“Some verses wait for a painting for years”

Marcel de Bruijn interviews Ute Wöllmann about Verdichtung in painting and poetry.

Many titles of Ute Wöllmann’s paintings refer to verse lines by the Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann. At the opening of her first Dutch exhibition she explains why.


When did you first come into contact with Bachmann’s work?

“Very classic actually, by a good German teacher. He dealt with a lot of contemporary literature. He read a poem by Bachmann, Erklär mir, Liebe. I was fifteen and the poem moved me. That is how I came across the entire oeuvre of Ingeborg Bachmann. I thought her language was great. She has guided me in my life ever since. ”

Does a work of art start with a poem, or does it start with painting itself and searching for a line of poetry afterwards?

“Some poems have resulted in many paintings, such as Von einen Land, einem Fluß und den Seen. But there are also lines of verse that I find very beautiful but have no paintings yet. Those verses are waiting, so to speak, they are ready. For some themes there are several works, such as Schattenfrüchten fallen von dem Wänden. That is a topic that pops up in multiple versions. That is why I am not sure what comes first, the poem or the work of art.”

The imaginative language of Bachmann encourages you to paint. On the basis of one of the works here you can describe how such a process works, for instance Für mich wird kein

Ute Wöllmann: Für mich wird keine Wiese zum Bett, 80 x 110 cm

It is striking that there are no animals in your work, but rather the botanical and in particular the inconspicuous world of plants. Are there parallels with Bachmann’s poems?

‘Certainly! There are many relationships, or better feelings, that she expresses with images from nature. She also does this with animals, you won’t find that in my works, but with me it is the nature images she evokes and especially the floral ones. It is not a natural lyric, but she has strong images of nature. That is what really appeals to me. Her descriptions are actually landscapes of the soul, and in that I feel strongly connected to her.’

You make a distinction between nature lyricism and nature images?

‘There are of course many poets who conjure up beautiful images of nature. I have often wondered: why does Ingeborg Bachmann appeal to me so much? The others are rather descriptive, the nature images of Rilke are great too, but they are too descriptive for me.’

You have an organic way of painting. What catches the eye are the rhythm, thebrushstrokes, the pasty and the daring colour contrasts. You immediately recognize your hand in a work. Is it your goal to imitate nature or should I see it differently?

‘I would rather describe my work as energetic and sensual. I simply love the act of painting. Working with a brush, the smell of oil paint. Painting is a very sensual procedure for me. It starts with that. After that it becomes more energetic. Mimicing nature, no, I abstract it at most. It is all about an energy, a tension, a structure that I see and that I try to capture on the canvas. I often paint outside, but I don’t care what I see. I convert what I see into something abstract. Ingeborg Bachmann also abstracts nature. And I do that too. We agree on that.

The energetic arises during painting?

‘That’s right. I always painted expressively, always with oil and always expressively. I already worked in large format in Stuttgart. I prefer to use large canvases, it has to do with expressiveness. ”

I would not call it landscapes what you create. For example, I see no horizon. It is rather the microcosm of the plant world. And very near, close to the skin. Out of proportion and perspective. What do you start with? Not with a horizon, I presume.

“It starts with the colour, there is a colour under all the paintings.”

Dunkelblaue Stunde

Ute Wöllmann: In einer blauen, dunkelblauen Stunde, 200 x 160 cm

As a viewer you lose yourself in these colours …

“That also happens to me, I also lose myself in the colours. I started the red work behind me outside. The large canvas was set against a tree in a green landscape. All passers-by wondered what the hell I was painting, because there was nothing red in the landscape. This year I painted outdoors again and caught a conversation between a man and his wife. “She does as she pleases, she does not paint what she sees at all”, he claimed. (Laughs.) “These are just colours on a canvas,” he grumbled. And with that he had summed up the essence of painting perfectly. ”

Does the colour also come spontaneously?

‘No, I always have a plan for the large paintings. Which colours, which surface. I prefer to go outside. For example, with In einen dunkelblaue Stunde, I worked outside in Berlin at night. Between the mensa and the UdK there is a road where I worked in the dark. I saw some small plants in the flashlight, that was my starting point. From a technical point of view, certain things do not work if you paint outside. I used to shake the paint over the canvas, as it were, and that doesn’t work when you paint outside.’

Could I, as the final conclusion of this conversation, say that the correspondence between painting and poetry is Verdichtung?

‘Yes, absolutely. And by Verdichtung I mean opening a new world of sensuality. I don’t paint things I see, but things I experience. I would characterize Ingeborg Bachmann’s poetry as Verdichtung in the sense that it opens a new world of language.’

The exhibition Bachmann in Farbe took place at the beginning of July at Korte Vijverberg 2 in The Hague. A collaboration between New German Art, the Austrian embassy and Literaturhaus | Deutsche Bibliothek Den Haag.

About the artist

Ute Wöllmann portraitUte Wöllmann studied at the Hochschule (nowadays Universität) der Künste in Berlin with Georg Baselitz. He was one of the famous painters of the Neue Wilden movement in the 1980s. She graduated in 1989, and was a co-founder of the GANG Art artists’ collective in Berlin between 1990 and 2000, which consisted exclusively of women. In 2005 she founded her own art institute, the Akademie für Malerei, directly opposite her former art school. Photo: Beate Klempe

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