Elsa Tomkowiak: INTO COLOR at The Merchant House, Amsterdam

Elsa Tomkowiak, Kelvin 11, 2020. Acrylic on biodegradable plastic. 27 x 27 cm (details).

23rd April – 12th June 2021.

The Merchant House presents the second solo show of Elsa Tomkowiak (France, 1981). In her light-inspired work, Tomkowiak reflects on our physical experience and on her personal journey—from her earliest years at art school—to expand the spatial possibilities of painting and color. Tomkowiak’s unique achievement is an art of luminous painterly abstraction that reaches beyond expected frameworks. Alluding to natural phenomena, her works unfold as joyous encounters that summon ecological reflection.

The Works

According to Tomkowiak, painting is no longer relegated to representation but is, on the contrary, part of the natural sphere, in touch with reality. This defines her recent work grounded in meteorology. Named after cyclones, windstorms, hurricanes and related phenomena, the works evolve in relation to light intensity and one’s movement in space. The result is art that envelops visitors with its uncanny, brilliant physicality, delving deep into the conflict between our presence (in spaces of work or leisure) and its footprint (in nature and art).

By registering light through an idiosyncratic spectrum, the works on view at TMH deconstruct the notions of gallery art, upsetting the established fine art hierarchies. In 2017, she completed a permanent multi-painting installation to counter the lack of natural light at the University Hospital in Angers, and in 2019, she won a public commission in Lyon with her park sculpture Out / Albedo 0.34. This show explores her recent findings: Albedo 100 is one of her first pieces connected to the albedo factor—the scientific measure of a surface’s degree of reflectivity, which we perceive as different colors. Emphasizing the physical, and not just the visual, the assembled works sport fist-pounded, Day-Glo pigments as well as the artist’s actual makeup, found foam, and framed, color-coded packed plastic. The aesthetic is that of a rainbow caught and condensed in each work—inviting and disturbing.

The highlight of the show is Kelvin 2020: with this series of 20 color-calibrated works, Tomkowiak has started to recycle the materials from her spatial installations. The medium of Kelvin 2020 is that of the plastic, atmospheric banners originally installed at the Château-Musée de Tournon-sur-Rhône but packed into funky black square frames. The spectral grid on the wall captures the effect of cascading light from the acclaimed museum intervention, reassembled in the form of unconventional abstract paintings. Once again, Tomkowiak avoids fixing the category and invites viewers to be guided by their own sensations and preoccupations. 

The Artist

Elsa Tomkowiak (France, 1981) is acclaimed for her paintings and large-scale installations grounded in color and spatial experience—the artist’s and viewer’s. She is best known for her public commissions: an opera house (Nantes), two bridges (Quebec, CA), a glasshouse (Pougues-les-Eaux), festival participations, a permanent multi-painting installation for a hospital in Angers, a space-specific intervention at the Château-Musée de Tournon-sur-Rhône, and most recently, in 2020, at the Basilique Saint-Vincent de Metz. In 2019, she won the commission for a permanent park sculpture in Lyon and took part in the OpenART biennale in Sweden. Following her participation in Making Things Happen at TMH in 2017-18, Tomkowiak was selected for ARTZUID 2019 in Amsterdam. Tomkowiak lives and works in Douarnenez, France.