Garance Werthmuller’s paintings bring pictures, words, colors and shapes together to tell stories. They’re about the beauty in simplicity. A bird, flower, word or phrase, bright colors and a sense of optimism fill her canvases and pages. The images she creates are fanciful and playful. Tulips, birds, cats and snippets of text fill her large-scale paintings with wit and wisdom. She wants to change the atmosphere, to remake it into something better.
“I think my work is positive. I’m interested in politics, but I’m not a political painter because it’s already in the newspaper…I want to create something opposite, so that you still have a little bit of joy and love in every day.”
Like visual haiku, her paintings deliver their meaning with deliberate simplicity. There’s a naïvety to the work, but it’s by intention. As Picasso once said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” One has to relinquish inhibition and transgress traditional boundaries to paint with the freedom of Werthmuller or those in whom she finds inspiration—Marcel Duchamp, Cy Twombly and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
She’s the quintessential free spirit. As an artist, Werthmuller is unafraid of bold statements, of tapping into her instincts, passions and moods. Her paintings are shouts of joy, expressed through form and color. Vivid red tulips are reduced to three points, recalling the crown shapes utilized by Basquiat. And like Basquiat, she combines the representational with the abstract and then spices her images with poetic comments scrawled across the background or peeking out from behind other objects.
Her paintings are about nature, animals and flowers, yet they’re also layered and filled with surprises. Letters, cuttings from newspapers or her own written thoughts work their way in, and may be later rubbed out. Shapes can be readable, but not realistic. Her images are infused with femininity and patches of vibrant colors. She likes to mix abstraction with figuration. “Whatever you see, whatever you project in the painting, that’s right for you.”
Her still lifes and interiors capture the essences of moments—in her case, moments lived with the three large birds who share her home and studio. “Coda Blue,” an enormous 71×82-inch painting celebrates that camaraderie. Throughout her work, images play out in bright pops of red, bursts of blue or bands of yellow. Painterly, thick strokes, passages of scumbling and thoughts scratched into the surface hint at hidden possibilities. “The unconscious comes into my work a lot.”
Chance is something Werthmuller fully embraces. She admitted that a big, white empty canvas can be an overpowering presence. Sometimes a found object, a bit of text in a newspaper or even a happy accident can offer a starting point, a way to break through. In “7 Cats,” she leaned another painting against its blank surface. Some pigment rubbed off; a shape emerged.
“The mark suggested something to me. This time, it suggested a cat. So I started with that. It reminded me of Facebook…and it became a story in my mind: there’s a cat, then there’s another cat looking at the cat.” Then she worked in layers upon layers of paint, text, decorative passages and more cats, till she found a point of balance.
There may be a deeper meaning, but not too deep. “I hope that my paintings touch people. It’s simple. It’s not complicated. It’s colorful.” Don’t try too hard to figure out what Werthmuller’s trying to say. “I don’t say. I paint.”