I meet illustrator Katrin Hagen, aka Mischief Champion. Despite having "mischief" in her moniker, she comes across as incredibly shy (or as she says, “awkward” – one of her favorite adjectives) despite a mischievous twinkle in her eye. I ask where her Mischief Champion tag came from. She explains, “It was when I was living in New Zealand. We [Katrin and her pals] were all out to dinner and there was this eccentric kind of town character who came up to our table and said 'Ah, well you're a bunch of mischief champions!' and just walked away. We were so amazed by that coupling of words, I would never have come up with it!”
Drawn to Berlin
Originally from South Africa, Katrin also lived in New Zealand for nine years, and it was there that she went to university to pursue art. Despite this clear goal, her end vision wasn't always apparent, “I did fine arts but I wasn't really making art. I got all confused by conceptual art for a while, and I think it was just a sign I didn't know what I wanted to do.” I express my gladness that she didn't go down this route (call me ignorant but I just don't "get" a lot of conceptual art), and she agrees, “Yeah I think I would have been a terrible conceptual artist.”
Far from conceptual art, Katrin does hilarious, intricate and realistic illustrations of relatable life experiences. She came to Berlin to illustrate because “I love doing my own stuff, and I though I should probably do it before I turn one hundred! I think Berlin just lends itself to that kind of energy and there seems to be lots of people trying things out just to see if they can do it.” Indeed. Asking what she thinks of that famous NY Times article, she replies “I totally agree with it, it's definitely a bittersweet lifestyle. I think having said all that about Berlin, I definitely think that the city has a shelf life, which is unfortunate for people who have lived here for generations.”
Initially visiting the city with her German mother, Katrin has now lived in Berlin for nearly three years. One of her latest projects is illustrating a book called "What I Know About Germans," based on this blog post on wesbite Überlin. She elaborates, “One of the points is that Germans are always prepared for the rain, another is Germans can drink, not because they're alcoholics but because they've been given the permission to drink from 16! I attempted to do one 'Germans worship wurst' but it didn't turn out that well because I tried to get a bit too geeky on it: I drew a bunch of chromosomes in the shape of sausages but I think unfortunately it was a bit too obscure so I have to re-do it.”
Best of the Wurst
I agree that the German obsession with wurst is extreme, and recall seeing disturbing sausages in jars in my local Deutsche supermarket. I ask if she has dared tried any, to which she replies “Only when I hit rock bottom.” I couldn't agree more. This would make a good illustration though, as most of Katrin's work is “poking fun at life's absurdities because a lot of things out there are super depressing. I think if one can laugh about it, it makes things slightly easier or more palatable.”
Her comical animal sketches definitely achieve this laughter, and I ask why she uses animals instead of humans. She answers, “I don't have an animal in mind and then come up with the idea, it's usually the idea and then the vehicle I can use to carry the idea. It tends to be animals because I think if one uses humans, one can try and think of them in terms of their own life. Animals are easier to carry the joke.” A fair point. The inclusion of animals in Katrin's work also adds another level of cuteness which appeals to many animal lovers and counterbalances the grim realities that the work is often humorously depicting.
Asked which animal is her favorite, she replies “The ones with the long noses – shrews? They look super bewildered.” I can't help but laugh, the artist herself quite timid and mouse-like. Choosing what animal she would actually like to be, however, she says, “One that doesn't get killed so easily – maybe some kind of mountain cat, a snow leopard.”
Given the current weather I don't blame her. Asking what is in store for this mischievous champion in the future, she is elusive but assures me she will carry on her drawing, which no doubt will please animal and drawing fans the whole of Germany over.
- Mischief Champion – Signed digital prints available from €15
Article by Marie J Burrows