My brush-swinging heroes (Q&A part 7)
“Who are the artists that most inspire you and your work and why?” –Roxanne
The thing that inspires me the most in someone else’s art is a deep sense of authenticity. When I look at this type of art I feel an honesty radiating from it that is simultaneously humble and confident. Art like that has the ability to pull me far into its depths and therefore further into my own inner world.
Naming some concrete examples, I have to start with the master of paint himself: Rembrandt van Rijn. If I had just one choice, I would always come back to him. What is it about this dude from 17th century Holland that captivates so many people? Besides the obvious technical mastery, I find my attraction to his work rooted far deeper: it has to do with his portrayal of people. Either in his historical works, such as Lucretia, his commissioned portraits or his self-portraits, in all of them I sense this deep understanding of what it means to be human. If there is one thing I truly dislike, it is the notion of “the suffering artist”. Nevertheless I think Rembrandt’s genius lies in his recording of all the complex layer that are wrapped up in the package that we call a human being. He portrays, in the most beautiful way possible, faces in which we can find a piece of our selves; pieces of suffering, of doubt, of pride and happiness, yet, nothing is crass. Everything is oblique. It’s almost like he took the formal aspects of his work as a non-chalant pretense to hide a piece of universal truth.
Another reason why I admire his work so much is his way of handling paint. In a Rembrandt painting, paint is allowed to remain paint. He doesn’t spend time blending the colored goop into oblivion. It remains what it is and still transforms into something bigger than itself. This is, by the way, the reason why I think hand-crafted objects hold, for the lack of a better word, magical powers. In the case of a painting, colored mud that’s been pushed around long enough on a blank surface gradually turns into an image. The paint’s very own essence expands into something new, something larger than it was, which if you think about it, is truly miraculous. The tremendous accomplishment of a Rembrandt painting is that he manages to leave his paintings in the perfect balance of paint as paint and paint as illusion. It is the ultimate symbolic transformation.
Going back to the sense of authenticity that I mentioned before I would like to share one of the few quotes attributed to Rembrandt. “Practice what you know, and it will help to make clear what now you do not know.” Honestly, that’s where I think his and any other great artist’s brilliance lies, in the ability to patiently stay with the familiar until you see more and more and more in it.
Q&A with Carolin Part 3
So here is a goodie asked by Brett Craig: “Do you like to portray some message in your paintings? Or are you inspired by something spiritual, emotional or philosophical when you paint?”
The main motivation behind any of my work is hands-down the intense sense of awe I have for life. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been completely enthralled by the mysterious strangeness and beauty of this peculiar place we find ourselves. It begins with having been completely immersed in nature’s grandeur while growing up amongst the fields and forests of the German landscape; it carries all the way over to being fascinated with the complexity of the human psyche. This sense of wonder is integral to who I am and I believe this element is what nudged me to become an artist.
I look at the times we live in as a challenge to the open-hearted souls who suffer from the dominant mechanistic, functionalistic and therefore demystified way of perceiving this world. In humanity’s brilliant effort to establish the laws of logic, and make way for the Age of Enlightenment, many things that made life worth living got tossed out of the window as well. Wonder was one of the biggest sacrifices. By solely relying on analytical explanations of the world as we navigate daily life, we miss the opportunity to live and experience it through our personal lens; I believe this lense is the whole point of us being here. Wonder is YOUR gateway to life because once you indulge that sense of wonder, that which holds meaning for you will come forth. The real trick is to hang out with wonder for a minute or so and listen to what it whispers into your ear.
To bring it back to your question about my art in particular: yes, I am inspired by the spirit of life itself! I see it in so many facets. I see it in the ripe fruit of our back yard trees, in the weary eyes of a young adult trying to find his/her way, in the atmosphere of the evening after the sun has set and in the complexity of our interactions with each other and ourselves.
If there is a message, I hope it is: “Look! Wake up! Isn’t it strange? Isn’t it marvelous? What will you do with all of this at your fingertips?”
Q&A with Carolin Part II
Here we are at question number 2 from my recent “send me your questions ”campaign. This one is from my mom, Gabriele Peters: “How do you arrive at your images? Do they grow gradually inside of you or do you suddenly have an idea that you then realize? You once mentioned to me that some images develop only once you are in the act of painting, so how does that figure into it?”
The question of process is an interesting one, especially when zooming in on the phase of inspiration and/or incubation. For me, there are many different ways of how I get to an image that needs to see itself painted. I have to disappoint right off the bat any hopes of hearing that I actually sit down and then -with much grunt-work- construct a worthy idea in my head, which is then to be painted. No, not at all! Interestingly, all of the imagery I paint has its origin in my subconscious- that is to say, it emerges through me and not from me. How is that for woo woo-talk?!
Essentially, that can mean either one of the following scenarios: I go through my daily life and seemingly at random, keep hearing or seeing something that sticks to me like a piece of gum to the bottom of my shoe. Eventually when it becomes blatant that this is something to be paid attention to, I will sit down and either write or doodle a note to myself in my sketchbook. Seriously, this is not an elaborate process at all. To quote one of these brilliant entries: “Silhouettes, evening sky, colors behind”… um, yeah…
If after not attending to it for a while it still “bugs” me, then I will actually sit down and start to develop that raw nugget into something more fully formed. (The previously mentioned excerpt didn’t make the cut, by the way, or at least not yet.)
Other times when I feel like I have nothing going on, I will just sit down and doodle. I usually do this with a ballpoint pen and no, brilliant imagery doesn’t just burst out of its tip right away. It often starts with circles, drop-shapes, scribbles and the like. I will also occasionally copy parts from photographs that intrigue me. Eventually during this process of nonsensical mark-making, an image pops in and out of my mind and that’s my queue to investigate that specific thing. It may lead me to somewhere completely different or grow itself into a piece that is very unlike its origin. The famous choreographer, Twyla Tharp, calls this the “scratching phase”. Not all of these scratching sessions are fruitful, but if they are I will take the hard won fruit and apply my formal knowledge of composition and arrange all the shapes until I have a successful whole. Right after grad-school I had a pretty blazing case of painters-block and I got over it by doing this scratching process in paint. I’d simply pick my favorite tube of paint for the day and push it around on canvas scraps until I started seeing something in it; from this, I was given an entire string of images which are now taking shape in my “The Journey” series.
Last but not least, I would like to mention the importance of remaining open during the painting process. Just because I may have a carefully designed sketch as my road map, doesn’t mean that along the way another far more appealing solution isn’t going to offer itself to me. What a fool I’d be to pass these gems up! “Creativity begets creativity” my dear friend Laura always harps on and on, so I’ve learned to listen. The deeper I am in the creating process the more powerful my choices are.
You can’t think your way into art, you do your way into art. So I do, and hopefully with an open heart, ears and eyes J