Of octopuses, dreams and the lost paradise
On the current painting of Ankalina Dahlem
by Isa Bickmann
The octopus is a special animal, famous for its intelligence and ability to learn. Three hearts beat in its body, and its blood is blue. It has nine brains, one central and another in each of its eight arms. Its body parts can grow back. The octopus is an “old friend,” as Ankalina Dahlem affectionately calls him, who appears as a friendly guardian and helpful creature in her surreal pictorial worlds. His abilities make him an equal partner of the human female pictorial figures. Thus, the artist focuses on a positive image of the animal, not like Jules Verne and others who depicted it as a sea monster.
Birds, octopuses, fish, dogs, snakes, owls, monkeys, energizing spirits, and skeletons appear in Dahlem’s painting, which features a fresh new color scheme on larger formats. If one knows her earlier reduced works of restrained coloration to a mild black and white, now the green-blue intensity surprises in its impression of water worlds, to which the painter as an enthusiastic swimmer and diver has a special relationship. Glazed layers of paint convey a sense of floating and flying that Dahlem wants to be understood as a world of dreams. The transparent application of paint appears as if painted with water; it raises to the fluidity of the element. Lighter color lies over darker like a veil through which one must first see. This enhances the atmospheric lightness. Trained at the Pasadena Art Center, the Städelschule and the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Karlsruhe, she loves the intertropical convergence zone with its hazy humidity.
In fact, this moisture is conveyed in her paintings. Drops of paint have run across the picture surface, leaving traces like the tears of a watery liquid. With this technical means, the traditional holding of a pictorial object seems to dissolve and become a narrative that oscillates indecisively between a coming and a passing. Sometimes the paint is applied in a translucent surface, sometimes it is applied in rapid, radical strokes and is reminiscent of climbing plants. The painterly gesture slides over into abstraction, while the draftsmanship – the artist describes herself as coming from drawing – remains present throughout, which is especially evident in the cloud depictions. It gives the impression that she does not want to decide whether she wants to present clouds as atmospheric-diffuse cotton wool-like elements or, with a few contour lines, as drawings reminiscent of mouths.
In an orangutan, the artist has found another powerful guardian. Sitting sadly, he fills the canvas. A comparison with the monkey portraits of Rosemarie Trockel suggests itself, who wants to treat the disturbed relationship to the animal world by representing the individuality of the animal. In Dahlem’s work, the orangutan becomes an equal counterpart with whom she sympathizes, with whom she identifies. Here one might think of the idea of “Making Kin”, the American feminist science theorist and philosopher Donna Haraway.
Dahlem’s show, titled “Paradise Lost,” refers to the search for paradise that can never succeed. Paul Gauguin already had to experience this during his journey to Polynesia, because paradise probably never existed or it was already long lost by 1891 anyway. “Making Kin” means entering into a symbiosis with the animal world, developing a togetherness in order to be able to meet the challenges of our time. Dahlem implements this in a fairy-tale way. For example, in the painting “Diving Deep,” the boy helps a fish find its place, “It is sometimes the case in life that you have to find a place where you belong,” the artist explains. The mutual reinforcement between animal beings and humans is conveyed here as a personal narrative.
Ankalina Dahlem not only paints, but is also a writer. She writes pictures, she says, and paints poetry. This bimedial approach becomes clear in the paintings, because it is always a narrative one. She paints dreams, she explains, but never remembers herself dreaming during sleep. The artist creates strong symbolic images for feelings, longings, sensitivities, injuries. And these are undoubtedly personally connoted, although one can find oneself as a viewer here as well. Thus the woman floats relaxed on the water and is surrounded by fish creatures, which could also become dangerous. She may know this, but she is strong or ignores them. The women in her paintings are one with the elements and nature. What she thinks about marriage is captured in the painting that juxtaposes a bride with an oracular skeleton. The latter’s grip on the seeds of a melon half predicts whether or not it will be a good union. A pinch of humor flavors this artist’s imagery, which in this case stands out with intense red and is framed by a gray veil.
Recent works proclaim a return to reduction. A woman in a green bathing suit rises from the smoke of a pipe that can be read as a picture quotation after René Magritte, like someone reborn through art. A predominantly uniform gray background denies spatial reference. The image of an abandoned boat pulled ashore in gray-green surroundings needs no further ingredient. It is sufficient unto itself. Ankalina Dahlem’s subjective painting, which presents itself removed from time, houses floating and resting figures of a private mythology. Infused with a romantic spirit comparable to Peter Doig’s iconic motifs, with whom, however, she has little more in common in terms of painting technique than the free-flowing color, she takes the viewer on a playfully profound excursion into the realm of the unconscious.
born in Frankfurt, Germany
Pasadena Art Center, College of Design (Study of photography by Art Kane, study of free painting)
Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main (study of free painting by Prof. Jörg Immendorff)
Academy of Fine Arts, Karlsruhe
(study of sculpture by Prof. Stephan Balkenhol, study of free painting by Prof. Erwin Gross)
Diploma of the Academy of Fine Arts-Karlsruhe
Masterstudent by Prof. Stephan Balkenhol
Lives and works in Frankfurt, Germany
Paradise Lost, Open Studio, Frankfurt am Main (E)
Michel Würthle – Gefühl und Verstand, Grisebach, Berlin (G)
Kunststiftung Folker Skulima, Berlin (E)
Nordstern, Frankfurt am Main
Ivy Brown Gallery, New York (E)
Wiener Internationale Kunstmesse (G)
Art-Virus Ltd., Frankfurt am Main (E)
Kunstmesse Palais Luxemburg
Art Salzburg (E)
Wiener Internationale Kunstmesse (E)
Galerie Prento & Wiesel, Wiesbaden (E)
Horst-Janssen-Museum, Oldenburg (G)
Galerie Bernd Slutzky Frankfurt am Main (E)
Toni Merz Museum, Sasbach (E)
Galerie Bernd Slutzky Frankfurt am Main (E)
Kunstverein Kronach (G)
Schloss Bruchsal (G)
Royal Academy of Art, The Hague (E)
Scholarship from the country Baden-Württemberg (Paris)
Studio scholarship for Prague, Art Foundation Baden-Württemberg
Erasmus-von-Rotterdam-Atelierstipendium (Den Haag)
Art Sponsorship Award Obernburg
Novel „Universe Far“, Edition Faust
Novel „Zurück nach Lima“, Merlin Verlag
Short stories “In der Ferne taucht der Oktopus“