Interview: Elisabeth Wolf
By: Emma Corcoran
Elisabeth Wolf is a self-taught painter, graphic designer and illustrator from Leipzig, Germany. In her recent exhibition titled ‘Studies From the Internal Monologue’, she depicts her subjects as having four arms in order to convey deep emotional intensity and inner conflict. In terms of both subject matter and material, Wolf’s project serves as the perfect embodiment of ‘Metamorphosis’: it not only transforms the human body by adding the extra limbs, but it also transforms the actual canvas by combining a variety of artistic mediums, including drawing, painting and computer graphics.
An Interview with Elisabeth Wolf
ST.ART: Tell me about yourself. What kind of art do you do?
EW: I’m very interested in many kinds of art. I can’t say it in one word. I think at the moment, my artwork is really based on the paintings: my heart is really deep with the paintings, you know? It’s a long process, and maybe that’s the point, where I feel a very deep feeling because I spent a lot of time in preparing these paintings. When I make illustrations with the computer, it’s like painting with cameras. But I’m very interested in many kinds of art. It’s very difficult to say ‘I’m a painter’ or ‘I’m an illustrator’ or ‘I’m a graphic designer’ – every kind of this art has something special for me.
I think it’s interesting that I have no education in the background of the things I’m doing. Yeah, maybe that’s the point – I miss sometimes that kind of school. I have not such a big community, and I don’t talk very much about my artworks. Sometimes I miss this. I would like to connect with other artists; it would be very interesting to hear what they think about my artwork. Sometimes I miss this, so my boyfriend has to help me. He always says, ‘Mhm, it’s good, it’s good, it’s good’ and I say, ‘Mhm, okay.’ [laughs].
ST.ART: So you’re completely self-taught then?
ST.ART: How did you pick up your craft? What first sparked your interest in art and how did you develop your passion further?
EW: When I was a little girl, I started to paint. But every little girl and every little boy paints in their childhood. I think for me, it was special, and I didn’t stop painting when I grew up. I didn’t miss the love for it, do you know what I mean? It was a great passion, and when I grew up and I get older, it was a great passion, too. I didn’t lose this feeling for art and for sketching. I sketched very often in my childhood and when I grew up. The paintings started some years ago – I started to paint, this was not from the beginning. It was a dream. I told my parents, I remember that – I said, ‘When I’m old enough, twenty or twenty-five, I will be a great painter.’ It was not serious, I know this, but it was a dream; it was something I really wished to be. It’s a hard way, and it’s tough, but when you really want to do that and you really believe in this, you can make it, if you want. But it’s a long process and it’s very hard and you need time – five years, ten years, fifteen years, maybe twenty. You really need to love this to be strong enough to go this way.
ST.ART: I think that’s very true for a lot of passions people have. It’s something you have to fight for, in a way.
EW: Really. If you are a sportsman or an architect or something, it’s always the same: if you really want to do that and you really want to be very good in this, you need to practice this and you need to fight for it. It’s not only in art, it’s not only in being a painter, it’s in… if you will be better than other people, you need to practice, for years. That’s really the point. But I really believe in this. I really appreciate when other people come to me and say ‘I really like your art’. I’m always a little bit… I’m a little bit shy, but I seriously believe in this kind of art. Maybe not today, but I think when I work hard for it, I will get better.
ST.ART: So can you tell me a little bit more of your project ‘Studies From the Internal Monologue’– when you began it and where you found inspiration for the images?
EW: The project with four hands – I prepared this exhibition nearly one year ago. I started to make some sketches of the ideas I had. It’s always… I see these images in my head – I can’t explain this. It’s always like an impulse: I see it in my deeper mind. Last year, I had exhibition, too, and in the time I finished that exhibition, I really had this vision of a new exhibition in my head. It was always there. The title picture, this was the praying girl with the four hands – this picture I built the other paintings, the other feelings; they really come to my head after a while. I made some sketches, and after the first painting, it worked really well. A friend of mine, a model, made the first pose with the praying hands and the other pose with the jacket. On Photoshop, I mixed [the two images] together into one picture and it worked very well… I was very happy that this worked so good with the first try, you know? It was the first try and it worked very well, so I said, ‘Yeah that’s it.’ So I started to expand this idea with other models and other positions, and it was very cool. Not every idea worked, but most of my ideas worked. With friends of mine, we made pictures, and I mixed them in Photoshop. I made photorealistic pictures, and I painted these photorealistic pictures on cameras.
ST.ART: That’s very cool that you combine these different types of artistic mediums. You have photography, Photoshop, and you use paint, you said, over the photographs?
ST.ART: So do you have a favourite type of medium that you like to work with?
EW: I think painting. Painting is the high quality art, you know? The ‘king art’, you know? With all the great painters of the Renaissance and Baroque, the art is so amazing, and I think, for me, that’s really the high-class art: the paintings.
ST.ART: With your images with the four hands, is there a particular message you hope to communicate? When a viewer looks at your work, what kinds of feelings do you hope to evoke?
EW: There are different feelings from painting to painting. It’s not the feeling; it’s the deepness of the feeling that I want to make stronger. I think that’s the point. Every painting has a different feeling. It’s not directly a message: it’s a feeling I want to make more intense by using more than just two hands. I want to make it stronger than like in conventional painting. It’s not the motif or painting itself but the deepness of the feeling I have when I see these pictures in my head.
ST.ART: I think it’s such an interesting process to have an idea in your head and then translate to it to some type of visual form. I think the image of the four hands is very inventive, and because it’s not something that’s conventional, as you said, it does inspire feeling, and that feeling can be different depending on the person’s experience and that person’s perspective.
EW: And it’s always a female feeling as well… of course, it’s a mirror of myself, because I am a woman. This is very important to me. When I have these feelings, I see women for the paintings. Not every picture, but nearly every picture. I think this is important for my art; it’s very feministic art.
ST.ART: So as a female, you can identify with your work then.
EW: Yeah, of course.
ST.ART: And I think that makes it more personal in that way, because you create it, but you can also see bits and pieces of yourself in it as well.
EW: Yeah, I think it’s normal for every to see something of themselves in their work. This is why you paint: to give something of yourself, from your heart and from your mind. Every painter and every artist does this. This is something you see when you look at my pictures – in every picture and my illustrations, too. They are very feminist; it’s very female. Of course, I have male models, too, but these paintings are very small, not very big, and that’s interesting, too. I think as a person and as a female, in my work, the male part is very small, and when you look at the female part, it’s a very big part, but the male part is not so big. But it’s a mirror of myself. I think that’s typical – that’s normal for every painter.
ST.ART: Do you have any kind of ritual or routine that you go through when you first begin a painting? Do you a way of thinking of an idea or design and translating it to the canvas?
EW: I always have a plan, a concept – a straight concept… I am not very spontaneous in my paintings; I have a very straight concept, and this concept will go from Photoshop to the cameras one by one. I don’t like this, making something different from the concept I had. I tried it, and every time I tried to do something spontaneous, I found it not very good; I didn’t like it. So I started to make straight concepts, make it like this concept.
ST.ART: And it’s more focused in that way, right?
EW: Right. So I start to make this concept, and then I make a sketch on the canvas and then I start to paint it.
ST.ART: You work with all different types of mediums. Is there one that you haven’t worked with yet that you would consider pursuing?
EW: I would like to do more screen-printings. I have done screen-printings before, but I would like to make it more difficult, with more layers and more colours. Until now, I had only one layer of screen-printing, but I would like to do greater concepts with this medium. I really like this; it’s a great technique.
ST.ART: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given as an artist?
EW: You need much time, and you really need to practice to get what you want. Practice is… when you are talented, it’s okay, but I think, as an artist, the real talent is when you can fight for your dreams. That’s the most important talent you need as an artist. If you are a musician or if you are a painter or if you are a graphic designer, you need time to make your dreams come true.
ST.ART: Would you say that’s one of the main challenges you face as an aspiring artist?
EW: Yeah, when I started my ‘little career’ as an artist, I thought like, ‘Oh yeah, now I’ll get started.’ I wanted everything in half a year. In six months, I wanted to reach everything. This is what I thought… but this didn’t work, it won’t work, and it’s good that this won’t work. You need time to learn how to prepare your art, how you make a successful exhibition. You need to make maybe five, six, seven exhibitions before you know how it works and what you have to do, what you need. It’s not only painting and artwork; there are many other things to do to make a successful exhibition, so you need to prepare five, six, seven, eight exhibitions to learn this. There are many things you need to know, and the best way to learn is to try it, so you really need time to get better at the things you are doing.
ST.ART: What was your first exhibition like and have you seen a lot of growth and development from that first exhibition to now?
EW: Of course, yeah. My first exhibition was in 2009, and I really didn’t think about it. When I started the exhibition, I just did it… it was easy. It was fun; I really liked it. That’s the point, too: when you make art, it’s nothing you can make much money from, one day to another. As an artist, you don’t make much money from one day to another. I made it because I really liked to do it; it was fun for me. It was not as successful as I wished it would be, so I said, ‘Okay, maybe the next time. Then it will be better.’ This was always the point: you can make it better, and next year, it will be even better. I was a little bit disappointed when it was not so successful as I wished it would be, but it was not so that I said to myself, ‘I will never do another exhibition again.’ This was never something I felt.
ST.ART: So today, when you begin designing and curating an exhibition, do you have a different approach?
EW: Yes, I have a timetable. Three months before the opening, I need to finish the title picture – that’s one point. I need text for the press and maybe some press pictures of myself, that’s something… many small things. I know I need two, three months before the opening to plan things. This was something I never thought about five years before.
ST.ART: When you begin an exhibition, do you have someone who contacts you and asks to feature your work? How do you put yourself out there?
EW: Friends of mine gave a gallery here in Leipzig. They are very good friends of mine, and they have supported since five, six years – since my beginning. They really give an impulse for me to do this art. We are a little community, a small community, so we help each other… they really helped me give me a place to exhibit my artwork. I am an artist of this gallery, so I can make an exhibition once a year. They really support me since five, six years, so I don’t need somebody to feature my artwork or give me a place or something; this is safe, this gallery I can exhibit my artwork.
ST.ART: Do you have any hopes for the future?
EW: This would be very nice to have a group exhibition, maybe in Berlin or in Hamburg, maybe in Liverpool – maybe a little bit more national or international. This is a dream I have – when I reach more people from time to time.
ST.ART: Do you have a new project that you’re working on now or any ideas for the future?
EW: I want to continue this four-arm project. I asked friends of mine if they want to model for new paintings, and there are some dates. In the next weeks, there will be new photo dates for the new concept photos. I want to try something, maybe to make this feeling more stronger – that’s the point: to give the feelings I have when I see these pictures in my mind, to make them more deeper, even more deeper than before. That’s what I try to do.
ST.ART: Do you have an idea as to how you might accomplish that?
EW: Yes, but I need to try out different ideas.
ST.ART: Yes, I guess it comes with practice, like what you were saying earlier.
EW: Right. Maybe sometimes, I don’t know if it will work, so I really need to try and practice.
ST.ART: Is there anything else you would like to add or want me to know about?
EW: I hope you can understand my English [laughs]. Sometimes, it’s a little hard difficult for me to express… it’s hard for me to even explain in German, so it’s really hard to find the right words in English. It’s always very difficult. I talk very much about feelings, and it’s very hard to find the right words for this. As I said, it’s very difficult even in German to explain to people why I use four arms and what I try to do. Many people think it’s like, I want one [pair of arms] to cook and one to do something else, like it’s a physical thing, but it’s something you have in your mind. That’s the point of the four arms: it’s not like, ‘I want to write an email and cook a meal at the same time.’ That’s not the point. It’s an internal feeling; it’s an internal monologue. It’s not multitasking; it’s internal.
ST.ART: It’s interesting that you chose arms to convey this feeling. Is there a reason why you chose arms as opposed to another limb or part of the body?
EW: Maybe it’s some kind of body language; you always use hands when you talk and when you want to explain something. You work with your whole body, but you work especially with your hands more than with anything else.
ST.ART: Hands have so much to do with the senses, too. What you were saying with the praying girl, we use our hands to express faith. We use our hands to say hello and greet people, so in it of itself, it is like a language. And with Sign Language, people use their hands to communicate when they can’t use their mouths.
EW: Yes. You can read so many things with using your hands. Maybe with your feet too… maybe you’d have to think about it [laughs]. But it was a great practice to paint hands. It’s very difficult to paint hands. Before, I needed three months for one painting, and after this year, it was very easy. I painted two hand studies – this was one of the last paintings I painted – and it worked really well; after some hours, they were nearly done. I get very good at painting hands. This is a very good thing when you paint photorealistic; you learn to look, to look at the picture and how the shadow… you can see it, the shadow, and the light, and where they are just a little bit brighter. You really learn to see the picture and the details. Sometimes I think photorealistic paintings are difficult because you need a good motif to make a good artwork. Just painting the flowers or the dark – it’s not the great art. But it’s a very good practice. You really learn to paint when you make photorealistic paintings, I think.