Anne Fellner’s Paintings Flirt With Ugliness

At Damien & the Love Guru, Zurich, the artist’s new series presents a stylistic mashup of unsettling scenes

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BY Mitchell Anderson in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews | 30 NOV 22

The refusal of complexity and ambiguity courses through public discourses from art to politics. In the realm of painting, it currently manifests in decorative works, immediately graspable and perfect for social media’s preference for the human figure. Further reassurance is often given by allusion to canonised moments in art history, with neosurrealism being especially dominant. It all looks, at a cursory glance at least, like what’s in museums already. The five paintings in Anne Fellner’s exhibition, ‘Forever Home’, also feature human figures but, in their paint handling, materiality of media and sly symbolism, they work in opposition to this trend, allowing for readings that are open and unsettled.

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Anne Fellner, Forever Home 1, 2022, oil, vinyl paint, pigment, ink, spray paint on textile, 180 × 135 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Damien & The Love Guru, Brussels/Zurich; Photograph: Felix Jungo

None are painted on canvas or linen. Rather, each sits atop stretched textiles whose surfaces affect the painted compositions. The blanket-sized Forever Home 1 (all works 2022), for instance, depicts a cloaked figure standing before an institutional building. It is painted on embossed brocade fabric; the paint application is uneven as it drags across the textured surface, hiding and revealing the design, sometimes at the expense of the greater composition’s legibility. Indeed, paint handling and style vary widely across the works presented here: sprays and graphic lines confer the abstract and drawn, while depicted objects, like that building’s facade or a human heart, have a rudimentary lack of perspective. The effect is one of multiple compositions and backgrounds competing uneasily.

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Anne Fellner, ‘Forever Home’, 2022–23, exhibition view, Damien & The Love Guru, Zurich. Courtesy: the artist and Damien & The Love Guru, Brussels/Zurich; photograph: Claude Barrault

These are cheap fabrics, the stuff of polyblend and stretch, in a range of mostly yellow or gold shades. Forever Home 5 and Forever Home 6 are composed on shiny faux silk, which has reacted to the application of paint, causing ripples in the material that create a sculptural play with light. The former depicts what seems to be the staidest of scenes, a central tree surrounded by grazing cattle. The cows and landscape are rendered in a capable hand, but the tree is a type of deception. Its leafless branches extend from its trunk in a mass of brown and taupe brush strokes, like static electricity near hair on a winter’s day. Within the tree’s trunk is hidden a faint secondary image, a woman caressing and being caressed by a ghostly set of hands.

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Anne Fellner, Forever Home 2, 2022, oil and pigment on textile, 95 × 65 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Damien & The Love Guru, Brussels/Zurich; Photograph: Felix Jungo

Visual themes repeat throughout: the covered face, an axe, the cloaked figure. Together, they might be taken to hint at an executioner hiding from heavenly judgment, or to conjure the gothic fiction of Henry James and Emily Brontë. In the hinted darkness and the stylistic mash ups, they flirt with the ugly, are aggressively undecorative and almost feel as if they were created to not photograph well.

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Anne Fellner, ‘Forever Home’, 2022–23, exhibition view, Damien & The Love Guru, Zurich. Courtesy: the artist and Damien & The Love Guru, Brussels/Zurich; photograph: Claude Barrault

The rise of Instagram a decade ago aligned roughly with the marked increase of figurative painting – colourful and flat – which looks good on the screens we scroll all day. But, whereas these works can be disappointing when viewed in person, Fellner’s firm rejection of the digital rules of beauty feels radical. Each figure and each brushstroke is made to be viewed in person, prompting sensations that are not exclusively pleasant. Fellner dismisses the flat world of effortless viewing, characterized in extremis by the NFT, in favour of something physically and conceptually more open, and much weirder. ‘Forever Home’, as both the title of the show and of all the works in it, might equally be construed as a threat or a source of pleasure. As we learned from the pandemic, being forced to stay in the place you live, experiencing the outside world through a phone or computer screen, can be a cage as much as a comfort.

Anne Fellner’s ‘Forever Home’ is on view at Damien & The Love Guru, Zurich, until 14 January.

Main image: Anne Fellner, Forever Home 2, 2022, oil and pigment on textile, 95 × 65 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Damien & The Love Guru, Brussels/Zurich; Photograph: Felix Jungo

Mitchell Anderson is an artist and writer. He lives in Zurich, Switzerland.

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