Hello, Anne. Can you introduce yourself and what you do?
My name is Anne Wölk, and I am a visual artist based in Berlin. I paint a fantastical interpretation of nature, in which Romanticism and utopia are perceptible at the same time. Most of my works refer to science fiction movies and novels.
My subject matter is driven by my fascination for outer space exploration and the search for life on other planets.
Next to science fiction, I am also conceptually inspired by scientific investigations about new colonies on possible life-friendly planets. In this context, some of my works are intended to address the power structure of who will have access to a potential Planet B.
The utopia of the imagined alternative living ground brings up the question: What will our habitat look like on other planets?
When you see my paintings for the first time in an exhibition, you can see that the motives are multilayered narrations that are comparable to cinematic sceneries. Involved in the society of digital culture, I am altering film stills and photographs of the Hubble Space Telescope into my motifs. Caused by its reference, my later artworks inevitably appear futuristic.
If you take a closer look at my paintings, you will discover detailed mountain landscapes with horizons of mesmerizing deep blue color, which might look like extraterrestrial terrain. Dreamlike artificial light floats in the picture space, leading into the emptiness of a virtual vacuum. It is an attempt to redefine the genre of landscape painting through the conceptional use of bright screen colors. During the painting process, I always try to reinvent myself as an artist and to break new ground.
We have read that you were affected by your grandfather’s drawings in early childhood, and you grew up obsessively drawing in little black books. Do you think that your creativity comes from your genes?
The origin and reason for becoming an artist represent, for me, an ongoing mysterious connection with the blurred past. Honestly, I think that creativity is more often stimulated by positive role models than determined solely by genes.
My grandfather came from Kaliningrad and could draw very well from his memory. After World War II, he was banned from his home city for the remainder of his life. As an ambitious draftsman, his portraits were full of baltic Romanticism and melancholy. He spoke with deep regret about the German guilt and the great displacement concerning Königsberg and its transformation into Kaliningrad.
Königsberg became a kind of a myth after 1945 and a so-called German Atlantis in the sense of a fabled, unreachable city. My grandfather’s life was, like the lives of most of his peers, characterised by violence. Born premature and out of wedlock, he was forced to fight his way up to survive. As a young adult, he became the welterweight champion of East Prussia and was later given the title of an army officer. He eventually ended up as a ‘responsible’ police officer in the GDR.
I personally think that drawing was, for him, a type of therapy to calm down and to respond to his physical and psychological transitions caused by his traumas.
When I visited him, we sketched and painted together in a room in his apartment. He looked at everything and commented critically; he occasionally corrected elements of my early humble attempts. He preferred to draw male heads, and I tried to imitate him. I can especially remember situations in which he found my way of drawing noses unacceptable and asked me to take a closer look.
I think that looking at the details and at the underneath levels of things is an essential piece of advice for any artist. Until today, I keep a sketchbook with me, and I use it as a kind of diary and as an item to save and collect ideas for later paintings.
Sure, I believe everyone should follow what makes them happy. Did you always know what career you would like to have? How and when did you realize that you wanted nothing else but to become a painter & what was your creative path from the very beginning?
At the beginning of my development, I dealt a lot with Russian and Baltic landscape painting. I’ve always enjoyed drawing birch trees and have loved them for their cool and beautiful elegance. Next to that, I was eager to learn to do portraits, and I trained to draw as precisely as possible from memory. In terms of artistic background, I enjoyed drawing and painting since I was very young, and my family was supportive of my interest.
At the age of 14, I met my first real painter, who was a local artist with a degree from the Academy of Fine Arts Dresden. He was the founder of a small private art school, which was connected to a large work studio. It was not a classic school but rather a starting point for aspiring artist personalities. Very often, primitive feedback sessions developed into troubled talks about God in the world until late at night.
During this time, I painted my first large scale artwork, which was later exhibited in a small gallery space at the ‘Haus of the Mauer’ in Jena.
After a certain period, I had tons of drawings and paintings that included portraits of friends and family members, as well as forest landscapes.
By the way, at that time, I had already done some early starscapes, but I did not dare to put ‘space pictures’ in my portfolio.
My teacher always told me that the representation of saddles in the universe are tourist topics and are made by unemployed Russian propaganda painters.
With a ‘mindful’ selection of my early artworks, I passed the entrance exam in the painting department at the Art College Burg Giebichstein Halle one and a half years before I made my A-level exam in high school. I think it was the result of an early career decision.
At the age of 15, I already knew that I wanted nothing else but to become a painter, and I could not see any other future possibilities for me.
During this time, I was also an active member of the Writers Corner of the Kassablanca Youth Club. We exchanged information about current trends in the German graffiti scene and spent a lot of time drawing styles and characters with Copic Markers inside our black books, another name for sketchbooks.
How the teenage girl from the countryside decided to choose education at the University of Fine Arts Berlin-Weissensee?
When I applied to the University of Art and Design in Halle, I was particularly impressed by the romantic Ruine Castle on the main campus. I found the courtyard particularly beautiful, with its pavilion overgrown with roses. It was a shelter in the form of refuge for yearning souls that had little to do with the real world outside.
Young and naive, I had no idea what the Zeitgeist of Contemporary Art was and which teaching concept was actually happening in the painting class of the ‘castle.’
I started my education in the class of Ute Pleuger, a Berlin-based conceptual painter with a focus on architecture. As a teacher, she embodied a cool, analytical, and intellectual mind. The German conceptual painter Beate Spalthoff was also teaching at that time in Halle, and she infected me with her enthusiasm for the painter Luc Tuymans. I studied his work for many years and wrote about one of his series in my written diploma thesis.
Even today, I still enjoy looking at his paintings in exhibitions whenever I get the opportunity.
His unique approach of translating photography into a painted language fascinates me. Tuymans never paints on a picture for more than a day, and he puts all compositional elements in one layer of color, similar to the method of prima painting.
Unlike him, I prefer a long process of adding thin color glazes layer by layer. It takes a long time and often lasts for several weeks or even months.
Three years living in Halle and following the path of formalism and conceptual art were enough for me, and I decided to complete my education at the Academy of Art and Design in the capital of Germany. As a student of Katharina Grosse in Berlin, I have enjoyed being part of a group of international students from a variety of different artistic approaches and concepts. I have learned that color knows no boundaries and can connect different spaces inside and outside of exhibition space. I naturally encountered the concept that a painting can land on any two- or three-dimensional object.
Suddenly, I was surrounded by international art deputies, and everything felt like the big wide world. During this time, we, as her students, took a two-week-long class trip with her to Japan and visited temples (like Ise Grand Shrine), museums, galleries, architects and artists, Kyoto, Tokyo, and the rural northern regions of Japan.
That sounds so inspiring! Am I right that you had the Erasmus exchange program at Chelsea College of Fine Art and Design (in London)? How would you compare these 2 experiences?
The Chelsea College of Art and Design was the partner school of the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weißensee, and I was able to do an exchange semester there without any problems. The art scene in London is much more international than in Germany, and the competition between graduates of the many art colleges is correspondingly tougher. Without a financial background, it is almost impossible to get a foothold in London.
I studied at the sculptor class at Chelsea and met many international artists. Gerald Wilson invited me to study in his class; I learned many new aspects of negative forms and the impact of objects and their volume in space.
At that time, the British artist Rachel Whiteread had a comprehensive solo exhibition in London that we have visited with Gerald’s class. Whiteread’s installations deal with the investigation of cavities. For example, the artist reproduces the space under a table. In that way, Rachel Whiteread shows the displacement of the table legs in space as a negative footprint. Her sculptural work shows the difficulty that we have, when we think of space only as a thing, and not so much as airspace.
I felt welcome everywhere in London and had several exhibitions there. As a student, I was enormously supported and brought together with professionals from the art world. I suspect it has to do with the fact that most international students at Chelsea College have to pay a lot of money to get their education. For the teaching artists, it feels natural to feel the obligation to connect the students with a high-quality and sensible network of galleries and museums.
Speaking of them, when did you have your very first exhibition?
I had my first exhibition while studying painting at the Burg Giebichstein Halle. I won first place for painting at the 9th national state exhibition of Thuringia, Erfurt. The opening was the first month of my freshman year and was held at the University of Erfurt.
And how old were you when your paintings were sold for the very first time? Did this sale boost your future career?
A professor from the university in Erfurt bought the artwork with which I had previously won the 9th national state exhibition of Thuringia, in 2001.
My painting Dog girl (2006) represented kind of a breakthrough for me. It was the first artwork of mine that was purchased by a museum, so it was then that I took my first steps into the international art world. A Berlin-based gallery showed two of my artworks at the Contemporary Istanbul Art Fair. On this occasion, the collector Can Elgiz bought one of my large-scale paintings for the Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art in Istanbul. It was one of those rare lucky moments during an artist’s career. It happened when I was a completely unknown 24-year-old student from a little-recognized East German art college with no degree at the time. The purchased painting was shown in several thematic group exhibitions next to artwork by famous artists Cindy Sherman, Tracey Emin, and Sarah Morris.
That’s a great success! What percentage of education, skills, hard work, contacts, and luck would you put into a formula for a successful career in your field?
The truth is that very few gallery owners are interested in your education or want to see your art college degree. They look for ‘fresh’ works and mostly only exhibit artists who have been recommended to them.
I personally trust my skill set and education, and do not want to miss it. Conceptual thinking and a commitment to painting craftsmanship are the main strengths of my artistic approach.
It is not easy to make it as an artist. It’s hard work and comparable to a marathon. The first step for me was to follow my passion and to master my painting skill set versus craftsmanship. You need to grow a network of friends and supporters within your art community. The trick is to become successful in doing what you love. I personally believe in hard work, but luck is also mandatory. You need to be ready and to have a consistent body of work when the opportunity comes along. The most important aspect for me is the advice to never stop studying and researching.
Today, I have learned a lot from the monochromatic night sky drawings of the American artist Vija Celmins. I find her quiet and precise work to be incredibly inspiring, deep, and complex. By studying her work, I realised that what we don’t understand, it forces us to take a closer look. Although I have studied with professors from the Western hemisphere, I still feel attracted to re-skilling, patience, and discipline. I see these strongly reflected in Celmin’s artistic approach.
Besides, I really admire the astronomical globes of Russel Crotty. He is an artist that is not known so much in Germany, but is quite popular for his drawings in his home country, the USA.
Being a full-time artist could be tough. What are the best lessons you had learned in your career, and what are your top three best resources that helped you grow in your career (websites, people, programs, etc.)?
From the beginning, I have received scholarships and small awards, such as the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes scholarship. Winning a scholarship was a stepping stone into the indispensable support system for artists. The money allowed me to travel and educate myself. This situation forced me to go out of my comfort zone and exposed me to different cultures, which helped me realise how diverse our world truly is.
My work was selected and shortlisted for several international competitions and scholarships.
The awards I received include the Alpine Fellowship grant at Aldourie Castle, Scotland, UK; a residency at Bodensee Art Fund; and an artist-in-residence grant in Goriska Brda, Slovenia, awarded by the German Embassy in Ljubljana. I have exhibited my works at international institutions, including the Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art, Istanbul, Turkey; the CICA Art Museum, South Korea; the Zeiss-Planetarium Berlin, Germany; the Accra Goethe-Institut Ghana, Ghana; and the Kyrgyz National Museum of Fine Arts, Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republik.
My paintings have been exhibited alongside the works of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Johannes Wohnseifer, Azade Köker, and Stephan Balkenhol. In 2011, I was selected for the Edition S 36 of DSV Kunst Kontor in Stuttgart. The Edition S 36 was a compilation of contemporary artworks, and it featured paintings of Jonathan Meese and Tim Eitel.
I have exhibited and sold on the international art markets, including the Swab Art Fair Barcelona, Spain; Viennafair, Vienna, Austria; KIAF Seoul, South Korea; and Contemporary Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey.
For a decade, I have been presenting my works in private gallery shows, including Galería Luis Adelantado, Valencia, Spain; Arebyte Gallery, London, UK; Galerie Wolfsen, Aalborg, Denmark; Pantocrator Gallery, Shanghai, China; Alfa Gallery, Miami, USA; and The Residence Gallery, London, UK.
In October 2013, I won the Category Award for the ArtPrize competition ‘Art Takes Paris’, presided by directors from The Andy Warhol Museum in New York, the Lisson Gallery, and the Marianne Boesky Gallery. In 2017, I was announced as the Showcase Juried Winner in the painting category of the 9th Artslant Prize. My painting Virtual Light was selected by a jury consisting of Natalia Zuluaga (artistic director of ArtCenter/South Florida), Nathaniel Hitchcock (co-organiser of the Bass Museum of Art), and Malose Malahela (co-founder of Keleketa! Library). Two years later, I have participated in the finalists’ exhibition of the art competition Art Revolution in Taipei, Taiwan.
Here are some pieces of advice that I found helpful: 1) Do not give up, and do not stop applying to support programs. Rejections are temporary; 2) You have to stick to clearly separated budgets, and you have to invest time, money, and effort into your career; 3) You need to have a website and a newsletter; 4) Keep your artist friends close to you. Support them whenever you can. They will do the same for you.
Super! We’ll write down these advices. For how many years have you been painting now, Anne? Have you found your personal painting language yet?
I’ve been painting and drawing since childhood. At the age of 15, I decided to pursue a professional career as an artist.
My recent body of work is the culmination of a long year of searching for my painting language. For many years, I have tried to confront my visual worlds with geometric forms and to interrupt the visual space.
Since 2017, I mainly deal with the representation of cosmic space and unimaginable distances like light-years. Stars that appear in my pictures as tiny little details represent, in reality, vast worlds in distant areas of space.
Can you tell us about your creative process?
I start a painting with a sketch. I carry out this preliminary drawing with black or white charcoal. When I work in a large format, I sometimes draw a grid to be able to transfer a cluster of stars more precisely. I always work on about three to five works of art at the same time.
My recent body of work reflects on the ambivalent appeal of LED neon light in our environment and the light fog driven by the advertising and tourism industry in the nocturnal landscape. The aesthetic of dystopian Hollywood blockbuster movies strongly influences the use of LED in colourful neon lights in our inner cities. Neon tubes are a symbol of the superior technology of a digital world.
For me, your artworks are vivid collages of geometric shapes and real objects, something between stars, science fiction, and abstract. When it comes to your paintings, what subjects/names/themes feed your inspiration?
My working method is characterized by the employment of collage techniques and the layering of landscapes with juxtaposed objects and playing with light. In this sense, I try to bring forward a fantastical interpretation of the current and future possibilities of civilized environments grounded in scientific discoveries.
The motifs are inspired by telescopic observations, and they illustrate a world of extraterritorial views.
Futuristic dystopias are very popular in our modern-day society. They describe a world of destroyed nature accompanied by dangerous climate change and humanity without hope. In particular, the genre of cyberpunk is a world characterized by dark scenes selectively illuminated by artificial neon light.
My recent body of work is characterized by the contrast of natural light phenomena, such as the glow of the Milky Way, with the bizarre visual effect of colorful LED tubes. My paintings are intended to help people reexperience the overwhelming beauty and uniqueness of the stars in our night sky, which we have lost through excessive light pollution.
Artificial light, placed by the urban population, can be found nearly everywhere in the nocturnal landscape of the Western hemisphere. A situation where one light shines over another makes us feel uncomfortable. The omnipresent glow of the LED tubes makes us aware of how sensitive we are to artificial light and how light can change our body and brain in unexpected ways.
I assume growing up in Jena influenced you a lot, as it is known for the Optical Museum and its displays of vintage Zeiss microscopes and spectacles?
The love of astronomy and space travel occurred very early in my life. I saw many stellar sky presentations at the planetarium in my hometown.
Most of the shows were demonstrations of revolutionary satellite techniques that were used to examine our solar system. The details in my pictorial representations of nebulae were only made possible by the advances of satellite technology, like NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescope.
My favorite attraction was the remarkable rings of Saturn as an amazing natural phenomenon. The rings consist of countless small particles that range in size from micrometers to meters and that orbit Saturn.
In the old city center of Jena, inside a passage called Goethe Gallery, visitors can see the Cosmorama – the oldest ever created star projector – which was part of the inventory of the first planetarium.
Voyages to strange new worlds in the planetarium are not like visits to a regular cinema. They are unique experiences that cannot be compared to anything else. As a spectator, you sit under a vast dome. You are surrounded by stars and planets in a 360-degree projection. The visual beauty of the universe overwhelms you as a visitor and changes your perspective as a human being.
Optics is a very present science in Jena thanks to Carl Zeiss and Otto Schott. A highlight of the optical museum is an exhibit called ‘The mirror box’. This object is a box made entirely of mirrors with a peephole, which offers an impressive view of the infinity.
The exhibits that show the forerunners of the cinema are also interesting – for example, the camera obscura, dioramas, or stereoscopes.
An exhibition space in the museum is dedicated to astronomy and to the history of the planetariums. In a dark room, a planetary model begins to spin, and a solar eclipse takes place.
Photographs of regions far away in the outer space stimulate my imagination, which vibrates in my painting motifs and has shaped me as an artist.
In that sense, I try to share my early childhood dream of traveling into space with my audience.
Maybe, for that reason, my fantastic multilayered narrations appear to be like cinematic sceneries. Some of them even directly refer to science fiction movies and novels. I like utopian stories, and I enjoy immersing myself in futuristic narratives. Dreaming with the poetic I is comparable to an experience of rising and dissolving in a painterly process of visual storytelling. Often, the poetic I blends one’s consciousness, which brings back the things of the past with another and able to shoot towards the future. It is similar to the experiences of simultaneous superimposition of different reality levels layered on top of each other inside a painting composition.
How much do you think does location affect work and career for artists in general & how did you choose yours?
After graduating, I have decided to stay in Berlin to get involved in an international art community. Early on, I felt drawn to the German capital for its reputation as being a location for contemporary art, and I liked its gallery centres in Berlin-Mitte and Kreuzberg. Over the years, Berlin became more and more one of the world’s most sought-after art places. The cheap rents for flats and studios pushed the development of the city as well. The thing I like most about Berlin is its unique Eastern European flair. The urban lifestyle has significantly influenced my artistic development and language.
Outside of art and astronomy, what other interests do you have?
I love reading, and I have a vast collection of books, which I have built upon in my first science fiction stories. For example, I own novels from authors such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Stanislaw Lem, Haruki Murakami, William Gibson, Philip Kindred Dick, and Cixin Liu. Many international futuristic books have influenced my painting motifs and artistic research strongly.
I love especially the groundbreaking novel The Left Hand of Darkness, written by the well-known author Ursula K. Le Guin and published in 1969. With this book, gender theory enters the male-dominated science fiction literature. During this time, feminist science fiction was born as a subgenre and focused on issues such as gender inequality, sexuality, race, economy, and reproduction.
Le Guin’s book became famous for his intellectual study of androgyny. The writer created a strange world without sexual prejudices, a world in which residents can change their gender at any time.
The act limited the exposure of female stereotypes and helped improve the representation of women by taking into account aspects of psychology and human emotions.
May I ask, of your entire collection, which painting is your personal favorite?
I don’t have a favorite piece. Every painting was important in its own way and has helped me to understand a problem that led me to the next step of my artistic development.
Is there something you really dream of doing then?
An important artwork for me was my first three-dimensional painting on a styrofoam sphere in 2019. It is titled Second Earth and was first shown last year at my solo show Astral, which was held at Tête gallery space in Berlin. The work is a 40 cm styrofoam sphere that is coated in a galaxy of acrylic paints. The cool blue palette presents a mountain-scape that is paired with a deep night sky above.
Reminiscent of a snow globe, Second Earth offers an icy view of a melancholic landscape and refers to the theme of ‘life beyond earth,’ showing a territory many light years away. It is conceptually inspired by scientific investigations of new colonies on planets that support life and addresses the power structure of whom will have access to a new potential planet. The sphere was just the beginning of a new series, consisting of seven spheres and referring to a planetary system.
I am also planning the creation of a dome with canvas works included, but right now, this seems to be more of a five-year project.
Looking forward to seeing these artworks.
I would like to take the chance to inform your readers about my upcoming projects.
Here is some news that I am really excited about:
Raúl Alvaro from Pantocrator Gallery invited me to present some of my recent paintings at the Swab Art Fair 2020 in October. Swab Art Fair will be held online because of the coronavirus pandemic. The virtual tour can be found on their homepage (https://swab.es) from October 1 to October 15.
On November 13, my painting Virtual Light (2017) will be part of the Rotary Charity Auction in Munich. I am happy when the artwork finds its new home at an art collector’s house and, of course, when my art raises money to help other people.
In December, I am looking forward to my first solo exhibition at the Czong Institute for Contemporary Art (CICA Art Museum) in South Korea. The artworks of the show will be documented in the CICA Art Now 2020 publication, which will be released in January 2021.
There are many galleries and nonprofit art centers that try to help artists by organizing online events.
Currently, I take part in several online exhibitions, such as Booth 07 at the Alfa Gallery (Miami, Florida, USA) and the Engravist Printmaking Bienal (Istanbul, Turkey). I am touched by the ongoing support for my galleries and the online engagement from my audience.
/neim/ readers can learn more about upcoming projects and new works on my Instagram account and on my homepage.
Sure, we’ll leave your details below, Anne, so our readers could follow your creative story. Vielen dank Anne, for sharing it. It was a pleasure to get to know what kind of person is behind these surreal paintings.
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