The friendship of things 

by Sarah Jürgel 

in the catalogue: Darja Eßer, Die Freundschaften der Dinge, Düsseldorf 2018

translated by James Turner


Darja Eßer carefully and poetically places her picture motifs in relation to one another. The artist transcribes intuitive and sensual experiences from everyday life and nature into the medium of drawing. Images emanate from a haptic sensation of direct contact. From the material to the content, from the idea underlying the image to the object. She uses the material of paper, consistently her favourite medium, in three different forms: small-format drawings on watercolour paper, large sheets employing handmade paper as well as sculptured paper objects that are installed directly on the wall.

Darja Eßer‘s patient, contemplative process of crafting her works are especially reflected in the warm character of the handmade paper. She fashions the handmade drawing paper, known as kozogami, from the bark of the mulberry tree based on traditional Japanese recipes. In this involved process, taking several days, the artist transforms bast fibres into paper, creating the basis for her works in original form for each work. The fibres, which can still be readily made out in the finished sheet, bear witness to a balance between fragile transparency and a solid woven edifice, serving as a sort of structure-creating element in the drawing itself. The haptics of plant leaves in the drawing reveal their natural origin in two-fold respect, with the pastel materiality evoking a desire to touch and feel on the part of the observer.

Her intensive study of Chinese calligraphy beginning in 2014 was logically enough followed by a focus on the stylistic use of concrete lines and white space. Her clear method of representation is marked by concentration and reduction. Darja Eßer resolutely celebrates the beauty of precise lines: watercolour and ink, occasionally yarn as well, creating contours. Some of it consciously intended, some of it uncontrolled and random, aqueous ink sanguinely flowing, including to fill space in the picture. In this way, the artist not only encompasses and incorporates areas of colour, but also empty surrounding space as well, as it is the unoccupied space that lifts the objects to presence and power.

With her three-dimensional objects, the medium of drawing undergoes an expansion into space. The artist playfully transforms the function of her paper from a platform for the image into the image object itself, with the white wall behind it then serving as the sheet of paper. The picture objects underscore her interest in designing shapes and dissolving boundaries of bodies and objects as a process. She describes the exchange and revival of familiar shapes and forms from the inside and the outside along a spectrum ranging from detailed to schematic or template-like. 

This artistic working method accentuates the material‘s life of its own, while organic substances testify to an earthly cycle: in the flow of life, cloaks and shrouds are born and then lost again in the flow of life. The world is adorned as a fern, lung, robin or turtle. Nature uses comparable forms for its children despite their different names. The outer packaging repeats itself, returning and returning in innumerable ways. Humans imitate nature‘s workings, putting on shoes, clothes and backpack. In the ebbing and flowing consciousness of their own impermanence, they don the same cloak, as it were, blossoming in the spring and withering with the nearing of winter.

Darja Eßer takes up the classic topic of vanitas, emphasising instability and the dissolution of the visible, without a trace of sadness. With her contemporary Memento mori, she links up the poetry of transience with a hymn to the fervently living. Her airy drawings and delicate paper objects open up diverse perspectives of understanding to the viewer, stimulating associations and analogies. In their ambiguity, her works contain a promise of space to complement this ambiguity, shaping paths into the treasure chest of a personal as well as collective culture of remembrance while at the same time radiating an unswerving serenity.