First, Katinka Lampe collects pictures which strike her in fashion magazines and the press. For her latest paintings she has also worked using images retrieved on the Internet to do with an extremely provocative American social phenomenon : Child Beauty Pageants. Little girls, all dressed up, show themselves off in beauty contests, based on oddly old-fashioned rituals. Like so many little living dolls, the only thing they are looking for is glamour before their time, polished, as they are, like false fingernails. Babydoll childhood disappears behind the make-up, the false eyelashes, the lipstick that is too red, the sequins and the extravagant poses. The artist works on this phenomenon in order to appropriate it for herself, first by re-creating the settings of a photographic session with young models. In a very joyous atmosphere, her friends’ children get involved in the game, having fun being little stars in front of her lens all “make believe”, heavily backed up by make-up and props. This first photographic stage may call to mind the work of Bettina Rheims: the images produced belong to a strange zone, somewhere between aesthetic glamour and iconic construct. Like in a film shoot, Katinka gives stage directions, but she is well aware of what separates her from the coded sessions of fashion sets. The model looks over her shoulder, smiles, seduces, puts her hands on her hips, and knows how to catch the cameria’s attention.
It is only after the photo session that the artist chooses the image which will be the starting point of her painting, a photo which she incidentally relinquishes very quickly, because it only serves her as a mental back-up, and is quickly embeddedin her consciousness. As an “intermediate reality”, the photograph helps with the swing towards the reality of the painting. The painting takes over. The portraits that she then constructs on canvas are not individualized or psychologized portraits, but rather mental portraits, with no personal history and no characterization. It is not a question of making the portrait of an actual person. “This is why I work using child and teenage models, and not grown-ups: grown-ups have too much history behind them whereas children’s histories still have to be constructed”, explains the artist. So these portraits do not convey any “truth”. Paradoxically, “the canvases have a very realist look, but I reject the idea of realism : if there is a reality to be looked for, it is the one that each viewer brings through his way of looking”, she specifies.
Now, looking at a large portrait of a young girl with almost white hair, the eye pierces the vision of a specific face and is drowned in the layer of oil paint, applied in a very light manner, all on the surface, with no shine. The eye draws closer and sees the brush strokes in vertical trails, blurred zones which call to mind the portraits of Gerhard Richter, with the fluidity of a transparent touch, which spreads into the paint. Katinka refuses virtuosity and the well-painted, and sometimes even gets involved in a process destroying forms whose contours are too precise and linear. “I work in a dangerous zone : I am not a portrait painter, even if all I paint is portraits”, explains the artist who thus turns her back on any potential for resemblance or truthfulness: it is the quest for the pictoriality of the face which matters above all, as a surface of fantasies, an emotional expressive vector. We might mention John Currin and the uncanniness of his portraits on the borderline of caricature and deformity, in an interstice between fascination and discomfort; and the performances of Vanessa Beecroft, in which the specific features disappear in the flood of an identical canon. But, in Katinka Lampe’s work, beyond any context, the forms stand out oneven and perfectly clean coloured backgrounds, which propel them into the foreground, like a young girl with thick blonde hair, and diaphanous skin, exposed on a particularly deep, magnetizing and magnetic orange background.