Claudia Mengel’s New Works Find a New Freedom

“The one thing that is constant in life is change and it is no different in art,” says artist Claudia Mengel, who creates works that reflect this lack of stasis. Vibrant swaths of color and energetic lines run rampant in her paintings and prints, resulting in compelling compositions that strike a balance between abstraction and representation, between landscape and figure. To create these works Mengel channels the world around her and her resulting emotions onto canvas and paper. “As I move through my day, I see the views as paintings,” the artist recently told Artsy. “My work comes from experiencing the world around me; I translate those visual and emotional perceptions. Each work brings me a new discovery, new problem, and new solution. It’s a unique journey every time and it’s what keeps me excited and coming back.” This December, a solo exhibition at The Lionheart Gallery features bold new works that express Mengel’s everyday experiences and journeys, from her Westport, Connecticut studio, to travels in Europe.

A literal shift in perspective—Mengel’s move into a new studio—has surfaced in her recent works as a stronger impulse toward abstraction and broader canvases. “I have a wonderful studio with large walls and beautiful light,” says Mengel. “I have the ability to really explore the works on a larger scale and I can physically move more freely, which has brought freedom to the work.” In addition to the views from her studio windows and more space to play with, the location of her new studio has also crept into the works: “There is an interesting urban vibe to the neighborhood that presents very interesting shapes and line,” Mengel explains.

While for many years she produced more representational art, in recent works there is a marked transition towards non-figuration, while still maintaining representational elements like the suggestion of a landscape or a figure dissolving into the background. This quality originates in her process, which involves making preparatory sketches from memory before beginning to paint, creating a distance between reality and what materializes in her work. What appear on the canvas are fields of colors—often vivid, but at times peaceful and subdued—combined in intriguing tonal juxtapositions and applied to the surface in lively gestures. Vevey II (2014), inspired by time Mengel recently spent in the Swiss town of the same name, gives the impression of a horizon at dawn in its combination of spring greens and deep marine blues painted in strong horizontal strokes, with dabs of brilliant fuchsia and red; in Mengel’s words, “a vast landscape with small, intimate patches of detail.”

Mengel has also begun working with the paint in a more sculptural manner, building up layers of acrylic and then carving and drawing into them, resulting in works that are textured and complex, and reveal the artist’s intuitive process. “Once the idea begins to go onto the canvases, there is a letting go to the process,” says Mengel. “The canvas is now in play from edge to edge.”

—Jenny Florence

Claudia Mengel: New Paintings and Works on Paper” is on view at The Lionheart Gallery, Pound Ridge, New York, Oct. 30–Dec. 29, 2014.

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