In a career spanning more than twenty-five years, Tina Gillen has developed a body of work in which she examines the relationships we human beings entertain with the built and natural environment. Her works often draw on photographs that she finds or takes herself in daily contexts. These photographic motifs are modified, simplified, ‘translated’ into painting and combined with other elements into compositions that sustain a sense of ambiguity, oscillating between abstraction and figuration, construction and improvisation, the surface of the canvas and the translation of space. Her paintings often convey an atmosphere of impenetrability that veils their familiar motifs in mystery and strangeness.
The artist’s exhibition at Nosbaum Reding Gallery consists of a series of new paintings in which she continues her long-standing exploration of themes that have also informed the exhibition Faraway So Close, currently on view in the Luxembourg Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale. How can one approach the landscape today, in the time of the Anthropocene? How to visualise phenomena that are largely beyond our control, such as extreme weather events or rising sea levels? To explore these questions, Gillen uses the concept of ‘heat’ as the main thematic thread of her pictorial experiments.
The exhibition unfolds from a series of large-scale variations on the same motif. Each of these paintings depicts an abstract, atmospheric landscape, constructed from a gradation of colours that are seen through a geometric structure whose shape evokes a window, not least because it suggests a perspective view. They are permeated by a characteristic tension between two key aspects of the artist’s pictorial vocabulary: an ‘architectural’ or ‘graphic’ aspect, consisting of rigorous, meticulously composed forms, and a more ‘lyrical’ aspect that accommodates gestural marks and chance occurrences during the act of painting itself. As the artist often points out, her paintings to a certain extent generate themselves.
Gillen’s landscapes fully exploit the suggestive power of colour, the emotional effect and physical sensation they can provoke in viewers. Two of the paintings on display feature ‘cold’ colours – greens and blues, mixed with blacks. Another painting, on the contrary, uses ‘warm’ colours – orange and red – which seem to physically convey the notion of heat around which the exhibition revolves. The resulting atmosphere is reminiscent of a dust- or smoke-filled sky during a wildfire, an extreme weather event or heavy pollution, the air clogged with thick layers of particles. Among the many sources of inspiration for this series, which can also be viewed in the long pictorial tradition of landscapes seen through a window, were images from surveillance cameras on fire lookout towers. The exhibition-goers find themselves at the centre of a space of observation, immersed in a landscape that stretches to all sides – an impression further emphasised by the arrangement of the paintings in the gallery space.
Of a more spontaneous nature, the artist’s smaller works on paper or canvas can be likened to sketches that endeavour to capture temporary, transitory states. They offer further variations around the themes of landscape and hut, or interior and exterior, establishing a complex interplay of relations, points of view and transitions between these two worlds. Several of them, depicting architectures suspended in an evanescent environment, seem to dwell on the atmosphere that connects them. ‘The hut floats and levitates like a cloud carried by the wind, like an airborne balloon, like a bird soaring in place (…); but also, like a ghost, a soul or a breath that subtly lifts the respiration of the world’, writes Marielle Macé about the artist’s installation in Venice, which takes a similar motif as its starting point.
As she was working on these paintings, Gillen’s mind often returned to H?j?ki, or An Account of My Hut, a short essay by the thirteenth-century poet and Buddhist monk Kamo no Ch?mei. Written more than eight centuries ago, this foundational text of Japanese literature resonates strangely with our present. In it, Ch?mei describes the disasters that struck Japan during this time – fires, whirlwinds, floods, earthquakes, droughts – and his life as an eremite in a ‘ten foot square hut’, withdrawn not so much from the world – for he is fully immersed in it – as from society. In the opening lines, he writes: ‘The flow of the river never ceases / And the water never stays the same / Bubbles float on the surface of pools, / Bursting, re-forming, never lingering. / They’re like the people in this world and their dwellings.’ Gillen’s works offer a similar meditation on the deep relationships that connect us to the places in which we live and on the common destiny we share with them.
 Marielle Macé, ‘The Image Opening its Arms to You’, in Tina Gillen: Faraway So Close (Berlin: Mudam Luxembourg and Hatje Cantz, 2022), 31.
 H?j?ki: A Hermit’s Hut as Metaphor; Kamo no Ch?mei, trans. Matthew Stavros (Vicus Lusorum, 2020).