Does size matter? This question, due to obvious associations, makes many giggle or in some cases even feel embarrassed. But we’re posing it here no tongue in cheek. That’s because, in art, size really DOES matter. The size of the canvas has a big impact on how the work is perceived. Today, we’ll look at three female artists who’ve made of oversized canvases their trademark.
Rita Ackermann is an artist with an extremely rich oeuvre, but we will focus only on one her series of works, “Chalkboard Paintings”, which plays with the idea of a green chalkboard and the characteristic smudges chalk leaves after being wiped off. If anyone wonders whether such paintings are art, we can assure you that they are. This is the artist’s way to draw our attention to the elusiveness and impermanence of graphic language, on which we heavily rely, but this elusiveness applies in equal terms to every other area of our lives. In the series, part of the composition is visible while part of it appears to have been wiped off by a sponge. Taken as a whole, it falls somewhere between abstract art and representational art. One might ask: how are such works created? Rita Ackermann first covers the canvas with chalkboard paint to draw on it a representation using chalk, which she then partially erases with a bold gesture. When the composition is finished, the painting is impregnated, giving it its unique look.
The second artist is Julie Mehretu. Her work, which we find particularly captivating, is a diptych consisting of canvases with dimensions as large as 7×11 meters! Such works are best experienced live, as it is the sheer scale of the painting that strikes the viewer the most. We can, however, get a basic idea of how big these works are by looking at a photograph that shows the artist working on her painting using…a lift. The canvases of Julie Mehretu are teeming with colors and shapes. Is there a deeper meaning behind this abstraction? Quite a significant one, in fact. The artist uses highly blurred photographs from street riots, protests or political events as the background for her works. And although it can’t be immediately appreciated with the naked eye, it is those images that serve as the point of departure. Once there, Julie Mehretu covers the canvas with abstract drawings that perfectly capture the chaos of modern metropolises and the political tensions around the world.
Lucy Dodd is an artist who has a truly unique approach to her large-format canvases. For her, canvases are like protagonists in an art performance who are best viewed from all sides and angles. That is why her works displayed in art galleries aren’t hung on the wall, but instead are tied to special ropes. The shape of the paintings is also noteworthy (they are often irregular diamonds, rather than squares or rectangles) and so are the unusual materials used by the artist, such as: kombucha, yerba-maté infusion, or squid ink. Interestingly, just as Witkacy would mark his canvases with the name of the stimulant under whose influence he was painting, so does Lucy Dodd stress that her paintings largely derive from the music she listens to and the incense she burns during her creative process.
Would these canvases be as impressive if they weren’t so big? Probably not. Oversized paintings can be compared to the interior of a Gothic cathedral, where scale is as important as detail. Following the same logic, large-format canvases offer us space for the work to speak to us and make us feel something.
transl. Jakub Majchrzak