One day I woke up with the urgent need to see my half-sister, my grandmother and my mother next to each other as young girls of the same age. My half-sister was 25 years older than I, and I never met my grandmother. As their distant descendant I was the only one connecting the three of them together. They were all long dead.
In an old childhood photo I’m standing next to my mother, holding her hand. My mother is my mother is my mother. My inner atavistic child keeps her captive in this role like in a silent dungeon from which no sound can ever escape. How sad, she was so much more: a young girl with her own dreams, with a clear, inquisitive mind. Wouldn’t I have liked to have conversed with her as an equal at some point? What would it have been like had we grown up together as sisters? Isn’t there possibly another me, both young AND old, able to slip into any phase of my life at any time whenever I want, at least in theory? How could this be imagined and what might it look like?
When creating a family portrait I trace outlines from various photos.
For only those moments that actually happened count. There’s my father as he once was for example. Another shot shows how his daughter was holding her arm in a particular way, or again in a different instance how his mother struck a certain pose and not another, as she inclined her head towards someone those 150 years ago, caught in this photograph for all time.
The desire for a portrait doesn’t necessarily stem from vanity. Rather there is a kind of gnawing sense of an inner voice that also seems to ask, do I really exist? This is like saying, am I as visible as other people? And what does a world look like in which I can be seen with these others?
For the older I get the more faded the images and scenes I’m not in
become in my memory. My lens has a point of view that is deceptive, for I’m basically always the focal point, which at the same time hides me from myself. What a strange movie it really is, this movie I don’t appear in!
But here I have all of us together – mother, sister, myself; each one in her own moment, yet able to meet again, coming from different times, but into the same space. As images they have finally found peace. They don’t lie, because they no longer speak. They don’t irritate me by moving around and they don’t disperse right after appearing. The images are here to stay, even though they have an ephemeral quality. Personally I find this pleasant. Whether abstract flowers or white gorillas, draped fabric or my mother’s face – it’s always a case of being driven by a longing to observe something thoroughly and at length, and that’s why I have to create it. I am a painter and I paint what I must see.
“1945 – 1889 – 1946 “ (111 x 59 cm, digital print/canvas, 2007)
First picture of the Family Portrait Series: The half-sister of the artist (25 years older than her), the grandmother of both of them (whom she never knew) and her mother. These three women –unthinkable for her side by side – what would it look like to put them together at the same age? A photo of the young half-sister right after World War II was used. Her mother has died one year ago. She is already infected with tuberculosis without being aware of it. Her father will marry again in a couple of months. The next photo used was one of the grandmother from the eighties of the 19th century, taken right before her marriage. She was presumed to be the strongest personality in the father’s family. And a photo of the artist’s mother, just married and sitting to the right of her husband (the father of the half-sister), again soon after the war. But her dress is taken from a different photo of her as a youth. There is another photo of her from the same time, where the dress she was wearing was used, a black velvet dress with a lace collar.
„My father and my husband at age 25“ -1915/1981 (105 x 70 cm, digital print/canvas, 2007)
Father and his son in law, both young men in their early twenties. The photo of the father shows him as young lieutnant oft he Ausrian Hungarian Monarchy, taken in 1915 at World War I. The photo of his son in law is from 1981, at the ancient Vienna Jewish Cemetery: He sits there , quite stoned, on the border of a grave, a weathered tombstone with willd bushes in his back. On their picture they are now sitting together on the steps of a stairway leading to an Indian Ashram.
“1935 – 1980″ (100 x 60 cm, acryl/canvas, 2007)
Mother and daughter, both as young women. A portrait photo of the still youthful mother was used. She is wearing black velvet with a lace collar. It was combined with a later photo from the fifties. It is summer there and she is standing on the lawn, holding the hand of her little daughter. Then a photo of the daughter in the courtyard of the art academy. She is wearing an old jacket from the fifties which had been her mother’s. The mutual space, once again, is the seafront in Northern Italy, but now the weather is variable.
1923 – 1957 (100 x 80 cm, acrylic/ canvas, 2012)
Grandmother, mother and daughter – mother and daughter as children. In the grandmother’s photo she is a young woman in her early twenties, resting in tall grass. Her daughter is at her side, about six years old and deeply concentrated, but happy indeed being surrounded by various bathers, family and friends. Between them we see her daughter and infant granddaughter. In her own photo she is all alone on the beach with the sea behind her. The connecting scenery is taken from the first photo, the village swimming pool in the twenties.
“1933 – 1960 – 1962″ (92 x 78 cm, acrylic/canvas, 2012)
The father between both of his sons. His photo is the only one from his childhood. He is standing all alone on a hillside, looking very determined. The older son is on his right, also alone in his photo, and contented with himself. The younger son is holding his father’s hand in his photo. Their home village’s water source serves as common space. The picture was taken on the occasion of the father’s death.
“1934-1950-1978-1930-1978″ (90 x 65 cm, digital print/paper, 2014)
A family from left to right: the father at about thirteen, the mother at fourteen in front of her younger twelve year old daughter, the grandfather with his back to her in his thirties. In the front of the rubber boat we see the older daughter, about thirteen, with her back turned to the flow of the stream.
“1950- 1932- 1932″ (digital print/paper, 2014)
The female line of a family. On the right side we see the grandmother as young mother with her little daughter, 1932 in Texas. Her granddaughter is on the left, at about three, supporting her two year old mother.
“1956 – 1915″ (80 x 60 cm, acrylic/canvas, 2007)
Father and daughter. He is made 40 years younger, being a soldier from World War I then, but now he’s the appropriate age for the father she had dreamed of in her childhood. In this photo his dog is sitting in front of him on a wall and is raising its paw. In the daughter’s photo she is standing on the wall looking down at her mother.
“1896 – 1956 – 1922 “ (80 x 100 cm, acrylic/canvas, 2008)
The artist’s father and mother, with herself in the center, all three as children of about five. The father’s photo from the year 1896 is the only one that exists from his childhood. He is leaning on the back of the chair his little sister is sitting on. The photo of the mother dates from 1922. She is sitting on a bench in her grandmother’s garden, her younger brother at her side. The artist’s photo from 1956 shows her standing on the wall of the seafront, 4 years old, her father beside her, quite old already at 65. The background serves as joint space as well. A very similar photo was taken just a few seconds later with her mother. The sea is invisible behind them.
“1966 – 2005 – 1970 / 1962 – 1979 – 1960 / 1940 – 1940 / 1938 – 1937 “ (140 x 110 cm, acryl/canvas, 2009)
In the front we have the row of departed babies. In the center is the client as a twelve year old girl, her premature infant in her arms, who will survive for no more than a few days. On her left side and slightly behind her we see her mother standing as a young girl with her half brother in her arms. He also died as a child. On the client’s right we have her parents’ baby son, her little brother, who will not survive his second year. The father, not really grown up, is holding him in his arms. The grandparents are in the background as young couples, facing each other.
The client’s comment:
There it is, my family portrait, all members finally gathered together. Mother, father, brother, half brother, my son, the grandparents from my father’s and my mother’s side. Really, what a nice big family we could have been, in case all had lived at the same time in the same space. But it happened that very often relationships broke down, people went their own ways, or death came through the back door right before a family was formed.
But now I can see them all, with my own eyes. My parents are still young, myself being a child and yet placed a step in front of them, even a bit taller than them. The relativity of it all comes to my mind. The grandparents are in the background, quite small, known only from photos, facing each other as if it could hold for a whole lifetime.
I am meeting ten people in the picture, although six of them are already dead. But they are standing there and come back to life. I like it when I can look in the smiling eyes of my parents, in my happy face although the children in our arms are dead.
In the picture they are with us, we are all united, protected by the mountains, bedded in transcendental light. Now I can find peace.
“1977 – 2008 – 2009 – 2008 – 1975″ (80 x 60 cm, acryl/canvas, 2008)
A family, sitting in a haystack. On the outer right the father is about five years old. On the outer left the mother is about six, their sons between them. On the front right the youngest is in a radiant mood. Two photos were used for the mother: one as little princess wearing a crown at a mardi gras party, and the second as a very thoughtful little girl on a family excursion wearing a pleated skirt.
The photo of the father shows him sitting in his mother`s lap. The three sons from of the present are having fun in the living room, specially dressed with white shirts and black trousers.
“1940 – 1940 – 1964″ (60 x 50 cm, acryl/canvas, 2008)
The daughter (right side) and the mother (left side) at the same age, about nine years old. In the center the mother and grandmother, still a young woman. Both girls are touching her slightly. She will die early and will not come to know her granddaughter. The basis for the picture was the mother’s family photo containing all the sisters and both parents. One can recognize the forties – the girls are wearing uniforms and have braids. The daughter’s photo shows her as a young girl in her most beautiful dress leaning on a fence. The connecting scenery is the family’s courtyard with the fountain the grandmother is sitting on.
“1956 – 1960″ (70 x 90 cm Acryl/ Leinwand, 2012)
A couple, as children, he might be slightly younger. The girl is looking quite inquiringly at something off camera while being held in her father’s arms. The little boy is walking on a winding gravel walkway in his hometown brewery, totally unaware of himself. His father worked there. Now in the picture they are on a beach mole in northern Italy, which both of them have known at different times as children.
“2009 – 1970″ (digital print)
A son and his father, both about nine years old. For the father there were two photos of his confirmation, one in front of his house and one in the fields. The son’s photo was taken at home. The connecting space is the field.
The “Triple Self” Portrait
How does it look when one and the same person can make contact with herself at various stages in her life? The “triple self “image is the group portrait of a single person. The idea for this came from the time shift in the family portrait. Here I also work from photos taken during childhood, youth and adulthood.
My “Triple Self” / 1966 – 2009 – 1959 (digital print/canvas, 2015)
The picture of me at the right side shows me when I was fourteen, lying in the grass with a friend. In the center I am dozing under a moskitonet in a South Indian tent, weakend by the heat oft he afternoon. The picture of me at the right side shows me when I am kneeling in my pyjamas together with my cousin, both four years old, explaining him my puppets. Commun space of the picture ist he South Indian tent.
My Mother “Triple Self”/1944-1936-1925 (90 x 65 cm, digital print/canvas, 2014)
I used three photos as the basis for this portrait of my mother. In the first one she is sitting with her family at a garden table.The second one was taken during an outing to a lake. This photo creates the common space for the image. In the photo taken of her as a child she is standing in front of a shrub in the garden. It is one of the very few pictures of her as a child where she is laughing.
My Mother “Triple Self” /1937- 1965-1922 (90 x 65 cm, digital print/canvas, 2014)
The first photo shows her with her father at the horse races in the Vienna Freudenau as they are studying their betting slips. The second one was taken during her nephew’s confirmation. In the third photo she is standing in the garden she grew up in with her little brother. This garden is also used as the background.
My Mother “Double Self”/ 1921-1938 (90 x 65 cm Digital Print/ Leinwand, 2014)
The childhood image is taken from a scene where she is playing in a sandbox with her friends. In the photo of her as an adult she has bent down to pet the head of a white horse. The background shows a childhood getaway in Maehren.
Ursula Puehringer is from Vienna, Austria. She studied at The Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. Her travels outside Austria (Paris, India, Berlin, New York ...) have had a profound impact on her work.
In her search for new media of lightness and transparency she found her way finally to drawing with the computer, her preferred method of choice today.
Out of her own family situation (having a very old father and grandparents born in the middle of 19th century) she started to work on optical solutions for problems of special groups – as are families and relations – in form of portraits.
1992 Galerie V&V, Vienna
1995 Culturel Center oft he Minorites, Graz/Austria
2001 Sohottakring, Vienna
2003 WUK, Vienna
2004 Galerie Himmelpforte, Vienna
2005 Palazzo Art Gallery, Chennai/ India
2007 Künstlerhaus Klagenfurt/Austria
2009 Künstlerhaus Klagenfurt/Austria
2009 Galerie Sikoronja, Rosegg/Austria
2010 Painting Weeks, Bleiburg/Austria
2014 Künstlerhaus Klagenfurt/Austria
Solo Exhibitions (selection):
1999 Galerie Art & Weise, Vienna
2000 Sudhaus Bleiburg/Austria
2003 Black Dragon Society, Vienna
2004 Galerie M, Klagenfurt/Austria
2005 Praxis Friessner, Vienna
2007 Schachenreiter, Graz/Austria
2012 OEBB, Vienna
The main feature of this exhibition is the series “Global Past“ by the Viennese artist Ursula Puehringer. But I would first like to take a brief look at her earlier work.
After completing her studies at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, she moved to Paris where she first devoted herself to sculpture. There she created life-sized human figures out of fine wire. Even at that stage the artist was exploring the idea of objects’ transparency and spatial relationships. In her sculptures space is unambiguously defined by the form the wire encloses and yet the boundaries seem to dissolve. One can see through the sculptures and can simultaneously observe the inside and outside, the back and the front of the bodies, whereby the space they occupy dissolves into transparency.
Where does Ursula Puehringer get her inspiration? She finds her themes in everyday life, in passing moments. Most of all her stays in foreign countries have stimulated her to create new series. The series “Mythology on the Street“came from a stay in New York. These shadow pictures were inspired by the view she had staying on the 27th floor looking down onto the street. The actual passers-by were dwarfed by their considerably more dominant shadows which seemed to take on a life of their own.
“Brothers and Sisters“, another series from her time in New York, is taken from photos she took at the local zoo. The grounds were conceptualized so that visitors could walk through a passageway which ended up in a glass dome which stood in the middle of where the animals were . So the role of the observer was switched. The gorillas could approach and observe the humans on display. Because of such proximity to the human apes a great sense of closeness was created between the two . This familiar feeling is clearly reflected in the title of this series.
The artist however has traveled to India again and again, where the colorfulness and the light there have greatly fascinated her. Here too Puehringer has given her attention to everyday subjects . The works from the series “Lost in Sarees“emanate with bold colors. A sense of space is created through the gradations of color in the background. The figurative contrasts with the abstract. The women’s bodies are curled up into themselves, a sense of meditative inner withdrawal is apparent, the intense colors of the saris attract our eye and at the same time allow us to lose ourselves in these colors.
In search of possible ways to express transparency Puehringer arrived at drawing on the computer. Photos either she herself has taken (for instance the shadow pictures) or old family photos act as points of departure. The next step is to digitalize these photographs and bring them into a combined intermediate format in order then to be worked on with the program Macromedia Freehand . With this program the images are constructed anew and abstracted. Drawing with the computer isn’t a kind of pixel painting as may be supposed, but rather the program functions with closed planes which are constructed using vectors. The choice of colors is completely free and precise within these planes. These planes are overlaid one by one which eventually , after numerous layers, can result in a final image. As any correction to an earlier layer can only be achieved with some difficulty, the final composition can only be achieved by feeling out each step slowly and carefully. An exactly planned concept demands that a lot of thought be given to the process by the artist. The photo only serves as a thematic springboard. The artist changes the forms as well as the entire color scheme and despite the extremely narrative aspect of the work, the formal, technical interpretation is strictly abstract. The finished works are made tangible again like painted works and can be digitally printed according to preference either on canvas or matte photo paper.
Besides using this computerized process the artist also paints conventionally with acrylics on canvas. A mutually reciprocal influence of the two techniques however is constantly taking place. We see this influence very strongly in the work depicting the artist’s grandmother “1895“. The image is painted, yet the gradations of color as well as the entire concept is quite similar to the computer technique.
The content of the series “Global Past“utilizes the portrait. Yet it is unlike previous portraiture. Upon closer observation it becomes obvious that the persons depicted are from different points in time. So the work entitled “1985, 1894“shows the artist and her grandmother, both of them at about the same age, like sisters standing next to each other. In another picture we see 3 women’s heads, the artist’s half-sister in 1943, Ursula Puehringer herself in 1980 and finally once again her grandmother in 1894. Our ancestors are thus placed into a totally new context. The generations are leaving chronological time behind. They seem to suggest to the observer that a new approach might be found to one’s own ancestors, that a new closeness to them is possible.
In this series again the experiment with transparency is noticeable. One can see through the images and the figures. The glazing effect makes the works seem as though they are from another time as well as being from another (vanishing) level of reality.
The composition of the two men titled “1916, 1981“ has a particular fascination for me. Here we see Puehringer’s father attired in his World War I uniform with the artist’s husband standing next to him. While her husband is looking out of the picture into our time, her father’s gaze is lost in the distance, apparently aware that he belongs to another generation from the past.
The history of civilization is the history of identity crisis. All materialistic achievements had and have a horrible price: we can hardly stand ourselves anymore. Everything is projected outwards, inwards desperation rules.
We can live, we can now – perhaps – make a living more easy but the psychological price is certainly too high: psycho drugs are going to become our pseudo identities. It seems that our material stores have just multiplied existential fear. What if we lose them? What would then be left except being totally exposed to incertitude? Could I then exist as a person at all? How could this work? This was Mary’s question to the archangel Michael when he announced God as the father of her child to be because he was destined to be God himself.
We are this child in our innermost existence. And around us there are billions of children. They play at being adults, they play at being parents, they play at life, they play at dying. Are we really the God of fear? Like a dream vanishing even faster if we try to remember it there must have been a fearless existence because nothing can exist without its opposite. This opposite is the still not civilized child in us. it is not dead. It is one with us, one with this very moment now.
We are all eternal children. Fear? Oh yes, but let us remember that it can’t be our only ruler. Let us remember who taught us fear. Mainly and primarely the adult members of our families, loyal subjects of fear accepting exclusivly the same loyal subjects. But they too have been and still are children of the Now.
Ursula Puehringer retracts them all, recreates them on canvas, reunites them with us, makes us all start over again. In this condition we are still a little pale and transitory like dreams but in this way even more stubbornly insisting on recognition as resurrecting, on self-recreation. We will never know where we came from and where we are going. We are made of dreaming nothingness that by vanishing eternally – becomes real.