Words are funny little things. We created them to communicate with each other. People used to point and grunt. Over time we developed patterns of sound that meant the same thing all the time: rock, food, danger—simple words that we could agree on. Then, as we got better at using them, living longer, and doing more than looking for food and shelter all day long, our dialects got more complicated.
Most experts believe that speech developed long before cave art, and somewhere between learning to express ourselves orally and visually, we learned to use language to mask and misunderstand each other.
Humans are forever looking for ways to evolve and all too infrequently succeed at understanding one another. Despite the dismal chances of ever getting our meaning out there, we try. It begs the question: Are we communicating to be heard or for the experience of exploring the thought more fully?
Take for example the term ‘abstract art.’ It’s probably the most misunderstood genre out there. There are many ways of defining it but, mainly just two: the classic and the modern. By classic I mean technical. When you look at an abstract, you acknowledge that before you is something that is a segment of a greater whole. In this sense, Ernestine Tahdel is an abstract artist.
We can argue that she is an abstract artist in the modern sense as well, though she firmly avows to being nothing of the sort. Of course, by ‘modern sense’ I mean the Google definition: art that does not attempt to represent external reality but, seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, forms, colours and textures.
The truly ironic part of all this is that the incongruity exists not in the term ‘abstract’ but in the word ‘art,’ which is without definition. We can argue all day about what art is and is not. We might as well be arguing about what God is and is not: a concept that is different for everybody and only matters in that it has an impact on at least some people
“Obviously those paintings are a summary of sixty years of painting. If one says is there a traditional painting or does it go out of tradition? Sure it does. That’s needless to say because everything you do in your life is a summary of what you’ve experienced, what you have learned. The important thing is to keep it fresh, to try to find some new things which are important for your development of work,” confirms Ernestine.
She is the daughter of the celebrated stained glass, mural and mosaic artist Professor Heinrich Tahedl, whose work graces a hundred buildings, including many churches. Thanks to her father’s circle of friends and willingness to include her, Ernestine grew up surrounded by the leading artists of his day. His tutelage, along with his insistence on doing everything possible to allow Ernestine’s talent to develop unencumbered by the oppression of classic art instruction, yielded a protégé who can connect intrinsically with art patrons.
Ten people may enter a solo exhibit, and each of them will gravitate toward a different painting. But, each of them will find something that draws them in from within her work, which, if nothing else, is honest.
Ernestine grew up with full access to her father’s studio and would often spend hours on end, alone, creating. “Interestingly enough, when I was very young, I worked abstract,” says Ernestine. She, like her father, was profoundly influenced by the interplay of light; how it appears when obstructed by opaque and translucent objects; and transformed beyond its refraction and reflection off the surfaces it passed through and over when the object has colour or texture that further manipulates the light that affects it.
As she matured and earned her Master’s Degree in graphic art from the Vienna Academy of Applied Arts, her work took on more realistic, easily recognizable shapes. “The definition of abstract is very broad. I mean, personally, I don’t see those paintings as abstract, as probably some other people don’t see figures, you don’t see landscape but I still see a very strong, organic influence from whatever I was inspired by.
Even when she paints in the style of realism her work betrays her experience with stained glass. It sings on the dances between light and glass. Each of her pieces is based on things she has seen but, not sketched, that have passed through the lens of her mind’s eye
Her travels have taken her to every continent, from the Arctic to the Antarctic and everywhere in between. She has painted all of them but, was never inspired more than by the beauty of the panoramic views of Canada. She covered numerous giant canvasses with mountain ranges but, found that the joy was in the details.
“I got very involved in doing detailed photos of just small, close-ups of a stream and the reflection of leaves and so on in the stream: which is amazingly abstract but, it isn’t abstract. It’s nature. If you want to look at that aspect, you can find abstraction, so to speak, everywhere. Those close-ups were quite a bit of inspiration for my paintings, and if you look at those paintings now, they are still quite organic.”
“That were twenty years that I painted only landscapes,” reflects Ernestine. “Then I saw those water lilies in Giverny that Monet painted in his garden. Suddenly I started painting water lilies because I felt that was the only way I could express the beauty of it.”
Slowly, her work progressed into an exploration of music. As Walter Pater said, “all art constantly aspires toward the condition of music.” It was something that was always an essential part of her life but, there came the point when exploring where her mind would take her when focusing intently on detailed images gave way to trying to capture the essence of sound.
The finished works appear as a series, exploring master compositions such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons but, for the artist they are all one work, initially painted as one. Each piece is separated from the group and worked on individually and periodically reconnected, played like an accordion. They are complete when Ernestine is done with them—when she perceives a satisfaction that her deep dive into her psyche and its reaction to the music is satisfied.
Once complete, Ernestine is finished with it. She harbours no attachment to a finished work once birthed, happy to sever the cord and send it off for display. Sometimes work returns unsold after a couple of years at a gallery, and she is thrilled to get it back and paint over it, preferring to paint over a canvass that has something on it rather than start with a blank.
For Ernestine, the reward is the exploration, the ability to discover what’s in her head. “That’s why I’ve been able to keep it relatively fresh, for me. I’m not talking about the quality of work. What is important to me is that I still feel that I’m searching for something and trying to move ahead in a direction which is a bit risky,” confides the internationally celebrated Ernestine Tahedl. “Those abstract works, for some people are not that abstract.”