On the occasion of the single exhibition of works by Elisabeth Sula, displayed in the Atrium of the ÖBV building in the year 2002 in Vienna.
By Professor Angelica Bäumer
Today we are constantly overwhelmed by and inundated with pictures and information, and we have almost forgotten to concentrate on a message and to distinguish things quintessential from things irrelevant. Even art itself has far too often followed the call of the loud, the aggressive and striking during the past few decades. It is only by serving the sensationalist public that the artist might succeed in drawing attention to his art at all.
Yet that runs exactly contrary to Elisabeth Sula’s intentions. She enters an inner world, albeit by displaying it with powerful colours and in decorative patterns. What is important for the artist is an individual search for meaning. She wants to point out that every human being was entrusted with a specific mission. She stresses the growth of the soul, the inter-relation of the inside and outside, not being disconnected and the respective angle which establishes this connection. “The Ocean Within” – which is the title of a cycle of paintings – refers to the infinity within ourselves, which never ends, always replenishes itself, the divine part of which is integral within each and every one of us. India has become a spiritual home for her. The country’s tradition gathered over several thousand years lends her power, and the colourful life literally pours its very colours onto her paintings. Both distance and closeness are important to her, and when traveling to India it’s not as a tourist but rather as a confidant experiencing inner closeness through spatial distance, feeling ancient wisdom and incorporating it into herself and her art.
It is not only the colour which fascinates in her oeuvre, but it is rather the sense of spatiality. She may not paint rooms proper or jungles, she rather depicts experiences emanating whiffs of rooms and jungles, opening up spaces, thus allowing us to enter into this world of imagination. In this world, we find gorgeous objects of rainbowy quality, the virgin forest of our soul, the mystical jungle we have always yearned to find in the fairy tales of our childhood and dreams of our everyday lives. It is the room within us, and this is to be taken as a promise. In a clear and poetic language Elisabeth Sula shows us these spiritual spaces which move us, as they exude some sort of healing power. People who have bought and people who live with her paintings have experienced it and have told her that her work, her paintings emanate a healing power.
When coming to a country like India, every Westener accustomed to the symbols of Mc Donald’s becomes aware again of the true symbols, and whenever he is ready and willing to be affected by them, to experience and to learn, he will see that every finger movement, even the slightest gesture in a dance or in art is based on a long tradition derived from holy rites and have entered their daily routine quite naturally.
For Elisabeth Sula being one with the divine within and around us is the starting point of our existence and the meaning of our being. Every one of us is a small part of the universe – I claim that the artists learn about the secret of being, show it to us and render cognition possible. Thus, the paintings begin to emanate a sensuousness, made possible through the commitment to the artist’s own spiritual search for meaning.
As is true for most artists, a white canvas is a new beginning for Elisabeth Sula, as if there had never been any predecessor or as if there never will be any successor to this painting. Rather expressive in her painting style, she is heavily attracted by colour and light, but also by the space created through the numerous layers which draw the beholders into the painting. They are pulled onto the very level Elisabeth Sula has experienced and which she wants to communicate and has to express artistically. The depth of space increases as if many rooms were superimposed upon or beyond each other - causing or eliminating each other, constantly developing anew and creating an ever profounder depth. When looking at her paintings we enter a depth of emotions, sensations, dreams and desires. For the artist as well as for the sensitive observer all of these become real in her paintings.
While during her stays in India she paints quite small pictures, rather for the purpose of collecting. It is only at her studio in Vienna that she creates her large-sized paintings. She doesn’t paint “in an Indian style”, yet she welcomes the Indian tradition with an open heart and adopts those parts she can mingle with her own tradition. What we might call “Indian” in her art is her joyful use of colour which, in the special type of light, transform into a power which is pictorial but also ritual. Anybody who has ever seen Indian women wearing their saris or has watched films about India or has even lived in India, makes this experience and knows that colours play an important role even in the lives of the poorest of India. Maybe colour itself is a symbol, a symbol of life, of still being alive, of survival as such.
During the opening of an exhibition of Elisabeth Sula’s work a very inspiring piece of contrabass music was performed. It was a stirring piece of music, as, in its essence, it relayed what I would like to call quietness, and as this music incorporated and transported the “sound” of Elisabeth Sula’s paintings. She considers what she sees and experiences in India a piece of infinity. When she titles a cycle “Ocean within”, she wants to tell us that the ocean is a picture of the infinity within every one of us. We are the tiny waves in the eternity of the ocean, the waves that make up the ocean and that create its motion. The artist was touched and moved by India where, for many years, she has been repeatedly staying over periods of several months. Her life in India consists of collecting, not only experiences and impressions, but also of re-acquainting with her own soul, her mood and mind, her experiences and knowledge. India is a place prompting her to commit herself to things we have forgotten in our Western world. This commitment to contents, to spiritual harmony, to symbols and rites which we Westeners have lost almost completely in the course of time. Though we are overwhelmed by and filled to the brim with pictures, from advertising to politics, we have forgotten the power of rites and symbols – the symbols of life and spirituality. Elisabeth Sula experiences and identifies these rites, but does not use the signs as mere decoration, thus transforming them into painting. While taking all this very seriously, she is no missionary, she merely offers her paintings to the observers to find their own associations, to finalize the painting for themselves or to re-discover them again and again.
I think that in our Western world obsessed with consumption and efficiency, apart from many other things, we have forgotten to listen and perceive properly – to experience the modest moments which make us aware that we are only a tiny cog in the wheel that turns this great big world, rather than the great moments shaking up the earth. And we recognize that we are one with the whole, which was designed as a bigger awareness that we shall or can be. Reaching this state of being is a long way consisting of many processes. Painting, too, means going through processes. A painting does not create itself. Although Elisabeth Sula paints spontaneously, she yet works consistently and in cycles. As inspiration, imagination, intuition and emotions have to find a way out of her and into her painting. Thus, she is prompted to paint in cycles, thereby working on several paintings simultaneously. “It” flows through her onto the canvasses, until the paintings are finished. This “it” is truly a decisive moment, as her style of painting incorporates a great amount of unconscious elements. She structures the paintings by means of spatiality, adds colour and light and relates spiritual contents.
If we learn how to look closely and properly, we begin to understand that it is a soul expressing itself here, a very creative one which has done a great many things in life and gone through an incredible variety of transformations in art – when I first met Elisabeth Sula, she did relief paintings in paper-maché, and that is long ago. Ever since, she has experimented and made many new attempts to track down those contents which are important to her. I don’t think that with her latest paintings she’s reached the end of her development. She’s too young and courageous, there’s too much curiosity in her for herself and life per se. Even if it is India today and has been for many years, I am sure that India has got many more secrets for her to discover, for her to see, to experience and make use of in the future. I believe that she is always spiritually motivated in this process of making use, exploiting and benefitting. The fact that she feels, seeks out and relates this, is a spiritual and artistic secret and leads to her paintings which lend a new dimension to every room and which might put the observer in a pensive and quiet mood, make him curious to learn more about art, light, color and thus about Elisabeth Sula in the end.Angelica Bäumer
Vienna, April 2002