Florentina Pakosta


Born in 1933 in Vienna, Florentina Pakosta became famous in the 1970s as a graphic artist and illustrator with her powerful self-portraits and large-format male portraits, which were a modern take on Franz Xaver Messerschmidt’s “character heads”. From the mid 1980s the artist increasingly focused on painting. Her topics of choice were initially depictions of anonymous crowds of people and uniform accumulations of commodities painted in black-and-white or reduced to the contrast of two colours. And although these works alluded to the aesthetics of pop art and comics, they were also reminiscent of the gruesome images from concentration camps.

The revolutionary political events triggered by the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 saw the start of a completely new phase in Pakosta’s work: She left behind figurative painting and applied an abstract visual language to her “tricolour paintings”, which was inspired by Russian Constructivism’s ideas for reforms. Although Pakosta was intrigued by the revolutionary spirit of this art movement, especially its female representatives, she did not refer to it directly in her work. On the contrary, despite the revival of the figurative-expressive movement in painting, she tried to create an imagery that symbolised the freedom of new thoughts, also as a reaction to the ubiquitousness of media in society. The composition of her “tricolour paintings” is based on bar-shaped elements and the combination of three dissonant colours expressing her personal feelings on international political and social events. The works are subliminally aggressive, which is not only expressed through the colours but also in the chaotic structure of the images, defying all tectonic order and mostly evoking negative connotations such as destruction, exclusion or breakdown. These connotations are sometimes emphasised by titles like “Angriff” (attack). And yet, the paintings do not convey any particular message. The precision of the works, which are prepared in meticulous drafts, leads to the assumption that the paintings are purely about formal interactions between three and two-dimensionality. However, the various thematic and compositional aspects Pakosta explores in her “tricolour paintings” prove the opposite. She creates ambivalence between abstraction and representation and reinforces this with an ambiguous three-dimensionality: Are these paintings of actual three-dimensional bars? Or are they just fields of colour where the darkest part is automatically perceived as a shadow?

Over the past three years, Florentina Pakosta has added bent elements to her visual vocabulary, which previously consisted of linear structures, in order to visualise motion and thus time. In addition, in her recent paintings she has also used a fourth, much brighter colour, which creates a stark contrast to the other three hues. In a way, it is as if she is highlighting a breakpoint. In her “tricolour paintings”, the bars cut across the field before continuing ad infinitum, while in her latest paintings the field seems to have been captured just as it collapses and drifts off into weightlessness.

Alexandra Schantl
(English translation: Mandana Taban)