'Colorlife', Daniel Spanke, 2008

in: Rosa M Hessling. "Garden of Light III", Rheinisches LandesMuseum Bonn, 2008

Reproducing Rosa M Hessling’s work is almost impossible. Looking from different viewing angles the color in part changes radically; it changes completely, and we see a painting almost as if it were alive reacting to our movements. The artist achieves this technologically with a relatively new generation of pigments having an iridescent play of color, which through refracted light across thin, half-transparent layers, shine, and interference effects depending on the angle of the viewpoint, run through the spectrum between different tonalities.

This creates an impression of a constantly-changing chromatic illumination coming from deep within the picture plane.If works of art can only be truly experienced in the original, this is even more definitely so with Rosa M Hessling’s paintings. Only in their original form can you perceive the color shifts, the color gradations and the half-transparency of the painting surface, and only in real time’s passing, with active observation (by “active” meaning also precisely the space-altering kind).Reproductions assume, though, that a significant state of affairs can be captured and recorded. The reason that the catalogue, despite the difficulty of reproduction, is provided with illustrations is that paintings are regarded traditionally as immutable, thus can be pictured in illustrations. It has basically to do with the concept of a painting or picture, that it lends permanence to a view; that now hardly any other medium is available besides the printed and illustrated book as an instrument for its conveyance, in order to accompany and document this show. Surely a film would be more suitable, but much less customary, not so easy to handle, and rather more expensive as well.

Nevertheless, the contradiction between the reality of these paintings and their extension through printed material is productive of ideas and is really a very suitable entry into the more recent history of pictures in art, and the new picture of modernism that actually works on the boundaries of the medium.1 Also Rosa M Hessling, most recently of all, has her part in this. People have always blamed the pictorial arts, in their struggle to compete with the other branches of the arts, literature or music, for not being in a position to describe for us the basic time dimension of our reality.2 Pictures are “rigid”, and cannot lay hold of the successiveness of experienced events, hence a decisive aspect of our lives is missing in them. However, the “rigidity”, the picture’s capability of fixing and recording things is the very reason for its cultural success in the history of mankind; yes, probably also the reason for its development at all. Pictures or paintings have been accompanying humanity since the very earliest days of its culture, and human beings created a medium precisely opposite to the continual vanishing of the present, a medium to hold onto things visually; the eternity of the glance, that has always been an integral and basic part of seeing the world. We have always regarded our world since our earliest days as Homo Sapiens Culturalis in the form of pictures, have been predestined for pictures, and selective for pictures.

Seen like that, it is really somewhat contradictory to want to implant elements of passing moments into the picture, whose “cultural-evolutionary success” occurs just by coming into contact with the fading out of time as it vanishes. This desire has to do with the way pictures or paintings are observed. What do we do when we look at a picture? When we really want to study as much as possible what is in the picture and what it describes, as we do with maps, views of cities, and X-rays, any mutability would nullify exactly the advantage that makes such pictures irrefutable, namely, that what is being regarded has to be immovably still. The perspective of this optical examining is one of control; what is pictured has its full value in a certain use and thereby can be controlled. However, already very early, pictures were not meant merely to leave a sort of specimen of reality; on the contrary, life itself should be put into the picture; the earliest paintings in caves of the so-called prehistoric cultures arrested, so to speak, animals and the hunt in motion, in them. They, too, are seen more from the perspective of control. In contrast to this, the case looks different when what is depicted is to be granted a controlling function. The depiction of the king, and even more, the depiction of the Deity, must not appear as an object of study or appropriation - its power should be assumed as having an effect that is alive, should be assumed to be real. Such depictions have had the tendency since former times to enter the scene as active, able to negotiate, as agents themselves: Divinities that become manifest in their depictions and who can negotiate as if they were alive. Only an overwhelming power has the strength to bring the dead, the picture, to life, as once everything alive was created, called into being or given form from the inanimate by the Deity. The picture always remains present as a mere picture, but the proof of the Divinity is shown exactly therein, against all earthly expectations, in the taking of the picture as an “earthly body” into possession, and filling it with Its soul. Even when technical tricks are involved, and that must often have been the case, the assumption that these pictures should act as if they were alive, is an act of belief and its confirmation. In belief in the Divinity, the picture showing It is a naked vehicle of Its believed reality.


In modern times in Europe there has been a tendency for paintings to be detached from the representation of absent realities. The painting itself becomes the aim of the viewing, and exactly what religious criticism of paintings had considered out of the question - that looking had to do with the painting itself, which was actually a dead and only material thing, and this now becomes a leitmotif of how paintings are received; the work of art in the European sense has come into being.3 Paintings and pictures as works of art are not only looked at, collected and made in view of what is represented, so that it would be a picture of the king or the Divinity, but, on the contrary, in view of the rendering itself as the spiritual expression of the artist, which would be interpreted as such. The fact that there are such commissions and functions for pictures ongoing, that are modern, as in commercial photography, indicates that, alongside the concept of the work of art there are yet other existing concepts for pictures, picture-paradigms, often several, changing, and overlaid in a picture. The concept of the work of art ill-suits, on the other hand, the function and intent of the commission.


Already French Impressionism detached the painting from the reproduction of the conceptual identity of objects and developed it into a medium of perceiving the world of these objects. Here, things could almost dissolve, within the reality of observable light, into color sensations, as in the model of perception of Monet’s painting. Monet sets down single flecks of color on the canvas, that do not signify the materiality of physical bodies in space any more, but rather the eye’s impressions. To this extent this painting is abstracted from the division of the world into things and everything becomes intimately related to everything else in the network of flecks of color on the painting’s surface. Differences in the world appear only as color modulations. With this the world in art is brought to the painting as denominator; the world is seen, only as what a picture is, and pictures have always had their qualities. In light of this, processes in the world, physical processes having to do with bodies in space, do not necessarily need to be included among these qualities to do justice to what the painting represents. But inasmuch as Monet and the Impressionists set down in paintings the world as a transitionally modulated world of color, the necessary fuzziness of this modulation dwells within a moment of mutability. This immanent transitory quality of their pictured world, which has its correspondence in changes of light dependent on the weather and times of the day, Monet extends in his famous series, in which the same motive, the meaning of which is still under discussion, plays itself through in several paintings of equal validity as they relate to each other.4 From this point onwards, an ever-increasing stream of modern painting has sprung up, from the 20th century to the present. In a history of art that sees the so-called nonobjective painting as a main road, there is a tendency to regard the motif as merely an excuse for realizing a painting, and relatively unimportant in itself. Particularly in the German postwar period, the demand for objective or nonobjective painting has had an ideological tone and taken on the highest priority. However, it is, naturally, not a matter of indifference that Monet’s famous series unfolds with motifs from nature and even from the sacral sphere, like the famous views of Rouen Cathedral. Indeed one can well ask to what extent (and whether) a kind of secularized postcard is not much more the basis for this subject.5 Yet an interpretation as a painterly enlivened perception of the house of God could be equally considered. It is most instructive that numerous pioneers of abstraction like Wassily Kandinsky, Mikolajus Cˇiurlionis oder Adolf Hölzel fell back on religious motives, in order to develop abstracted, dynamized paintings. The history of the changing, lively painting made for its own sake coming out of religious experience, is undergoing a changed, modern continuation.

Rosa M Hessling’s works are a more recent, and, from the viewpoint of art history, comparatively late development of this “living painting” in modernism. In their use of physically highly complex interfering colors they have made the cultural primacy of natural science in modernism a presupposition, which already affected the Impressionist artists in their being interested in bringing their paintings into accordance with the latest visual and color theories like those of the chemist Eugène Chevreul.6 The smooth closed surface of Hessling’s paintings yields no key as to the making of these colors or how they create their effects, so that the viewer of these phenomena to be observed experiences them even as “reactions of the painting” in themselves. Thereby the artist often melts together the single stripes modulated in their movement as they run across, in the blur of unboundedness of the single elements. Although the colors, seen simultaneously, often strongly contrast with one another, their forms can only be made out and defined with difficulty. This structure of strips connotes, horizontally, something like landscape per se, and, seen vertically, leads one to think of something natural as well, like vegetation. Hessling organizes her works ”transcompositionally”, so to speak. A painting composition would be an ordering of elements in an always delicate relation, which effects the balanced stability on the surface of the “built-up” painting. Yet these painted works with their interference effects allow the forms of color themselves to flow over and into each other. Doubtless a certain kind of picture of nature is addressed here, that withdraws from the control by a distant observer, and understands the person as being involved.


1 Vgl. dazu z.B. Kat.\Cf. e.g. cat. Das offene Bild. Aspekte der Moderne in Europa nach 1945. Westfäisches Landesmuseum Münster 1992/93. Stuttgart 1992.

2 Siehe dazu mit einer positiven Bewertung des Bildlichen\For a positive evaluation of the pictorial, see Gottfried Boehm: Zu einer Hermeneutik des Bildes, in: Hans-Georg Gadamer/Gottfried Boehm: Seminar. Die Hermeneutik und die Wissenschaften. Frankfurt am Main 1978, S. 444-471.

3 Vgl. dazu\C.f. Daniel Spanke: Porträt – Ikone – Kunst. Zu einer Bildtheorie der Kunst. München 2004.

4 Siehe Kat.\See cat. Monets Vermächtnis. Serie - Ordnung und Obsession. Hamburger Kunsthalle 2001/02. Ostfildern 2001.

5 Vgl.\Cf. Dagmar E. Kronenberger: Die Kathedrale als Serienmotiv. Motivkundliche Studien zu einem Bildthema in der Malerei des französischen Impressionismus (Diss. Münster 1995). Frankfurt a.M. [u.a.] 1996.

6 Siehe z.B.\See e.g. Georges Roque: Art et science de la couleur. Chevreul et les peintres de Delacroix à l‘abstraction. Nîmes 1997; Max Imdahl: Farbe. Kunsttheoretische Reflexionen in Frankreich. München 1987.