SYSTEM PAINTING

The system governs the work. Or, as Ingela Skytte puts it: You have to do what you have to do.” In effect, after performing a complicated computation, she draws horizontal pencil lines with a ruler across the canvas and divides the square canvas into six parts of equal size. Thereafter the paint is applied according to a set colour chart consisting of three primary colours and their respective complements - usually in the same sequence: orange-blue-red-green-yellow- purple. Layers of colour are applied with broad brushstrokes, allowing one centimetre of overlap between the individual colour bands. Following on from the first layer of paint, one or more further layers are applied , against as dictated by the colour chart but beginning, say, at the opposite end of the canvas or in a horizontal swathe in the middle of the picture. Due to the effects of glazed acrylic paint, the result is radically different depending on where the colour chart begins - whether the red is applied over the yellow or over the blue and this is precisely a key feature in Ingela Skytte’s schematic painting: that the end result - despite the rule-bound method - can never be calculated in advance.

Ingela Skytte’s approach to painting is both objective and unsentimental. Lines are drawn and paint applied, not as the result of some inspirational impulse, but as though this repetitive function were her appointed task - to return to the painting daily and follow the rules as in a ritual act, a mantra. However, now and again she breaches the rules by throwing a die to determine the colour sequence - just to see what happens when the scheme is thrown slightly off course.

Something is continually being superimposed (as indicated in the title of new series In addition), with fresh layers of colour overlaid onto the image and interacting with its intrinsic chromatic combinations of infinite possibility. And given that Ingela Skytte does not use an impasto technique where the layers of paint are clearly visible, but, instead, layers of glazed colour, addition will always also involve substraction. Something is lost when new elements - new layers of colour - are added. As in a cyclically repetitive structure in which you continually return to the starting point but each time changed.

Alongside systematic addition, Ingela Skytte operates with a principle of similars and opposites, manifested most notably in the dynamic hanging of the paintings. The square canvases are displayed in a kind of ‘salon hanging’, involving, for the viewer, constant changes of gear and gaze the ricochets between the pictures - which played to and against each other - and across the space. Complementary colours strike sparks from each other, while in other paintings they constitute a spectrum of greys that delivers the overarching scheme. Somewhat in the manner of a set of Chinese boxes, the scheme is identifiable at both at micro and macro level - in the smallest detail as well as in the overall hang of several paintings. With Ingela Skytte, the completion of the work and the completed work are two sides of the same coin. Her painting is straightforward and functional, and deals with the simple explicitation of the rules.

 

Pernille Albrethsen, august 2006

Translation: Susan Dew 

ON THE EDGE OF VISIBILITY

- On Ingela Skytte’s painting

 

The line and the colour are the bearing “motives” in Ingela Skytte’s works, which constitute more a probing of what painting actually is than any attempt to re-render specific motives or ideas. The painting operates in a way as the substance for pictorial creation. Each one of the paintings conceals a whole lot of layers beneath the anterior, the visible. One single picture might contain as many as thirty paintings! But that isn’t to say that the surface conceals the underlying layers, although it most certainly does veil them, because it simultaneously accentuates - via the transparency of the paint - the painting as a process in time. The individual layers deposit themselves over one another. The six or seven uppermost layers’ progressive fading into the painting can be seen straightway. The temporal which is thus rendered visible, in the pointing out of the painterly process, offers a testimony concerning memory. The picture as bearer of recollections about its own genesis. At the same time, however, the emptiness, the absence of the narrative. The picture does not tell about itself, but is retold in the viewer’s perceptual registering of the presently-existing: the painting as painting. They stand there as delicate and fragile propositions, Ingela Skytte’s paintings. They are nonetheless unwavering in their stringent and precise constitution.

Actually, Ingela Skytte started out making sculpture or, more precisely, sculptural objects. Already at that time, in the beginning of the eighties, its was the material’s textural qualities the structures and the process that absorbed her interest. It would be correct, however, to maintain that there is a red thread running through her entire output, in the sense that her project constitutes a further development of a specific type of artistic consideration. At the close of the eighties, it was the drawing that was Skytte’s preferred medium of expression. Huge, black charcoal drawings, where the motif was wiped fourth from the surface. A process which can call to mind that of the sculptor’s. Ever since the beginning of the nineties, painting has been Skytte’s medium of choice, although she does continue to draw quite a bit. In the earliest paintings, there are still traces of the figuration that manifested itself in her charcoal drawings. However, the motif has gradually become more and more emblematic, being reduced eventually to pure figure on the surface - often merely a contour sketch against a monochrome background. The contour, or rather the stroke, the line and the surface are still there, but since 1994, the motif has been eliminated entirely. The ‘dissolution’, as Skytte herself refers to it - came about with the “View” exhibition at Charlottenborg I 1991. From there, her endeavour has come to revolve around a search for emptiness: “When the things vanish and turn into light.” And today, according to her own account, Skytte’s pictures treat of painting in its boiled-down expression, they deal with a reflection on what can be said with painting, while the drawing, to a greater degree, has become the site of her investigations.

This is abstract formal and minimal painting, which can be considered as being an extension of the American colour-field painting. Nonetheless, it is situated somewhere entirely different. What might at first glance seem to be conceptual painting is actually founded, to a great extent, upon an intuitive process that is, however, systematically controlled. Prior to the picture, Ingela Skytte is always nurturing an idea about the colour, or rather about the colours. But it is in the working over of the surface that the painting comes into being inasmuch as she works until she feels that the paining is saturated, as she puts it. For each painting, Skytte makes use a of a mathematical table that she has constructed herself. With this, she calculates the placement of the lines and their mutual position on and in relation to the canvas she consider the table a tool in the same manner as the specially constructed paint rollers and workshop-blended colours. In this way, a reciprocal interaction between the previously drafted systematics and the choices made along the way in the painterly process crops up. Sometimes clear and precise is set up across from something Skytte herself refers to as intuitive sensibility.

However, there are almost no tangibles trails left behind by the creator; all expressive signs, bodily traces and painterly gestures have been cleansed away. This only serves to underscore the painting’s self-referential enunciation. Surface, line, colour and canvas. The signs symbolizing painting as such remain, operating in this double cross-reference as both signification. There is nonetheless, also, as has already been mentioned, the trace of the process by virtue of having the temporal aspect rendered visible: the layers of colour depositing themselves on top of one another in a simultaneous veiling and unveiling of the process. The paintings are shimmering ever so gently; the colour surfaces are vibrating altogether tranquilly and shifting themselves in toward the pictorial space so that it sometimes seems as if the lines and other times the surfaces were in the foreground. This double perspective displacement gives rise to a tension and a movement in the painting, although it is a prudent mobility which turns up only in the interaction with the viewer’s gaze.

In an analogous way, time is present in a double sense. Or perhaps there is a matter of two different times: the time it takes to create the painting and the time it takes to read it. However, there is also historical time - the painting’s time - within the course of Ingela Skytte’s personal output as well as the history of painting as such: all the pictures that have been made before and exist there as a part of painting’s history, as it’s very stipulation.

In connection with the temporal aspect of her work, Ingela Skytte speaks about memory. There are certain things on forgets and certain things one remembers, she says, with a reference to all the layers of colour that lie beneath the uppermost, the visible. “But there is all the while a residue, which remains” - as a faint remembrance about something almost forgotten, it might be said, insofar as one gets some sense about what is happening beneath the surface, even if this cannot be seen.

Frequently, the lowest layers are very intense in their hues, like cobalt blue or orange. But eventually the layer become lighter, uneven and more subdued, so that the colour ultimately appear as delicate gradations on a colourist theme such as, for example, blue, white or red. The lines indicate the direction of reading - as a rule they are either vertical or horizontal - and they register the visibility at the frontier of the invisible or the unfathomable, while the edge strokes indicate the painting’s beginning- or end-point. Although it is not obvious at first glance, these have been inspired by architecture, an interest which was awakened in the artist’s encounter with New York’s skyscrapers. In the connection, it is especially the many window structures that are of interest. And also the colours that the light can attribute to the window, which unintentionally gives back light to the dark space of the night.

Ingela Skytte’s paintings from the latest years arrange themselves in two types: two different working methods and approached to painting. In the first pictorial type, the lines’ rectangular partitioning of the surface manifest itself distinctly and the edge lines fashion a frame around the picture. In the second type, the lines’ obstinacy is lost behind a transparent layer of paint. While the first category accentuates the tautness as form, the second is more romantic in its diffuse veiling of the “motif”. The two types of painting work together, play up to one another and accentuate the small differences’ great significance. 

It is precisely because the investigation or the “content” is found in the nuances , in the small and gradual displacements, which are cautions but nonetheless insistent, that Ingela Skytte’s paintings demand time. Yes, they can be apprehended at once as being a pattern or latticework of lines on coloured surfaces, but if you want to get beneath the surface, you’ve got to give the work more time. In dialogue with the painting’s emptiness, a space for the viewer emerges. Here, the viewers gets the opportunity to put in his/her own projections and gets the chance to let the mind open up to the picture and let it be just what it is: painting.

 

Kristine Kern, December 1997
Translated by Dan A. Marmorstein