Rosa Loy’s Figurative Paintings Construct Mythical Female Narratives

There’s something you can’t quite put your finger on in German artist Rosa Loy’s large format compositions of enigmatic female subjects. Like most artists associated with the New Leipzig School—including her husband Neo Rauch—Loy produces figurative works executed with an acute emphasis on technique. Her dedication to highly technical figuration aside, Loy’s works are nothing short of mystifying. 

Loy works largely using casein paint, a rarely used, water-soluble medium derived from milk protein that is highly brittle once it sets. Because casein is quick-drying, Loy must compose her pictures quickly, which lends an energetic quality to her canvases. Her muted palette and soft contours channel a traditional, almost folk art style that aligns perfectly with the esoteric fairy tales that animate her works. 

The resulting paintings strike a tenor that is both macabre and light-hearted; they vex and delight at the same time. Loy places her subjects in environments—typically interiors such as bedrooms and living spaces, or outdoors, just shy of a domicile—that are familiar enough, but the implied narratives are entirely puzzling. This imbues the paintings with a dream-like feeling of déjà vu, as if we once knew, or are just on the verge of deciphering their elaborate folklore.

Take Ein Zimmer ganz allein (2014) for example, where a resting supine female figure appears at ease reclining on a chaise longue. By all accounts—including the title, which informs us that the subject is entirely alone—this is a study of a woman enjoying a quiet moment of solitaire repose, except that two pairs of intertwined legs extend from her torso. Compositions such as Himmelsmantel and Sophies moon swing (both 2014) present equally enigmatic vignettes within otherwise familiar settings. In the former, two females resembling a mother and her daughter sit atop a levitating mass of earth, while the latter depicts a girl on a swing below a full moon, holding what appears to be moonlight in her hand. The former painting’s title—like many of Loy’s titles—is not particularly transparent, but it seems that she would have it no other way. 


—Grace-Yvette Gemmell


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