Places – An Artist’s Perspective
The essence of a place – this is what I am trying to capture with my art; the image, the thought, the memory that describes a place. What makes a place what it is? The vegetation, the architecture, the colours, its history, the organization and structure of objects within it, the people that inhabit it. When I experience a place I try to take in all these things. I pay attention to details, to colours, to smells, to sounds. I am consciously aware of everything going on around me and I want to retain everything within me. I want to take it with me wherever I go. I internalize the places I paint. My prints and paintings are memories of landscapes and cultures that I am part of and that are part of me. I claim to capture the essence of a place, yet at the same time it is my personal perception of a place that I depict. I decide what I include or omit in a picture, what I want to remember and what I don’t care about, but there is enough visual information in my work for people to recognize a place.
I always perceive places through the lenses of a visitor, because of my multi-cultural background, even the places I call home. I’m the German in Paraguay, the Paraguayan in Germany and the German-Paraguayan in Canada. I call all three places home; all three places are part of me, yet somehow I seem to be an observer of the places I inhabit, a stranger, an onlooker. This statement reminds me of Iain’s observation in that “a cultural landscape is contingent upon our position within it.” A similar idea is also described by Lawrence Durrell:
“We live (…) lives based upon selected fictions. Our view of reality is conditioned by our position in space and time – not only by our personalities, as we like to think. Thus, every interpretation of reality is based on a unique position. Tow paces eat or west and the whole picture is changed.”
I have created prints and paintings to show linkages between changing locations in my life and my perception of places.
When creating a painting or print, I organize and structure the knowledge I have gained through being in a place. I stack merchandise on shelves; I put houses into rows; I divide my picture plane into fields and sections. I believe this need to organize is related to the fragmentation, the stacking and the retention of memories. To me this organization of shapes is important to capture a place, such as the typical linearity of streets and houses in Winnipeg Neighbourhood with its tightly fitted wooden houses from the turn of the century that bring to mind elaborate, colourfully painted doll houses, the banded elms that line the streets and the snow banks on the side walks. The paintings about Manitoba (Highway 75 and Summer in Southern Manitoba) play with the vast spaces and openness of the prairies. Contrasting the Manitoban openness and its straight roads, softer curvier hills and roads constitute the landscape in Christmas in Germany.
To illustrate Paraguay, I want to take you for a walk through my paintings. Wandering the streets of Areguá, I smell the dusty bitter scent of clay. I walk down Main Street passing colonial Spanish houses behind iron wrought fences until I get to the pottery stands which lie at the heart of this town. The pottery invites me to look around and to discover unique pieces made from local yellow clay decorated with traditional motives in red engobe. Next to some kitschy garden decoration – frogs, pigs, gnomes painted with glaring acrylic colours – I find a wall platter with a typical Paraguayan scene and a rustic bottle shaped as a voluptuous female figurine.
The bright colours of the Mercado Cuatro in Asunción illustrate the crammed spaces and the chaotic traffic of a downtown market in Asunción. Cars honk, pedestrians rush between the moving traffic trying to cross the street, buses stop randomly on the curb to pick up passengers who signal a stop with an outstretched arm. I leave the busy sidewalk and immerse myself in a labyrinth of colours, sounds and smells. Inside the market life is a little bit calmer. Vendors sit behind their stands drinking Tereré (Yerba Mate) or chatting with a neighbour. An elderly woman with a huge bag of garlic on her head walks by and I have to move aside to make way to a watermelon delivery on a wheelbarrow. In the clothing section I am being tapped on the shoulder, pulled by the arm, murmured to by various vendors to try on this shirt and touch that fabric. (“Hola mamita, entra entra, que está buscando, vaquero, pollera, camisa, que desea?”) There is nothing you can’t buy here: shoes, bras, laundry soap, canned soup, vegetables, buttons, etc. – I am enveloped in a cacophony of colour.
On the contrary, Fruitstands along Ruta 2 with its earthy colours reflects the space and tranquillity of rural Paraguay. Roughly constructed shelters out of palm trunks topped with palm leaves line Highway Number 2 in Cordillera. The fall harvest of grapefruit, oranges, mandarins and giant squash lure me to halt on the side of the road. I gaze down the road; greens, oranges and yellows stretch as far as I can see. I buy a neatly braided bunch of mandarins and I’m back on the road to Asunción.