Head Births, Multiplying like Rhizoms

Johanna Flammer draws with paint and paints collages. She lives in Düsseldorf and creates phantasmagoric works of new quality. Acrylic and oil painting are combined with collage and strokes to achieve a multifarious whole. Beyond nature or perspective, compositions emerge which fuse the far and near in a magical way.

To condense and to let slide. It’s the artist’s privilege to lose oneself in the work. Johanna Flammer has no pre-fixed image, no compositional plan in mind. There is no aim. The artist is not afraid of the horror vacui, the emptiness of the canvas at the beginning of work.

Johanna Flammer begins with a primed canvas, paints and collages, creates mutating structures. It is an open work process. Tiny twigs merge into larger branches. The method is to use control, but also to lose control; the main thing is to avoid a pre-decided finding of forms and shapes.

At the ends of the forms new things and other forms are created. These are formations which, at first glance, seem surreal or informal. But not with Johanna Flammer. The structures are comparable to the thought of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Around 1977 these two French scientists proposed a new scientific system based on associations. The two developed a post-structuralist system of science beyond a system of ordering and far from classification, and compared this with a rhizome, which they understood to be a theory which allows for multiple, non-hierarchical points of entry and exit – rhizome is Greek for ‘root’.

Nodi as unconscious head births: When the artist starts a work, she does not know at the beginning where it will take her, how the picture will develop. She is open for surprises of all kinds, but unlike Surrealists such as Max Ernst and Miró, she does not work with the subconscious. It is not the unexpected invasion of external reality, as with such Dadaists as Hannah Höch and Kurt Schwitters, which determines how she makes her collages. As a passionate illustrator the artist transforms the collage – in the final image it is no longer perceptible.

Either these structures form nodes or proliferate like a tangle of roots. When Johanna Flammer is at work, the nodes above ground combine with the sub-surface rhizomes. These are not images of nature, rather they are colored wish or art projections.

Non-perspectivist worlds – Zoom: More than 500 years ago, in the early Renaissance, the method of rendering perspective was discovered in Florence. Representations of images were objectified in human perception; they no longer remained a divine embeddedment. Images of figures, of course, are put into a landscape in perspective and in the right size from foreground to background. Man determines, according to his sense of sight, and along his experience of values, he transforms the perceptible cosmos to his own world. Tempi passati, abstraction and objectivity were extended, around 1915, to enlarge our world view to an increasingly physically interpreted world. Two decades ago, the immateriality and, for several years now the opening to a virtual world changed our visual experiences. We learn virtually in front of the screen, which was formerly reserved for dreamy perceptions.

Zoom: Zooming is today a fantastic medium, made possible through computer image programs. We discover new worlds as we ‘zoom in.’ Large and samll seem playful. In the photo programs, the experience of the telescope and microscope are integrated. The haptic-perspective real image becomes the partial truth of comprehensive views into virtual infinity. Johanna Flammer expands this, merges in her ‘real’ images near and far, large and small to rhizomatically wild-structures.

Amalgam: acrylic and oil painting, collage and the Edding stylus: How images are created is the great reservoir of artists’ imagination. No matter how clever they are, the brain researchers cannot make these infinite possibilities measurable or find the brain lobes where they take place. Even Google, with its hazardous combination of logarithms, cannot (yet?) keep up. Still, the process can be described. First, a background is created on the canvas with acrylic, a colored base, which can run from black to lighter or darker. Then the artist creates with oil paint a free form, looking like a liana, as if in a jungle. These are augmented by photographs of hair that are set as collages on canvas to be moved back and forth. These photos, some small, some large, come from the hair dresser or barber. In the studio these photographs are sorted by color and size. They are then fixed to the canvas. The oil painting and photo collage are then edited with the Edding stylus, creating seamless images. By fine drawing both different techniques appear as a unified work, they are amalgamated. Just as the body adapts by acclimatization, the artist transforms the collaged photographs of hair into something completely different. Johanna Flammer’s love for the graphic quality and her enthusiasm for swarms of lines convert the subtle individual forms. At the end the work is given a lacquer or varnish finish.

Postscript: hair composed into hairstyles is a metaphor for the Singular which obtains a new quality when pulled together. Just as each stroke is a part of a composition, so is each hair a part of a hair style. It is no coincidence that hair has not only been paid homage to in religion (‘by the beard of the prophet!’), barbers (Figaros) are admired for their hair-cutting art, for the way they cut and form hair; not only in opera they have become objects of love.

Jeannot Simmen



The work of Johanna Flammer: Phantasmagorical, luscious, sensual…

Sensuality and feminine mystique

“Thoughtfully mixed, I combine painting, collage and drawing, and create phantasmagorical works in fine-tuned color compositions.”

It is the phantasmagorical forms combined with the sumptuous palettes in Johanna Flammer’s work which makes it so compelling.  Scanning through the images is like watching an exquisite operatic extravaganza unfold.

Phantasmagoric!  Suggestive and beautiful the “out of this world” imagery is sensual and theatrical.  The works appear overtly sensual because they inhabit a world between what is real and what is imagined and they require us to let our imaginations flow freely in order to make personal associations. These fantastical worlds are presented to us in wafting touches of paint combined with jewel-like palettes.  They are intimate and entirely singular which contributes to the sense of mysterious sensuality.

Linking the phantasmagorical to carnality is not new; this pairing can be seen in spectacular detail in Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights dating from 1490 – 1510.  The triptych is legendary in art history for the above reason as well as the volumes written over the centuries on the true meaning of the work.  While Bosch’s work is more directly erotic, Flammer’s paintings are suggestive, hinting at carnal pleasures through the fetishistic planting of hair and the build-up of visceral forms and luscious paint.  Interestingly her palette is similar to the palettes of Northern artists in general from this period.

The Rococo! Fleischrosa has a distinct fairy-tale quality and, like the suite of works in general, recalls the Rococo period in abstract terms.  The beauty of the work is seen in the powdery shell pink and nude colours and the consistent impression of colour and form evolving joyously and spontaneously.  The whole seems to be morphing into some kind of alluring innocent flower-animal.  It is difficult to look at Flammer’s works and not be reminded of the Rococo. They are flamboyant, colourful and eccentric, a compact of the Rococo’s decorative characteristics.

The Rococo period in art, of which Giambattista Tiepolo is a significant representative, is remembered for the frivolity, social over-indulgence and licentious pleasures of the French court in the period preceding the French Revolution of 1789.  A great many essays have been written about Marie Antoinette, the hedonism and the extravagance; in many ways she came to symbolise the downfall of the French court in the final years of the Rococo.  The over-emphasis on opulent luxurious colour and textiles, bodily appetites and an obsession with personal appearances are attributes the Rococo became synonymous with.  Relevant here in the abstract are the works of  Jean-Honoré Fragonard and François Boucher key artists from the mid to late 18th century.


Similarly, Flammer’s works are lavish, corporeal and ostentatious; in the manner of quasi-personal excess the paintings immoderately sprout in every direction while becoming more and more outrageous and dazzling.  They are stupendously operatic courtesy of the repetitive swathes of rich saturated colour and the clusters of collaged hair (from afar the clusters merely resemble inanimate material) uniquely puncturing the free-flowing forms, floating against an unreal cosmos that is the singular milieu and language of the artist.


Where does the hair come in? “Flammer works with photographs of hairstyles, which she combines in fantastic, abstract color landscapes or into root-like braids.”

The hair pieces belong to the everyday world we inhabit they have been cut out and form part of the work as a collage.  The hair cut-outs appear as strange growths; additional to the intuitive process of building up form and colour in paint. The hair is not only symbolic but adds a spiky inanimate counterpoint.  While undoubtedly Flammer would be restrained by the process of sourcing the cut outs, she would also be constrained by the finite and fixed nature of the final cut-out: the flow of paint and final placement of the cut outs inevitably creating tension in the work.

In my works, I try to transform the tension of gestural painting into a harmony by setting contrasts of color, by setting highs and lows, and planting hair. It is always a struggle to keep control. But in the end, my world is all right again.”


Although the cut-outs can appear at odds with a responsive painting process, they do not lack cohesiveness in the work.  One has only to look at Nodi – 38 to see how successful the collaging process is to the overall strange beauty of the work. The cut outs have a strange fetishistic or toy-like quality, which draw personal associations or references from a different place in our imaginations.

The key to understanding is once again the connection between the real world and an imaginary world; worlds which obliquely symbolise and comprise part of the feminine mystique in art.

Hair and interpreting femininity!  “A woman’s long hair, after all, is the emblem of her femininity. More than that, it is a symbol of her sexuality, and the longer, thicker and more wanton the tresses, the more passionate the heart beneath them is assumed to be.” Victorian femininity

Female hair has long been eulogised and obsessed over in literature and art. Pre-Raphaelite, Dante Gabrielle Rossetti’s paintings from the third quarter of the 19th century are a case in point.  Works such as Lady Lilith (1868) and Beata Beatrix (1870) and numerous other paintings are dense with sexual symbolism and suggestiveness via the depiction of the protagonist’s hair among other things.  Women of high moral standing would not be seen in public with their hair out.  Flowing hair was considered, in the good woman, to be something reserved for the bedroom.  Conversely, long flowing luxuriant hair in public meant a sexually active woman or a fallen woman.  Rossetti’s females often display thick, red luxuriant tresses; symbolically, hair that can sexually entrap an unwary man by its shameless beauty.


Unquestionably, Flammer’s works connect the intuitive feeling for colour and mass with the idea that hair is part of female feminity uniquely bound up with the idea of pleasure. The subtle colour transitions and over-layers combine in a way that indicates the budding, opening and full flourish of flowers blooming. In Limettengrün, a less complex form, a parallel could be made with the blooming of female youth (leaving childhood behind but not yet an adult) the innocent hearts and minds pulled in every direction by the awakening of sensual experience.

While undeniably more graphic, Georgia O’Keeffe is renowned for the depictions of flowers with sexual connotations. The flower bloom associated with both female sexuality and female erogenous zones has a significant history in art. Refer Black Iris 1926.

Ethereal drenched colour! It is colour mass which appears to evolve off the brush in soft swipes to build up layers of lozenge-like forms.  In Eisenrot Nodi the palettes gently waft daub by daub into more sophisticated hues; the colours present as glorious mingling’s rather than pure colours, each daub on the way to indicating both another hue and another hue and shift in meaning.  Samtgrün (the leading work) is one of startling shimmering beauty – the technique incredibly strange, delicate and mesmerising.  The rich nature-inspired colours of a world seen uniquely by Flammer.

Kim Rutherford