Heidrun Rathgeb: North of the Sun | John Martin Gallery
The paintings in this week’s featured show form a kind of sequel to last week. Both times now, I’m writing about small paintings in egg tempera: a quick-drying paint technique that produces notably luminous and brilliant colours.
But where Michele Cesarotto looked to his native Italian landscapes for his work, Heidrun Rathgeb, currently on show at John Martin Gallery, looks north. Born in Germany, she had a residency in Norway recently, and took a lot of hikes in the local area.
The resulting works, tiny paintings on gesso panels, share an overwhelming sense of cosiness and comfort.
Wooden cabins, snowy pines, dappled sunlight: it’s wholesome, untroubled subject matter. I reached out for some artistic comparison that wasn’t demeaningly generalising to the Nordic region, and gave up: it gave me Moominvalley vibes.
The figures in these landscapes are sensibly, warmly shod, trudging through the snow on a hike, or wrapped up warm in bed. A brightly-checkered bed cover is featured in more than one work on show, including A Quiet Night (2023 and pictured above). Skin and fabric glows luminously, as if lit from within, thanks to the egg tempera paint.
It’s a tribute to Rathgeb’s skill that her cosiness is reassuring, rather than twee. Look at Hut in the Wilderness (2023), pictured above: the silhouetted girl is in a warm, candlelit interior. A slice of nocturnal landscape on the left hand side of the frame is itself lit by a glowing yellow moon. Not a very wild wilderness; instead, we are offered comfort and reassurance all round.
“I paint what I see, but always something prompted by the poetry of a fleeting moment,” the artist says. “The feeling of an embrace, the sound of wind, the stillness of a cold winter night.” We winter viewers are offered a hug, in other words. Hugs right back.
Heidrun Rathgeb: North of the Sun is at John Martin Gallery (London). 24 January - 16 February 2024