Tomma Abts

b. 1967

German-born, London-based artist Tomma Abts makes complex abstract paintings in oil or acrylic. These small-scale works  are flat, spare, linear compositions that feature designs of colored lines, planes, geometric shapes, and arcs. She takes the titles for most of her works from a German book of first names.

Abts studied at Hochscule der Künste in Berlin from 1988 to 1995, after which she received a grant and moved to London where she now lives and works.

Most of her paintings are rectangles of equal size (19.8 by 15 inches) while some may have rounded edges or cut corners. She begins each work without preliminary sketches, and her paintings evolve by overpainting and reworking the image.  While abstract, the works are illusionistic, having three-dimensional effects and highlights.  She also works with pencil and color pencil drawings. She has even made casts of her paintings. 

Her paintings involve complex shapes in a color scheme that is rich but neutral.  The colors are not naturally vibrant but do work with each other’s tones.  A 3D effect comes from layering and over-painting.  Her works display balance without symmetry and luminosity without harsh colors. 

Her 2013 “Luer” has two ribbonlike bands interwoven in a composition-spanning loop. One band is an inch wide in an ombre pattern of black and beige. The other band is very thin and painted dark grey with short bands of orange, red, violet, and blue. The ribbons appear to undulate in the shallow pictorial space.

Abts has had numerous solo exhibitions at: the Aspen Art Museum, Kunsthalle Dusseldorf, New York’s New Museum, Los Angeles’Hammer Museum, Kunsthalle Basel, Dublin’s Douglas Hyde Museum, and in 2018 at London’s Serpentine Gallery, which traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 2006, Abts was the first woman to win the Turner Prize, organized by Tate Gallery in London. Her work has been included in major exhibitions such as the Berlin Biennial, Carnegie International, and Istanbul Biennial and others.

Her work is in the permanent collections of Art Institute of Chicago, Baltimore Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Art, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art in New York and San Francisco, Tate Britain, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

More here.

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