Janaina Tschäpe’s Journey from Painting to Performance and Back Again

These newest paintings represent a shift: For years, Tschäpe has worked with a larger range of media—watercolor, crayon, and colored pencil—that resulted in many smaller, drawing-like marks, even on her largest canvases. This time, she limited herself to oil paint and oil stick, though she does not consider it a constraint. “I see it rather as an opening, because you obviously can create more layers,” she said, acknowledging the freedom that comes with oil’s slow-to-dry lushness. “With paintings, every time you put yourself into a more challenging place, you’re opening up more doors to create new dialogues.”

Tschäpe was born in Munich in 1973 to a German father and a Brazilian mother who longed to return to Brazil. The artist’s name, Janaina, means “mother of fish” and reminded her mother of her homeland’s ocean shores. Tschäpe, who has painted since childhood, grew up primarily in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, but returned to Germany and attended art school in Hamburg in the 1990s. It was a fraught time for young female painters in a country where the giants who had established themselves in the previous decade—Georg Baselitz, Sigmar Polke, and Martin Kippenberger—still reigned.