Looking Past The Art: The Reasons Behind The Reasons

When I was in art school, there was a girl in my class who would only bring paintings of bell peppers to critique. It was through her that I discovered that my interest in painting was not so much what was being painted, but why: it is the reason behind the process (much more than the product of the action) where I think we often find the ‘meaning’ in a work of art. I was reminded once again of this lesson when I reached the second floor of Akademie für Malerei Berlin, when a nostalgic train of thoughts from art school crashed into my mind. Ute Wöllmann, founder and professor at the Akademie, and three of her past students had been waiting for me; their work already hanging up for presentation on the white walls or delicately placed upon a table.

It was critique day all over again—those usually dreaded deadlines when students must present their work in front of their peers and act the role of an artist as best they can. Wöllmann would later reveal that they do in fact hold these critiques/presentations at the Akademie throughout the year, where not only student peers but also the general public are welcomed to come and engage with the artists presenting their work. On this occasion, however, there were only three presenters – Reglinde Rauskolb, Anja Sieber and Birgit Ginkel (a fourth, Judith Hellwig, would later catch up with me via e-mail) – and one attendee, myself. For the second consecutive time in its eight year history, the Akademie für Malerei will be exhibiting at the Preview Berlin Art Fair and Artparasites had the chance to meet these artists for an inside scoop.

Of Actions And Reactions

I was quickly struck by the repetitive use of the word “destroy” during my conversation with Reglinde Rauskolb. Her paintings, layers upon layers of oil paint built up over a period of years, first appeared to me as pieces of wallpapered skin: I could see an epidermis of ultramarine blue right atop a dermis of cobalt. She often returns to works in progress (still drying) and, out of dissatisfaction or perhaps pleasure, “destroy” them. After she mentioned this, I could no longer see her paintings as wallpapered skin but rather as scars on the wall.

Detail from the layered paintings of Reglinda Rauskolb. Photo: Chris Phillips

The paintings that were now before me had taken two, three, and sometimes four years to achieve their current state. Rauskolb seems to have a fascination – perhaps also a vendetta – with time. “I want to build up the picture and then I want to destroy it,” she casually tells me. Surprisingly, before coming to study at the University and meeting Wöllmann in 2008, her focus had been strictly tied to classical nude drawings (an interest she had kept for more than a decade); evidently, she has found a creative process that is much more visceral, malleable and free through the use of paint. She shares with me that, without a doubt, the process is more important than the product for her – she’s aware that these are ‘ugly’ paintings, as she doesn’t want to produce decorative artwork. Rest assured, her paintings will continue to change, be destroyed, rebuilt and destroyed again until someone takes them away from her hands.

"Gates of Hell, Transcript of Dante's Divine Comedy" by Anja Sieber. Photo: Bernd Borchardt, Berlin

In a similar mix of time and passions, Anja Sieber fuses her love for writing and painting in her work. Being a journalist and writer for a great part of her life, words still find ways to crawl back into her aesthetic practice. With a self-invented technique in which she—nevermind (she asked me not to reveal this secret). Ultimately, Sieber creates word puzzles with paint, acrylic glue and paper that later get assembled on odd substrates. In the room where we met, for example, she had her pieces hanging from fishing lines, resembling a baby mobile. The result of her assemblages are often chimeras that look like paintings, sculptures and manuscripts all at once. She shares with Rauskolb the importance process has in her work, a feeling also expressed by Judith Hellwig who, in an e-mail conversation, shared with me a phrase by Lucian Freud: “Sometimes I don’t know who is painting; do I paint the picture or does the picture paint me?”

"Un-cut" by Judith Hellwig; acrylic, insulation foam & caparol. Photo courtesy of the artist

Hellwig describes her process as a conversation. She begins the dialog and the material follows – agreeing but often contradicting her at times. Reaction, she says, is equally as important as the action in her paintings. “I am of the opinion that who I am, what I do and how I act in society all belongs together.” She feels that art and life are inseparable and attempts to incorporate this into her work.

"Every Wall is a Door" by Birgit Ginkel. Photo: Chris Phillips

Equally inseparable from life is the work of Birgit Ginkel, who is interested in bringing things back to a second life. Her eggshell pieces, titled Every Wall is a Door, reflect this. She has covered the outside of the eggshells with historical dirt, whether dust from the Berlin wall or brown coal from Brandenburg, where she resides. In stark contrast, the inside of these shells are covered with copper, silver, or gold leaf, creating a tension between the preciousness/expense of the materials and the fragility of the surface in which they rest. But what struck me the most from our conversation—and where she deviates from her peers in the room—is that her work focuses away from destruction and more towards the act of healing (herself and those who experience her work).

“One of my fathers of art is Beuys – if you look long enough at his works, you feel better,” Ginkel tells me. Similarly to Beuys, she seeks to transform the energy of materials and words into physical energy. Near the end of our conversation, she reveals to me the loss of her son, which in turn inspired her much of her incentive to heal through art. At this point, I did not seek to ask further questions; the reasons behind her reasons became clear to me. Whether oil paint, texts from literature, insulation foam, eggshells (or bell peppers), the subject matter and materials artists use are only but a means towards a greater end; whether to resolve or to question; whether to create or to destroy.

Article by Jovanny Varela-Ferreyra