Linda Hemmersbach: Paper and Poetry

by Sara Jaspan

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Thinking back to her time spent in Iceland during a month long residency last year, Tracing PAPER artist Linda Hemmersbach recalls “I felt almost like I was writing a book, even though I wasn’t writing anything.” Far from being unproductive however, the stack of around 200 sheets of paper she arrived with in her rucksack were put to good use. Now pinned to the walls of her studio in Levenshulme they read like a visual diary of fleeting sensations: capturing her experience of the place through colour, texture and shape.

To talk of ‘writing’ might seem odd given the very abstract appearance of Hemmersbach’s work, but the analogy holds well. It’s actually poetry she views her practice in relation to, precisely for its ability to bypass narrative and convey feeling and atmosphere in more concentrated forms. All the while maintaining the ties between inspiration and representation. Turning back to the montage of small, rather lyrical paintings that surround us, she explains: “they’re not just investigations in form or colour: I can trace each one back to a specific place or something I experienced personally.”

Iceland paintings on paper, pinned to studio wall

Iceland paintings on paper, pinned to studio wall

As well as the Iceland trip, over the past two years Hemmersbach has also travelled twice to Greece (Athens and the Island of Evia), spent a week in a ‘bothy’ (traditionally a free shelter for travellers) on the Isle of Eigg in Scotland, and explored the Jura Mountains and Lake Geneva in Switzerland, all through residencies. With this context it suddenly becomes quite easy to locate each painting. Of the few she brought back from Greece (finding she mostly preferred to make work directly onto or with the walls of derelict buildings, or with found material such as pieces of marble, which she left behind) there’s a strong sense of earthiness and yellow engulfing heat. The contrast with the more atmospheric tones of the Iceland works – at times characterised by a calm quietness, at others by a sense of brooding which she relates back to an awareness of the geothermal volcanic activity going on beneath – is stark.

Like many painters, Hemmersbach’s disinclination towards the literal comes partly from a desire both to say more within her work and to deepen its potential to be read. But it also seems related to an interest in our subconscious experience of place. The best way to describe each of the Iceland or Greece paintings might be as an after-image, or how we represent a particular place memory in a dream. Her process deliberately seeks these instinctually resonant yet out-of-reach spaces: “I like to be surprised when I make my work” she explains, preferring to embark on a piece without any clear sense of where it will lead. Similarly, she describes how she uses her film camera “almost like a research or filtering tool, revealing what I am drawn to in the world.”

Photograph, Zarakes

Photograph, Zarakes

Paper itself plays an important role. Not only is it very transportable, but its relative cheapness and ubiquity allows Hemmersbach a sense of freedom. “I like to work on lots of different things at the same time and just get ideas out,” she says, contrasting this with her previous oil on canvas paintings and the inhibiting perception of the material’s enhanced ‘worth’. Hemmersbach now makes deliberate efforts to acknowledge and even celebrate the objecthood of her work on paper through the way it’s displayed, adding: “I always enjoy the edges curling.” This is an area she has become increasingly interested in on a broader level as well, exploring the space around the paper as much as within through site-specific installations.

Talking of shifts in her practice she mentions her piece January (2015), currently on show at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool as part of the John Moores Painting Prize 2016 exhibition. “I submitted it because it came at a breaking point and new beginning in how I make work. It’s very stripped back and modest in size”. The painting emerged from a week spent in Norfolk and was originally presented as part of So Many Constellations, a group show that Hemmersbach curated with her friend and fellow painter Nicholas John Jones at Mayors Parlour Gallery in London.

January  (2015), oil on canvas

January (2015), oil on canvas

Named after a piece by one of her favourite poets, Paul Celan, the exhibition looked at the relationship between poetry and contemporary painting; a theme she is returning to this year in an expanded form with Crossings (10–24 September) at Bankley Gallery, organised in collaboration with two friends, Hannah Luxton and Fiona Grady.

You’ll also have the chance to see Hemmersbach’s paintings exhibited by PAPER at The Manchester Contemporary 2016 (22–25 September) alongside Mali Morris RA and co-Tracing PAPER artist Lisa Denyer, and as part of Tracing PAPER (1 October – 5 November) featuring new work by each of the nine North West based artists participating in PAPER’s 10-month mentoring scheme.

Now in its second year, Tracing PAPER is a mentoring scheme that provides professional mentorship, development and critical discourse to artists based in the North West. Nine artists were selected from the 2015-2016 open call, with a diverse range of practices including painting, photography, drawing, and engaged practice.

Words by Sara Jaspan.   

Duplicit  installation view   (2016), Athens

Duplicit installation view (2016), Athens