in: Rosa M Hessling. "Garden of Light II", Kunstmuseum Mülheim, Stadtmuseum Siegburg, Dortmunder Kunstverein, 2002
When chance and time allow us to examine a work of art with conclusive consistency, the question that always arouses the most interest is how the artist conceived the idea in the first place, where the concept for the work of art took seed, and what were the steps that accompanied the creative process. The painter Rosa M Hessling, whom we also know as a photo artist, describes herself as a gardener of light. And this applies to various aspects of her work. But what does she mean by this? Using light to create pictures: is this not what artistic photography is all about. It is certainly unusual to use photographic terminology to talk about an artist who indeed uses this medium, but whose activities are clearly predominantly devoted to painting.
The fascinating aspect of Rosa M Hessling's work is the special quality of the colours, which do not change in the classical sense when subjected to light, but compel light itself to undergo a series of different metamorphoses. The artist's approach can almost be described as scientific: similar to an alchemist she uses highly differentiated doses to design an orchestra of pigments, colours and materials that themselves become optical batteries that produce light. She applies this skill for every painting she creates, leaving the picture to glow, radiate, change and communicate with the viewer "on its own", if it can, without any additional lighting or any other technical means.
Painting and light are the medium and objective of Rosa M Hessling's artistic work. At the beginning of her artistic career, Rosa M Hessling had enormous problems with her painting and the status that she had developed with her new approach in the early nineteen-eighties.
In those days painting was passionate, wild, expressive and focussed on self-portrayal. Rosa M Hessling felt that painting lacked any dynamic feeling for life and found it unsatisfactory as a means of expressing zeitgeist, presence and speed. She commenced her studies at the Art Academy in Düsseldorf in 1981, and began to search for an adequate form and language for her artistic expression in _the field of performance and live projects.
It was against _this background that she developed her work DENK-MAL-SCHUTZ (a play on words in German: Denkmalschutz means literally protection of monuments, and when split up THINK-ABOUT-PROTECTION). For this work of art she played the part of a living, non-speaking sculpture that removed the barbs from barbed wire as a demonstration for peace. It was the _process of the performance that was important for Rosa M Hessling, a process of doing, of activity, but also a process of reception and growing awareness that draws the viewer into the action as much as the artist herself.
Rosa M Hessling has managed to maintain the active involvement of the individual with the art piece in later concepts and series of performances. According to the artist, the art piece has no significance without this involvement. The viewer is an essential part of her artistic work. The viewer is responsible for his own actions and is therefore also responsible as a recipient of her work, because her performances, or installations, or paintings, are only "alive" to the extent that the individual accepts them, becomes aware of them and enters into concrete dialogue with them.
The inner dialogue as an artistic objective led Rosa M Hessling to find her way back to painting via work with video films and by joining the class of Nam Jun Paik, since this gave her the chance to work with speed, intensity and the quality of the dialogue in a different way than with the medium performance or film. She was not obliged to bow to given factors, but to work on these aspects as they occur as a result of the balance between the object and the viewer. Only when the special relationship between the two "active partners" has been established, can a balanced dialogue commence, which is what Rosa M Hessling's work is actually all about. At this point in time Rosa M Hessling formulated herfirst manifesto with the demand for a balance of things: "In relation to painting, this means that a specific colour is not chosen primarily for aesthetic reasons, be that due to its position in the picture, its intensity or its material quality.
If the same real space is measured in the abstract terms of thing-human being + appearance, the quality radiated outwards is based solely on the inner substance of the matter. This requires neither appreciation or depreciation through evaluation. The things themselves are and contain the terms GOOD or EVIL only through interpretation." (Manifesto 1985)
Since this point in time, Rosa M Hessling's artistic work has focussed essentially on understanding the meaning and effect of pure colour. This means that none of her works can be described as typical, something which was always foreign to her in the passionate painting of the nineteen eighties, and which she still cannot accept. In those days, she developed the Day/ Night series of paintings, which comprised 30 works that were occupied with Corbusier's "Modulor" and the balance of colour. The choice of colours applied in the 30 paintings was drawn from the colour diaries she kept over a long period of time, and which accompanied the development of her manifesto.
She works according to a colour module that has been developed with mathematical accuracy and produces endless shades and tones based on exact colour mixtures. Rosa M Hessling combines the valencies of the colours, ordered according to their inherent light content. In doing so, she always varies between day and night conditions, the presence or absence of brightness, two colours with contrary luminous intensities. She reduces typical elements to an absolute minimum by juxtaposing the surfaces homogeneously and without detailed brushwork. The canvas formats she used for this series of paintings are in themselves a series of stele-like, vertical punctuation marks that go beyond any design concept and allow the highest possible degree of reduced but intense concentration.
The different elements are not arranged hierarchically and can be read from right to left or vice versa. The strong vertical quality of the works, however, leads the viewer to focus on the "sublime" quality that the painting reflects, similar to how first-generation American painters who used colour expected viewers of their works to respond. Within the context of Rosa M Hessling's Day/Night series, it is important to note the effective coolness and analytical stringency with which she has produced these works. Our emotional, subjective view of colour has been removed.
Colour appears as a coolly calculated, almost aloof, dual system, in which the valencies of the colours are juxtaposed with no signs of exaggerated empathy. The attempt to approach the law of colour in a scientific and analytical manner did not pay sufficient attention to the virtual vivid quality of colour. In 1988, therefore, Rosa M Hessling set about researching the material quality of colour, which she thought would come nearer to her idea of movement, speed and changeability. This led her to discover the quality of luminescent materials, which she has been using in her work ever since.
This special material quality of colour, in which perception can be re-determined on a physical level through interferences, the superimposition of waves, parallel optical refractions, allows strict adherence to a process of colour perception that comes very close to Rosa M Hessling's idea of dialogical principles. Whereas in the Day/Night paintings the coloured areas were juxtaposed in a comparatively statuary manner with the result that they also responded to each other on a rational level, in her subsequent paintings Rosa M Hessling has developed a spatial dimension of colour that is very similar to the physical processes involved with light.
She describes this step in her artistic development thus: "The preferences have gradually and consistently changed from pure colour into light". Since the nineteen nineties her work has comprised simple but strictly compiled series of several or individual works that follow a certain formal process, but as far as the colour quality is concerned possess the power of practically endless, if not recurring interactive colour modulations. The works of art develop in a canon of pre-determined colours that radiate the entire spectrum, including complex modulations such as gold and pearl white. The colour quality of these works is derived from an almost indefinable number of glazed layers, which lend the surface a both metallic and immaterial lustre. The layers that make up the luminous colour produced do not appear to have any substantial quality at all.
The painted surfaces, be they of aluminium, or in earlier works canvas, still appear to be in evidence even after several layers have been applied. The colour glazes contain special pigments and refract light in a very special way and change according to the angle of view and when illuminated. The smallest changes in the position of the viewer, or the raising or lowering of brightness in the space or any changes in the quality of the light within the space, give rise to such remarkable changes in the appearance of the picture that the viewer can hardly believe he is viewing the same work.
The colour effects that Rosa M Hessling has created using this technique, appear to be not so much a colour phenomenon, but rather a phenomenon of light, which the viewer perceives as an atmosphere within the space when he views the painting. He is attracted by the pictures as light sources and feels "enlightened". "SIESTA (Plus/Minus Red) I-VII" from the year 1990 is a fine example of how an orchestra of colour can spread throughout the space in innumerous "more or less" tonal values, creating at one and the same time a place of tranquillity, fiery red and movement.
The artist painted seven 2 x 1 metre panels of cheesecloth with different shades of glazed red, which produce different impressions on the viewer depending on his angle of view. The changing image and the disappearance of the red at specific moments is a never-ending process, turning the viewer into an "image producer". It is the interaction between the viewer and the pictures that is responsible for the perception and recognition of the images. The viewer enters into a dialogue with the pictures, the space and himself by making his viewing behaviour an integral part of a process.
The ability of Rosa M Hessling's works to enter into a dialogue with the viewer has lent her artistic work an increasingly meditative quality. Whereas her earlier work, "SIESTA (Plus/Minus Red)", also showed signs of expansion and spatial dominance, this aspect of her work has been reduced considerably in later works, moving towards an artistic medium that is far more intimate and reticent. The content of her work concentrates more and more on the individual's awareness of how s/he feels. "Change One's Mind" is a good example of this interaction. The delicate shades of colour are perceived in practically immaterial light of a spiritual quality, which is exactly what the artist intends. The contemplative quality of the artist's recent works is in direct context with the spaces in which they are exhibited - churches or museums, spaces that develop an almost sacred quality through the viewer's perception of the pictures and the light quality of the same.
Rosa M Hessling even succeeds in achieving this atmosphere in rough, industrial spaces such as the Kunstschalter in Cologne, where she realised the impressive installation "Innocence" in 1999. The pools of colour floating over the ground lend the space a _material quality that is "not of this world". Rosa M Hessling's artistic works are also showing increasingly more signs of aesthetic presence. This is especially daring, when you consider that her work is based to a certain extent on an anti-aesthetic level of perception on the part of the viewer. There are few people who view Hessling's paintings that deny that the experience has something to do with "beauty".
But it goes further than that. In the course of the viewing process the quality of the pictures changes from beautiful to spiritual, from the purely optical to the meaningful. And this is exactly the effect the artist aims to achieve, moving her viewers through her gardens of light and bringing them a little closer to the meaning of life.