The Realm of Imagination and its Inhabitants by Manuel StröhlinAnna Leonhardt’s origins lie in figurative art. Her decisive step into abstraction did not take place until years after she had completed her studies in Dresden (where she earned her ‘Master student’ title with Ralf Kerbach). The figurative – transformed and reduced to its fundamental elements – now seems to have returned in her paintings of recent years. The Raumzeug series of paintings was begun in 2012 and combines both aspects in a form of painting that simultaneously raises the question of what painting itself is, what it makes happen and produces. The paintings are dominated by cool shades of grey and feature only a few accents of colour; they present elongated structures reminiscent of bodies and hovering in front of subdued backgrounds. We inevitably associate them with fragments of metallically gleaming pipes or similar convex volumes in light. These ‘bodies’ possess their own inherent three-dimensionality. Our eye and mind cognitively supplement the contrasting values, which are spontaneously perceived as areas of reflected light and shadows, until they become a spatial context. However, all of this is positioned as a fragment within a very different ‘space’ of a purely painterly, imaginary kind. The surface is made into a pictorial space through a peculiar pictorial light. Despite the dominant grey tones ranging from slate to lead, we soon note: these are amazingly light paintings, immersed in a diffuse and warm background light. In some of them a horizon zone, which is placed in the middle or in the lower half of the painting and lightens to become a white tone (or is sometimes also realised in red or blue), recalls the twilight of dusk or dawn or the nocturnal light of the moon: an ambivalent light between lightening and darkening, something Leonhardt also considers characteristic of the colour grey itself. The silent stillness of hours like these seems to fill these spaces, which – not containing any painted boundaries within themselves – seek to expand infinitely. Accordingly, the bold forms established through clearly delineated volumes that are securely anchored in reality and sometimes carried out in impasto brushstrokes burst into this dreamlike sphere like rolling kettledrums. In a certain sense their predominantly perpendicular, horizontal and vertical arrangement is a continuation of the formal structure of the painting’s background – particularly since 2016, when a composition of rectangles in different sizes and varying slightly in colour replaced the horizontal structure suggestive of a landscape. The figures nonetheless almost seem to be positioned in front of the picture plane rather than incorporated into the pictorial space. Without being firmly linked with it, they remain in equilibrium through the balance of mutual attraction and repulsion. And, apart from this, a choreography of light and shadow playing along the three-dimensionally articulated forms now also makes its appearance alongside the soft, indirect light of the background. This directional light seems to enter the painting from various light sources, thus illusionistically pointing to different light sources outside the painting, which cannot be synchronised within a unified spatial concept simulating real spaces. The pictorial space becomes dissociated into an empir- ical space inscribed into it through memory and an entirely different space in which it is sub- ject to its own laws. Both of these spaces coexist in the painting in an indefinable and indeterminate relationship, whose fluctuation keeps the painting in motion. The work takes on its inner complexity and complex spatiality in the individual perception – precisely because the painting cannot definitively determine it. The associative space that opens up within the painting extends into the artist’s and viewers’ representational experiential world and permits it to enter into the painting in a transformed state, but it does so without relinquishing the purely painterly singularity and difference of the pictorial space and all its elements for even a moment. Figuration and abstraction thus appear not as stylistic – not to mention dogmatic – alternatives, where painting would have to opt for one and against the other, but as a dichotomy that is always present within painting and simultaneously has to be resolved all over again in every single painting. As a network of forces generated by painting and constituting the work we see, their opposition does not depict antagonisms outside the painting: it emerges out of and consists solely of painting as a process of variation that, by definition, cannot be completed. It is subject only to the continually recommenced definition of the power structures within the painting, and there is no prospect of a single, ultimate solution in which the dynamics of painting would come to a stop. Leonhardt’s paintings are thus always simultaneously about both aspects: our image of reality and the reality of painting. Every painted image, whatever it is, is the result of a sequence of innumerable artistic decisions. None of these decisions, no point and no line, is necessary. None of them follow inevitably from what precedes them, none incontrovertibly define what is to follow. Each of them individually realises one of an infinite number of options: without this chain of irrevocable decisions among alternatives – without the progressive elimination of possibilities in favour of precisely one that is realised – no paintings would be created at all. In painting, however, the pictorial concretisation into a definitive figure fixed on the picture plane in terms of size, colour and form is identical with the imagination’s liberation from apparent unambiguity. However, is it not in turn the sphere of art and paintings which are considered to be apparent – as ‘aesthetic appearance’? What reality are we actually living in: the objective world of definitive identities or the subjective world of indefinite interpretations? Image theory distinguishes between the painted image, as a physically describable object, and the individually seen image, as the product of sensory impressions’ neuronal processing. But is the painter’s brushstroke itself not already simultaneously in both worlds? Why painting? Why not the clear unambiguity of the line? Why not the manifest presence of sculpture? Perhaps the lack of a three-dimensional haptic quality, of a corporeal concretisation as well as sign-like succinctness is precisely what predestines painting to become that balancing act which is Leonhardt’s subject matter. Pure painting of the kind done by Anna Leonhardt oscillates between outward and inward reality, indeed, this in-between is its own characteristic place. Where the understanding notes only a clear distinction, a fine boundary line, the space inherent to the painterly bulges up as a space of free imagination, freed from the tasks and standards of representing the outward and freed from the expression of the in- ward, but nonetheless linked with the outward as well as the inward and creating on their ba- sis. In this intermediate realm of the imagination, the opposition between objective and non- objective painting ceases to have any object, because here the autonomous forms of painting – as products and seed crystals of the imagination – are the true objects.© Manuel Ströhlin Completely revised and expanded version of the article “Reduktion und Bewegung”, in: ARTCOLLECTOR, December 2015, p. 31. Translated into English from German by Michael Wetzel, Berlin.Reprinting, duplication and translation, even as excerpts, are only permitted with prior written consent by artist and author and with reference to the source.