Nikola Röthemeyer’s art hovers on the verge of different styles. 1 Elements of genre painting 2 and magic realism 3 merge. The magic of everyday life unites with the mythical side of reality. The central idea of the series FrauenZimmer 4 is to relate women to their surroundings, their living space and to an assumed actuality of life. Within the works, the protagonists become personified figures. 5 Identity exists on the base of one’s own actions and identification with it, but not in the form of the woman’s identifiability. Regarding this, changes become apparent in the second part of the series. The personified figure develops into a type or paradigm.
From the genre painting Nikola Röthemeyer derives everyday, often homely scenes such as handicraft, housework or moments of relaxation. In this way, the emergent imagery is self-contained, the protagonists are completely amongst themselves. Instead of legs appearing under a dress, the scenes show dressers, leaves are swept under one’s own skirt, a tiger’s fur becomes a second skin and daily chores are carried out on stilts. 6 The space around the figures is not described in detail. Nevertheless, the impression of a self-contained and complete world arises. There are no constraints to the women’s actions in their interaction with the surrounding space. It appears that this layer is concealed only to the observer, but its existence is undisputable by the protagonist’s position within space. The artist derives this motif from the Japanese woodblock print, whereby clarity of content 7 and form are the derivative of this source, rather than its mere reflection. The emergent white space is comparable to Katsushika Hokusai’s or Kitagawa Utamaro’s 8 surprising image details of nature. By their reduction and precision of the drawn line they initialized a new understanding of the motif’s image detail, overlapping and abstraction. In this way the works emit a far eastern atmosphere or mentality. 9
In Nikola Röthemeyer’s series, FrauenZimmer n° 15 (Vermeer) stands out especially. Jan Vermeer’s Das Glas Wein (The Glass of Wine) from 1660/61 10 has been reference and inspiration. This choice is quite remarkable, as in this work Vermeer leaves the usual close-up for the first time. The interior is no longer part of a figure’s detail, the figure now is part of the interior. Röthemeyer isolates the female figure in space, retains its distinctive position and extends image-reality in her own way. The dress now covers the table quite naturally. By use of this motif she proves once more her deep affinity to the genre painting. Another theme links Nikola Röthemeyer’s works to the genre painters: often her protagonists are absorbed in their world and in their work. 11 In 17th century genre painting this is reflected in a female working environment of housekeeping, handicraft and conversation. 12 Many times these works become exempla virtutis, examples of virtue. 13 In a certain sense this role can also be applied to Röthemeyer’s works. Although an example of virtue should not be conveyed, the protagonists are still personifications of the imaginary work and tradition from which they arose. Comparable to the artist’s work process, the figures stand for an idealized image. The serial element of Nikola Röthemeyer’s work process, e.g. limited choice of materials, image size and theme, is the basis for this functional space and its pictorial reality. Despite the proximity to works of genre painting an attempt at a classical interpretation fails.
The second part of the series leaves the private world. Only few works display a domestic background. 14 Occupation becomes more unreal and strange. Magic realism 15 manifests itself in a very natural approach to the paradoxical pictorial world. A bunch of flying foxes nestled in an umbrella, harpy eagles sit there like pets, two women become lost in a tangle of threads and another one is surrounded by hovering medusas. Within the series, the change to a larger format is accompanied by diversification of its characters. Now protagonists are repeatedly interacting with animal companions, which marks a step into another layer of reality. The allegedly unreal is part of this reality and does not contradict it. In contrast to the pictorial world’s content-related characteristics, which can only be perceived intellectually, stylistic characteristics, like excessive sharpness, perspective, format or viewpoint can introduce minute shifts in reality, evoking an impression of alienation. 16 Starting from the scene’s characteristics like excessive sharpness and associated impression of a vacuum, it is only a small step towards standstill and hence to the work’s timelessness. The temporal pause signifies a surreal moment, which is perceived as the preservation of the element of time. 17 Additionally, the motif of metamorphosis is introduced, which is present in the whole series. In FrauenZimmer n° 36 (Springerin) this appears explicitly. The protagonist is in advanced transformation from female to deer. Fur already surrounds her body, her hair winds to become antlers while she places her feet in the drawn boxes of a hopscotch game. The fusion of actual and magic reality create exciting contradictions of magic simultaneity, purest representationalism in meticulous drawing and interconnection of macro- and microcosm, which is accompanied by an overall static visual impression. 18 In this way, secret ties of the opposites are revealed to the observer. 19
In order to classify realism and reality in Nikola Röthemeyer’s works, pictorial tradition and content have to be observed. In the 20th century, art as man’s creative achievement has liberated itself from mimesis. The reproduction and imitation of nature and the world as a base of sacral, memorial or historic themes, becomes less important. 20 Today, the image’s new intrinsic value as an artistic fact, applies not exclusively to nonrepresentational art, but also in reference to a figurative image. Also here the discrepancy of the artistic fact’s pictorial reality and the illustrations’ true meaning can be experienced. 21 In her series Nikola Röthemeyer follows these traditions and creates a self-contained cosmos. Like a creator of worlds, who is master of his own universe, she makes use of her resources. The source of her pictorial tradition can be found in the inspiration of genre and magic realism 22 , that she also applies in individual pictorial worlds. The series’ recurrent elements, like the temporal standstill or alleged white spaces as backgrounds, form its foundation. The strong ties to the compositional ideas of the Japanese woodblock print is complemented by a more than real image of woman, a personified figure, only to question it in the next step. However, ultimately it remains the mystification of the everyday.
1 Among others, literary influences are Jorge Luis Borges and Haruki Murakami
(minutes of the meeting with Nikola Röthemeyer on 4. 5. 2012).
2 Thereto Norbert Schneider: Geschichte der Genremalerei – die Entdeckung des Alltags in der Kunst der frühen Neuzeit, Berlin, 2004, pp. 11 ff. and Barbara Gaehtgens (ed.): Geschichte der Genremalerei. Geschichte der klassischen Bildgattungen in Quellentexten und Kommentaren, vol. 4, Berlin, 2002, pp. 193 ff.
3 In the 1920s the term of magic realism was coined by the art critic Franz Roh as a part of the move- ment of the New Objectivity. Magic realism qualifies as a realistic painting technique with realistic representation of motives, that in their entirety generate a strange effect on the observer. Thereto Mi- chael Scheffel: Magischer Realismus. Die Geschichte eines Begriffes und ein Versuch seiner Bestimmung, Stauffenburg (= Stauffenburg Colloquium, 16) (AL 22/30), Tübingen, 1990, pp. 1 f.
4 The series FrauenZimmer I and II encompass 50 works in two image sizes that were established bet- ween the years 2006 and 2011. In 2010 a larger image size was chosen as a result of the artist’s desire for a broader world of ideas.
5 Minutes of the meeting with Nikola Röthemeyer on 4. 5. 2012.
6 Cf. FrauenZimmer n°03 (Laub), FrauenZimmer n° 12 (Kommode), FrauenZimmer n° 21 (Tiger), FrauenZimmer n° 11 (Stelzen).
7 Faszination Japan – Japanischer Holzschnitt und europäische Graphik 1870–1914, exhib. catal. Studio 38 im Alten Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (GDR), 1984, p. 5.
8 Friedrich B. Schwan: Handbuch japanischer Holzschnitt, Munich, 2003.
9 Hokusai, Nagata Seiji (ed.), Munich, 2010, cf. especially p. 191.
10 Von Frans Hals bis Vermeer – Meisterwerke holländischer Genremalerei, exhib. cat. Gemäldegalerie SMPK Berlin, 1984, pp. 320 f.
11 Cf. works by Nicholas Maes, Pieter de Hooch, Jan Vermeer et al.
12 »Since much of the actual labour involved in creating and maintaining a pleasant domestic environ- ment was carried out away from masculine view, the results (…) must have seemed mysterious and faintly miraculous, beneficient favours of some invisible domestic genius.« (Marjorie E. Wieseman: Vermeer’s Women – Secrets and Silence, Cambridge, 2011, pp. 8 f.)
13 Schneider (see note 2), pp. 137 f.
14 See FrauenZimmer n° 47 (Pfau) or FrauenZimmer n° 49 (Teetrinkerinnen).
15 »Magic« does not have any religious or mystical implications. This adjective intends solely to indicate the pictoral aspect of a mysterious atmosphere that does not become unreal or fantastic. Cf. Andreas Fluck: »Magischer Realismus« in der Malerei des 20. Jahrhunderts, Europäische Hochschulschriften vol. 197, Frankfurt a. M., 1994, pp. 144 f.
16 Ibid. p. 195.
17 A. Neumeyer: Zur Raumpsychologie der Neuen Sachlichkeit in: Zeitschrift für Bildende Kunst, vol. 61 (1927/28), p. 69.
18 Scheffel (see note 3), p. 8.
19 Ibid., p. 12.
20 Jutta Hülsewig-Johnen: Wie im richtigen Leben? Überlegungen zum Porträt der Neuen Sachlichkeit in Neue Sachlickeit – Magischer Realismus, Jutta Hülsewig-Johnen (ed.), Bielefeld, 1990, p. 8.
21 Ibid., p. 9.
22 Regarding difficulties of defining magic realism cf. Fluck (see note 15), pp. 418 f. and Scheffel (see note 3), pp. 1 ff.