Austrian painter Maria Lassnig spent most of her life trying to give shape to her being. Having lived until the Nazi regime, she undertook studies at the Academy of Fine Arts of Vienna before aligning herself with the avant-garde movement, alongside artists such as Ernst Fuchs, to begin her exploration of awareness and body.
Beyond identity, the artist finds inspiration with form and its relation to the feelings brought on by physicality. At once subject and object, Lassnig’s work depicts the parts of her own body according to her own perception of the latter in the very moment of creation. On any given day, the organism depicted by the artist is an exact reflection of the status of her interiority. If Lassnig cannot feel her arm, the figure before her too will find its limb distorted, if present at all.
Ways of Being poses the question we much too often take for granted in our self depiction as creatures of the mind, of the extent to which identity comes to intersect with matter, and how the contours of one’s being comes to inform what lies underneath. The collection features over 200 pieces; an overview of the lifetime of the artist who has come to pass away in recent years.
While many would deem Lassnig’s art to be abstract impressionism, in the artist’s concerns with the tangible rests a desire to locate that which contains most reality, and comes to epitomize a malaise of the modern condition, otherwise known as the feeling that all that is solid melts into air. “I searched for a reality that was more in my possession than the exterior world,” the artist states. Locating the body beyond the discourse of gender and race, past difference, normative standardization, and semblance, Lassnig’s figures are left with mere outlines, resulting in the birth of beings that reflect the artist’s own alienation, disenchanted with both social and material objectivity.
In the end, the bodies offered by Lassnig surpass the notion of an objective reality to offer an impression of the latter as interpretation in its inquiry upon the implications behind the individual bearing of such a physicality. It is at once a desire to surpass one’s humanity through re-appropriation, which grants permanence against decay and change, as well as a necessity to dive into the heart of humanity in its exploration of the fundamental question of being. Elaine Zheng 3rd May 2019
MARIA LASSNIG: WAYS OF BEING continues at the Stedelijk Museum until 11th August.