Female bodies – standing, reclining, sitting, sculpted in plaster or cast in bronze, in small cabinet format as well as in larger-than-life dimensions. The core of Wanda Pratschke's oeuvre largely consists of cubical, sturdy to opulent nudes.
The theme of the female figure – including in fragments – is central to the artist's entire oeuvre. This puts her in a long tradition of representing female and male figures, a tradition that experienced a modernist thrust in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century in particular. By concentrating on the elementary in terms of content and form, and also by returning to the roots of craftsmanship, a broad spectrum of creative solutions developed, ranging from the expressive Ernst Barlach (1870-1938) to the lyrical Georg Kolbe (1877-1947). Sculptors such as Hans Mettel (1903-1966) and Willi Schmidt (1924-2011) perpetuated this preference for the human figure in the second half of the 20h century at the Frankfurt Städelschule school of art – the very place where Wanda Pratschke studied in the 1970s. However, it seems as if something essential distinguished the artist from her forerunners: the perspective she uses to look at the female body and interpret it as an artist is that of a woman.
To what extent does this fact matter? It all starts with selecting the models. Some of them come from her own family or are acquainted with the artist. What fascinates the sculptor about these women is not the rehearsed postures, less and less the complicated poses, but rather their expressive, often spontaneous positions. Those postures that the artist examines without the slightest hint of voyeurism, but with respect, form the core of the sculpture to be created. Yet what is expressed in the work of art goes beyond the reflection of external perception. For the artist is not only an observer, she herself knows the female physical form, her own body, its haptics, its softness and firmness, its supple articulation, its calmness, its tension and relaxation. One almost seems to be witnessing a circling back and forth between the exterior view of the model and the interior view of the artist, a process that increasingly brings out the essence of the female figure, and at the same time separates it from the penetrating look at the female nude, an approach established not least in art history. In her unpretentious female view of herself and the outside world, Pratschke resembles the Austrian painter Maria Lassnig (1919-2014), who in her so-called body consciousness pictures created an external image of how she perceived her own physical appearance. Both artists look and feel without conventional projection, and are free of prefabricated ideas.
The sculptures Wanda Pratschke develops are the result of an extensive formal process of searching. One of the central characteristics of late 19th and, particularly so, 20th-century art is to make the process of creation apparent in the work, and to allow it to remain so, to consider it part of the work itself. The sculptor creates her robust forms in a process of cyclical decision-making and rejection. This procedure manifests itself in the numerous traces it leaves both in an increasingly abstract structure as well as in the surface of the sculptures. Her route to a three-dimensional figure begins either with small-format drawings, with a model made of clay or wax, or with a model carved from polystyrene. Since 2010 in particular, the sculptor has primarily worked with plaster. This material opens up a new, attractive combination of additive, or plastic, modelling and sculptural removal. In this way, excess parts are chipped off from the form which is created from small rectangular plasterboards and viscous plaster. Break edges are created, as are smooth surfaces and hard ridges. In
other parts, by contrast, extra volume is added where required in the process of creation, so that the figure experiences a long process of growing and decreasing. A process in which the inner and outer image converge. A process in which the traces of impact are just as evident as are tiny drops of plaster. And in which the moment of the original idea is transformed into a timeless monument.
In their monumental calmness, the sculptures are blatantly invasive due to their pure presence: they claim the space they need. And yet, by no means do they make their way into space by means of expansive gestures or dynamic axes; on the contrary, these are bodies whose volumes, including the spaces they encompass, are immovable and harmonious as a result of their clear silhouettes.
The bumpy to rugged surface that emerges during the process of creation subtly corresponds with the cubic compactness of the figures. No light dances on vibrating surfaces to form the epidermis – instead, we can see a thick, hardened, mysterious, almost impenetrable skin. Neither intrusion nor penetration seems possible. Pratschke's sculptures constitute a pleasant antithesis to the immaculate (female) beauty which is constantly being propagated in our time. Instead of such supposed beauty, frictionless, smooth and unimaginative, these sculptures provide high aesthetic enjoyment by virtue of their formal simplicity and density as well as their interpretative complexity.
Her approach of providing space for a body that may seem insignificant, a body that does not lend itself to any symbolic, iconographic, ideological, or sensual erotic interpretation, has come to be Wanda Pratschke's highly individual style of female representation. What she depicts is neither a woman presenting herself, nor a woman posing, aware of the gaze of an observer, but a person exploring her inner feelings, and at ease with them. As a result of her sensitive, down-to-earth approach, the sculptor succeeds in revealing the basic human condition and the specific perspective of femininity in her figures. In her quest for the essence of the human condition, she relies on an approach that resembles the one used by Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) in terms of content. However, while Giacometti had, since the 1940s, used formal reduction "to the very bone" to highlight his figures in their final, and thus existential glow, Pratschke's existential figures are the epitome of a volume-based, distinctively female presence in space.
Wanda Pratschke has come a long way as a sculptor. For her generation, the decision to create physically challenging, handcrafted sculptures was by no means an easy one. It was a question of asserting herself. Whereas in the past, she used to carry out every step of creating her works by herself – for instance, casting the bronzes –, today, she still reserves the prerogative to personally add patina or colour to the works.
This is the remarkable corollary of her independent, commitment-based oeuvre which continues to develop, and deserves to be recognised beyond the artist's 80th birthday.
Städelmuseum Frankfurt am Main