Katja Gramann

Observations on the Wax Collages of Katja Gramann

Dr. Barbara Rollmann-Borretty

Title: "Fundstück" (The find), 2017
  Black holds everything together, surrounding blue in coarse-edged beams. Blue, floating in uneven fields between dark bands, but not just one blue. From the deep shimmer of lapis lazuli to the transparent turquoise of a pristine sea, each area reveals a different tone, and where they overlap, another nuance appears. The artist creates these color fields free of formula.

In their fluidity, they seem ready to shift, unobstructed, if it weren’t for the overlay of insurmountable black and a dense white - broken in chromatically multiple tones, like a thick batter of marzipan fondant providing a sturdy foundation. Everything in this image follows the laws of dramaturgy – a play of aesthetics and expression serving a perfect balance of forces, yet exuding effortlessness. The exclusive use of color directly encourages the unimpeded emergence of the sensory-emotional world. Complete representational absence invokes an elementary and highly contrasting visual language, recalling the great masters of Art Informel.

No painting is like another, and in each our imagination finds worlds both great and small. The format is insignificant. Associations oscillate between crystalline microstructures, real existing objects, even mythical skyscapes. Collective consciousness is sparked and remembers. The most vivid images are stylistically archaic, impregnated with semblances of stone and crystal. Large angular blocks of color, standing like vertical alpine massifs in a primeval landscape, are all-pervading. Similar formations are reminiscent of modern stage sets, conceived for dramas of the ancient theater.

Katja Gramann's composes her wax collages using an elaborate technique. The many work sequences begin with the construction of the background on the image carrier. When dyeing the collage-paper, usually Chinese rice paper, she stacks the paper so dissolved pigments seep through to all layers - resulting in different saturations of color. When dry, the artist tears pieces out of the sheets by hand, allowing the random patterns created by the color application process to be her guide. Thus, the irregular fields, essential to the character of the collage, emerge.

After arranging and fixing, the papers are gently covered several times with melted wax. Much sensitivity and patience are required to achieve the typically transparent, yet hermetic seal of wax. The result is an abstract visual space with incredible depth, built up layer after layer. Conscious of this effect, the artist sometimes makes interventions at the end of the process, scratching or carving a drawing into the last coat. Finally, for emphasis, she fills the fissures with charcoal.

Katja Gramann has been working in this technique for only a few years and exhibits an astonishing flair for the subject matter. In her youth, she painted primarily in watercolor. Carry-overs and parallels in her collages are evident: the emergence of form through the transparent laying of paint, the stylistic look of uneven overlapping edges, typical of watercolor brushwork, are mirrored in the tearing and laying of paper for the collages. Above all, both techniques require working within a matter of minutes, during which the artist must resolutely and precisely follow her intuition. Wax, with its changing states of aggregation, is more than a malleable material. Cultural meaning and symbolic power are always at play in artistic work. To this end, Katja Gramann has found a convincing visual language.

© 2017 Dr. Barbara Rollmann-Borretty



Delicate gestures and dancing colors - the freestyle painting of Katja Gramann

Dr. Ingrid Gardill

The abstract, large-format paintings from the new series of works by the artist Katja Gramann leave a strong impression on the viewer. In what way? In my opinion, because the artist not only manages to make her rich, mostly acrylic colors glow but in the same breath, lends her compositions an extraordinary lightness. She achieves this through an open, intricate, and precise placement of forms.

These forms bring together the multiple layers of bright backgrounds, or periodically appear to shine through them, producing distinctive color ambiances and exceptional transparency. With lively, powerful brushwork, Katja Gramann applies punctuated luminous accents to this delicate weave, often in a purposeful combination with black. The resulting tension conceals the intense energy that the viewer perceives, consciously or unconsciously, and also serves to clarify the initial impetus of a piece of work, the question that inspired it.

But let's take a closer look at the variety of these dynamic structures. It appears as if they are dancing. Everything is in motion but equally connected with everything else - wild, yet precise. Impressions of floral motifs (Verwunschen, Zweiter Frühling, Zeitreise) may ultimately become completely abstract, resonating in tones of pure color. At the same time, in the midst of all this metamorphosis, the artist at times inserts vividly deliberate lines. Acting like musical measure-lines, they infuse the works with rhythm and likewise give secure footing to the forms and the viewer’s eye. As if in the midst of vast space or body of water, they also seem to be cast out to the observer as virtual lifelines. And then they dissolve, giving unequivocal free rein to color structures. Through setting emphasis strategically in specific areas (Seelensicht), with a view right through to the background (Leichter Mut), or by unlocking a space (Blickfang), her images convey profound depth.

Why then, after all, do Katja Gramann's transparent images with their delicately-limbed gestures make the viewer’s soul-strings resound so strongly? Similar to her works employing Chinese rice paper and thin layers of wax, her paintings in acrylic communicate sensibilities that seem to emerge from another world; something misty, somewhat foggy, shines through them, opening up a space for fantasies and desires. We recognize this extraordinary space or state from our own experience, perhaps sliding from a dream into waking consciousness or vice versa. This liminal moment arises in almost all of the artist’s works. In her images, Katja Gramann captures the perceptual threshold; creates a space between worlds, mirrored in the magic of the dreamcatcher.

Pic.: "Traumfänger" ("Dreamcatcher"), 39"x78", 2016, Acrylic painting on canvas.

Dreamcatchers of the indigenous peoples of the Americas are light, net-like objects, shot through with feathers, colorful strings, beads and other adornments. According to tradition, when hung above a sleeping place, they allow only good dreams to pass through to the dreamer, while the bad ones are captured during sleep and held in the intricate weave to dissolve in the morning light. A work by the artist bearing the title Traumfänger (Dreamcatcher) exhibits moving lines and color fields on a light background, which in turn is permeated by light and color nuances. The painter gives this “tissue” a deliberately diffuse appearance, reminding us of this unique state that exists between the world of dreams and waking consciousness.

As the driving principle, this concept ignites Katja Gramann's most recent work. Here the permeable background is the essential visual element. Only occasionally does the painter add delicate traces of neon orange and pink to the upper part of the image. Accompanied by subtle black lines, they dance there like fiery sparks.

Katja Gramann's exuberant joy in discovery and the great pleasure she takes in freestyle painting also unfolds in more recent works. In these, her color accents fill almost the whole canvas. Using pigments and a mixed media technique that includes soot, sand, ash, paper, charcoal and other materials, she renders delicate structures on the image surface, creating bright (Archaisch) or strongly hued (Stellungnahme, Rendezvous) formations that forcefully push into the depths of the picture. The courage to expand, to simultaneously engage nearly monochrome color with sensitively crafted backgrounds births these powerful images.

Also, for this series of works, the dreamcatcher is the guiding principle in artist's aesthetic statement: free, abstract, and ultimately informal, Katja Gramann's artistic process culminates in works that show great promise. Just like waking from a dream, whose contents we can never wholly and concretely grasp. Thus, longings, ideas, or even unconscious slumbering things can find their way onto her image surface, into her visual realm. They offer each viewer the opportunity to engage in an open and inspiring dialogue with the artist's fascinating works.

© 2017 Dr. Ingrid Gardill



Katja Gramann in an interview with art historian Dr. Ines Kehl

Dr. Ines Kehl: Dear Katja Gramann, how did it all start, when did you start painting?

Katja Gramann: My parents recognized early on that I enjoyed painting a lot. At the age of 12, they gave me a set of seven watercolor paints and a course to go along with it at the adult education center. I attended on a weekly basis, the only child among a class of senior citizens (laughs). But that didn’t matter then – nobody was surprised. There I learned how to mix colors with my little box of paints, which I still benefit from today. It wasn’t until I moved to Berlin for work after university that I became acquainted with large-format acrylic painting in the art school of the artist couple Jürgen Sage and Astrid Albers. Before that, I worked exclusively in watercolor.


Dr. Ines Kehl: How formative was the time in Berlin?

Katja Gramann: Berlin appeals to every artist’s soul because the city is so colorful and chaotic. New things are emerging all the time, and there's this feeling of near-constant upheaval. The energy in the air is almost tangible, but at the same time, the city is entirely relaxed – a perfect mix that invites creative work. In Berlin, I realized that art is and would continue to be an integral part of my life. My experience at Astrid Albers’ and Jürgen Sage’s school of painting played a huge role in this realization. Their instruction was outstanding and their artistic and personal encouragement were marvelous and transformative. What I learned in weekly engagement from both teachers was an immeasurable. Even long after I moved to Munich we stayed in touch by telephone and internet. I had and still enjoy a precious relationship, a deep bond of trust with both artists. Jürgen Sage has unfortunately passed away, but I continue to stay sporadically in contact with Astrid.


Dr. Ines Kehl: You’ve been in Munich since 2003. It’s not so easy to rent a studio there. Where did you paint during your first years? Where do you work today?

Katja Gramann: In the beginning, in Munich Pasing, I was able to rent an old, extremely dilapidated, former small distillery right across the courtyard for very little money. It was drafty and cold, and in winter I could only paint wearing gloves, but it was a space just for me. Since it was so run down, I could douse my colors on the canvas to my heart's delight without having to worry too much about making a mess – perfect for me! Since 2010 we have been living in Gräfelfing, and I have my studio in our house.


Dr. Ines Kehl: Have you ever regretted not having studied art at a university?

Katja Gramann: I have thought about it, but at 20 I couldn’t imagine studying art at a university, knowing how difficult an artist’s life can. Most of us can’t live exclusively from our art. At that time, I didn’t see any other alternatives, so I decided to study German, philology and history – which seemed, at least at that time, to be a less penniless profession (laughs). And now I’m the person I am through everything I’ve done and experienced – everything that’s happened to me, including my academic career in a very different discipline. So, in this sense, I have no regrets.


Dr. Ines Kehl: But autodidacts often have a much more difficult time in the art world than artists who’ve had formal training at a university, even though they’re sometimes more creative and unencumbered.

Katja Gramann: Having it "harder" is of course right. I can say more than a thing or two about this, because, if anything, being self-taught runs like a red thread through my life. For example, although I studied German and history, I had a career in marketing and product management. In every company where I worked, I was the only humanities scholar. As a product manager, I got involved in photography and also began to paint in large format. I started my own business after my children were born. Autodidacts usually have a lot to bring to the table because along with the current work they’re doing, they’ve often already worked in other areas. They've experienced and studied a lot of other things as well. All of this, in one way or another, resonates with and flows into an artist’s work. In this sense, being an autodidact comes with benefits, so I don’t have a problem with it.


Dr. Ines Kehl: And how do you continue to learn and develop artistically? Do you do this all on your own too?

Katja Gramann: A lot of my work emerges through experimentation, through trying things out. Trial and error is an excellent teacher. To hone my skills and learn new techniques, I also attend seminars at various schools, like the art academies in Bad Reichenhall and Augsburg. Interrelating with other artists is a fabulous way to grow and stretch artistically. For example, my exchange with the artist and teacher Andrea Rozorea has been an incredible learning experience, a tremendous source of enrichment and has helped me immensely. We often meet in Andrea’s studio in Augsburg to paint together. It’s fantastic!


Dr. Ines Kehl: Where do you get your inspiration and ideas? What sparks your imagination for your abstract paintings?

Katja Gramann: Artists often perceive their surroundings somewhat differently most people. For example, I get excited looking at a salad plate, after the salad’s been eaten, where beetroot juice runs into the dark brown balsamic vinaigrette. I think to myself, "What an amazing play of colors, how about trying this out?”, or I squint so that everything in my view blurs and becomes only color and form–and then I try to transpose this abstraction pictorially.


The interview has taken place in February 2016.