KeramikMagazinEuropa 5.06 | by Gabi Dewald
A rush of colour, flower power
Glaze paintings by Carola Gänsslen
Everything is grey. The rain, Stuttgart railway station, the awful post-war architecture in the city centre, the street, the bus – grey.
But I’m out in pursuit of colour. And my travels take me to Carola Gänsslen. Here at last: her front door is painted in brilliant orange. Yet when she opens the door, she’s dressed in ...white.
We’re very familiar with her ceramics. Or, to put it more accurately: it’s a case of once seen, never forgotten. An absolute riot of colour, a storm of brilliant reds, oranges and yellows sweeps across her wide open bowls and taut pots, a veritable hurricane of hyperactive colour, depositing its load in exotic floral patterns, runs of pigment trickling into each other, in recurring patterns and painted motifs arranged in circles. She launches a real firework display on to the wide expanses of her elegant dishes. And just like a firework display, when the next brilliant curtain of sparks falls to earth prior to the next rapidly fading rain of colour, the process repeated in rapid succession, the colours seem to merge into a multi-layered cacophony. With the exception of her extremely lively palette of colour, this is probably the most amazing thing about Gänsslen’s technique which, as far as I am aware, has no parallel. And really, ceramics is the last thing it reminds me of; instead, it recalls watercolour techniques and – even more strongly – luxuriant oil paintings, at least as far as Gänsslen’s floral motifs are concerned.
But it nearly all went wrong for Carola Gänsslen, or could at least have turned out differently. Gänsslen’s former teacher, Fritz Göllner, seemed to have a real knack in helping raw talent to develop: Stefanie Hering and Joachim Lambrecht both started their ceramics career under his guidance too. However, on completing her apprenticeship as a potter and leaving college in Höhr-Grenzhausen, the newly qualified ceramist decided that, really, she „wanted to do something quite different“.
Yet after being offered the opportunity to exhibit her work at Cologne fair where her work is an immediate success, she decides to go to Frankfurt where she has been exhibiting at the fair. „It’s ideal for me“, she says, as one of the few makers still to attend AMBIENTE and TENDENCE and even do real business there. Her work can always be seen at the special exhibition FORM. Twice a year, Carola Gänsslen fills her order book at international consumer good fairs – just like it once used to be for ceramists who made a real name for themselves. She then goes back to her workshop in Stuttgart and busies herself with fulfilling her orders. „There is no other way I could possibly manage“, this mother of three children observes, who otherwise seems to be less outgoing. Despite her presence at major competitions during the 1980s (Westerwald 1985, Richard Bampi 1987, Frechen ceramics prize 1989), she nowadays has less time for gaining formal accolades, as artistic production and marketing of her work are of prime importance. Looking out on to a small, tranquil garden, her basement workshop at the rear of the house is far removed from the public domain. This is where she withdraws to, whenever time allows, and this is where she works. End of story.
Her quest for something „different“ leads Gänsslen to discover colours: „Colours are my world“, she says. And so she begins to paint a colourful world. She first used more dark tones. With her temperamental style reminding one of gestic abstraction and her occasional representational references, her initial ceramic work is more
dramatic, with greater contrasts between light and dark than today. Areas of black pigment lavishly applied with a broad, splashing brush contrast with matt pastel tones, with fine, dark lines accentuating the form here an there.
Then came a period of wild, overflowing floral decoration. Gänsslen’s palette became brighter and more cheerful, remaining principally in a single zone of brightness: egg- yolk yellow and tangerine orange, hibiscus red and dusky pink, a rich cream and in between mignonette green and forget-me-not-blue – these colours stand in her workshop, mixed in small ceramic containers, ready for painting, smiling cheerfully at one with their colourful eyes.
At this stage, Gänsslen perfects the method of painting or firing colours one on top of the other. First, the stoneware shards are fired with a matt silk, warm white basic glaze. The forms – a manageable number of prototypes Gänsslen has designed and created herself – are tense, with large, peaceful areas optimally displayed behind the painting. Generous areas of colour are