Maria Lassnig at Capitain Petzel

Maria Lassnig’s current solo exhibition at Capitain Petzel in Berlin takes a quick and investigatory look at her body-awareness paintings. At first glance, Lassnig’s works look crass. She seems to care little for surfaces and even less for her palette: lumpy, grayish figures lie casually upon the surface of the canvas, craftsmanship is squandered, and colors are straight out of the tube. However, at the back of the exhibition, a pair of large format oil paintings done with a more classical rendering expose her skills at multifarious levels.

Maria Lassnig. Maria Lassnig, June 2013, installation view, Capitain Petzel, Berlin. Courtesy of Capitain Petzel.

To my right, a couple sits in naked repose. His face is bronze and she, astride him, is a blotchy rouge; both of their torsos are pale and the rest of their limbs a muddy beige. The female figure holds up a mirror to her male counterpart, who gazes at himself, relaxed, neutral. Her eyes settle on him, a look smug with amour, a satisfied adoration, recalling Bouguereau’s Le Ravissement de Psyche and Currin’s Old Couple, showing the core of intimacy, of looking and being looked at.

Maria Lassnig. o.T., 2012; oil on canvas; 205 x 158 cm. Courtesy of Capitain Petzel, Berlin. Photo: Jens Ziehe.

On the opposite wall sits a flaming orange-red work with two lisping figures built out of soft ambiguous piles, like most of her paintings in the show. The figure on the right resembles a lumpy dumpy Disney form in the style of Arturo Herrera, with a head tilted back with an upturned nose and a small, tight mouth. The remaining paintings are a blend of quasi-mechanical or stuffed animal looking forms, mixing childhood or imagined references with adult grit. Sharp, ugly angles wrestle against the soft curve of buttocks, struggling for freedom from the thick line-quality in which Lassnig encases her figures.

Maria Lassnig. Drei Grazien, 2011; oil on canvas, 200 x 155 cm. Courtesy of Capitain Petzel, Berlin. Photo: Jens Ziehe.

Her fleshes and shadows remind me of Eric Fischl but her overall approach seems to mimic Jose Lerma’s. Like Lerma, she underlines raw and vulnerable psychological exercises, with a heavy reliance on comic forms. But where Lerma’s artistic accreditation comes from his persuasive use of art history, Lassnig seems to dash it off in favor of bodily references. Her urgent marks speak of the thrills and punkish nature of adolescence and she configures piled up, malleable linear forms, hunks of floating flesh with eyes poking out, pale green aliens dancing like muses in a dream. As a painter, Lassnig can be brash and doesn’t linger over which are the valuable or the weaker marks; rather, she works out what she feels from within, translating these baser impulses directly onto her canvases.

Maria Lassnig is on view at Capitain Petzel through June 18, 2013.