Karin Kugler in Conversation, November 2016
The increase of photographic portraits due to the spread of camera phones has fuelled the interest in alternative options which reveal more than just the outermost layer. Life Paintings present active individuals in their natural habitat. It took me about forty years to work out how to make visible a lived life's ups and downs. It's neither about the meticulous rendering of trivia nor spectacular posturing. What I search and find is expression and presence. I don't paint how people seem but how they are. And yet they look the part.
The procedure goes like this: during a first stay in the studio I do some drawings, take pictures and conduct an interview. This first part is followed by short sittings later on, according to requirements.
What is it that interests you about a sitter?
Having asked myself this very question a long time ago, I happened across an expert in physiognomy who arrived at the conclusion I was right on the money in terms of personalities and their particular features. As a principle my models are aware of their strengths and weaknesses and live their life – with all the trimmings.
What is it that interests you about the nude?
By focussing on sensuality with respect to expression, gesture and movement, erotic charisma becomes palpable. Knowledge of nude drawing is generally fundamental, as even sitters who are bound to ultimately end up fully clothed, need to be drafted naked before they get dressed, so to speak. Whereas if you attempt to paint from the outside inwards, later the garments just won't fit.
The Winner is … Women's Rights Past, Present, Future
In 2015 an international artists' society agreed on Women's Rights as the subject of a show. My contribution consisted in an apparently timeless painting, made ten years earlier and illustrating the topicality of women's rights right now and in future. The catalyst was my withdrawal from corporate culture and the subsequent resumption of my art studies. Today the issue seems more urgent than ever, as the question arises what women's rights will look like in years to come. The image reflects my experience inside the management of a multinational enterprise. In the back on the left with an open expression and a veil as a safety precaution, a figure represents women whose legal status is different from the one we enjoy over here. In the centre an exclamation mark doubles as a warning, featuring mask-like female faces – or could it be male ones?
In our cultural hemisphere by now, women do have careers, since they have accomplished a great deal – thanks to women's rights organisations and their activists. The challenge now is how to spread these advancements globally.
As a long-standing member of a women's network, active in fourteen countries, I'm aware of a disparity within corporate culture - notably in the middle management. Are women going to turn the tables on their male colleagues and seize power in keeping with the plain old dog-eat-dog mentality? Or do they make good use of their rights by working on an equal footing? My experience shows that women need to be conscious of their gendered role and would be well advised to refer to their femininity and expertise.
Why do you paint scenery and plants instead of 'just' looking at them?
'In every painting a mystery must remain.' Umberto Eco (or words to that effect)
You cannot depict a sunset. What you can do, though, is allowing yourself to be inspired by exceptional phenomena like this one and then spread colour on canvas accordingly. And there you are – and there's your sunset. Ambiances on the contrary can be conveyed, like in the case of the Lanzarote paintings. It's not about the countryside but rather what it does to you. The moment a blossom awakens, it's exciting to watch each single stage, grasp the essence and transform it into a painting. Magic ensues from tension only. We are subjected to the laws of nature; otherwise we can't create a thing. Yet art is made by artists, not by nature.
Now You! (See It, Now You Don't)
Humans tend to find the known within the unknown. Do you deliberately provide opportunities that encourage playful discoveries?
I do, namely the possibility to look afresh at the familiar. Paintings should stay open. You don't need to know much about art, but being interested is crucial. Artists dream and realize simultaneously. This tension usually constitutes a work of art.
What brought you to the game of golf?
Once I was in charge of preparations for the participation of some of our company's VIPs in the Golf Open Championship in Gleneagles, Scotland, and as a consequence quite well versed in the subject. The game gets you in close contact with the seasons and yourself in high spirits as well. As a result my compositions feature bright and active colours, not in order to illustrate rules, but rather convey the game's essence.
What's special about shoes?
Regardless of circumstance, any first and last step is usually performed in shoes – by people from all walks of life - pun intended. So one day, facing my shoe cabinet with any footwear you can think of, I had a light-bulb moment. Sun beams, reflected off a varnished heel, were sparkling cheerfully, while the slightly crestfallen legs of my boots seemed to be longing for snow. So it occurred to me that shoes resemble personalities, which can be expressed accordingly.
In the past people would gather in my studio to work. Although I've cut down on these meetings, I still want to lead adults and young people on from wherever they are with regard to their artistic development. So I use my own experience to enable them to realize ideas and develop new ones.
Is it not possible to teach yourself to draw or paint?
Without a solid knowledge of materials, methods and ways of expression many attempts get stuck. You can't teach art but those who have a certain amount of experience are able to pass on a set of tools in order to help others realize their vision. Those who save themselves the trouble of acquiring technical foundations and awareness of what's currently happening in the art world, are obliged to repeat what's already available or even invent it from scratch. And as long as you just do what you know, you stay what you are.
Questions artists ask themselves are: where do I stand? What do I stand for? And ultimately: who am I? As soon as I'm able to get my personal answers and attitudes in shape – a shape, that is, which is meaningful to others - art arises.
Do you remember works or artists which have left some indelible impression on you?
Sure, for instance my first teacher Wolfgang Becker, founder and onetime head of a Wiesbaden art school, who maintained “a painting is a spiritual statement” or “a work of art should give you goose bumps.”
Do titles matter?
Very much so, at least since the time I launched my first website twenty years ago. Before that, my paintings invariably had gone by the name 'untitled', in order to leave it to you whatever it is you see. Because only as long as the picture conveys an individual message, does it succeed. But meanwhile my whole documentation is based on titles. On the upside, they frequently function as a sort of visual aid.