• Julia Kryshevich

Multifaceted Realities in the Work of Berlin Artist Britta Lumer

Britta Lumer is a German artist who lives and works in Berlin. Originally a painter, she is now best known for her work on paper in charcoal and ink that draws in viewers through an emotional and intellectual tension that arises from the interactions of abstraction and figuration, light and shadow, black and white, playing off various levels of perception and reality against one another.


BRITTA LUMER, Untitled, charcoal on paper, 100 x 70 cm, detail © BRITTA LUMER


Lumer graduated from the Städelschule in Frankfurt in 1996. Among her mentors were such remarkable figures of the contemporary art scene as German sculptor Georg Herold and Danish painter Per Kirkeby. On completing her basic art education, Lumer kept on traveling and building on her expertise. In 1996 she spent one academic year at the Norwegian National Academy of Arts in Bergen, where she studied under Luc Tuymans, Lawrence Weiner, and others. Her next trip happened at the turn of the millennium when she received a residency grant for a one-year stay in New York City, where she made a series of cloud studies as well as paintings inspired by American architecture, especially porches and awnings.


BRITTA LUMER, Untitled, 2011, ink on Ingres paper, 254 x 188 mm, © BRITTA LUMER and Kupferstichkabinett Dresden


It would be right to say that Lumer follows a “keep moving” strategy in life as well as in her creative work. Almost every year she takes part in group exhibitions or has shows around Europe, touring with lectures and performance readings from time to time. Her art has developed in multiple breakthroughs that are accompanied by periods of intense production. In her work in ink and charcoal (she uses oil less frequently), she allows the pigment to interact with its support. Charcoal is blurred by being applied with a soft brush, with some parts subsequently vacuumed away, and she allows ink to run down the paper in various directions thanks to an adjustable easel. Lumer’s work amazes with spontaneity, yet, as we know, the best improvisation is a prepared one. Lumer has made some works outdoors in the rain, but even then she moves her hand steadily, trusting in the combination of chance and intention.


BRITTA LUMER, City at night, black ink on ingres paper, 50 x 64,5 cm, © Agnes Gund Foundation


The artist describes her approach as “advanced figurative with a strong spiritual note.” And that sounds accurate. Lumer’s recent bodies of work depict heads, houses, and city scapes, and in each case viewers may question the nature of what they see: how much is modeled on reality and how much is modified by the artist’s imagination — or the viewer’s own. Her art tries in no way to capture reality in the sense of photographic realism. Rather, it reflects on it, if we talk of that sort of reflection that doesn’t only use our brain and eyes, but also touches our heartstrings. The power of abstraction also comes to mind while looking at Lumer’s art, not least in her collage works of 2020–21, and here we might get closer to the beginning and think of the artist’s mentor, painter Per Kirkeby.


BRITTA LUMER, Silverton, black ink on paper, 70 x 90 cm, © BRITTA LUMER


Having started off with some avant-garde practices like various Fluxus and Happening activities, Kirkeby came to Art Informel and Abstract Expressionism during his middle period. He was an adherent of a “structure-less” painting, which primarily meant a departure from tradition. That’s what Lumer also has in her works: an ability to see through things, an intention to shift several planes into one and captivate the viewer with a multifaceted portrait of a subjective reality.


BRITTA LUMER, Fame, ink on paper, 140 x 100 cm, © BRITTA LUMER The artist’s monochrome palette comes from a love for black and white that crystallized early in her career — she describes the feeling of a “special concentration that comes with the reduction of all color values.” In her earliest oil paintings, she used to work with two shades only, one of which had to be necessarily cold and one warm. Perhaps color has here shifted to another dimension, its range of effects transformed into the length of the brushstroke, the density of ink stains, or contrast between outline and background? Surprisingly, Lumer’s works seem to be full of color and sound; they are like a negative film strip that carefully preserves the vibrancy and frailty of the moment.


BRITTA LUMER, Königin aus neun, ink on ingres paper, 254 x 240 mm, © BRITTA LUMER

The geography of her artistic presence doesn’t only cover German cities like Berlin, Dresden, and Frankfurt, but also includes the world’s art destinations, such as New York, London, France, Copenhagen, and Norway. Works by Britta Lumer are have been acquired by the Kunst Museum Basel, the Deutsche Bank Collection, the Collection of the Cultural Foundation of Hesse, the Kupferstichkabinett Berlin and Kupferstichkabinett Dresden, among others.


BRITTA LUMER, Untitled, charcoal on paper, 42 x 29,7 cm © BRITTA LUMER


The latter place is particularly worth mentioning: a part of the famous Staatliche Museen zu Dresden, the Kupferstichkabinett is the museum’s collection of prints, drawings, and photographs, which celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2020 and has now launched the major exhibition “Crossing Borders”. Lumer’s art is on display there along with works by Olafur Eliasson, Tracey Emin, Mona Hatoum, Christiane Baumgartner, and others. The show focuses on freedom in every sense of the word, which is something Lumer says resonates with her practice a lot. The exhibition is on view until April 26, so you still have some time to see/feel/appreciate the art of Britta Lumer.


BRITTA LUMER, Untitled, ink on Ingres Paper, 24,5 x 18 cm, © BRITTA LUMER

Visit Britta Lumer’s website to discover more of her art: https://brittalumer.de/

Artist Britta Lumer. © Angelika-Platen