Discoveries & Wonderings

by Paul D'Agostino

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Petra Nimtz, No Strings Attached #1, 2017

Discoveries & Wonderings: New Paintings by Petra Nimtz

There are paintings that show you subjects. There are paintings that show you things. There are paintings that lure you into seeing figures, places, colors, shapes, textures, lines and objects. There are paintings that show you worlds and realms. Petra Nimtz’s paintings, at one level or another, show you various sorts of all such things. Yet that which you see, and the manner and moment in which you come to see it, are the very things this process-driven painter prefers to imply rather than firmly determine. Her compositions are places for you to see into, discover and wonder.

You might see, for instance, at center left, and quite immediately as you regard No Strings Attached #3, a slatted door of curious sorts, one that seems to have been left open in a second floor bedroom in a placeless home of peculiar proportions. Unless what you see, that is, while looking at the very same trapezoidal form — the one whose white center is lined with delicately rendered, blind-like horizontal striations, making its lavender framing scan as a spatially recessive ledge or sill — is a window. If so, then the implied interior becomes very strangely mysterious. Its dimensionality begins to budge just a bit, and a kind of phantom light seems to take shape at center right, which then makes that chain-link-like form floating into the space from the edge of the canvas appear intriguingly apparitional, observant, vaguely figural.

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Petra Nimtz, No Strings Attached #3, 2017

By now, of course, you’re locked into your act of looking, and then you begin to wonder: What’s that red portal? Where might it lead? Is that soft grey area the shadow of a window? Is that visible underscoring, so casually grid-like, partially responsible for so much spatial warping?

All this intrigue and visual adventure, in other words, can be found in just one of Nimtz’s most recent paintings. But in this sense, No Strings Attached #3 is far from unique. Rather, it is yet another pictorial product of this seasoned painter’s operative mode of letting layers of material, as they accrue, spur her on.

In this sense, Nimtz’s process is catalytic. It’s a matter of allowing initially achieved textures — created sometimes by painted grounds, sometimes by scoring, sometimes by collaging and grafting — to guide her into applying additional layers of colors, some of which then become compositional zones or variably defined forms. She works intuitively as she pushes her abstractions and rather autumnal, sometimes wintery palettes — soft greys, grey violets, beige pinks, and cool ceruleans punctuated by bold reds, bright blues, bright yellows and brighter whites — into composed, light-filled states that seem always slightly sparked into activity, subtly quickened. Those blocky homes across the way, for instance, in Because I said so, are stable enough, yet their ostensible rumble is slightly audible — if what you see through that irregular orange window, that is, is ‘blocky homes across the way,’ those black structures of sorts beyond a forest of orange-ish birches in a valley of variegated blue, all mesmerizingly vibrant beneath a soft pink sky.

Petra Nimtz, Because I said So

Petra Nimtz, Because I said so, 2017

But if those are homes, and if those are trees, what’s happening with that bright blue brushstroke to the right? Are select trees being summoned to the heavens? Is that home in the throes of abduction?

To be sure, the questions you might pose while beholding Nimtz’s works will be determined by how the artist’s rich surfaces resolve before you. This is true for her works on paper as well, primarily collages and watercolors. Rather than working from plans or sketches to recreate something seen or imagined, Nimtz starts with textures and lines until they give way to colors, then allows colors to give way to forms, then allows forms to be further shaped by new and repurposed textures, lines and marks. And she continues to work, look and rework as such until her colorfully textured compositions become just balanced enough, just quiet or quickened enough, just curiously pictorial or suggestive enough.

But she leaves the ultimate resolve up to you. What you see, that is, is what you see. What you find is what you find. What you hear is what you hear.

Should you discover doors, windows, houses, trees, rumblings or raptures in Nimtz’s textured spheres, then that would all be quite fine with her. Her aim is to make you look, look harder and wonder — then look again, and harder again, and keep wondering.


This essay was composed for Discoveries & Wonderings, a catalogue of recent paintings and works on paper by Petra Nimtz. It will be available in the summer of 2018. For more information about Nimtz and her works, visit her website here

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.