Irma Blank (Celle 1934 – Milan 2023), in the 1950s, in the footsteps of the eighteenth-century grand tour or, even, in the footsteps of what was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Journey to Italy”, landed in Sicily in search of a cultural world and artistic vestiges which, although known from books, had to be seen and experienced with one’s own eyes. But as it has happened to many other artists, a journey of knowledge became a journey of life for Irma, so much so that she moved to Italy permanently until she is was “adopted” by our country. And if for Goethe the journey turned into a literary experience, for Irma this “convict journey” became her future (even a family one), to the point of binding and intertwining with all her subsequent artistic research.
Her work grew in a climate of linguistic experimentation typical of the second half of the 1960s, in which exponents of the Minimal and Conceptual matrix avant-gardes record, through the repetitive process of an impersonal art, the time of their own experience: being there, existence, the here and now. Right from the start Irma Blank turned her attention (as she herself stated) “towards writing, which strips of meaning to charge it with other values. A writing purified of meaning, an autonomous sign that gives voice to silence”. This is precisely the solution, as radical as it is to be recognized, to the approach of her work: a writing not linked to knowledge, but to being. Papers, sheets, canvases, books are the surfaces on which the relationship between sign and time plays out. Somehow the reference with the contemporary researches of Pure Painting (the support, the primary elements of painting, the zeroing of the sign as narration…) become an almost natural bridge.
Ink, Indian ink, ballpoint pen, pastel, watercolor, acrylic are the tools through which the signs occupy these surfaces and the surfaces record the time of an existence through the gesture. We also think of the great lesson of Roman Opalka, of the methodical (and obsessive) repetition and, at the same time, of the minimal variation of information, of the passage of time as a scansion of painting, and in a higher sphere of the scansion of time in On Kawara. In summary, a job a day to leaf through the pages of a calendar that is life and the flow of time in our lives.
The relationship with writing (and therefore with that indefinite galaxy that was defined as Visual Poetry) is completely evident. Mirella Bentivoglio understood this very well and the exhibition she curated in 1971 for the Centro Tool in Milan (in via Borgonuovo, where Ugo Carrega and Franco Accame gravitated for some years and which was a center of the “cultures of dissent” or of that separation from the dominant mainstream), was a great testimony of it, to which Irma Blank was also dutifully invited (however it must be said that that exhibition clearly anticipated the subsequent researches of Lea Vergine “On the other half of the sky” and, in 2022, by Cecilia Alemani with her Biennale conjugated to the feminine). This first testimony was later confirmed by Bentivoglio with the XXXVIII Venice Biennale (1978), when she signed the exhibition “Materialization of language”.
Absurdly, the en plein air figurative work of the Swiss painter Jean-Frédérich-Schnyder (a canvas a day, chronicling his journey through the bucolic landscapes of Switzerland) responds, from another side, to the same way of feeling: the continuity of a feeling, the repetitiveness of the gesture, the estrangement or distance of the painter from the depicted subject. Irma Blank’s work is structured in series of works, like stages and shifts, even minimal ones, of a path of absolute coherence. Starting from a circumscribed nucleus of themes and questions, each cycle blends and joins the following ones in a fluid and natural progression.
Of course, her work was not immediately accepted (but the artists’ biographies are full of these initial difficulties, these first obstacles to recognition and visibility) and it must be acknowledged that the meeting with Fabrizio Padovani and Alessandro Pasotti from the P420 Gallery in Bologna has placed the work of this incredible author in the right perspective and in the right cone of light, or rather within those two generating seeds which have been painting-painting and writing-writing. As proof of her very human predisposition to dialogue and confrontation, it should be noted that where these paths of hers have intertwined a spectacularisation within a public meeting or an attempt at interpersonal communication, Irma has always wanted to transmit a method (the method of spiritual communication and the absence of redundancy) and not a lesson, thus dwelling on the dialogue and not on the pretension of imposing anything. Her life (dedicated to art) is an example and a lesson, without tying her outcomes to the presumption of having to affirm something more, which is the sign of the greatness of this author.
In any case, it must be remembered that her work has not lacked great public acknowledgments; we mention a few: the participation in documenta 6 (Kassel, 1977), the inclusion in the group show “Sprachen jenseits von Dichtung” at the Westfälischer Kunstverein in Münster (1979), the invitation to the XVI Biennial of Sao Paulo (1981), the invitation to the XI Quadrennial in Rome (1986), confirmations from the Center Pompidou in 2009 and 2010, the personal exhibition at Bombas Gens in Valencia (2021). In Bologna, the P420 gallery will inaugurate a solo exhibition dedicated to her, already scheduled, on 6 May 2023.
is a contemporary art magazine since 1980