Elisabeth Voggeneder
The pulse of painting

Text in Catalogue ‘systems’
published 2008

Looking at the latest work by Barbara Höller, one is confronted with an intensity based on an approximation to the essence of painting, which is both cautious and playful: her dealings with colour.


Sheer colour foils – monochrome, smooth, flexible – are exclusively structured in fine lineament by folds, fixed on supports and thus presented almost as if floating in the room. The pieces represent the culmination of a reductive process full of intensity. These skins of pure colour signify – in the progression of Barbara Höller’s work – the recent results of her dealing with the most elementary means and basic methods of painting in search of what may be termed the “pulse” of painting.


Barabara Höller’s approach is to be seen in the context of radical painting striving for a pictorial praxis through intesifying the basic pictorial apppearances. However, in contrast to the idealistic pictorial concept of early abstract painters, here the analysis of the agent also carries meaning.


With Barbara Höller, the consideration of the interplay of the image carrier and the picture surface formed the beginning of this process. The chosen path proceeded from logical parameters. The image area, painting agent and the systematized dialogue were borders drawn by the artist herself, within which she acted. Drillings in wooden panels filled with paint created patterns of colour schemes. These schemes followed conceived rules in sequence and order or were inserted without any obvious regularity. Drilling the surface breaches the character of panel painting. The panels being of a three-dimensional orientation, they are usually arranged serially and develop – both as individual work and as a series – a colour rhythmics in gradients or contrasts.


The dripping of pure paint in an endless line of colour was the next step.
First onto wooden panels, later onto the narrow side of vertical panels turned lengthwise, so-called “rims”, the potential of colour modulation in monochrome choice of colour with minimal variation in the application was explored. Only the concentration and openness of the application creates a pulsing of the colour between light and dark. This pictorial effect of the colour is intensified through the spatial arrangement of the rims into groups of objects and in its dynamics intended for the progression of space.

helix @ Kunstraum haaaauch Klagenfurt (AT) 2008

Rims, drillings and drippings form one group of stringent methodics. The communication of the paint and the image carrier are always central. A sharp cut is represented by “spirals”, in which the paint per se finds a shape.


An essential precondition for this was the possibility to isolate the painting medium in its materiality. After a few experiments it was possible to gently remove the congealed paint after pouring the liquid colourant onto any surface desired. The skin of paint had turned into the object. Again, Barbara Höller reshaped this material in a process which was both planned and intuitive. The paint panels turned into paint ribbons and those into spirals. The paint spirals thus constitute the first group of work made of pure paint. Entirely without any “aids”, a maximum focus on the essence has been accomplished.

The analysis of the colour chosen signifies in this context also a confrontation of traditional pictorial concepts regarding how the manifestation in terms of colour is realized. In Austria in particular the use of colour presents an essential point in the definition of local specifics. Looking at the expressive note of Austrian painting, the emotional aspect of the colour effect plays the central role in this. The opulence of colour in Austrian Baroque is already seen as an essential phenomenon and, as experts widely agree, pervades the school Johannes Ittens on to the subjective gesture as means of expression in postwar painting.


However, in Barbara Höller, the approach to colour realizes itself completely differently: Not so much the colour mode as psychological externalization, but the basic question of how colour presents itself in the painting, how it can be guided to its primordial occurrence and which systematics proves to be related to its imagery are in the focus of her work. Her questions extract one aspect of a whole and thereby become charged with meaning.


This kind of heightened awareness appears as fundamental in Barbara Höller’s pictorial concept, not only regarding the means of painting, but it it relates most specifically also to the mode of the pictorial. So, she dedicates a maximum of consideration and prudence to the process of creation in its immediacy and perspectivity. At the same time, however – and in this she sets herself apart theoretically from attempted definitions of radical painting – the playfulness and the spontaneous idea remain a constituent part of the process.


„Das Schöne ist in Bewegung und zeigt die Ruhe der Unruhe als Form,“ [The beautiful is in movement and shows the quietness of the inquietude as form] , Heinz Mack wrote programmatically in 1959.
„Das Dynamische wird selbst zur Form. Die Unruhe der Ruhe aber zerstört die Form und will ihr Gegenteil. Das Unbewegte und Endliche ermüdet unsere Augen und negiert sie schließlich.“
[The dynamic itself turns into form. The inquietude of quietness destroys the form and wants its contrary. The stationary and finite tires our eyes and finally negates them].
And exactly in this polarity the work of Barbara Höller finds itself in an animated quietness of concentration.


Mack,H., zit. in: Stemmler, Dierk, Zero-Mack. Der Lichtwald 1960-1969, Mönchengladbach 1991,
S. 22f.

Ebenda, S. 22f.

Elisabeth Voggeneder is art historian and curator living in Lower Austria