Jutta Koether’s abstract paintings, with their translucent interconnected web patterns, fragments of texts and songs, are like a portrait of the artist in our times. She is a painter, but not only that. Interweaving soft, sinuous brushwork and delicate colouring with bold cartoon-style figuration and graffiti-making is just part of a bigger whole – an interdisciplinary artistic practice overlapping performance, music, writing and other activities, and reflecting her strong, feminist, punk/pop-influenced engagement with contemporary theory and culture.
Koether used to edit the German culture and music publication Spex and has been based in New York since the 1990s. In her vibrant paintings she shows a fascination with the German ‘bad painting’ of Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen, while taking unabashed pleasure in the physical, handicraft of art-making and its associations with traditional women’s work. Her lush style is reminiscent of the fluid nature of street art, DIY and self-published comic books, and shares a similar disregard for traditional ideas about technique.
Gesturing hands, legs and a face float amidst the sketchy greens of Mède (1992). Multiple embedded elements are fused into a swirling, magnetic whole whose stormy, messy layering includes a strangely pop ‘smiley face’ over the whole work. Frontage (Well, Show Me Nothing) (1994) features an exploding cartoon bubble at its centre, from which contradicting lines, figurative elements and letters radiate and intersect in thinned pastel shades. The lines recalling railway maps, a hand holding dollar bills in the upper right-hand corner and an open one at the centre of the canvas suggest multiple possible narratives in the sweeping abstract composition.
Leibhaftige Malerei (2007), an elegant large-scale painting, harnesses abstract abandonment into a dark forest scene depicting figures performing a mysterious act in the foreground. The painting fuses Koether’s interest in experimental technique with the primal, raw power of self-consciously primitivistic imagery.