This summer, the Serpentine presents the work of Tomma Abts (b. 1967, Kiel,
Germany) in the artist’s first solo exhibition in a UK public institution. One of the
most significant artists of her generation and the winner of the 2006 Turner
Prize, Abts is known for her acrylic and oil paintings whose extraordinary
magnetism belies their modest scale.
Her methodical process and use of the 48cm x 38cm format have remained
more or less constant for the past twenty years. Yet within these self-imposed
parameters Abts finds endless possibilities for experimentation. This survey at
the Serpentine – the largest exhibition of her work to date – includes paintings
and casts, mostly produced over the last 10 years.
Beginning with no source material and no preconceived notion of the final
composition, Abts is guided by a series of intuitive decisions that enable the
internal logic of each work to gradually unfold. Shapes are defined, buried and
rediscovered through a process of accrual, with each layer of paint moving the
image closer to the outcome. Where areas of paint accumulate at differing
speeds, rifts and seams appear, so that the final image bears the visible traces
of the evolution of forms beneath the surface.
Abts plays an optical game of push and pull, maintaining a tension between
surface materiality and pictorial illusion. Shadows and lighting effects
occasionally suggest shallow illusory spaces, while an idiosyncratic colour
palette helps to assert mood while also functioning as an integral structural
component. Relationships between colour, form and ground appear as both
established and in continual flux.