British based painter Tomma Abts chooses retro, in-between shades that are hard to place, particularly the dusty, vintage pink of SHADOW GREY Linen. Woven like strips of found fabric into her abstract designs, ribbons of these unusual colours fold over and intersect with one another, creating complex visual puzzles that shift in and out of the light but never give the game away. Soft pinks bring warmth and humanity into her works, suggesting the peachy glow of a half-lit interior. Writer Adrian Searle writes of Abts’ work, “They are a kind of visual origami, or a conjurer’s trick with a handkerchief. They confound us with false steps and trip hazards.”
Though primarily based in London, Abts was German by birth, born in 1967 and raised in the city of Kiel. She later studied at the Hochschule der Kunste in Berlin between 1989 and 1995 and following graduation, settled in London. By the early 2000s she was garnering national interest for her clean, refined language of abstraction, which sat at odds with the brash, boldly colourful figuration that was more prevalent around her. After being awarded the Paul Hamyln Foundation Award in 2004, Abts was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2006, prompting wider, international recognition for the quirky, unusual and highly individual style of her paintings.
Hovering somewhere between figuration and abstraction, Abts’ small paintings hint at illusionistic space with ripples of light or cast shadow, but real meaning slips away before we can grasp it. Built up slowly over time through an intuitive process of layering, Abts sees each work as a living entity with a life force of its own, giving every work a name instead of a title, lifted from a dictionary of first names. In Keke, 2006, made the same year as her Turner Prize nomination, a soft, peachy-pink backdrop provides fleshy warmth to the small canvas, while an intricate, geometric pattern forms a sun dial of colour over its surface. Cold strips of turquoise cut like a sharp knife through the dusty pink surface, lifting here and there and casting strange shadows to add a shallow, low-relief sense of depth and space.
Wybe, 2014, made several years later, is a more subtle interplay of light, shadow and pattern, as warm pink stripes become strips of slatted, glowing sunlight before fading into softened, quiet shadows. In Lya, 2015, cool, grey-tinged blue forms a flattened backdrop, on which geometric shapes intersect with one another, moving in and out of the scene with energised motion like the endlessly ticking hands of a clock. Here carefully placed strips of dusty pink become shards of light that streak across the scene, opening it up and suggesting a bigger space beyond our window view.
Made more recently, the richly toned Menso, 2016, brings a rugged triangle of pale tan, as worn as a patch of suede, jostling against a clean, flat tone of dark turquoise, allowing seemingly old and new surfaces to rub against one another. Over them, radial, intersecting lines fan outwards, catching the light from somewhere far away, and a tinged, thin stick is garnished with panels of vintage rose as pale as strawberry ice-cream. Weie, 2017, by contrast, is a sea of sienna, over which garlands of shifting, kaleidoscopic colour swing with joy and life. Once again, dusty pink becomes the top note, glinting and gleaming in the pink sunlight as if swinging out, way beyond the flat surface of the canvas into another space and time.