Artist talk with Berlin painter Katrin Hosterbach at the opening of her solo-exhibition ‘Painted music, painted words’.
Berlin artist Katrin Hosterbach worked as a translator (English/French) for several years before she started painting professionally. An important source of inspiration are literature and music. Marcel de Bruijn (New German Art) spoke with her at the opening of her solo exhibition ‘Painted music, pained words’ in The Hague.
As a painter you translate literature and music into a new, visual language. And after that the spectator in fact does this again. To what extent is this process of translating related to the fact that you paint abstractly?
‘I think there is no coherence. I simply never felt the need to work figuratively. Of course I learned all things at the art academy, such as portrait drawing, perspective, light and shadow. But I also immediately noticed that I did not want to stick to it. The motivation was always something else.
When painting I never felt the need to represent a shape. There are of course forms in my work, but these should not be tangible. Not for me and not for the spectator. It does happen that people recognize a form, a human figure or a bird’s head. It is not my intention, but I cannot prevent it either. There are quite a lot of people who find abstraction difficult; you have to allow it a bit. A figure or landscape provides guidance. But in my work the first glance is not the most important. What counts is the second glance or even the third.’
There are five works on the exhibition that you based on Herta Müllers Atemschaukel. Did colour form the starting point of your research?
‘The main character, Leon, describes colours or shades that I take as a starting point. This concerns the colour of slag, a residual material that remains in blast furnaces when making steel. He combines all these colours with personal memories of better times. I have given my own painterly translation to his descriptions.’
Can you briefly explain what this novel is about, in particular the chapter that inspired you?
‘The book is about the hardship of a Romanian German in a labor camp in Russia. With another fellow prisoner, the protagonist must rid slags of blast furnaces. Residual material that takes on different colours depending on the stage at which it is located. Müller describes these colours in the novel: yellow, white and even green when grass grows through it. In the blast furnace itself the slags look different again. In the painting behind me, Teigbatzen, the slags are still tough.’
In one chapter of Atemschaukel, for example, I discovered ten different types of slags. Each a different colour and a different quality. I could have chosen to show the structure of these slags, but texture is not my thing. For me materiality is something flat.’
I understand that while making this series you even felt responsible for your protagonist. Especially with the tenth work in the series, Feierabend?
‘I started this series in 2009 a year before the end of my art education. I made nine works and knew: I still need to do one. The Feierabend slag was the most important slag for the Leon character. If the slags had this colour red, he knew that his shift was almost over and there would be something to eat. An important fact in this novel, where hunger is constantly being suffered. So this work had to be good, it is ultimately my favourite in this series. ‘
Your works have the same effect on me as the slags have on Leon. Because of the depth, I lose orientation. Is it correct that this depth is created by painting layers on top of each other?
‘That’s right. If I were to work pasty and put the paint thickly on the canvas, it would be closed. Then one wouldn’t know what lies behind it. The process of overlapping layers brings depth. The layers are for me at the same time a metaphor for the stratification in every person. I do not mean that every person is complicated or complex. More that people are not what they seem at first sight. It is important to me that a work attracts at first glance, but that there is more to discover afterwards. ‘
Could you also achieve this effect with oil?
‘You can of course dilute oil, but acrylic dries faster. Oil only works if you spread it evenly so that you have the same transparency, but then you still do not get the same effect. Working in oil is a very different technique. ‘
How long do you work on a painting?
‘A month, if I keep working on it regularly. I lay the work flat on two trestles. I also worked with an extended brush on the floor, which looks a bit like vacuuming. Because acrylic is very liquid and I do not want the running tracks, the cloths must be flat. I usually work with 60 to 80 layers. I dilute the acrylic paint with water. With the first 30 layers there’s not much happening yet. I am impatient: when will the image finally occur? At some point it always does.’
It seems that you want to point out to the viewer the infinite possibilities of color. Is that right?
‘The effect of monochrome colours appeals to me more, allthough I am not against using more colours, In fact there are multiple colours in all my works, but one can not always see them in the final painting. The main colour mostly comes from one range, but a work often also includes brown tones and greens.’
You sing in a choir and know Bach’s passion music. Just like Atemschaukel, these works have a variety of suffering and resilience. In Herta Müller ‘s book this resilience is transformed in the language; something poetic is evoked despite the terrible situation. Is this tension also what drives you as an artist? Art as a reflection of human ground experiences?
‘I am not sure. With this question I immediately think of the theory that when things go bad an artist makes better work. But for me that is not necessary. The suffering, the happiness – it is all reflected in my work. For me it’s all about being human, with all its facets. Again, I offer that with my paintings. But it is not said that the spectator experiences it that way. ‘
We just heard John Dowland’s song, Come heavy sleep. Does the same apply to this music?
‘In this case the works existed before I heard the music. The six blue paintings had been in my studio for a while. I then heard the title of the piece of music. In this series I worked with the idea of a dark work and the concept of resting, and then there was this Dowland song. But most of the time I have the text beforehand. But it can also be a phrase that I sing in the choir or an atmosphere, such as during my trip to Japan. I was right there when the cherry trees were in bloom. I tried to express this experience it in the recent Sakura series. ‘
This interview was held on May 8, 2019 at the opening of the exhibition ‘Painted music, painted words’ by New German Art. The vernissage was organized in cooperation with Deutsche Bibliothek Den Haag/Literaturhaus.
Photos artist talk: Beate Klemke