Briefly describe the work you do.
I make abstract paintings, drawings, and small objects in clay, paper and from found materials. For me, the act of painting is akin to trying to pin down an internal dialogue; thoughts rise to the surface but remain outside the reach of language. It’s a process of continuous making, where one medium can inform another but is never directly translated into another. Through making, I am interested in discovering transitions from conscious to unconscious, exterior to interior.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
Growing up in Cologne in Germany, I spent most of my time at dance and singing classes with my sister. We would perform concerts for our parents and my sister would write stories and plays that I would illustrate. I liked staying at home and drawing in my room and always thought it was strange that other children preferred to watch TV or hang around outside. My dad collected Native American art and often took us to museums and galleries. At 14, I remember seeing Joseph Beuys’ fat sculptures for the first time at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, alongside Anselm Kiefer’s lead books and Cy Twombly’s paintings. I didn’t understand what I was seeing but I was intensely struck by the physicality of the materials and their application, the sense that something deep and powerful was happening underneath the surface of the works. These artists are still some of my favourite artists to date.
I remember having a strong need for beauty in my day to day life….I would spend hours meticulously rearranging my toys and collections of crystals and other things. I loved anything small and jewel like and took great care of the things I loved. I think this sense of preciousness has stayed with me in my art practice and is what still draws me to painting; the preparation of the surface, the grinding of pigments, the discovery of the new and unique through creation. And I have been told some of my paintings have jewel-like qualities. For my BA I studied Jewellery Design because I wanted to learn the craft of silversmithing and to make something that would last forever. But I quickly realised I wasn’t a designer; I didn’t want to make the same thing twice and my pieces were more sculptural and conceptual than wearable. When I changed to fine art my appreciation for the hand-made and for materials stayed with me but I also tried to resist being too precious about my work. I need the process to be more raw and intense. It’s good to destroy or push things that are too beautiful or recognisable. I need to be surprised by what I am making.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I am very much a maker who needs a quiet place by herself to work. I am always working on ten to twenty pieces at the same time so I need somewhere I can get messy and move things around. I have been working from home for nearly two years now as I can’t afford a studio space in London. I am lucky to have a spare room that I can use but it’s not ideal, too small and too dark, but it works for me at the moment. I like being able to go and look at my paintings before I go to bed or using the studio for a few hours before work. This year I have felt it necessary to leave my familiar studio environment behind though. I took myself on two residencies, one in Switzerland, where I shared a big studio with two other painters, and one in a tiny isolated bothy on the Isle of Eigg in Scotland. Working in different environments and set-ups gave me the confidence that I can make work anywhere and from anything. In Switzerland I made a lot of work on cardboard and found materials such as wood because of the high cost of materials and shipping, which in turn inspired new ways of working. In Scotland I had to be able to fit everything into a rucksack, so I made stacks of paintings on paper and took many photographs, both new developments in my practice. The work I made away from home was my best work so far. In the future I would like to try and make work ‘on the road’ or take part in a travelling residency. Going back to the concept of the ‘studio artist’ though, in London I try and visit other artist’s studios as much as possible. I have found that it is a great way to meet other artists, share concerns and feel less isolated. I am also trying to embrace social media more, and have discovered that there exists a great community of abstract painters worldwide connected through the web. Trough tumblr I have been in touch with painters from Russia and America, as well as others in London, whom I would have not met otherwise.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I never thought I’d spend so much time writing and talking about my work. It’s something I find very difficult and it’s taking me a long time to let others into the process. Even if you don’t feel confident about the work, someone else might believe in you and see something in it that you can’t see. For a long time I rejected the idea of self-promotion, but I think there are subtle ways to go about it.
I also never thought I would enjoy teaching so much and get so much out of it for my own practice. Working with primary school children can be intense but also incredibly rewarding; watching them create without inhibitions and self-consciousness is inspiring.
I also didn’t think I would spend so much time worrying and doubting. Painting is difficult and emotional but that’s what keeps me interested in it. As much as I love what I do, I continuously find myself making decisions that take me further away from any stability or security.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
At the moment I am teaching afterschool clubs part-time in primary schools, so I try to have a few hours in the studio every morning. Between 9am and 10am is my favourite time to paint, the ideas are fresh and everything is possible. I also like the afternoon around 4pm as you have got into a rhythm by then, but sadly I hardly get time to work then. I have never produced anything I liked late at night. I do try to work whenever I can really, and in a good week that can be four mornings plus one whole day at the weekend.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
Five years ago I started an intense twelve-month MA at Wimbledon College of Art. I hadn’t done a BA in Fine Art, so I felt very anxious that I had a lot of catching up to do and tried to experiment as much as possible. Despite wanting to paint I remember feeling very dissatisfied and insecure about my work, and spent a lot of time drawing and making strange 3d objects instead. At the time I was working figuratively, working from photographs but also from memory and found images. Thematically I was thinking about the same subjects I think about now when making work…the nature of memory, experiences of landscape, the ultimate fleetingness of our existence, the transient and cyclical nature of all things, making visible the invisible. I don’t think that ever really changes. After I graduated it was a long and hard process of stripping back, shedding old habits and simplifying. I had always been drawn to abstract art and felt that I didn’t need figures or a to communicate what I was trying to express , but I had no idea how to go about making an abstract painting. I needed to get away from the pressures of the London art world so I took myself away to Berlin for eight months and started again, going right back to mark making and really examining what it was that made me want to create. I did a lot of writing, read poetry, looked at a lot of work by artists that I had loved since childhood, took evening classes in photography and etching, and made dark A4 pencil drawings working from my imagination. I found this process of stripping back and trusting my instincts liberating yet scary and isolating, but it laid the ground for the work I am making now. When I moved back to London I decided to start painting again. I now paint as much as I draw. I also take a lot of photographs, which help me identify painterly sensibilities as well as understanding instinctively what I am drawn to visually in my day to day life.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Anyone who pursues their life and interests with passion, sincerity and honesty can have an impact on me. I am lucky to be living with a group of friends who are all either artists or performers. None of us have a regular 9 to 5 job, and we’re all working on our individual projects most of the time. It’s an inspiring and encouraging environment to be living in.
One writer that I love and who has had an impact on my work is the poet Paul Celan. I discovered him during my time in Berlin; Anselm Kiefer also references him in many of his paintings. Sometimes I think I am trying to do with paint what Celan tried to do with words…..express the ‘unspeakable’ or ‘unknowable’. His poems were mysterious, incredibly atmospheric and visually ambiguous. He made me love the German language anew, by creating new words that have no clear meaning.
As for pop icons, I love Patti Smith, Bill Callahan, Tom Waits, Cat Power. Their work is embedded in truth and honesty and an artistic vision that is all encompassing.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I would be a contemporary dancer or be involved in music in some way. I believe that dancing is the purest and most abstract art form there is…all you need is your body. We understand dance in a subconscious, deeply felt way, as we all share the same body. I have always danced but never in a professional way, I’m not competitive. I’d still like to be involved in music, maybe get back into singing, but right now I don’t seem to be able to dedicate my time to anything other than making art.
Linda Hemmersbach was born in Cologne, Germany in 1984. In 2004 she moved to London where she studied BA (Hons) Jewellery Design at Central Saint Martins (2008) and MA Fine Art at Wimbledon College of Art (2010). She was artist in residency at the Trelex Residency, Switzerland, in March-May (and will be returning in November 2014) and at the Bothy Project on the Isle of Eigg, Scotland in July 2014. In November 2014 she will be showing new work at Footfall Art, Bermondsey, London. Recent exhibitions include: Stick ‘Em Up, Husk Gallery, London (2014), It’s very quiet here, Gowen Contemporary, Geneva (2014); New Paintings (Solo), The Trelex Residency, Trelex, Switzerland (2014); Form/Entformt (Solo), 86b Greenfield Rd, London (2014); First Come First Served, Lion&Lamb, Hoxton, London (2013/14); Loopart13, Creekside Studios, London (2013); Drawing Open, One Church Street Gallery, Great Missenden, UK (2012); The International Drawing Project, Pr1 Gallery, Preston, UK (2012); Double the Vision My Eyes Do See, Three Stags, Lambeth, London (2011); Tarradiddle, Art Space East, London (2010); I Swore/ I Sore, The Nunnery, London (2010).
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.