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Color Fields, 2018

Karen Axelrud: Color Fields

By Themis Cheinquer

« I doubt, I paint to see. »


It takes time to see. It’s like the immediate impression of a forest from a distance, where all we see is a limit of trees in static repetition and compact density. Yet, when we look closer, so many variations are suddenly revealed by tones, thickness, surfaces and deepness. And then we find ourselves surrounded by the rhythm, the vibrations, the hidden spaces and all the singularities of this new space awakened into our eyes. Karen Axelrud’s paintings provide to the viewer such surprising revelations, time and space experiences. They allow no distraction. No figurative references. No trees, no mountains, no mimetic bodies. No narrative rhetoric. If anatomy exists, it’s the pure geometrical anatomy of space. If landscape exists, it’s the landscape of verticals and horizontals stripes.  If there is a system, because the artist cannot avoid her design-driven impulse, due to her architecture background, it is quickly abandoned through the creative process. Soon enough, the initial impulse of all-controlling and all predicting gives place to the freedom of searching, of trying, of discovering, of revealing. « I doubt, I paint to see », says the artist in which she seems to agree with Alberto Giacometti, who faced, long before her, the same perplexity: « I work only for myself, to better understand what I see », and further on, Pierre Soulages, when he says: « It’s by doing that I discover what I’m looking for. » A full genealogy of artists can be recalled on Karen’s references, Rothko and his vibrating surfaces, Mondrian and his spiritual space divisions, Judd and his structural organization, Sol Lewitt and his repetitive lines and even the sculptor Richard Serra with his transgressive space experiences. Art is process. Every artistic process is a new beginning leading to different paths. By her tireless interrogations of visual concepts, Karen thrives in colors, repetitions, sequences, fields. Color fields.

These complex compositions dive in extreme synthesis. Not even lines exist in these paintings, as lines do not exist in nature. The lines we see are induced illusions, transitions from one color to another. These non-existing lines that we perceive are actually the intermediate space between the end of one surface and the beginning of another, passages or columns as the artist names it. The obsessive sequences of colors which are continuously searching for their precise place on the canvas tells a lot about the artist’s creative process. It begins by an initial chaos of infinity colors, constantly changing places and changing tones by layers overlay: « until that moment when instantaneous balance happens » as the artist tells. Balance here doesn’t mean immobility, on the contrary, as in Hubert Reeves, contemporary physicist statement, « everything is energy. All the objects that surround us and that seem solid are in fact matter in slow motion »[1]. Karen’s paintings reflect her awareness of contemporary physics, of this idea of matter in slow motion, of the visual moving silence of the universe. Her creations shows the paradox of stable instability and vibrating geometry.

There is a sense for repetition in Karen’s work, as there is in breathing, in walking, in a mantra melody. In these freehand abstract compositions of absolute mastery of straight stripes, colors seem to vibrate in the void in slow motion matter until they find their final place. One can perceive colors moving back and forth like piano keys. It takes time to contemplate them. And time to perceive their instantaneous balance.


[1] Hubert Reeve Quantique Planète, Congrès à Reims 21 et 22 novembre 2015 : « Tout est énergie. Tous les objets qui nous entourent et qui paraissent durs, sont en fait de la matière au ralenti. »

Themis Cheinquer was born in Brazil but has lived in France and the Netherlands since 1997. She holds a Bachelor of Art History (2011) and a Master degree in Art History, Contemporary Period (2013) at the University Paris X- Nanterre. She is a PhD student at the Ecole du Louvre and Poitiers University, France, in LPHA (Lettres, pensée, arts et histoire), since 2014. 

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