Night Thoughts, Emma Kohlmann’s third solo exhibition with V1 Gallery, presents a sequence of 30 new figurative paintings, including her largest canvas to date. During the last decade, Kohlmann has developed a distinct visual universe, easily recognizable for its amorphous figures. Rendered in an evocative color scheme and framed in pyrographed cherry wood frames, her signature style has now settled into an almost naïve, folksy symbolism.

As the title – taken from Edward Young’s 1797 poem illustrated by William Blake in a swirl of airy angels – suggests, Kohlmann’s paintings are carved out of her dreamscapes, painted in spontaneity at dawn. Some resemble mad fairytales, others elegant nightmares. The same hybrid figures appear in Kohlmann’s paintings again and again: bodies turn into candelabras, heads unfurl wings, a tailless cow acts as shelter, and women grow leaves as limbs. Strange in a way that only Kohlmann can do. Some seem to pause in the middle of sexual acts, looking unperturbedly back at the viewer, while others simply rest and huddle together inside giant leaves.

In three smaller interior paintings, Kohlmann’s fig ures peer out from their cells. The figures’ solitude stems not only from the confines of the frame, or the frames within the frame, the windows, or the color fields, which the figures bend and adjust to – typical of Kohlmann’s works – but also from being trapped in one’s own being. With her palette of burnt oranges, chartreuse greens, blushy reds, midnight blues, dusty pinks and purples, Kohlmann herself has described the interior paintings as color samples, a desire to set the right mood or intention, but she rarely lets go of figuration. In these paintings, where outer landscapes meet inner, the figures blend into their surroundings. Kohlmann’s symbolism moves seamlessly between the literal and the metaphorical, the dream and the world as we know it. In the painting Found my Shadow Self Reaching over Me (2021), a figure reaches its arm above its head, the shadow self comically literalized as the arm of the figure. To stress its immaterial nature, Kohlmann runs the blue color of the skies right through the energetic head figure, welcomed by three winged creatures who are just as substantial, just as “real,” as the figure.

Like the anthropomorphic flowers and multiplying cocoon-heads, Kohlmann is bound to the way the natural world works in cycles, a theme she further pursues in the otherworldly Genesis-image Familial Plant. “Plant life forces are like people. They have souls like we do. Just enacted in different ways,” as the artist says. Night Thoughts is a joyful meeting with the natural world living a fantasy.

Text by Assistant Director of V1 Gallery, Amanda Færk