Vary’s works shun the orthodox rectilinear formats common to painting. And though artists such as Frank Stella and Elsworth Kelly broke with the rectilinear in the 1960s, Vary’s approach to the painted object is distinctive- in every sense. Shaped, tilted, obtuse, faceted – her objects seem to appear like gemlike extrusions that have materialized through the wall rather than sitting on it. Their crystalline geometries encourage paint to misbehave, albeit it under the astute guidance of her hand.
Each aspect of the objects is painted with relative democracy despite fumes of structural anarchy in the air – and whilst some works have a “face”, Vary clearly shapes these forms fully aware of the pictorial disruption and animation they encourage through their torsion and wild dynamism. There is seldom, if ever a single viewpoint from which the work can be fully registered. Instead, they encourage the viewer to pry – to move, crane, duck and peer into their recesses – in a sense to become more inquisitorial about how and what they are looking at and be involved in their physical agility.
As unique as Vary’s approach to the physical form is, it is the combination of form with a beautiful and unpredictable colour palette that makes these works so wondrously intrusive. Enamel and oil paints are brushed, wiped, dribbled and coerced onto every surface and though there may be faces that flirt with chromatic cohesion, Vary inevitably unbuttons this logic at the edges by exposing underpainting or adding vibrant contrasting colours.
I have felt since my very first introduction to Vary’s paintings in the mid 1990s that her work was idiosyncratic in the very best sense of that. They are paintings that assert their presence through a highly sophisticated but unexpected approach to colour as well as entering our physical space through their precocious construction. These are paintings of character and premeditated intractability. Vary’s approach to and understanding of colour – its lippy, obstreperous nature as well as its allure is put to use in an uncommon way. Few painters allow it such freedom.
– Andrew Jensen
German artist Elisabeth Vary (b.1940) lives and works primarily in Cologne. From 1959 to 1969 she was at the University of Applied Science in Cologne where she would later be the chair for Art and Design.