artist statement 

A matter of perspective 

For me, the evolution of visual arts is fascinating. For thousands of years painting and sculpture primarily tried to show reality and, by doing so, tried to conserve it. These works of art wanted to save images and forms from the merciless passing of time and preserve them for posterity. "Look, this was part of my world! And I give you this work of art so that you can perceive it, too."

Portraitists captured the appearance of persons, landscapists the peculiarity of a landscape, and so on. Of course, there were embellishments of the person portrayed. Of course, a landscape could be modified and beautified. And of course, there was religious art and painters like Hieronymus Bosch whose works didn't show any "reality" but a fantasy that existed in the mind of the artist.

All this went on for thousands of years. And then … someone invented photography. And then … someone invented moving pictures, i.e. film. And for me, the most amazing fact is that the visual arts survived these revolutions. And more: They began to blossom and bloom.

Visual arts shifted from the more or less exact depiction of the world around us to the impression this world made on the artist. And they called it impressionism.

Works of art became increasingly subjective and found more ways to deconstruct and reconstruct reality. They cut the world apart into little building blocks and put them together again in new, surprising, unsettling forms. And they called it expressionism.

Also, the newest of these mediums, film, began as a spectacular means to capture and conserve reality. And only later this moving depiction of the world was used to transform and subjectify what was going on in the first place.

I have written this micro-history of art to clarify what attracted me to the world of art. It is, in a few words, the possibility to transform the world around me according to my experiences, my mood, my impressions. For me, a mere depiction of what "there is" never seemed sufficiently attractive.

Let me exemplify this with one of my paintings. This photograph shows Juliette Manet, the daughter of Eugène Manet and Berthe Morisot. It was taken in 1893 when she was fifteen years old.

I used this photo as a template for my painting of her (120 x 90 cm, on paper )

It's evident that my goal was not to "copy" the photo but to imbue it with my highly personal view of her - or rather, with aspects of myself. To understand my portrait of Juliette, let me tell you something about my past.

I was born in 1974, in communist East Germany. For me, as a little girl, the world was a variation of black and grey, the people seemed pale; there was a leaden dullness in the air. Traces of this appear here. I transformed the white dress to dark green, the lower part of it drowning in black. The face becomes exceedingly pale, and the countenance, along with the heightened forehead gives the vague impression of melancholy. It still is, in a way, a portrait of Juliette Manet. But - moving away from the photo and from reality – it's also a portrait of me. To quote Oscar Wilde: "Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter." (from The Picture of Dorian Gray).

My paintings are highly personal, so it should be clear that portraits of women belong to my favorite themes. So let me show you another one. The painting is called "Maria from the Slovak Mountains" (40 x 60 cm tempera colors on whitened paper)

It's evident that the woman I painted here is in a state of rapture. Shortly before I myself had experienced this kind of rapture while listening to the ballet music "Romeo and Julia" by Sergei Prokofiev. Being completely overwhelmed by those wonderful tunes I thought of something I had read in Leo Tolstoy's book What Is Art? (Что такое искусство?), published in 1897. He writes: "Art is the activity by which a person, having experienced an emotion, intentionally transmits it to others." This was exactly what I wanted to achieve with this painting: to distill and transfer my rapture (produced by Prokofiev's music) into a painting. I tried to paint it fast, without thinking, to stay on a purely emotional level.

Of course, this transmission of emotions is a highly personal affair. Tolstoy detested the later works of Beethoven and the operas of Wagner, whereas most people are touched deeply by this music. So what touches one person may not affect another. But this, of course, doesn't make art any less powerful and valuable.

Before showing you my next works, I have to tell you a bit more about my development as an artist. My grandfather was a sculptor, and my mother was an artist in interior design. My mother was "special" (to say the least) and lived out her artistic nature through extravagant dresses. And since a close friend of hers worked at the famous costume rental "Felix" in Leipzig, she gave me 19th-century dresses to wear in school. Because of that, I was bullied by my classmates and felt that I did not belong. So at that time I never thought of becoming an artist. I just wanted to become normal.

My first intense contact with art came at the age of 14. I became a member of a theatre group. After a short time, I was not only acting on stage, but was also responsible for costumes and stage design, and often I was managing the whole performance.

After acting there came the world of painting and this I owe to the wonderful Herr Graef. This elderly opera singer and poet lived in the same house as me. He gave me the pencils and easel of his aunt who had been a well-known painter. So I began to paint and at the same time, I acted in my theatre group. And of course, I asked myself: What should I devote my life to? Should I paint or act? The director of my theatre advised me to paint. He took me to Bruno, one of his painter friends who had a spectacular studio in a castle. Then it was clear: I would become a full-time painter.

Nevertheless, the theatre still interested me, and, among other books, I read Martin Esslin's The Theatre of the Absurd, his ground-breaking work from 1961. One of the many sentences I underlined in red was:

"The Theatre of the Absurd has renounced arguing about the absurdity of the human condition; it merely presents it in being -- that is, in terms of concrete stage images. This is the difference between the approach of the philosopher and that of the poet."

I thought: Exactly this was also the difference between the philosopher and the artist! An artist doesn't theorize about the human condition (which, to me, seemed very absurd, indeed) but presents concrete images which talk for themselves.

And no, I am not a philosopher. I do not write essays about the state of the world and the human condition. But, as an artist, I create images. And for me one way to do that is photography.

Below you see a photo I took in Iceland.

A misty background, a grazing horse, a cemetery, a Christmas tree. This photo is neither arranged nor edited. It shows "what is there". And yet, at the same time, there is something unreal about it. Everything is vague, uncertain, and open to an infinite number of interpretations. And this is life. This is the poetic ambiguity I was striving for.

This ambiguity, the impossibility to perceive and know anything for certain, is a recurring theme of my works.

Already in the paintings of the Renaissance, the technique of sfumato was used to blur things, to soften the transition between objects and colors. Leonardo da Vinci described sfumato as "without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke". As a great admirer of the works of Da Vinci, Correggio, and Raphael who applied this technique, these artists were my inspiration to incorporate "smoke" in my photography. That's why I love to take photos in misty surroundings, like this one.

At first glance, it's a misty landscape. But one can't help but notice that there's more to it. Again it is this "poetry of the vague and unclear" that I love so much.

At first glance, it's a misty landscape. But one can't help but notice that there's more to it. Again it is this "poetry of the vague and unclear" that I love so much.

This love also extends to my videos. Here is a freeze frame of my video "Woman in front of an Easel".

Accompanied by music, a woman is moving in front of an easel. Is she old, is she young, is she an artist, what is she doing anyway? All this is not really important because also this, for me, is a statement about the human condition.

To better understand this, I should add that the video was inspired by the sentences of another favorite author of mine, Albert Camus. In The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays he writes: "At certain moments of lucidity, the mechanical aspect of men's gestures, their meaningless pantomime makes silly everything that surrounds them. A man is talking on the telephone behind a glass partition; you cannot hear him, but you see his incomprehensible dumb show: you wonder why he is alive."

So, what art does in this case is to take away or impair parts of our perception. In the case of the man on the telephone, it's his speech that's missing. In my video, it's the clarity of view. But by this impairment, you might perceive something else, something unusual and extraordinary.

So, in conclusion, what is art for me? What do I want to achieve with it? Yes, art for me is a means to transmit emotions of any kind. But that's not all. Art can also open and enhance our senses so that we perceive the world from different perspectives. And, what's more, art can give us new, intuitive insights into the endless mysteries and wonders of our existence.