Contemporary Realism and Narrative Paintings > Claudia Kaak is a German self-taught artist whose main subject is the human figure. Her paintings are based on photographs and movie stills. Every work has an autobiographical and social narrative which focuses on her childhood experiences. Her artwork deals with existential feelings, the inner strife of human beings, and the extreme unlimited emotional and physical experience of pain.
Kaak’s work is mostly untitled with a number assigned to a series in order not to influence the viewer. Her intention is to break taboo and allow emotional disorder to seep through the artwork.
Contemporary Realism Paintings: Breaking Taboos
BY CLAUDIA KAAK
I don’t paint what I see but I paint what I feel and know. I mean that this is me and I paint how I see the world. This point is very important because my feelings are really different from most people’s – more intensive. I only know how it feels this way.
“The Wolves Are at My Door” (shown at top) shows a woman, observing the viewer in a lurking position that stands in contrast to the background. She is barefoot on a stony construction and wears only a short dress amidst an inhospitable environment. Not only the snow-covered landscape, the approaching thunderstorm and her posture but also the title gives a feeling of danger.
“Don’t speak about your experiences!” This sentence I’ve heard so many times, I cannot count.
“The Wolves are at my Door” shows an emotion that haunts me every single day of my life because of my traumatic experiences. Anxiety – lingering fear! I always feel fear and pain. I don’t know what it feels like to be safe or to feel at home. There is no safety in my brain!
My painting “Survivor” has an autobiographical narrative and carries a very personal feeling but it can also be universal. The woman, dressed in black and with a blue painted eye area, is laying on a light ground that is marked with bullet holes and draws attention to the title. Her body is calm but also introverted.
The blue colour represents the longing. Blue also pulls us along into a meditative mood and calms us, slowing down the heartbeat. This is reflected by the closed eyes and the calm posture. Psychologically, blue stands between black despair and the white of hope and clarity. This is also represented by the dress and the background.
“Ophelia” is inspired by John Everett Millais’ work but it has also an autobiographical and society-critical narrative. It reflects my relationship to death. I have tried to kill myself twice. The painting deals with existential feelings, the inner strife of human beings, deep emotions to the extreme limit of pain. It shows a woman floating in water just before she drowns or in other words a figure who commits suicide. The water does not seem very deep. Thoughts of suicide are not an intention to commit. But the feelings are similar.
The painting “Laura” shows my beautiful daughter, surrounded by daffodils and dressed in a sweater I knitted by myself. Daffodils grow in the spring. They are rated ambivalently. Laura was born in spring, more precisely on Easter Sunday but it was a pretty exhausting birth. In the end I got a Cesarean section. For this reason it’s so rich in contrast.
Try to live in the present. Don’t judge everything what happens to you. Sometimes also bad experiences can turn to something positive.
Untitled (Series 10 no.5)
“Untitled (Series 10 no.5)” was informed by Terrence Melick’s “The Tree of Life.” The movie and its motifs resonate with me in its impressive and emotive portrayal of a child conflicted. He experiences extreme emotions transitioning from the innocence of childhood to a disillusioned adulthood. My painting draws upon the maternal warmth offered to the child. It is a simple scene, a whispered moment; the shadows are laden with an undercurrent of a deeper meaning.
Movie stills and photographs provide a means for me to understand my own childhood experiences, which were far from ideal. I explore societal taboos and disorder, and through my artistic practice I hope to be able to deal with the damage of my past and provide my own children with a world of wonder and nurture.
Untitled (Series 6, Nr. 8)
“Untitled (Series 6, No. 8)” shows a sobbing woman with a pain-filled face holding her right arm in front of her stomach and sitting in an empty, dark and indefinable room in a cowing posture. The colors are dark and cloudy and the figure is in the lower third of the portrait, so that the dark space above it appears even more threatening. The painting has no title, because the feeling of loss, sorrow, fear, and despair is universal and expresses the figure, which no title can express. It is part of a series dedicated to the expression of these feelings.