Gabriele Langendorf

Private Schlafzimmer

  1. A Picture of Itself (Thomas Hirsch)
  2. “Putting the mind or the imagination at rest”
    The bedroom paintings of Gabriele Langendorf (Daniela Gregori)
  1. A Picture of Itself (Thomas Hirsch)

    In the early 1990s I had the pleasure of accompanying a Swabian art collector to a number of artists’ studios. The collector’s aim was to acquire works of special importance to the artists themselves. The visits were all paid according to the same general ritual. The concern was less with the studio and the artist’s current production than with the more private regions of the house, ideally the bedroom: For in essence the goal was to acquire the picture that hung in the bedroom over the artist’s bed ... the bedroom picture as what was likely to be the artist’s favourite, most intense. Stories are interwoven with such pictures, stories not everyone can understand, stories not meant for everyone. Whether such pictures are suitable for public collections is another matter. Bedrooms are not places one shows to strangers.

    Gabriele Langendorf paints bedrooms, but reveals no secrets. The private remains private. The resident is not referred to by name in the title; a poetic quality is generally inherent in the street name, which provides access to the work in the way it strikes one and the way it echoes. Two titles make reference to New York and, in fact, these two pictures have a lot in common, aspects that probably have less to do with the city than with the persons portrayed, their homes and the photographs; on the other hand, perhaps it is not possible to distinguish between all these aspects. Both pictures are in vertical format; the descriptions they offer - against the light, through the length of the room - occur as though behind a veil. The coloration is restrained, nearly monochrome, glazing in thin layers without visible sign of the work process, without gesture. So much for what they have in common.

    Gabriele Langendorf works in sequences. The constituents - the subject and the working procedure - are pre-established. Within that framework, the question arises as to the adequate pictorial means for expressing atmospheres and moods, uneasiness and harmony: the handling of colour and tonality, the treatment of light and shadow, the decision as to where to place the picture’s edge - what to include, what to exclude - and objective verification. An overview of Gabriele Langendorf’s oeuvre to date reveals how widely she spans the radius of painterly procedure. A sparingly coated painting can be followed by a gesturally expressive, pastose one; conceptual calculation and pure, sensual painting form an alliance here.

    With regard to motif, there is a connection between the “Private Bedrooms” and earlier work groups. Since the early 1990s, rooms and the way one feels in them, the discourse with architecture - close- ups of facades, whole fronts of buildings, the view into a room and, from it, through a window to the outside - are an important aspect of Gabriele Langendorf’s work. In 1993-94 she produced huge paintings of the regular, monotonically organised facades of tourist hotels as well as a number of several-part sequences. In the latter the viewer’s gaze is drawn through a tidy hotel room, which is furnished quasi according to some pre-established norm, to a mountain mass or the sea; the panels vary with regard to hue (1993-96). Finally there is the 54-part series of hotel rooms (1993-97), always described from an analogous perspective, never including people, always seeming to proclaim general accessibility, at the same time capable of evoking memories. - All in all, in the chronology of this oeuvre, the description goes from outdoors to indoors, from the smooth, anonymity of facelessness and of bland surfaces formed by serially produced grids to pictures with auras, pictures with which stories can be associated. The coloration evolves from striking, bold, (over)simplified, uniform presentation to a treatment of tonality that differs from picture to picture and a manner of working with the brush that conveys emotion and expression.

    On the whole, the “Private Bedrooms” painted by Gabriele Langendorf since 1999 go a step further. They cross the threshold from the public to the private. The scenes are real and individual and the rooms themselves are not accessible to the man in the street. Yet the painted public-ness of the “Bedrooms” does not rob them of their special quality. The concern is no longer with general knowledge but with unique, existential states. The works emerge at the interface between eloquent aura, the willingness to communicate and restraint, finally seclusion.

    The photographs from which the pictures are painted are (more or less conscious) self-portraits, and the paintings produced by Gabriele Langendorf are (at least indirect) portraits. The history of the paintings begins with Gabriele Langendorf asking friends and acquaintances for photographs of their bedrooms. There are no pre-established criteria; decisions regarding lighting, perspective, etc. are left to the individual. Accordingly, the photos reflect individual points of view: how a person sees his/her bedroom or would like it to be seen. As the most personal room - the room of dreams, fantasies, obsessions, sickness, retreat, loneliness and the most intimate community, something like a snail’s shell or a nest, a place of life and of survival - the bedroom communicates something essential about its inhabitant, both directly and indirectly. Lifestyle, likes, souvenirs which stand for a certain phase of life are found here, protected from the outside world.

    Already the act of choosing the portrait subjects initiates the dialogue which Gabriele Langendorf then continues when painting in her studio. She recounts how her own memories enter the picture in a subtle way, how she sees the other person, based on encounters with him or her. Essentially she leaves the pictures as they are; her interventions are restricted to where she draws the painting’s edges, the coloration and the choice of light. In a few cases Gabriele Langendorf has left out some objects and/or added others in order to emphasise individual aspects she regards important as well as to solve compositional issues.

    In one picture, for instance, she painted a gym shoe and a water bottle that were not in the original, thus further accentuating the aspect of pre-arrangement (seen, for example, in the interaction between blue and red). Details play an essential role with regard to the person’s individuality: Pictures on the wall, a bed jacked up on wooden blocks, carpet patterns, plants, the pillow arrangement, the books (a book published by Bibliothek Suhrkamp in a compartment of the night table and Reclam paperbacks on the shelf next to the bed), a cat. Branches, seen through the window. Reflections are found in several of the pictures; once, a single time, the room’s inhabitant is seen reflected in the windowpane, awake when most people are sleeping. Gabriele Langendorf increases the already carefully tuned harmony with her treatment of light and emphasis of the organisational principles. Indeed, loyalty to detail and minimal deviation from the original, an inkling of humour and thus a certain sense of serious lightness determine the character of these pictures, which become personal statements of her bond with people who are her friends: That is more or less how Gabriele Langendorf described it once herself. The “Private Bedrooms” remain cumbersome: intimate, in dialogue, discreet in their candour.
  2. “Putting the mind or the imagination at rest”
    The bedroom paintings of Gabriele Langendorf (Daniela Gregori)

    In October 1888 Vincent van Gogh reports to his friend and colleague Paul Gauguin that he has painted a picture of his bedroom for the decoration of the house the two will later share. He relates how “enormously [he] enjoyed this interior with nothing in it, with a simplicity à la Seurat” (Van Gogh Letters B22), explaining further on (after a precise description of the picture’s coloration) that he “wanted to express consummate peacefulness.” To his brother Theo he is naturally more open: The bedroom picture is intended to evoke “thoughts of rest or in general of sleep. In short, the sight of the picture is meant to put the mind, or better the imagination, at rest.” A few lines later he sums it up when he writes: “This is my revenge for the rest I was forced to take.” (Van Gogh Letters 554)

    A version of that “Bedroom in Arles” shown at the international Kunstschau in Vienna in 1909 must have impressed the 19-year-old Egon Schiele deeply, for shortly after his move from Krumau to Neulengbach, in the fall of 1911, Schiele painted a picture of his room in which certain important details - for example the position of the bed - correspond to the Van Gogh picture.

    Neither of these artistic personalities can be said to have had a predilection for interiors without people, yet both of them apparently regard the picture of the room they sleep in as a suitable means of defining a new beginning.

    In the work of Gabriele Langendorf, the view of a room with a bed also marks a turning point in her life. Not much is visible of the room in “Marienhospital” of 1999. A table with a vase of flowers on it, a simple wooden cross and a multiple electrical socket on a little piece of wall are the set pieces, evidence of the fact that this space-filling arrangement of a large and a small bed is a hospital room for women in childbed. This conclusion once reached, it is not hard to figure out that it was Gabriele Langendorf herself who stayed in the room with her daughter Lilli. It almost seems as if the beds of the mother and the child represent a confrontation of past and future, here a hastily spread white blanket, its surface forming irregular folds and gentle waves, there a neatly arranged, carefully smoothed pink eiderdown.

    After so many years of restlessness, of travelling by water and by land, after so many impersonal hotel rooms, experienced and painted, the artist found herself at a point where the inward-directed view - whatever form it might take – and personal contacts play a central role. The act of asking friends, acquaintances and relatives for photographs of their bedrooms was the consequence of a kind of stock-taking of her relationship to the people in her life.

    When she painted the hotel bedroom work group of 1993 to 1997, Gabriele Langendorf was concerned with employing the painting technique and a great deal of irony to approach the mood and atmosphere of a room that is simply what it is: an impersonal transit room. Each of the private bedrooms in the new series, on the other hand, stands virtually for an “imaginary portrait” (G.L.) of the person who inhabits it. And because the artist does not paint on location but from photos and often has never seen the actual rooms, it is left to each of the inhabitants to regard the room as a presentation or representation of him or herself. The coloration and size of the picture, the degree to which the artist’s work process is visible and the decision as to how much of the room is shown depend on Gabriele Langendorf’s sense of the person and what kind of relationship she has to him or her.

    What is more, sometimes the light situation is changed, details are simply invented or, just as simply, left out. Bedrooms, as opposed to living rooms, do not have a representative function. Ideally they reflect what their inhabitant needs in order to sleep, find peace and quiet, feel safe. That which the artist calls a silent dialogue with the respective person can just as well be referred to as a double fade- over of the real situation. Pictures of strange rooms, numbered as a series, all bearing the street name as a sub-title, all varying in size but not in proportion (3:4 or 4:3): The viewer embarks on a search for clues and while the pictures may not reveal anything about the inclinations of the people in the artist’s environment, they always convey an impression of what she feels towards them. How distant and unreal, as if located in a dream world (and not in New York), bedroom No. 2 – painted in purple hues – and bedroom No. 3 – hazy, as though seen through a veil – appear in comparison to the spatial immediacy and familiarly cheerful chaos of rooms 8, 9 and 11. Not only the closeness of the view but also the disarray of the beds leads to an assumption of personal closeness to the people who rose from them.

    This interpretational guessing game could be carried on ad infinitum, and the more complex it becomes, the more obvious is the fact that all these pictures of strange rooms and people are really about one single person, who has found a home: the artist herself.