Magelssen’s objects convey a physical experience, in the same way that sounds, water and wind affect our senses.
Janine Magelssen has won much acclaim for her wall objects. Sensual and sensible, the works consist of tranquil, white forms that are at once sculptural, painterly and inviting to the eye. They are neither paintings nor sculptures. The term “pictures” is perhaps more appropriate to her works than “reliefs”. Magelssen herself calls them “wall objects”. They bring to mind the English artist Ben Nicholson who during the 1930s created material constructions that were often minimalist and completely white. Looking at more recent art history, they remind us of Anish Kapoor’s works in chalk, which have something of the same tactility, yearning and vanishing point present in Janine Magelssen’s works. We can see the depth, profiles, contours and play of shadows in the hinted landscapes of the works. The movements of the shadows vary according to the time of day and capture subtle changes that generate and accumulate a quiet energy. Never dramatic, her works are nevertheless insistent in their focus on tranquillity and presence. For this reason, they are never indifferent. Rather, each wall object becomes a confidante who does not contradict you; a friend who patiently listens to your story and slows your pulse to rest, because you’re not going anywhere, you are just standing and listening. Not to the picture, but to yourself. In this way, the wall object becomes a mirror you can look into with focused calm. Magelssen’s works are so quiet that you might easily think that you can sum them up in the space of a second. If you do, you will deprive yourself of a wonderful experience, for the longer you look at them, the more interesting they become. The same cannot be said for all art.
Many of Magelssen’s works contain sculptural qualities that provide volume: soft, wide edges; something to grip hold of. Not unlike the tactility of big loudspeakers, or when you sit in the seat of a plane and see the repeated shape of white epoxy along the fuselage. These large-scale works have titles that describe what you see, for example “Square on a circle” and “Two horizontal areas”. The words are neutral, almost sterile in their realism and are devoid of associations, metaphors and symbolic meanings – almost a linguistic cleansing, a devaluation of big words towards a linguistic asceticism that empties the wall objects of meanings, contents and interpretations. Magelssen aims to present a form of sensuality beyond the confines of language, whereby the work holds the viewer in a physical dialogue via her sense of sight.
Magelssen’s works can of course be said to possess a distance and an idiom belonging to a neutral sphere beyond verbal understanding. But they also evoke associations, especially if the viewer spends time on them. Ideas that come to mind are sensations of touch, skin contact, the palms of the hands; a light stroke, a quivering. Like a kiss. The desire to touch. A capacity for love that quells all resistance. It may be in the work or in the viewer. Or in the interplay between them. Something that is a pleasure to feel, a caress on skin; perhaps Eros restrained. All these elements are due of course to good form and to the cool-warm, tactile texture characteristic of her works, reminiscent of silk and skin. They are charged with a light energy.
Magelssen’s intention is to create simple, soft and sensual forms which are first and foremost perceptible to the senses; they take nothing away, but are cumulative. The finished products are the result of slowly developing and demanding processes. She begins from the inside with layer by layer of wax, putty or moulding, gradually shaping faint contours – elevations and depressions. Then she primes them with glue and chalk or casts them in synthetic plaster. She continues to build up the forms layer by layer, finally polishing the surface until it becomes soft and shiny, almost like silk.
The artist’s drawings and sketches are small, independent works revealing many of the same processes, but each with their own, individual developments. Some consist of simple strokes either in harmony or in contrast with one another, creating a balance and counterbalance between imaginary spaces. Others reveal short, uneven strokes, similar to those of a seismograph. These drawings and sketches also have the quiet presence characteristic of all Magelssen’s works.
Janine Magelssen’s objects convey a physical experience, in the same way that sounds, water and wind affect our senses. Our body knows it, but words cannot quite describe what we are feeling. Her works are about this perceived state of being. You breathe, they breathe; a physical presence. The German painter Gerhard Richter said that abstract art visualises a reality that we cannot see or describe, but which we nevertheless know exists.