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SPLITTINGS – UNCOVERING THE ORIGINAL

Iris Schmeisser, 2010
Curatorial assistent Museum of Modern Art New York, NY

Roswitha Huber’s signature medium is experimental large-scale painting. Apart from occasional cross-overs into video, collage and assemblage work, it is painting where she feels most at home. Her latest body of works, a series of multi-media triptychs called “Splittings,” originates in painting, yet develops it further: the two halves of a heavily layered painting forcefully split in two make up the first two panels, a photographic reproduction of the original the third panel of a triptych.
Beginning each series with the execution of a painting, she uses a variety of tools – a brush, a roller or simply her hands. Her methods are similarly diverse, ranging from a controlled application of paint to the gestural dripping and pouring of color. In repeated steps she carefully superimposes a layer of varnish over a layer of acrylic paint, finishing with a rubberlike coat. The positioning of the canvas, primed with a water-based ground, varies throughout this process. It can be horizontal or vertical, depending on the structure of the composition she aims to achieve. By shifting and moving the canvas vertically while the materials are still workable, accidental structures emerge. In her most recent vertical stripes series, these unpredictable shapes and patterns break up the controlled geometric structure applied by the artist’s hand. The finished painting’s surface has the quality of a relief, as oil-based and water-based layers – depending on their degree of proximity – either blend or repel each other, resulting in an organic structure.

The painting, however, is not the end, but the beginning of another process: its unmaking. Starting on one side, she begins to slowly peel off its outer layer. This process requires a significant amount of manual force, as if the work somehow resists its own deconstruction. Before “skinning” her painting, Huber takes a photograph of its intact – original – state. This photographic replica becomes the final panel of the triptych, in a purposeful reversal of chronology. The “skinned” original, however, constitutes the first panel, its surface reminiscent of an old billboard on which the layers, leftovers and material traces of previous images are still visible. The artist’s aggressive turn against her own creation is inscribed on this new surface, which appears to be damaged and scarred. It contrasts with the pristine, slick surface of the photograph, the third panel. The second panel of the triptych is the verso of the original recto, showing what we see on the first panel, mirror-inverted. Whereas the first panel is the original canvas, though stripped, the second panel is the skin, with its inner layer facing up. It is mounted on plexi-glass to preserve the split-off object’s scarred skin-like quality,
Both emerging from the same original, their twin compositional structure is entirely accidental, wherever the splitting occurred. This element of surprise is central to Huber’s work: the act of splitting cannot be entirely controlled, as each painting’s inner layers adhere to each other or break off in an unpredictable manner.

For Huber, creating an object, and then dismantling it again, represents a gesture of aggressive defiance, yet also implies playful curiosity – emotional impulses she remembers from being a child. When looking at her finished work she may at first experience resistance to attack it, thus the desire to preserve its original state in a photograph. Yet something inevitably pulls her inside of the work, a curiosity to find out what is invisibly present beneath the painting’s surface: “The weight of my paintings has always surprised me in how it contrasts with what I actually see.”

Roswitha Huber’s triptychs are self-reflexive. They relate a story about the uncovering of the original.