Emotion & logic in imagery

by Christoph Tannert


Totalitarian radicalness continues to be in vogue among the young generation. As early as one hundred years ago, the path seemed clearly set. Such critics of utopia as E. M. Cioran voiced: “He who has not committed himself to fanaticism, mania, and folly between twenty and thirty is a fool. One is a liberal only out of weariness, a democrat only for rational reasons.” (1)

Surprisingly, however, what has recently also been sparked is an interest in tradition in the sense of a reconfirmation of things past. This interest manifests itself against the backdrop of the fundamental question of what an image can be and therefore is hardly in a position to identify itself with such outdated rites as those practiced by the “wild” painters of the 1980s, searching instead for its own answers by exploring different paths.

I’m ready to fight, young people may think to themselves. Yet not Katrin Kampmann. She is fascinated by the deep recesses of the past, by review as continuation. Her project Flame I am assuredly (2) starts with her bowing to Friedrich Nietzsche, whom she quotes in the title of her work.

What Kampmann particularly appreciates about Nietzsche is that he regards philosophical contemplation as a highly subjective form of expressing one’s inner moods. Based on this, he reinvestigates the relationship between philosophy and art. Philosophizing becomes art, which for Nietzsche consequentially calls for the employment of such advanced artistic devices as aphorism or fragmentation, and for his orientation on a lyrical language. Nietzsche considers the use of artistic means the most sublime form of creation.


Katrin Kampmann is a fervent advocate of subjectivism and of things laden with emotion, of the world’s re-enchantment. Having portrayed Nietzsche has kindled a passion in her for the ideas of previous generations. It is therefore only logical that in her project one also encounters heads of members of the “Brücke,” a Dresden-based group of Expressionist artists, including those of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and Max Pechstein. Radical subjectivity fits in well with times of unsettlement. Other artists who abandoned themselves to their inner longings (and who have likewise been portrayed by Katrin Kampmann) are Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch, and the eloquent poets Walt Whitman and Georg Heym.

Ten portraits and four abstract compositions, all of them developed in watercolor on laid paper, provide the foundation for her pondering the possibilities of venturing a new beginning while remaining entirely true to herself.

What is exciting is the contrast between photographically inspired portraits and the free flow of color in the Crystal Compositions. Finding things accidentally, the artist simultaneously forges new pictorial elements from the logic of imagery.

Kampmann’s primary focus is on the moment that gives birth to the signs of transition. She took to painting outdoors, on naked soil and in sub-zero temperatures, at the Berlin Mauerpark in the borough of Prenzlauer Berg. This resulted in the weather interfering with her compositions. The structures of ice crystals that can be detected on the paper are the visible consequences of events brought about by a displacement process, with the crystal lattice competing with the pigments. The lattices differ, depending on how cold it was. Every single picture, every single sheet of color marks a sign of transition. Frost has become a draftsman here. Nature and accident impact on this art. What will emerge is unpredictable. Katrin Kampmann works on poetic pictures that are simultaneously matter-bound images of reality. 

The artists to whom she pays her tribute exhausted their own existences in their being torn between activism and enervation, similar to the flame of a candle that consumes itself while visibly escorting our lives through periods of transition. Kampmann’s portraits honor visionary people who deemed it worthwhile to change the world.

In limiting herself to the horizon of her immediate surroundings, the artist resorted to a metropolitan park in Berlin that is especially frequented by young people seeking recreation and whose neighborhood has been seized by the urban disruptions of gentrification. There she created artworks praising the idealand the necessity of transition and which, during the artistic process of their making, also embraced non-artistic impulses of change. Yet at the same time, these works always illustrate that any change must spring from genuine feeling and thus from emotional intelligence.

Katrin Kampmann’s pictorial approach is based on a belief in what is poetic, extraordinary, and inaccessible. She signalizes a need for explanation to be provided by the inexplicable, all the time being aware that there is something higher that cannot be grasped rationally. Her artistic ideas are focused on the exploration of and immersion in the deeper layers of our psyche, our cultural existence. Gestures, lightness, and expression thus become part of a painter’s phase of grounding herself. Everything is aimed at homogeneity and harmony, in spite of the flashes of abstraction and the automotive behavior of the material.

This is work of quality, for the production of such well-temperedness requires concentration and stringent action.


(1) Emile Michel Cioran, Apologie der Barbarei. Frühe Schriften 1932–1941, ed. by Martin Bertleff, Vienna/Leipzig, 2016.

(2)     Ecce Homo

         Yes, I know from where I came!

         Ever hungry like a flame,

         I consume myself and glow:

         Light grows all that I conceive,

         Ashes everything I leave:

         Flame I am assuredly.

(“The Gay Science 2 [1882/re-edited 1887], #62, quoted from: Matthew Tones, Nietzsche, Tension and the Tragic Disposition, Lanham, Boulder, New York, London: Lexington Books, 2014, p. 3)