Artist Profile

Vivian Greven

 sees the canvas as a permeable membrane

Portrait of artist by Thomas Köster
Accessibility is a quality Vivian strives towards in her work, a quality that acts as a gateway into the deeper layers of a piece. For Vivian, painting as a choice of medium is as deliberate and carefully calibrated as her use of classical beauty canons. The canvas becomes the ideal surface to both be in tension with and contain the soft volumes that shift underneath it. She uses glazing (a technique perfected by old Masters) to help her achieve the illusion of volume in the intrapainting space while introducing techniques such as cut-outs and reliefs to suggest an outer skin, an upper layer where volume can build up or be scratched out. This multidimensional way of working mirrors the art historical nestling present in her work and gives expression to Vivian’s preoccupation with the hierarchies between original and simulation.

DroOl - now on display at MEDIANOCHE0 - is a moody example of Vivian's adoption of the language of neoclassical sculpture. It is inspired by a Venus Pudica she encountered in a large room at the Louvre. This representation of Venus appears to shield herself from onlookers in modesty. The compassion it elicits led her to muse about the casually brutal invasion of this body's space and to reframe the dramatic scene unfolding therein. She translates a drop of light from the photographic reference into a literal drop that protrudes out of the canvas - a tear? blood from a wound? DroOl belongs to her V series, which deals with the art historical and social significance of the Venus motif. The figure is often shown without a vulva, a contradiction with Venus’ role as the goddess of fertility, and a reflection of the societal denigration of all things female. Her more recent X series further explores this motif and mixes it with references to camel toe close-ups from Google images. The title alludes to the double female chromosome as well as the term “to X Out” for rendering a tabooed item unrecognisable. X IV from this series is now on display at MEDIANOCHE0.

Reflecting on the toxicity of aesthetic ideals and her adoption of classical canons, she talks about how the sight of beauty can harm us, make us feel vulnerable. Yet these bodies themselves don't try to impose, rather they are in a state of patient vulnerability themselves. Throughout history, beauty has been tied to holiness, and life and death, yet today it has become a subject of cruelty, of emptiness, divorced from the mind instead of being in union with it. Vivian's paintings present a basis for reflection on body politics, on reuniting consciousness’ connection to physical form. In her work, beauty becomes a device that connects people through time and space, rather than a boundary that divides what falls within or outside these aesthetic conventions.

A student of semiotics across histories and cultures, Vivian likes to inhabit an internet-assisted atemporal space. As a superposition of all times and geographies, the internet showcases the evolution of symbols: past, present and future collapse into eternal archetypes. Her career-long obsession with archetypes is likely fuelled by Vivian's early passion for literature - with its invocation of tropes and role as a launch pad for Symbolism. Her APPL series explores the associations made by the collective subconscious when stimulated by a symbol. It zeroes in on an object that has an uncommonly high set of meanings - the apple. Vivian's encounter with a female sculpture holding an apple is what kindled this visual wordplay. AAPL, in MEDIANOCHE0's collection, is a close-up of the sculpture's neck - of the absent Adam's apple - with a protuberance stretching her skin, and the surface of the canvas, in the shape of a bitten apple. The image calls forth notions of poisoned apples, of forbidden fruit, as well as of the eponymous inventor of the smartphone. We are asked: is the infinite knowledge of the internet - accessible ever more readily because of the brand - an analogy of the biblical tree, and the first manifestation of evil?

Speaking about her process, she describes how a trigger from her surroundings kickstarts the path that leads to a new series. She then researches the desired narrative and works it out in prose or, more often, verse. Once each scene is set, she starts to think about composition. This first half of her process is highly cerebral and acts as a scaffolding for her intuitive use of colour during the later stages of producing a piece. A series may revolve around the same characters, with the gaze zooming in and out on the bodies; and the bodies coming closer together or further apart, which in turn changes the psychology of the scene.

Vivian proposes painting as a natural mode of expression that enables people to communicate when words don’t suffice, a medium that can never be obsolete. Today, she continues to study the near-infinite formal possibilities of this medium as well as the new dimensions she never ceases to discover within the pictorial space. Her new work encompasses a formal exploration of the sensory potential of metallic textures through oil, as well as new themes such as motherhood. View artworks ︎︎︎

Vivian Greven was born in 1985 in Germany. Her work is part of internationally renowned museum collections such as the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, the Kunstpalast Düsseldorf, the Xiao Museum in Rizhao and the Long Museum in Shanghai. She has had solo exhibitions at Kunstmuseum Langmatt, Kunstpalais Erlangen and Kunstverein Heidelberg. Her work has been included in group exhibitions at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg,  Kunsthalle Nürnberg, Kunstmuseum Bonn, the Paula Modersohn Becker Museum in Bremen and Deichtorhallen Hamburg. A comprehensive solo exhibition is planned for spring 2023 at the Neue Galerie Gladbeck in Germany.