the thematic tale in favor of the composition and then withdrawn the latter in favor of a free efficiency. She dispenses with any allegiance to a characteristic, recognizable style, line or high-impact virtuosity. By the same token, she and her work break with the often-expected topicality of the present times. Consistently, undeterred, Elisabeth Plank pursues a form of pure, unrelentingly radical painting, which owns up to its pictorial existence with its incisively classical stance and clarity and presents itself confidently and autonomously. It is a painting that is intrinsic, autonomous and only committed to its own inherent nature. Her painting emerges as a direct impulsive flow via the brush that she yields to, buttressed by a basic trust in painting. She engages with its enigmatic nature so as to create an equally enigmatic piece, which retains its myth for us as well as the artist.

2019 (transl. Camilla Nielsen)

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