Multilayered animated painting
Notes on Miriam Vlaming’s paintings created over the last two decades

“Soul of man, how you resemble water!”
Goethe, Song of the Spirits over the Waters

Formative years: studying in Leipzig

The Dutch artist Miriam Vlaming, born in Hilden in 1971 and raised in Düsseldorf, initially studied educational studies, psychology and sociology at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf from 1991. In 1994, Vlaming began her art studies at the Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts under Professor Arno Rink (1940 – 2017) and Neo Rauch (*1960), two important representatives of the Leipzig and New Leipzig School.¹ After finishing her studies with honours in 1999, the artist completed another two years under the tutelage of Arno Rink, graduating as a master student. For her teacher, the artist Rink, under whom, incidentally, Neo Rauch had also studied, the focus was on imparting to his students “a certain awareness and an inner attitude towards the materials and processes of painting“². The “to-the-bottom-getter“³ Rink was anything but doctrinaire and promoted the development of individual artistic personalities with authentic self-image and own expression. His student Miriam Vlaming benefited from the well-founded long training period. With her teacher, the artist also shares an almost affective relationship to her colours: oil paint under Rink and egg tempera under Vlaming: “I understand the act of painting as an expansion of the senses and an exit from one life into another life, in which creation and destruction, fantasy and reality do not mutually exclude each other. Through the painterly process, the perceptibility of real life intensifies.“⁴

Later, the young artist Vlaming taught from time to time within the context of teaching contracts: from 1999 to 2000 at the Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts in the Evening Academy or from 2001 to 2003 at the Berlin Academy of Art and Design (G.: Hochschule für Gestaltung in Berlin, BTK). Miriam Vlaming has also received a number of (travel) scholarships, which are important stages in her artistic development: among others, a residency in Kenya in 2001 and the foreign scholarship in Columbus Ohio in 2004. She also received a scholarship to Herzlia in Israel in 2010, which she took up while bringing her six-month-old daughter along with her.⁵

“And suddenly I’m in a world without limits – painting”⁶

Since her artistic beginnings, Miriam Vlaming has painted directly on the white canvas without any previous sketches, almost exclusively with self-made egg tempera paints, which she always mixes freshly in many different trays.⁷ She applies the paints, which dry quickly compared to oil paint, in several thin layers in the manner of an old master. In the process, the upper layers of the paints, which usually appear somewhat chalky, partially cover what was painted at the beginning. Sometimes, however, the lower layers of paint shine through the upper layers of paint. During the painting process, which takes a long time and in which she uses various brushes, sponges, brushes and her hands, the artist regularly ‘washes out’ whole areas, for which the self-made egg tempera paint is well suited. The artist leaves the abstract traces of this process – running turpentine and thin remains of paint – and lays new varnishes over them again. This process is also reminiscent of ancient and medieval palimpsests, which were scraped and washed out again and again to be written on anew.⁸ Vlaming’s paint-overs thus consist of coverings of the “injuries” of her previously created paintings and “non-formulated” memories.⁹ Open structures of non-representational painting – the ‘erased’ – thus stand alongside concretely formulated sections. Interestingly, Vlaming’s teacher Neo Rauch’s work on large canvases is also accompanied by several phases that are later painted over again; as he himself says, his paintings have to “suffer countless intermediary stages /…/ and in the end, of course, it has to look as if it was made with ease.”¹⁰

Miriam Vlaming’s multilayered painting style is the result of an intensive artistic struggle in the creation of a painting. The finished paintings with their many preceding intermediary stages possess an atmospheric density that goes hand in hand with blurriness and ambiguity. Their opulent pictorial surfaces, with dense and loose structures, demand interpretation. Many of the subjects, executed in large formats, seem like dream images and evoke long-forgotten experiences, including film scenes. The virtuoso painting with all its streaks, spots and islands of colour touches the subconscious. Depending on their tonality and inscrutability, the pictorial scenes trigger positive or uneasy moods. The artist’s pictorial structures are also characterized by a feeling for delicate colour constellations. Sometimes she also varies one colour tone in many nuances. As in the mysterious funeral scene Schattwald (2018), in which a corpse wrapped in cloths lies on the ground surrounded by a crowd of tall handsome men and gravediggers. The nocturnal scenery is kept in blue-grey colour gradations, which makes the event seem even more enraptured and more mysterious. The artist herself refers to the colouring of a painting as the “colour  climate“.¹¹ Picture by picture, she ‘works it out’ anew in her elaborate painting process. Often at night or in a darkened studio.

Painting as a form of appropriating the world

A large bright studio is Vlaming’s creative refuge in Prenzlauer Berg: with a large maple tree directly in front of a window front. Below it sits a broad sofa. In a somewhat separate corner stands her desk. Numerous finished works, some already packed, and works in progress lean against the walls. Trolleys full of brushes and pigments complete the scenery. Here the artist wrestles with the pictorial inventions. For Miriam Vlaming, painting is an existential process: “For me, painting means first and foremost being in touch with myself. An approach to my own soul. It is my way of appropriating the world. I work in longer, intensive periods until I begin to get bored with the respective painterly examination of a feeling, a theme. Then that piece sometimes rests for weeks. There always has to be an inner necessity for painting. Then I feel I have to take action. It is a world of its own. In this world I am allowed to do everything that one does not always want to, is not allowed to or does not want to do in real life. I apply paint and if I want to, I can also throw the paint on the wall and create something out of nothing, thus creating a whole universe on the naked white canvas, and that is good.“¹²

Photographs are an important source of inspiration for the painter: her own photographs, pictures from family photo albums as well as photographs she finds at flea markets, in magazines and daily newspapers.¹³ In the complex painting process described above, the first inspirations and original pictorial ideas, which are also influenced by literature, fairy tales and myths, ‘experience’ many transformations. And thus emulsify with all the other incoming inspirations and travel impressions to form the finished pictorial works created in many working stages later.

Miriam Vlaming usually starts at the lower end of the canvas: towards the top, the painting becomes partly lighter and freer.¹⁴ Pictures of the artist sitting barefoot cross-legged in front of the canvas illustrate the working atmosphere. For her, painting is an intense dialogue with herself, a plunge into memories and a generation of pictorial ideas. As quoted before, with each new work she is concerned with creating her own new ‘world’ out of ‘nothing’.¹⁵


Wandlungen (Eng.: transformations), change, is a complex, large theme for an exhibition. It also refers to the transformations of the artist Miriam Vlaming in terms of her personality, attitudes and life circumstances. And how these changes influence her art and creativity? What changes can be identified in Vlaming’s oeuvre within her work over the last two decades? Did her way of painting change? Can changes in the subjects be observed? The question of change naturally also implies the question of what constants can be found in Vlaming’s artistic work? And what changes have taken place in the more than two decades of her independent artist’s existence beyond her studio, in society and the world, which in turn have also had an effect on her actions and self-image?

The artist is always looking for striking headings for her solo exhibitions. In addition to the current exhibition ” Wandlungen” in Bitburg, for example, “Der Mensch. Das Wesen” (Eng.: The Man. The Being) in 2018 for an exhibition in Ottobeuren, and ” Habseligkeiten” (Eng.: Belongings), 2009, as the title of an exhibition in Düsseldorf. In doing so, Vlaming constantly confronts herself with new challenges. She as well as the curators then examine the works selected for the exhibition under the proposed aspect, in the same way that the artist usually realises new works on the chosen thematic complex.

Miriam Vlaming initiated a one-hour film of the same name for the exhibition “Wandlungen“. For this film, she spoke for half an hour or an entire hour on the subject of change/transformations with the following people: Dr. Stefanie Harwart, geologist, shaman (Germany); Andrea Hiltbrunner, author of the book Womanifest (Switzerland); Florencia Lamarca, dancer, founder of the Fluent Body Method (Uruguay, Germany); Dr. Nora Schleich, philosopher (Germany). Nora Schleich, philosopher (Luxembourg); sculptor and artist Johan Tahon (Belgium); Larissa Wild, art consultant (Colorado/USA); and art historian and curator of the exhibition “Miriam Vlaming. Wandlungen“, Dr. Ute Bopp-Schumacher (Germany).


Many of Miriam Vlaming’s paintings are reminiscent of bygone times. The visualisation of a blouse made of bobbin lace, like Partikuar II (2008), or buffets in the furnishings, like in the painting Holy Treasure (2008), seem anachronistic. Are they memories of visits to grandparents stored deep in the artist’s subconscious? Or quotations of pictures from family photo albums or strangers? Many motifs certainly find their way into her work, often unconsciously, during the long painting process. The work Incision (2006) also takes place in earlier times and shows an operation in an unspecified place that has nothing in common with today’s high-tech clinic. The dark cloud-like colour space surrounding the scene reinforces the mysterious atmosphere. It remains unclear who is being operated on, why and where.

In some large-format group portraits, Vlaming also visualises the past by having people appear in old-fashioned habitus. Like in the picture Herrschaften (2008), which shows eleven closely packed men with sometimes more or less individual-looking facial features in stately suits. The group of men stands in front of black silhouettes of large trees, through which a rust-red glowing background shines. Who are these gentlemen? What connects them with each other? In what time, where and why do they meet? Will one of the gentlemen be knighted? Or is a duel about to take place? Other works refer to earlier epochs in that the subjects take place in historical buildings and the portrayed wear yesterday’s clothes. As in the painting Classroom (2010), which shows an atmospheric classroom in which girls in long, wide skirts sit on dark school benches that look like church pews. Some of the few boys wear shirts with sailor collars. The blackboard, coved with writing, the wooden floorboards and the pictures on the wall can only be made out in places, provided they are not obscured by the orange and grey paint streaks. The scenery is reminiscent of older photographs of schools in the USA. So this work could be inspired by Vlaming’s study visit to Columbus Ohio or an earlier scholarship in Kenya, as is the work Singing Class (2010): This is set in a state music hall with wood panelling. The walls are divided by flat pilasters, and the large staircase is partly visible in the background. The students, many of whom are only visible from behind and in profile – including the teacher on the right edge of the picture – are sitting on wooden chairs arranged in a circle. The physiognomies of the portrayed remain blurred.

The artist’s nostalgically inspired pictures can never be deciphered completely and thus present riddles. At the same time, they remind us of their own transience, they are memento mori images!¹⁶ And are remembered not least because of their unfathomability. The transience of one’s own family also flows into many of Vlaming’s works. She created a sculptural Memento Mori with in memoria, the head of her grandmother moulded from plaster.

Inner Cinema

Many of Miriam Vlaming’s ambiguous works activate ‘films’ in the viewer’s mind. An example of this are the sparsely lit lonely houses, deserted terraces, huts or caravans. Supported by the blurriness of the painting and the ghostly colouring, these works evoke oppressive feelings. The ‘uneasy’ emotions are also influenced by crime films, psychological thrillers and reports about crimes. It is not clear from the images themselves whether anyone is present inside the dwellings or what might be going on there. The subtle lighting moods and colouring suggest something that cannot be seen objectively. An effect that can be observed when looking at many of the artist’s works: Because she addresses the unconscious with her painting, a variety of memories of what we have seen, read, experienced ourselves and long forgotten come to mind. Thus we the viewers ‘see’ far more in the paintings than what is depicted: “The exploration of the sensual object and the interpretive and imaginative exploration of the world it presents is always a fragile, often unpredictable and not infrequently confusing process, but it is a process of perception in which and for which the process of artistic appearance unfolds.“¹⁷ This process can be triggered by an artistic work, but artists cannot control and direct it: “However, that which comes to experience in these different modes of perception is not a projection, it is nothing that our perception would merely add to; it is nothing that is not really there. Rather, each way of encountering discovers other qualities and other processes in its object. Each of the /…/ distinct perspectives / …/ acquires a different access to the reality of its objects.“¹⁸ Thus Vlaming’s mysterious pictorial panoramas are stimuli for diverse, sometimes almost epic interpretations, which always turn out differently depending on temperament, previous education and state of mind.

Nature / the Woods

Landscape and nature have become increasingly important pictorial components in Vlaming’s oeuvre since the beginning of her artistic career. While oversized individual figures initially prevailed, as in the painting Schlafwandel (2004), taking up at least half or even the entire picture surface, as in the various depictions of Alice, in later works individual people and smaller groups act in vast, undefined landscape settings. In these works, the artist is primarily concerned with the atmospheric moods that emanate from these landscapes. Individual parts of the often large tableaux are reminiscent of informal painting. As, for example, in the landscape Big Escape (2008), depicted in the evening twilight. The composition, executed in muted black-green, grey-, restrained sulphur- and ochre-yellow as well as white tones, with trickling colour gradients and reflecting points of light in the sky and in the water, impresses with a mystical atmosphere. In such ‘animated’ landscapes with interwoven abstract structures, with or without people acting in them, the artist shows that we humans are only a small part of the (pictorial) cosmos. It is a similar situation in the work Bird Watcher (2016), created eight years later. Between the lush, almost exuberant foliage of the trees and liana-like plants, shadowy people appear. The scantily dressed, some with only a loincloth, stand on the hilly edge and in the water, almost merging with the jungle-like nature. And emphasize the smallness of the human creature.

The dangers in the dark, inaccessible forests that are subliminally thematized in fairy tales and legends are immanently apparent in Vlaming’s depictions of the forest. In the work Waldweg (2007) we see a lonely person in a dark forest with a clearing in the foreground and tall tree trunks, through which light flashes now and then. Unconsciously we look for something ‘threatening’ in the form of a wild animal or other humans. The large painting Die Zentrale (2012) shows a dark, somewhat dilapidated hut in a dense, orange-red and blackish forest with a dog or wolf in the foreground. Due to the title, the colour scheme evoking fire and the dilapidated location, ad hoc eerie feelings and thoughts of criminal use of the wooden hut are evoked. The large-format painting Angeltag (2007) captivates us with its melancholic, dreamy mood. In the lower third of the picture, we see three staffage-like figures on a wooden walkway, engrossed in their activities, with their backs turned to the viewers. The reflection of the tree silhouettes and trunks in the calm surface of the water is of particular painterly charm.

Swimmers and floaters

Water surfaces shimmering in the light and people swimming and bathing in the water have been regular subjects of Miriam Vlaming’s paintings since the beginning of her artistic career. Being a passionate swimmer since childhood, the artist has a close relationship to water. Her water surfaces, glistening in the sunlight or evening light or being unfathomably deep and dark, contribute significantly to the fundamental moods of many of her paintings. The element water symbolizes life, death and rebirth. In depth psychology, dark unfathomable water is a symbol of the unconscious and in dream interpretation the element stands for the life-giving feminine as well as a destructive force.¹⁹ All these meta-levels of the element water are present and perceptible in the artist’s depictions.

We see two people floating on their backs in a relaxed manner with their arms stretched out wide in the painting Scwimmer (2005). The protagonists, looking up at the sky, rely completely on the supporting power of the water. Big Girl Drifting (2016), in a stately format, shows a large girl bathing in a swimming ring, taking up almost the entire width of the picture, with her feet outside the right edge of the picture. The tall child enjoys moving on the water and radiates pure joie de vivre. A happy moment of a young teenager who is at one with nature and his doings. The positive mood of the picture is underlined by the shimmering colours and the diverse light reflections of the water. Memories of one’s own happy moments in summer come immediately to mind when looking at the picture. At best, the streaks and shallows of the greenish water could also be read as a reference to the unpredictable, perhaps more difficult times inherent in every life.

The large, almost five-metre-wide work Mann aus Sebaste (2018) conveys a completely different mood: Almost exactly in the middle of the picture, a naked man visible from behind walks quickly into the wide deep blue sea. Is the man a summer holidaymaker? Or a person leaving something behind? Although placed in the centre, the picture makes clear the smallness of the man in the midst of the roaring sea, which dominates the picture space as a profoundly agitated deep blue surface almost to the horizon. At the back left, the back of a second bather can be seen quite small. The slightly oriental tent formations suggested at the upper edge of the picture could be allusions to the ancient city of Sebaste in Palestine or to a city of the same name in present-day Turkey!

Frame-filling soloists, staffage figures, Human Nature series

At the beginning of her artistic career, Vlaming adapted the literary character Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll for a series of paintings. The saucy portraits of the spirited girl character, whose outlines, cheeky blonde haircut and big eyes are also reminiscent of comic characters, take up almost the entire canvas. Looking back, Miriam Vlaming says about this character: “At the time, I was very fascinated by Alice as a protagonist. For me, Alice was the one who opened the door to three-dimensional space. For me, she embodied a childlike, fantastic mind, which makes it possible to experience different dimensions: inner and outer, real and fantastic, and these gliding transitions between them.“²⁰

As mentioned before, in Vlaming’s later works, people take up increasingly less space. Of course, there are always individual figures that take up the entire canvas, although they are anything but titans. An example of this is the slender Icarus with two oversized wings in the work Metabotanica maskulin (2019). Whether he, who is almost crushed by the wings, can muster the strength to “move the wings? Icarus thus becomes a strong image of human weakness and strength at the same time.“²¹ Incidentally, the Icarus motif has always been popular with the painters of the Leipzig School, since failure, futility and falling could be addressed in this parable, which was also subliminally understood as a critique of social misdevelopments in the former GDR.²²

Human Nature is the name of a series of twelve variations of human portraits realised by Vlaming in 2016. These are not portraits with clear contours and concrete, gender-specific features. Rather, they are facial fields whose incarnate matter – heavily pigmented, coloured and in various lighter complexions – runs right up to the edges of the 40-centimetre-high and 30-centimetre-wide panels. The straight-looking faces are characterised by the eyes, brows and eyelids and the nose and mouth parts. The latter mostly with full lips and visible chin, sometimes also with a suggested neckline. The rather gender-neutral perception of the facial features can also be explained by the artist’s refraining from depicting hair and teeth, as the latter are, after all, essential in determining the charisma of a face. “Her (Vlaming’s) strategy of arranging them in a row is depressingly reminiscent of the once so popular phrenological casts of the faces of non-European people, as they were made for anthropological and zoological (sic!) display collections. /…/ In such serial set-ups of portrait busts, the individual fell by the wayside /…/ Painting as critical commentary. Particularly in view of the current debates about the foreign and its supposed threats, the comparatively sparse series seems like an appeal to reason.“²³ The artist also visualizes foreign culture and beauty in portraits such as Mama Blue (2016), which shows a self-confident woman with a turban, surrounded and entwined by floral ornaments.

Group Pictures / Past and Foreign Worlds
Miriam Vlaming also addresses foreign experiences in group pictures such as The Village (2016): The picture shows a row of African villagers in fine traditional garments, seated for a group portrait. The facial features of individual women and men are captured with almost photographic precision. Others have their physiognomies painted over and their likenesses can only be vaguely guessed through the upper layers of paint. The whole scene is of restrained colour. Simple ornaments frame and overlap the arrangement, which appears to have been inspired by a nostalgic studio shoot. Other larger formations of people, such as The Graduates (2003), are inspired by images of graduation ceremonies long ago. And time and again, Vlaming visualizes impressive family arrangements in her group portraits, as in the 2008 work Die Sippschaft.
The artist often shows smaller groups of people in bold undertakings in nebulous realms: Like the surreal composition New Dimension (2006), which shows two bird-like younger men floating through the air with arms stretched out wide in the upper half of the picture. Or the five almost unclothed people shimmying forward on a light suspension bridge, holding on to ropes. The small group is placed diagonally in the centre of the picture in an enigmatic blue-green environment full of iridescent light reflections. Streaks and numerous flashes of light bathe the impenetrable, fantastic landscape in a magical light. In this work, Miriam Vlaming’s painting is almost energetically charged: “Works of art, insofar and as long as they unleash energies of intoxication, are what they show, and show what they are.“²⁴
Miriam Vlaming’s pictures do not reveal any unambiguities: In all her works there are always several levels and ways of reading them. The artist, who is an alert, searching, sensitive, sensual person, always succeeds to touch the subconscious with her multi-layered pictures. In an elaborate painting process, she generates pictorial creations based templates that are triggered by photographs and other memories, which she always changes, erases or leaves as an abstract substrate. The enigmas perceptible in many of the artist’s works are due to the intense struggle to make the image come into being: “The forces operating on or in the artwork are its forces – produced by the construction of the work, effective in the dynamics of its appearance.“²⁵ The fluidity and depth of Vlaming’s works trigger ambivalent feelings, positive as well as negative sensations. And so, in the face of the exhibits, the viewers themselves begin to remember. The subliminally narrative works sometimes evoke a flood of associations and, not least for this reason, stick in the memory. Some of these artworks also activate filmic thinking in our heads. So it remains exciting to see what other pictorial worlds the artist Miriam Vlaming will create in the future.
¹ Miriam Vlaming and her professor Arno Rink do not think much of these ‘labels’, which are particularly common in the art market. They believe that there is no ‘Leipzig School’ because there is no “stylistic coherence in the manner of a traditional ‘school'”. See also: Mark Gisbourne, Essay, in: Dr. Harald Frisch (Ed.), exhibition catalogue Rink & Vlaming. Malerei at FRISCH, 3. Mai – 15. Juni 2008, Ausstellungshalle FRISCH Berlin, n. p.
² Ibid., n. p.
³ Martin Oswald, Miriam Vlaming. Der Mensch, in: Museum für Zeitgenössische Kunst – Dieter Kunerth (Ed.), exhibiton catalog Miriam Vlaming. Der Mensch Das Wesen, Memmingen, 2018, p. 6.
⁴ Miriam Vlaming, in: Alfred Weidinger (Ed.), exhibiton catalog VOIX – MalerinnenNetzWerk Berlin-Leipzig, Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig, Leipzig, 2019, p. 18.
⁵ More details can be found in the detailed biography, p. 151 ff.
⁶ Miriam Vlaming, quoted in: Interview Im Gespräch Nicola Graef mit Miriam Vlaming, in: Kerber Verlag (Ed.), catalog Human Nature, Bielefeld, 2017, p. 26.
⁷ For this, she mixes eggs with water, linseed oil and colour pigments.
⁸ Thomas W. Kuhn, Miriam Vlaming. Habseligkeiten, Galerie Gmyrek 2009, in: Kunstforum vol. 196, cf. p. 196.
⁹ Susanne Altmann, Feldforschung in »Eden«, in: Katalog Kerber Verlag (Ed.), Miriam Vlaming. Human Nature, Bielefeld, 2017, cf. p. 14.
¹⁰ Neo Rauch in conversation with Werner Spies, in: exhibition catalogue Stiftung Frieder Burda u. Werner Spies (Ed.), Neo Rauch, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Stuttgart, 2011, p. 51.
¹¹ Miriam Vlaming quoted in: Norbert Wartig, Fragmente aus einem Atelierbesuch, in: Katalog Kerber Verlag (Ed.), Miriam Vlaming. Vormorgen, Bielefeld, 2007, p. 54.
¹² Miriam Vlaming, in: Interview Im Gespräch Nicola Graef mit Miriam Vlaming, loc. cit., p. 20.
¹³ Inge Herold, I want to be somewhere else, in: exhibition catalogue Kunsthalle Mannheim (Ed.), You promised me, Kerber Verlag, Bielefeld, 2008, cf. p. 7.
¹⁴ Norbert Wartig, Fragmente aus einem Atelierbesuch, loc. cit., cf. p. 54.
¹⁵ Ibid., cf. p. 54.
¹⁶ Inge Herold, I want to be somewhere else, loc. cit., cf. p. 9., Memento Mori means: “Be aware of your mortality”.
¹⁷ Martin Seel, Ästhetik des Erscheinens, Carl Hanser Verlag, München Wien, 5. Edition, 2016, p. 188.
¹⁸ Ibid., p. 190.
¹⁹ Manfred Lurker, Wörterbuch der Symbolik, Alfred Kröner Verlag, Stuttgart, 1988, cf. p. 792 f.
²⁰ Miriam Vlaming quoted in: Norbert Wartig, Fragmente aus einem Atelierbesuch, loc. cit., p. 55.
²¹ Marin Oswald, Vertigo. Malerei zwischen Himmel und Erde, in: Katalog Kerber Verlag (Ed.), Vertigo, Bielefeld, 2019, Berlin, p. 11.
²² Eduard Beaucamp, Den Traum der Kunst weitergeträumt; in: exhibition catalogue Stiftung Frieder Burda u. Werner Spies (Ed.), Neo Rauch, loc.. cit., cf. p. 146.
²³ Susanne Altmann, Feldforschung in »Eden«, in: Katalog Miriam Vlaming. Human Nature, loc. cit., cf. p. 14.
²⁴ Martin Seel, Ästhetik des Erscheinens, loc. cit. , p. 244 f.
²⁵ Ibid., p. 245.
Ute Bopp-Schumacher, 2022
from the catalogue: Dr. Ute Bopp-Schumacher, Wandlungen, Kerber Verlag, Bielefeld, 2022
Field Research in “Eden” | by Susanne Altmann

Miriam Vlaming has worked as a visual anthropologist for a long time, using photographic models. Family portraits and photos of various groups in supposedly idyllic domestic settings, along with ordinary decorative artefacts, marginal architectural forms, and garden structures, all form part of her repertoire. Her artistic interpretations emphasise, disguise or display these motifs, and comment on them. However, she has never been distracted by narrative content, and remains passionate about painting. In my opinion, if Vlaming was forced to make a choice, she would always sacrifice the readability of her paintings on the altar of manual dexterity with regard to the independent existence of her forms, and her experiments with light and color. She continues to attack surfaces that are far too idyllic, and pres- ents her canvas effectively as a palimpsest of damage and unformulated scraps of memory. With regard to the genealogy of the Leipzig group of gu- rative artists, Vlaming holds a special position – because her compositions draw the viewer into a dynamic swirl of non-representational elements. In this respect, Vlaming remains true to herself in Eden, her latest production, and it would be doing her an injustice to concentrate solely on her protagonists’ exotic phenotype. Nevertheless, this current cycle empha- sises Miriam Vlaming’s interest in the unknown »other«. This could be matter of some delicacy, if considered within the debate on postcolonial image worlds. A debate which, if conducted within the limits of strict political correctness, would preclude all artistic delight in exotic themes. As philosopher and curator Wolfgang Scheppe has demonstrated impressively in his exhibition »Surveying the Non-Human. On the Aesthetics of Racism«, these images are especially charged with the need to be debated. These documents always re ect the dubious norms of Western world trav- ellers who saw themselves as researchers, mainly in the 19th century. In his exhibition, Scheppe provides critical criteria for judging the obsessionnal pictorial material collected by disputed ethnologist Bernhard Struck (1888– 1971) as follows: »The measurable as benchmark«, and again, »The phantasm of primitivism« and, yet again, »Scientific voyeurism and ethno-pornography« (1). However, Scheppe’s specifically artistic interpretations of those inevitably racist and historical views, which continue to make an impact today, reveal the impossibility of applying these pseudo-scienti c mechanisms to the pictorial evidence. It is only by confronting their richness as part of an art project does one gain an insight into the depths of those assumptions. To this extent, Miriam Vlaming’s work can be evaluated as rigorous, highly re ec- tive, and almost pioneering, since she is entering a mine eld that is strewn with such subjects, with her pictorial re-appropriations. This, surely, is a real balancing act: the way we view the »other« or the »different« has always been an unalianable part of creative production. We need only consider the fascination that the Expressionist Brücke painters felt for African masks, and for woodcarvings from the South Paci c, or the way that French Avant- garde artists expressed their longing for Eastern culture. As attractive as these approaches may have been, they always involved contemporary illusions about a paradise that – in Western civilisation – only existed as a hegemonic projection. A paradise with no quotation marks. When Miriam Vlaming is working with the term »Eden« today, she carries this ambivalence between astonishment and sarcasm in her baggage. Having begun with her well-tried method of including existing pictures in her paintings, she now includes cul- tural and ethnic references. In her subject material, she quotes from the images produced by the »white man« and his camera. In her case, however, instead of making a critical comment, the painting takes over. As for instance in Initiation (2016), when she obscures seemingly aboriginal dancers by using arabesques à la Matisse together with opulent ornamental shapes. She uses almost exaggerated patches of forms and colours as in Uncle Freak (2016), when she allows a masked male couple to step out of a jungle of pat- terns – as if liberating themselves from a symbolical web of exotic references. Miriam Vlaming vehemently re-establishes the autonomy of the people who were portrayed, who are looking into the lens with justi able mistrust or open willingness. She emphasises the foreign and sinister aspects, and creates a new, self-con dent aura that cleverly subverts our Western stereotypes. Aggressively, and ironically exaggerated masks and costumes as in Uncle Freak or Initiation appear to reverse roles. Viewers may feel slightly uncomfortable, almost as if they are being observed themselves. Her com- positions of patterns, vegetation and visual hyperboles serve to re-frame her subjects, and provide a new frame. According to anthropologist Christopher Pinney, she is looking through a kind of »anti-camera« and selecting a technology of depiction that is the opposite of photography (2). Unlike many other conceptual artists who work in this eld, Miriram Vlaming does not start with theories. She does not need them. She achieves her powerful and highly relevant results solely through her painter’s intuition. She succeeds both in re-capturing a mine eld that is stewn with hazardous discourse, and in emancipating ethnographic photo-documents from the dubious conditions in which they were created. The closest she gets to a conscious take on critical re ection is with her Human Nature series, in which she paraphrases the arbitrariness of gender and ethnic identities in 12 variations on one face. The tiniest variations in complexions, lips, noses and eyelids automatically involve us in a process of classification. Miriam Vlaming skilfully transfers the viewer’s own, superficial prejudices: prejudices that often involve automatically exaggerating differences instead of establishing similarities. That said, the way she aligns her subjects recalls the popular phrenological plastercasts of non-European faces which used to be produced for public collections of anthropological and zoological (sic!) specimens. Those cynical masks had no other purpose but that of demonstrating, through their sheer quantity, various derivations from standard notions of biological superiority. While concentrating on producing whole series of these portrait- busts, the individuals involved were forgotten. Often, the facemasks did not cover the entire skull so that the parts around the face were left unmoulded, as a sort of symbolic gap (3). In addition to a certain aesthetic of ludicrous racial ideologies, which we only become aware of when we see these heads, Miriam Vlaming seems to be referring to those critical gaps when creating the ctitious physiognomy in Human Nature – not as a portrait painting, but by extending the parts that have been made incarnate to the margins of her small canvases. This artistic solution appears to point at this absurd and inhuman way of treating individuals as anonymous subjects for study. Painting as critical comment. Given the current heated debate about the »other« and its perceived threat, this comparatively reticent series acts as an appeal to common sense. In this sense, Human Nature can be read as a leitmotif that promises a vision of a future, global »Eden«. This much Utopia should be allowed.

(1) See the accompanying publication to the exhibition »Die Vermessung des Unmenschen. Zur Ästhetik des Ras­ sismus« in the Staatlichen Kunstsamm­ lungen Dresden, Lipsiusbau from 13 May to 7 August 2016 by Wolfgang Scheppe.
(2) See Christopher Pinney, The Anti­ Kamera in: Material World. A global hub for thinking about things, /2016/01/the­anti­camera (last consulted on May 14th 2016)
(3) See the plaster heads and coloured deathmasks by brothers Gustav and Louis Castan (1836–1899, 1828– 1909 in the Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden, on show in the exhibition »Die Vermessung des Unmenschen«.

Susanne Altmann, 2016


… auf die nackte Leinwand ein ganzes Universum“ | by Uwe Goldenstein

Die Malerin Miriam Vlaming

In den lichtdurchfluteten, großräumigen Berliner Atelierräumen von Miriam Vlaming empfängt den Besucher eine Atmosphäre voller angenehmer Leichtigkeit und positiver Energie. Zumeist großformatige Werke aus verschiedenen Werkperioden stehen lässig an die Wände gelehnt. Das Rauschen eines riesigen Ahornbaums vor den geöffneten Fenstern untermalt als Geräuschkulisse unterschwellig die überaus angenehme Stimmung. Recht geordnet stehen allerlei Farbmaterialien herum – Miriam Vlaming malt bevorzugt mit Eitempera –  das Atelier erinnert an ein Labor, das weniger streng wirkt und durch die vielen Dosen mit hell leuchtenden Pigmenten nebst einer Packung mit frischen Eiern gar an eine Kuchenbäckerei denken lässt. Diese traditionelle, recht aufwendige Form der Farbherstellung aus Pigmenten zeugt bereits von der Ernsthaftigkeit der Künstlerin, die die Leinwand als Erfahrungsraum begreift, als nur von ihr lenkbares Experimentierfeld, als „einen Balanceakt zwischen bewusster Kontrolle und gezielter Selbstvergessenheit“ und das mit Farben gefüllt wird, die für die anstehende Bearbeitung von der Künstlerin selber hergestellt und angemischt werden. Es unterstreicht die Individualität jedes Malaktes und somit auch die enge Bindung zwischen Künstler und Werk: „Du mischst eine Farbe – du hast das 100mal so gemacht – und dann kommt plötzlich was völlig Neues dabei heraus. Das sind die Momente, warum Maler malen. Es gibt diese magischen Momente, da bist du mit was auch immer verbunden, da führt jemand deine Hand. Das ist wirklich toll. Das geht aber nur, wenn du dich dem hingibst. Also, wenn man mal im Kopf die Stopp-Taste drückt.“ Miriam Vlaming ist nicht nur aufgrund der vorbereitenden Maßnahmen gewissermaßen eine ganzheitliche Malerin. Sie sieht die Leinwand als ihre Welt an, die zwar durch das Maß begrenzt, durch die zu erzeugende Räumlichkeit, dem Gegenüber von Vertiefung und Fläche, aber in gewisser Weise auch unbegrenzt ist. In ihren vielschichtigen Szenerien eröffnet sich dem neugierigen Auge ein ganzes Panoptikum figürlicher und abstrakter Ebenen. Nach längerer Betrachtung beginnt aber eine Regieanweisung aus dem Off, das offensichtliche Chaos auszubalancieren. Dies zeugt von der konzentrierten Herangehensweise von Vlaming an das Bildthema, an ihr Streben, dass das Bild nie auseinanderfällt und gleichzeitig offen bleibt für von ihr gelenkte Assoziationen. Schon auf den ersten Blick zeigt sich die Stärke von Miriam Vlaming, nämlich zwei divergierende Malprinzipien, die der Abstraktion und der gegenständlichen Komposition, ganz selbstverständlich und wohl temperiert miteinander verschmelzen zu lassen. 

Bird Watcher

Das Begreifen des Bildes als ganzheitlichen, unabhängigen Raum tritt in Vlamings Arbeiten in ungewöhnlicher Überlagerungsform auf. Am großartigen Werk „Bird Watcher“ aus ihrer aktuellen Serie EDEN lässt sich sehr schön die sympathische Komplexität ihrer Malerei begreifen: Figur und Landschaft sind gleichberechtigt, verschwimmen im Farbenkosmos, es gibt kein kompositorisches Zentrum – dieses wird genauso der Malerei selbst geopfert wie die Ordnung durch die Zentralperspektive. Trotzdem zerfällt die Bildeinheit keineswegs, ganz im Gegenteil stiften Form und Motiv eine sich gegenseitig stützende Wirkung zugunsten des Betrachtenkönnens der gesamten Bildlandschaft. Die Spiegelungen im Wasser unterstützen diese Wirkung noch. Die subtile Form der Eitemperamalerei ermöglicht durch die zurückgenommene Farblichkeit zudem eine grundsätzliche Distanz und Zurücknahme des Farblichen selbst und hilft, Vlamings Bilder als einen Raum real existierender visueller Gleichberechtigung zu begreifen, in dem Landschaft, Portrait, Natur, Narration wie Projektion zerfließen können. Gerade wenn man bedenkt, dass auch wir als Betrachter dem genannten Werk wie Suchende begegnen können und gewissermaßen wie die Bird Watcher selbst Teil des latent flirrenden Universums werden.

Das Romantische im Werk Vlamings

Diese Sichtweise auf Miriam Vlamings Werk rückt ihre Malerei auch in die Richtung der Romantik, wenngleich die romantische Bildformel eine Konfrontation mit Überlagerungen, Auswaschungen, geometrischen Mustern und wie Projektionen erscheinenden Figuren erfährt. Dieses Beziehungsgeflecht ignoriert auf den ersten Blick die vom Genre der Landschaft her eingeübte Bildtradition. Die Hauptakteurin Natur wird in eine künstliche Form überführt, in der aber die Rahmenbedingungen erhalten geblieben sind. Denn die kontemplative Atmosphäre einer impressionsreichen Natur findet sich auch in ihren Bildern wieder. Relationen und Gesetzmäßigkeiten im Bildkosmos gehorchen dabei aber einer übergeordneten, absoluten Idee, die das klassische Abbild einer Landschaft wie beispielsweise bei Casper David Friedrich, wo die Figuren im Bildvorder- und Mittelgrund sehr ausgewogen in die Natur gesetzt sind (vielleicht mit Ausnahme von Friedrichs „Mönch am Meer“), überwindet und ein überdimensionales Konglomerat aus gegenständlichen Themen und malerischen Effekten bis hin zur völligen Verstellung eines Fluchtpunktes zum Vorschein bringt. Geheimnisvolle Erzählungen, hervorgerufen durch die Anwesenheit oft nur angedeuteter Figuren in der Natur, treffen auf eine unsagbare, beinahe mystisch operierende Ebene der Abstraktion.

Auf der Suche nach Bestimmung im Kosmos der Malerei

Ihre weit geöffneten und malerisch intensiv erfahrbaren Landschaften und Szenen zeugen also von der Sehnsucht nach entgrenzten Erfahrungsräumen, die manchmal durch Fotovorlagen als Ausgangspunkt eine Zielbestimmung haben, die dann nach und nach durch den Prozess des Malens modifiziert werden. Dieser Weg kann durchaus mehrere Wochen oder Monate andauern. Vlaming muss sich den Zugang zum Bild stets neu erarbeiten, manchmal fließen spontane Ideen ein, die ihren Platz auf der Leinwand finden müssen und mit den bereits vorhandenen Partien interagieren. Die mit der Zeit entstehenden Malschichten und Tiefengründe aus Übermalungen, Andeutungen und Abstraktionen evozieren eine Atmosphäre des Schwebens, denn die Bildfiguren verschmelzen zu einem Bildthema, das eben von der Suche nach der Form und der Auslotung von Grenzen bestimmt ist: Eine Melange aus Farbschlieren, schemenhafter Figurationen, Malspuren und manchmal auch zerlaufenden Malpartien. Diese individuell bestimmte, von der Malerei getragene Unbestimmtheit stiftet eine Momenterfahrung, die eine untrennbare, malerisch verdichtete Verbindung mit dem Bildthema einzugehen vermag. Ein beinahe halluzinogener Vorgang: Das am Ende wohl geordnete und wohl temperierte Zusammenspiel von Farben und Raum, die Durchmischung der Bildgründe, in denen auch abstrakte Formationen ein Eigenleben gewinnen können, suggerieren ein Sehnsuchtsbild, das mit den Projektionen und Illusionen des Betrachters ein Spiel beginnt. Im offenen und rhythmischen Ausgleich von eindeutigen und unkonkreten Ebenen verzaubert Miriam Vlaming das Auge, ohne dabei die Balance zu verlieren, obwohl sich dabei zeitliche und räumliche Ebenen von ihrem Kontinuum zu lösen scheinen. Die gewohnte Wahrnehmung gerät ob der meditativen Qualität der Vlaming’schen Bildsphären ins Abseits. Es triumphiert der geheimnisvolle Bildraum, der das Auge immer wieder in Bewegung versetzt. Dabei unterstützt Vlamings grundsätzlicher Verzicht auf Grundfarben hin zur Durchdringung der Farben das Zwischenweltliche und lenkt die Konzentration auf die gesamte Bildebene.

Der diesem Portrait den Titel gebende Ausspruch von Miriam Vlaming 

„ … auf die nackte Leinwand ein ganzes Universum“ drückt sehr schön die hier schon angedeutete Komplexität der Malerei an sich aus: Bevor der erste Pinselstrich sich auf die strahlend weiße Leinwand begibt, lauert und schwingt das Universum der Malerei bereits im Atelierraum mit, auch wenn es sich in weiten Teilen noch im Kopf der Künstlerin befindet. Die Idee des Bildes scheint vage aber nicht unbestimmt schon vor dem ersten Akt des Malens – quasi unsichtbar – Teil des Geschehens zu sein. Grundvoraussetzung für diesen konzentrierten ersten Akt wie für die weitere Entwicklung des Gemäldes ist die Notwendigkeit des vor der Außenwelt hermetisch geschützten, einsamen Atelierraumes, in den nur das Tageslicht oder das Wehen eines Baumes eindringen sollte. Denn nur im persönlichen, abgeschotteten Dialog zwischen Maler und Bild lässt sich das individuelle Universum im Kopf auf die Leinwand entsprechend malerisch übertragen – vergleichbar mit einem Trancezustand, wo nur das innere Bild vor einem als Gegenüber existiert, das nun weiter behandelt werden muss: „Malen bedeutet für mich in erster Linie Kontakt mit mir selbst. Eine Annäherung an die eigene Seele. Es ist meine Art, mir die Welt anzueignen. Es muss eine Notwendigkeit für das Malen geben. Ich spüre dann, ich muss in die Aktion gehen. Es ist eine eigene Welt. In dieser Welt darf ich mit Farben panschen, wenn ich es will auch mal an die Wand schmeißen und aus dem Nichts etwas zu schaffen, zu erschaffen, somit also auf die nackte weiße Leinwand ein ganzes Universum.“ 
Nach meinem längeren Gespräch mit der Künstlerin wird mehr und mehr deutlich, dass das Bild für sie ein wahrhaftiges und intensives Zwiegespräch darstellt. Auch bei mir werden die vor mir aufscheinenden Bildwelten immer mehrschichtiger aber auch narrativ immer besser fassbar. Ihre Herangehensweise wird mir stetig klarer und immer sichtbarer in ihren Bildern, wo die sogenannte Komposition einen ungewöhnlichen aber umso sympathischeren Verlauf nimmt: „Es sind auch diese glücklichen Unfälle oder Sackgassen im Bild, wo man merkt, da geht es jetzt einfach gar nicht mehr weiter. Das wird dann sehr emotional. Manchmal ist es durchaus auch diese Wut, wenn ich die Imagination verliere. Dann muss ich etwas zerstören, wasche die Farbe ab und gebe dadurch auch wieder etwas frei. Das Bild bekommt Luft und Leerstellen, mit denen ich mich dann wieder bewusst neu auseinandersetzen muss. Da kommt dann wieder die Dimension Zeit hinzu. Malen hat mit Entwicklung, mit langen Prozessen zu tun. Mit Zeitlosigkeit und dann entsteht im besten Falle etwas Zeitloses.“

Vlaming versus Haruki Murakami

Diese Betrachtungsweise der Welt als möglichen zeitlosen Raum erinnert somit auch an die Weltvorstellungen und vom Alltäglichen erhabenen Perspektiven und Erfahrungsräume des japanischen Romanciers Haruki Murakami, dessen mysteriöse Helden die Verhältnisse ebenso frei von allen üblichen Reglements zu interpretieren wissen und eine Metaphorik beschwören, die das Mystische und das Gewöhnliche auf eine sich gegenseitig bedingende Ebene stellen. Denn sie fragen sich mitunter welche Nachteile sich im Alltag ergäben, „wenn man beispielsweise die Erde nicht als Kugel, sondern als riesigen Kaffeetisch auffasste.“ (…) So ist der Erzähler des Weiteren der Ansicht, „dass die Welt sich aus einer Unendlichkeit von Möglichkeiten zusammensetzt. Und die Auswahl ist zu einem gewissen Grade den die Welt strukturierenden Individuen anheimgestellt. Die Welt ist ein aus kondensierenden Möglichkeiten bestehender Kaffeetisch.“ In diesem Sinne lassen sich auch die malerischen Phantasien Miriam Vlamings als einen von üblichen Bildgesetzen befreiten, autonomen Weltinnenraum begreifen, der gleichzeitig prozesshaft den Seelenraum der Künstlerin widerzuspiegeln vermag. Die hierin wirkenden Synergien und Metaphern orientieren sich nicht an irgendeine vorgeformte Art von Aufklärung oder festen visuellen Gesetzen. Vielmehr wollen sie das Gegenteil erreichen. Die Einsicht, dass die Erinnerung an die Natur oder an eine private Szene aus der Kindheit nur durch die Durchkreuzung der sie überlagernden konkreten und immer nach Eindeutigkeit strebenden Sichtweisen bedingt ist, lassen Vlamings Szenerien als Anleitung zur Hinwendung zu freier Projektion und Assoziation verstehen. Dabei vermögen sie, als malerisches Ganzes, als eigenes sich selbst behauptendes Universum, sich dem kulturellen Muster der Trennung der darstellenden Medien zu entziehen. Schließlich geht bei ihren Werken jegliche Narration von einer ver- und überblendeten und gleichzeitig eigendynamischen Natur und menschlichen Präsenz aus – selbst wenn mitunter in ihren Bildern die figürliche Totalität des Menschen fehlt. Nachdem mein Atelierbesuch den geplanten Zeitrahmen wie auch die Anzahl der Tassen Kaffee um Dimensionen überzogenen hat, fahre ich beschwingt mit meinem alten, klapprigen Fahrrad zurück nach Berlin Mitte und frage mich – versehen mit einem inneren Lächeln hinsichtlich des in mir aufkommenden Gedankens – ob das Romantische in unserem von selbstherrlichem Hipstertum, oberflächlichen kulturellen Verirrungen und endlosen, durchdigitalisierten und somit nie wirklich bedeutsamen Momenten geprägten Dasein doch noch am Leben zu sein scheint und zur Rückkehr zur wirklichen, analogen Kontemplation auffordert?

Über Miriam Vlaming

Miriam Vlaming erblickt 1971 in Hilden bei Düsseldorf das Licht der Welt. An der Heinrich-Heine-Universität in Düsseldorf nimmt sie 1991 ein Studium der Erziehungswissenschaften, Psychologie und Soziologie auf. Danach zieht es Miriam Vlaming immer stärker zur Kunst hin und wechselt im Jahre 1994 an die Leipziger Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst in die Klasse von Arno Rink, einem der wichtigsten Künstler, die das künstlerische Erbe der DDR bestimmen. Bereits 1971 beginnt Arno Rink als Hochschullehrer in Leipzig und wird eine wichtige Instanz der so genannten Neuen Leipziger Schule. Hier schließt Miriam Vlaming 1999 ihr Studium mit Auszeichnung ab, wird sodann für zwei Jahre Rinks Meisterschülerin und nimmt dort nach Studienabschluss einen Lehrauftrag an (2001-2003). Sie lässt sich in diesem Sinne auch der Leipziger Schule zuordnen und gehört zweifelsohne zu ihren prägendsten und wichtigsten Vertreterinnen. Letztlich beschreibt aber diese Einordnung nur ihre malerische Herkunft, sie ist aber im Hinblick auf ihre sehr individuelle Entwicklung und Malweise nicht wesentlich und würde die Perspektive auf ihr Werk nur unnötig einschränken. Vlaming zeigt ihre Werke auf zahlreichen internationalen Einzelausstellungen. Unter anderen ist hervorzuheben ihre Einzelausstellung “YOU PROMISED ME” in der Kunsthalle Mannheim (2008), wo über 50 zumeist großformatige Gemälde zu sehen waren. Bilder von Miriam Vlaming sind in bedeutenden öffentlichen nationalen und internationalen Sammlungen und Museen vertreten – zu nennen wären hier zum Beispiel das Von der Heydt Museum Wuppertal, die Kunstsammlung der Deutschen Bank oder die Robert Bosch Stiftung. Miriam Vlaming lebt und arbeitet mittlerweile seit 6 Jahren in Berlin.

Uwe Goldenstein, 2016