Steppe in Heart
Bright blue were the houses of the German nationals in the small village on the Kazakh Steppe in which Irina und Marina Fabrizius grew up. Each family provided for itself with a few animals and crops. Like a football field stretching lengthwise into the steppe, so large did their garden seem to them, which mother and father tended after work. That the cow, pigs, chickens and ducks had to be fed was fortunate for the two girls. So that they wouldn’t disturb her at her work, their mother sought an activity for the little ones that would hold their interest. She found crayons and some sheets of paper, which was in short supply at the time.
And as if opening a previously invisible door, a stream of pictures came forth. In the beginning, their mother guided their hands, showing them how to draw a circle. However, soon she restricted herself to looking at the finished pictures and reporting what she discovered therein: flowers, clouds, trees and, frequently, the sun. The girls demanded more and more paper and colours and let themselves drift on the current of their imagination and gift for observation. It was a wonderful game.
It was nature, above all, which stimulated them: the vibrant flowers of their mother’s garden, the wind that made waves in the sea of grass, the sunsets of glowing colours over the distant, flat horizon. They were far further advanced than their contemporaries. While they still drew cephalopods, the girls had long since moved on to representing their observations in detail. They felt sure and confident. No one gave them the feeling that their close cooperation could be problematic, no one tried to make them into different people. They were never apart.
In their ninth year, their wonderful time in Kazakhstan came to an end. Their family took the opportunity to settle in Germany and so Irina and Marina Fabrizius arrived among the Swabian masses. In Russia, they were German outsiders; now in Germany, they were Russian outsiders. Because they dressed identically and felt no need to be distinguished from each other, the other children treated them suspiciously. “Twin” was, therefore, the first word they learned. Their answers, which were identical, were dismissed. So they decided to display a difference which did not exist.
And they escaped into pictures. To affirm their intimacy, they painted more than ever before, always next to each other: sunsets, meadows flourishing with beautiful flowers and the vast landscape of the steppe. They also managed to paint their way into the hearts of the other children with their talent for accurately drawing popular comic book characters from memory. Eventually, they were accepted and understood for who they were.
The had long since left behind the felt tips and crayons of Kazakhstan continually to discover and experiment with the new materials they found on the bountiful shelves of German stationers. When adults would ask what they wanted to be when they grew up, they would answer “We want to paint!” Naturally, teachers had taken notice of their special gift, and the twins’ father was made to promise to do everything to encourage their artistic abilities.
However, their first encounter with the word “art” was hearing that painting was an ungainful art. Instead of heeding the warning, Irina and Marina began intensively seeking out what this “art” was all about. They eventually came across a book that listed every art academy. They decided on a private academy in Nürtingen, which was close enough for their first step away from home, and to which they were accepted.
Their professor there, Armin Bremicker, asked them of a photorealistic painting of a tree: what if a branch were missing from it? “Then it wouldn’t be the tree,” was the answer he received. And if, he asked next, one would hang an enlarged photo on the wall instead of the painting? “Then the mood of the painting would be missing,” the artists assured him. Despite already being so sure, it was through many such critical discussions that Irina and Marina Fabrizius discovered a new approach to painting.
Until that point, painting was as normal for them as food and sleep. However, “art” seemed to be a language with its own rules. That which was true in the visible reality did not have to be so in a picture.
Soon they learned to use oil paints, which offered them new opportunities of expression. They were fascinated by a painting style oriented towards the precision of photography. With inexhaustible discipline and hard work, they attempted to parallel photography accurately.
Before finishing their studies in Nürtingen, they heard of Düsseldorf Academy as a mecca of art. They immediately travelled through Germany, visiting academies in Munich, Dresden and Hamburg. When they eventually saw the buildings of Düsseldorf Academy, they were immediately excited and were fortunate to be accepted there together. Their professor there, Udo Dziersk, took one of their representation of branches and simply turned it on its head. “That’s not correct,” they replied appalled. “The branches didn’t grow that way around.” “What does the viewer care for the branches that inspired this picture?” countered Dziersk. More important is that the picture is right as a picture. From discussion to discussion, the young painters’ awareness was altered. Naturalistic representations increasingly melted together with surreal elements, such as a rock from which a ray of light broke forth.
After a year, they switched to the class of Herbert Brandl. Marina explained to him in great detail a painting in which the wind swept across a field to be caught in a hollow tree trunk. She had spent a long time studying the refraction of light on grass in order to represent it as realistically as possible. Then she spoke of time, destruction and faith. “But I don’t see that,” replied Brandl. He considered it an accomplished picture of wind in which he could almost see and feel it. He wanted to know how she could speak of content which couldn’t be seen. First it hurt, then the realisation grew that the literal had no place in her paintings.
Since childhood, the sisters had planned, discussed and painted everything together, but always on their own surfaces. The surprising solution to a problem of representation was to bring both painters even closer together. Irina had painted an upside-down tree in the snow with its roots burning against the light of a low-hanging sun. However, despite the detailed advice of her sister, she was, as was so often the case, unable to manage a shadow. Out of desperation, she eventually asked her sister to paint it for her. Marina painted it exactly how Irina had imagined it. Wouldn’t it make more sense to paint together? Then one could compensate for the weaknesses of the other. They tried it out and have remained doing so since.
Soon they discovered glaze painting, which they improved bit by bit until the results were only possible with four hands and two heads. They had found that which met their need for precision, planability and concomitant emotional depth. Within a year had narrative disappeared from their pictures, which became flatter and more abstract. Light increasingly became the main subject and theme: light originating from endless depths, creating atmosphere and with it moods – light rings, light lines. The multi-layered composition of colour breaks through the actual two-dimensionality of paint, creating unfathomable depth. The viewer is captured by light while simultaneously pulled into the depths of the picture.
The memories of the landscapes of their childhood transformed into discrete painting. The pictures by Irina and Marina Fabrizius no longer reference the sun as a natural source of light, but hold instead an inner light, whose energy feeds wholly upon painting. It is the power of art which fulfils us when we stand opposite these pictures, filling us with their light, transporting us into moods, to be strengthened by them.