In 2006, Tomma Abts was the first female painter ever to win the renowned Turner Prize, which is worth around 37,000 euros. She is the second female artist to have been able to assert herself against the male competitors for Britain's most prestigious art prize, which has been awarded on an annual basis since 1984.
Each picture begins in its own way, and I never know where it's leading to or what the painting will eventually look like. – Tomma Abts
Public interest in the prize winner and the increasing number of her works that are sold has not resulted in Tomma Abts changing her style, her slow manner of ever-recurring challenge and reconsideration. This means that she sometimes paints no more than 10 pictures a year.
Born in Kiel in 1967, the artist initially went to London in 1995 to spend a year there with a DAAD scholarship. However, she stayed in the capital, where she has lived and worked ever since. Tomma Abts studied visual communication at the Berlin University of the Arts, and today she paints abstract pictures, always in the same classical portrait format of 48 x 38 centimetres. In interviews, the artist describes her work as follows: she begins without a concrete idea and has no preconceived plan of the final result.
Tomma Abts gradually adds geometric figures to her canvas in various layers of colours: circles, triangles, lines – mostly in acrylic and oil paint. "The actual shape symbolises nothing, nor does it describe anything outside the picture, often each shape stands alone," explains Abts. She often spends years working on her "concentrates", as she herself describes them. Often, large parts of her works remain covered by the overlying layers of paint and only upon closer inspection is it possible to perceive how much work was actually put in below the mostly pale surface. Her works bear names such as Lübbe or Epko – all names taken from a Friesian dictionary. Tomma Abts does this to personalise her paintings, causing the mere image to extend into another dimension.
In 2008, Tomma Abts presented a major solo exhibition in the New Museum in New York, for which a monograph of her previous work was published in Berlin by Phaidon. German exhibitions followed in Berlin and Düsseldorf.