Tomma Abts Serpentine exhibition review

Tomma Abts, Hebe, Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Tomma Abts Serpentine Exhibition review
Tomma Abts, Fiebe, 2017 Acrylic & oil on canvas 48 × 38 cm, 18 7/8” × 15” Courtesy Private Collection
Tomma Abts (1967) is a German-born painter who lives in London. In 2006 Tomma won the Turner Prize and has since gone on to exhibit in many institutions around the world.  In this Tomma Abts Serpentine exhibition review, I want to discuss her interesting static compositions and consider what I think the artist wants to say through the work.
 
Tomma Abts’s quiet and unique work could never be described as pretty.  Her strange visual illusions at first glance look like 1950s wallpaper.  Each painting contains zigzags, puzzles and twists on her trademark sized 48 x 38cm canvases. Tomma worked mainly on canvases of this size for the last 20 years, only recently introducing, different sized and shaped canvas. The title of her paintings were taken from a German dictionary of first names, Uphe, Zebe, Mehm, Veeke, Meko and Noeme.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Fimme, 2013 Tomma Abts Serpentine exhibition review
Tomma Abts, Installation view, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London (7 June– 9 September 2018) © 2018 readsreads.info
Tomma was attracted to the Sackler gallery rather than the main Serpentine Gallery. She quickly realised that by leaving the powder rooms at the centre of the gallery empty with only the brickwork showing she could put her work in a sequence around the outside.   Laying out the paintings in a precise order enables her to control the sense of movement for the viewer; and links her work carefully to the architecture.  The positioning and lighting emphasises the relationships in each of her paintings between the contrast of the foreground and background.
 

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Tate Audio and Video on Tomma Abts
 
Tomma begins each painting without any preconceived ideas about what the picture will look like. The first task is to use a quick wash of acrylic paint to the canvas.  This is followed by an evolution of intuitive decisions in oil paint to create sculptural paintings that add depth to the two-dimensional surface.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Tomma Abts Serpentine exhibition review
Tomma Abts, Installation view, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London (7 June– 9 September 2018) © 2018 readsreads.info
Tomma says, “not knowing what the outcome might be is what makes me want to start another painting.  I have no plans, sketches or preconceptions when I begin; it is just decision after decision – an ongoing process of putting something onto the canvas and then editing it, then putting something down and editing it again – and in that way slowly constructing something…The making itself leads the way. The image is the manifestation  of the process.”

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Peter Doig exhibition review
 
It is a common theme in painting that when an artist changes their mind about a previous decision they often feel compelled to hide that journey in the painted layers. There is a very long phase of searching and discovery, and trial error can be seen in each painting.  In overpainting, there are submerged shapes turning the painting into a record of compressed time and space in flux. Each painting has a life of its own and eventually arrives at a lyrical composition of colour and illusory space.  The obscured passages of rifts and forms are like previous states of mind hidden in the surface.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Tedo, 2002, Tomma Abts Serpentine Exhibition review
Tomma Abts, Installation view, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London (7 June– 9 September 2018) © 2018 readsreads.info
The result is a painting that uses the way forms catch the light and shadows. Tomma says, “I can’t really say what it will look like or how it will finish or what will make it work.  It’s a different idea or moment for each painting.”  Each painting has a unique relationship and balance of colour and form. 
 

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Sarah Sze Exhibition review
There is no content, leaving you wondering what point Tomma is trying to make.  The paintings are a reflection of a process. The viewer skids across the surface, trying to get a grip but failing.  The emptiness of the paintings captivate the viewer and invite reams of commentary.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Tomma Abts Serpentine Exhibition review
Tomma Abts, Installation view, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London (7 June– 9 September 2018) © 2018 readsreads.info
The whole exhibition feels like an artwork in itself.  My mind wondered into the thoughts of Corbusier utopian dreams for Paris.  The artworks around the outside of the gallery are like the suburbs in the peripheral areas of the city. The inner architecture, the brickwork of the powder rooms is like the working heart of the city.  The intuitive paintings, where one step leads to the next, come from Tomma’s inner architecture and soul.  The lines, forms and rhythms offer a kind of purity, with each painting having its own unique sensation.
Stuart Bush Studio Blog, Tomma Abts Serpentine exhibition review
Tomma Abts, Installation view, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London (7 June– 9 September 2018) © 2018 readsreads.info

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