Katja Seib’s (b. 1989) new series of paintings, currently on display in her first solo-show at Sadie Coles HQ, hovers between realistic figuration, visual illusion and dream-like symbolism. The German artist, who lives and works in Los Angeles, graduated in painting two years ago from the Duesseldorf Art Academy under Tomma Abts. dear diary is her debut London show.
The first group of work which we encounter on the ground floor of the gallery, are highly rendered large oil-paintings. They feature individuals, predominantly female, inspired by both real-life and imagination. Painted on the rough and untreated surface of hessian fabric or on patterned textiles found in Los Angeles’ fabric district, Seib’s paintings explore themes around female sexuality through the use of art historical iconographies such as biblical images of Eve, the serpent or the apple. These allegorical symbols constantly reappear in the exhibition, albeit in different forms, connecting the seemingly stand-alone scenes and evoking intimate visual diary entries subtly intertwined with each other.
Girl with a Teapot depicts a woman sitting at a table in the dark, her face cast in the cold glow of her mobile phone. The textile on which Seib painted the image emerges from both the tablecloth in the foreground, re-painted in bold colours, and the wallpaper in the background, which is tinted a darker shade. Seib’s experimentation with colour and light to create illusion of layers and depth, becomes an integral part of the painting itself, triggering a complex interplay between reality and illusion.
Eve’s Curse shows a female figure, who looks directly at us, lounging on a bed underneath a picture which depicts a green serpent wrapped around a tree. The snake seems to be emerging from the picture, ready to bite the woman at any moment. On one of the branches are the words ‘REAL TREE’. The apple appears in the form of the Apple logo under the skin of the woman’s left breast, which she gently cradles. The reclining female figure viewed from an elevated view point and ‘pictures within pictures’ are recurring elements in Seib’s practice, for example in Dream and Forgetting and You made your bed, now sleep in it.
The latter depicts a girl, again laying on a bed, staring straight at us. Her long black hair is spread either side of her head, splitting the painting into two scenes. The girl holds a statuette of the Europa and Bull in her hand, inspired by an illustration of German Jugendstil illustrator Adolf Munzer. Two giant hands dominate the upper portion of the painting and hold a threatening oversized rolling-pin which we can assume will eventually steamroll and kill the girl.
On the second floor of the gallery we come to another series of paintings. Significantly smaller and square, they are inspired by iPhone snapshots the artist took of people she met in Los Angeles. Produced in just one day, they are painted in a much lighter manner than the large refined oil paintings on the ground floor. Seib describes this body of work as ‘drawings’ or ‘open-ended experiments’. Embedded symbols such as the snake connect the small portraits to the scenes downstairs, again switching between fantasy and reality.
Celebrating the genre of portraiture and nude painting, Katja Seib creatively liberates her motifs from the directly figurative. The psychological immediacy of her bizarre concepts are haunting and her dreamlike visual explorations of female sexuality and subjectivity are difficult to forget. Her uncanny images captivate us with psychological intensity, pushing us to make our own assumptions and associations. Overall, Seib’s enigmatic motifs, complex interplay with canvas texture and skilled brushwork, and meticulous attention to detail make her work a rarity in the contemporary art context.
Curator, Museum Acquisitions
Sadie Coles HQ, 1 Davies Street, Mayfair, London W1K 3DB. Open Tuesday-Saturday 11.00-18.00. Exhibition continues until 26 January 2019. www.sadiecoles.com