Marianne Thoermer

by Eva Szwarc, studio photos by Ryan Molnar // Sept. 15, 2023

Marianne Thoermer’s studio has the two key ingredients of light and space. The street outside is peppered with trees—from one sounds the high-pitched call of a redstart and its mate. A daybed punctuates the middle of the space: it’s the kind that invites you to lie back and share your dreams or desires. Stacks of books line one side of the studio. Paintings lean against one another in a tightly assorted domino. A couple of works-in-progress are pinned to the wall and a third sits tight in its easel. Thoermer likes to move between more than one painting at a time, approaching whichever one “the energy tilts towards” that day.

For Thoermer, painting has been a process of return. Over the course of her studies (the artist graduated in 2015), her work in the medium felt “way too flat and didn’t allow the viewer to completely immerse with the work.” Thoermer translated this desire for immersion into large textile installations. She carefully unwraps smaller examples of these, made of woven textures and glass wax. Light blue and deep red, acid green and dusty pink, brown and peachy orange: each piece is its own colourful landscape, the sleekness of the wax ruptured by the unfurling of yarn. Over the course of the pandemic, after a decade’s hiatus, Thoermer returned to painting in a secluded corner of Yorkshire, a process she describes as the artistic equivalent of “learning to walk again.”

Hanging above the studio door, one painting depicts an old farmhouse abandoned and forgotten there. “It came down during the pandemic,” Thoermer explains, “and I, in a strange way, felt moved by the building because I felt my emotional state was similar to that really monumental building, slowly cracking and wind sort of blowing through and things falling apart.” It forms part of the series ‘Personal Relics’, five paintings that read as psychological landscapes, each after the style of a particular emotion: patience, bravery, fortitude, and more. Like the textile landscapes, the change in palettes shifts the mood conveyed. Each farmhouse refers to an abstracted feeling that “you want to work towards but you never fully, completely, achieve.”

The rich interiors of the worlds are built in such sensitivity to colour as well as in the details. ‘The Union/Der Einheit’ (2022), for example, depicts her parent’s bedroom in East Germany, when they were first married in their early 20s. The painting depicts “marriage and expectations” — also pointing to the wider unification of the country — with a visual knotting together of a couple that is both clean and symmetrical. Two beds with identical covers are nestled together, framed by frilly curtains on each side and a wall lamp. Yet somehow it is all off-kilter. The lamp is ever-so-slightly askew, the curtains and covers land close to gaudy and the staging is almost theatrical. Such nuance leaves one wondering. What outlooks coloured this room? Which pressures? To what extent are the milestones of our lifetimes connected to being a product of our time?

In ‘The Ritual/das Ritual’ (2023), the work on the easel, a woman reaches out to a couple, who are formally dressed and standing confident. In contrast the woman seems to be shrinking herself, awkward and uncertain. The tension of the moment surfaces through the clothing, postures, a handshake — the lone gesture dividing the chasm between them. The couple’s faces are turned away from us and the woman’s, facing them earnestly, is obscured as though overexposed. In Thoermer’s paintings, the faces are realized, not by their expression, but through the relationship of textures and colours. It lends a haptic quality, which the artist feels is carried over from her work in textiles.

The sources of reference for the paintings are manifold. Photographs, originating from Thoermer’s own family albums, extending back to her great grandmother’s, often serve as catching points. Some are donations from family archives and others are flea-market finds. Around the studio, copies of photographs are scattered like an incongruous sequence of images; a man viewed from the backseat of a car; one hand holding a cigarette, the other holding the wheel; two women huddled together, smiling at the camera; a man with a live fish, holding up his catch with pride. Thoermer likes to shuffle through these suspended moments, like film stills. Sometimes the image catches, Thoermer explains, “as an impulse. And then becomes something else.”

John Berger wrote: “the camera relieves us of the burden of memory [but] the camera records in order to forget.” In this sense, Thoermer’s paintings work like a reclaiming of memory, in all the hazy and psychological lenses through which we recall them. Here, photographs can trigger that impulse Thoermer mentions and provide a way back to a sensation that sticks. This is, after all, how memories work. Recalling a memory now, I think of the purplish veins of my father’s hands or the colourful patterns of my grandmother’s prized dish, shattered by my infant curiosity. The distilled parts that burn a memory into remembrance are often shapes, colours or the unexpected details.

Thoermer affirms that, for her, this teasing out of memory does not come from a place of nostalgia. I wonder, though, if nostalgia is possible to ever completely escape. Rather, it is the possibility of memory to be transformed. After all, whenever you think of a memory, she adds, “it becomes something new.” Currently she is interested in the collaging of images, a visual translation of how memories may overlap, intersect and re-organise themselves. She is also learning to invite more chance into her practice. “The more you create,” Thoermer says, “the more makes sense.”

Artist Info

Exhibition Info

Positions Berlin Art Fair

Galerie Sechzig: Marianne Thoermer
Hangar 6, Booth B10
Exhibition: Sept. 14–17, 2023
Admission: € 20 (reduced € 10)
Tempelhof Airport, Hangar 5-6, 12101 Berlin, click here for map

Canopy Collections

Group Show: ‘Full House’
Exhibition: Sept. 14–Oct. 1, 2023
2 Jubilee Pl, London SW3 3TQ, UK, click here for map

Galerie Sechzig

Marianne Thoermer: ‘What Remains’
Exhibition: Oct.7–Dec. 2, 2023
Ardetzenbergstraße 60, 6800 Feldkirch, Austria, click here for map

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