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Eva Schwab | His and Hers >>>>>

Introduction by Katja Weitering

(Artistic Director Cobra Museum Amstelveen)

Bringing alive memories, giving memories a new life and searching for the own family history. These themes run like a thread through the artistic development of Eva Schwab. For more than ten years now, she conceives in a very willful manner a collective archive of memories, a universal family album. With her work, Eva positions painting as a relevant and actual medium, to give inspiration to the past, to investigate and translate it to the present.
The artist works with a concept of 'found family'. For her work Eva uses her own family albums, but also anonymous pictures, snap-shots, photos found on flea-markets. The photographs, going back up to three generations, are in general pictures of common-day gestures, rituals, sometimes posed portraits, registrations of official family-matters, hunting scenes, then again as a-matter-of-factly stills of playing children.
There's a very interesting show at the Van Gogh Museum at this moment, titled 'Snap-shots', on the relationship between photography and modern painting. Painters like Breitner and Bonnard were full-hearted amateur photographers themselves, and found their inspiration for their paintings in photos. A photograph is an interesting phenomenon, it gives an eternal value to a short moment in time and space. A photo enables us to get insight in certain details and connections, that we can't or don't want to perceive ourselves with the naked eye, inside the bigger picture. The paintings and drawings of Eva, inspired by photographs, unveil these deeper, hidden layers, tucked away under the surface of the image.
I experienced the curiosity to a forgotten and past life that's still imminent present, for the first time, when I got acquainted with the work of Eva, in the stand of Helga Hofman at Art Amsterdam 2006. I fell in love with a painting of a granny with two grandchildren. Subtle painted, treated with wax, with a surface that reminded of a yellowed photo. I thought I recognized my own granny, absolute nonsense of course, but from that moment on that painting is inextricably connected to me personal and is hanging on a prominent place in our living-room.
With her searching eye and paintbrush, Eva makes the private histories and biographies visible, that are connected with the pictured persons or landscapes. Despite the fact that the used material is often private, the result is universal and there is a great deal of recognition for the viewer. Eva's art invites us to share our own personal experiences and interpretations with her works.
Let's take for instance the painting 'Das Fest' from 2009 (not present at the exhibition). We see a snapshot of a group of children and a mother, not posed, a wonderful composition, the figures seem to be frozen for a moment amidst their daily routine. It's a warm late-afternoon, in the open, the kids are playing, peace and innocence. We all have our own memories of these kind of moments from our youth. But those memories have faded, and do we remember the pictures from our albums, or do we actually remember the moment itself? Eva's work calls for all these questions. And not only the pleasant, innocent aspects from the past, but also the more darker sides. On the painting 'Das Fest' for instance, the only person that looks us straight in the eye, is a strange and sinister figure with a mask-like face.
As I already said, in the last decade Eva has been building on an archive of collective memories, a universal family album. The presentation here at Helga Hofman gives the artist and us the opportunity to have a look at that archive as well as at the interdependence at all, but also to view and experience the various pieces individual.
The heart of the presentation consists of eight paintings from Eva's recent series dedicated to 'Hysterical Women', and her research of the hysteria phenomenon, as diagnosed at women not behaving according prevailing standards. The series consists of intrusive and fabulously beautiful painted portraits of women, going back three generations, caught in the straightjacket of their times and the religious laws going along with it, on the one side. On the other, these women radiate an enormous strength and tenacity. Around this series Eva arranged previous images, in consultation with Helga Hofman. She herself is talking about "Family-members', a combination of her own family-history and found photographs.
The earliest ones are from 2000. In recent years Eva's work has become more freely. More space was created to display the quaint and indefinable, surrealistic elements appear in the paintings and drawings. The 'Nachbilder', the after-images, echo's as it were of memories, were in the past often separated from each other, a developed painting also, next to a some kind of abstract version, a shadow. In these fascinating diptychs Eva explored the battle between the visible reality and the hidden layers behind an image and the shown individuals. In the more recent works Eva unites these two aspects in a single painting.
A thread through the artistic development is the repeatedly painting of the same image, the doubling of the image. These repetitions enable Eva to investigate the images and the memories belonging to them, over and over again. These works invite us, viewers, to have a look 'between the lines of painting'.
The family is for Eva the core in which everything gets together, all the good, all the bad. Eva takes a dive in history to understand the arise and beginning of memory. I was in Hungary this summer. There I found old black-and-white pictures on a gypsy- market, probably from the 20's and 30's, posed portraits of men and women, of families. I was fascinated immediately, like going through time, back in time and getting in contact with the people portrayed. What histories and stories were hidden behind those old photographs? At the same time I felt myself like a voyeur, as if I uninvited toke a glance at other peoples lifes. I didn't buy the pictures though, out of some sort of superstition, maybe the fear to take home other peoples misery.
There are a lot of layers in Eva's work. In the recent series on hysterical women, she surveys the notions about art and madness, about geniality. She asks the question: 'What's normal?'. And why is 'being different' not accepted in our society, while at the same time there are more than enough examples of societies where people having distinguished talents, being different, are respected and even honored.
When I spoke with Eva about her recent work, we came to the conclusion that every generation has his own disease, labels arising from the tension between the laws of society and the individual not being able to, or not wanting to conform. In the 19th century, women who didn't function properly, were labeled of being hysteric. According to professor Trudy Dehue, anno 2011 we're in the middle of an depression epidemic.
When compiling this presentation, consisting of works over a period of more than ten years, Eva deliberately choose for showing the work of two related artists, Mathias Deutsch and Hans Könings. She has a close relationship with both of them.
The sculptures of Mathias Deutsch directly inspired Eva Schwab at the creation of her hysterical women series. His sculptures are showing creatures that are hidden in the material. The figures have a mysterious presence. The works of Mathias are heavily symbolic, abstract and representative at the same time. They unite the everyday with surrealistic and symbols from other cultures. They are powerful and intriguing works. The confrontation with the surrealistic influences in the works of Mathias Deutsch, influenced Eva's paintings in the last three years strongly.
In his prints the artist Hans Könings, former lector/professor at the Royal Academy of Arts in the Hague, also relates to family-pictures and the theme of remembrance. He works extraordinary precise and technical, by cutting out the memories and transforming them in black-and-white lino-prints. A traditional technique, giving a new, current meaning by Könings. He too uses private, as well as found photographic material. The result provides new, independent images that tell new stories.
The positions of Eva, Mathias and Hans show strong similarities. Their works are mutually reinforcing, and produces in this joined presentation a fascinating picture of the interaction between art, reality and the surreal.