Franziska Beilfuß worked in theatre and studied at Central Saint Martins in London before completing her degree at UdK Berlin in 2017. Her paintings have an almost uncanny lightness to them.
Wolfram Schnelle: How did it start for you? When did you become interested in making art?
Franziska Beilfuß: I have always painted because it was a way for me to deal with problems and to communicate what I couldn't say in words.
I studied art in London, doing a foundation course at Central Saint Martins directly after finishing my A Levels. I was 18 at the time and I quickly realized that it was too early and that I needed to see the world before I’d be able to put it into my paintings. I was overwhelmed but I was also bored.
I decided that I needed to do something where I could be in contact with people and learn something about them. I worked at a theatre and started to direct as well. It all sort of fell into place and worked very well, but I didn’t stop painting. As a director you’re quite alone, although it might not seem that way. In the studio it’s an ‘honest’ solitude.
Painting is one of the freest and most direct ways of making art. It’s something I always wanted to do and it happened that at the theatre I met my future painting professor. We worked on a great play together but were both drawing at the same time. There’s a lot of waiting in theatre. He looked at my drawings and told me that he had started teaching at UdK, which convinced me that it was the right moment to study art again. One of the nice things is that both my professor and I see painting and theatre as very closely related.
WS: Taking your final presentation as a point of departure, can you describe what motivated you to make the work?
FB: I knew that I wanted to create a visual oscillation. Oscillation is also a sound for me and it has to do with something oscillating or swinging between two poles. Imagine the oscillation of a sine wave – you have an amplitude that happens between two poles, which in the end creates the illusion of something whole through a sound. I think that’s a very nice metaphor for the principles of life or creation. Our Western thinking is very influenced by dualistic thinking. I want to question this. It’s much more complex and, at the same time, the opposite poles are dependent upon each other. Overcoming dualistic thinking is also a state that I experience when I’m painting and I try to visualize it conceptually. It’s a utopian thought that won’t remain utopian.
WS: What does an artwork need to have so that you think it’s successful, so that you say, ‘now I am happy with it’ and it’s finished.
FB: It needs to have soul. It needs to start being alive and stand on its own. It’s not just about getting to a ‘total idea’ but of overcoming it. I get this term from Schiller. Because he has a romantic way of seeing the artist as a genius apart from society, he says that there is a dark or blurred total idea that's there from the beginning to the end. This is more a sort of context within which the artist works.
WS: Tell me something about the titles of your work.
FB: For my final presentation, I had the working title Oscillation and then I numbered the works, which helped me order them and put them in a sequence, but I also defined the maximum number of works that I was going to make in this series. I liked it that way because it helped people reference specific works while at the same time I could avoid giving them titles that impose another layer of meaning or interpretation on the work. I don’t want to do the work for people by giving my work titles – I want the viewer to struggle somewhat.
WS: What inspires you, what informs your art?
FB: I would say that everything I experience finds its way into my art. My art is an output, a way of reflecting life. I am not an artist who lives isolated in her own world. I am young and living in Berlin and there’s a lot going on. Although sometimes I would like to just paint for a year by myself and do nothing else. I think painting requires that but almost nobody can deliver that nowadays. Painting is a craft, no matter what you paint. It is its own terrain with its nuances and details.
WS: Since you mention painting being a craft, maybe you can talk about the material you use and about your process.
FB: I would say that movement and transparency are the defining themes of the series I've been working on. That’s why I worked a lot with glass. I like to work in series – not exclusively but mostly – and because a series is usually a temporal sequence, with transparency it’s possible to create a temporal simultaneousness.
Foreground and background are the dominant distinctions when discussing a painting. For me there is no static foreground and background. That’s not how I perceive the world. That’s why I was grappling with painting for a long time and I was contemplating making films. It’s a big challenge to orient yourself, being a moving particle in a moving world, but that’s reality. We like to simplify it, but it’s only possible to simplify it if you’re aware of its complexity. Chaos and order are two very important aspects in my work. But I don’t have to choose one or the other. They’re opposites but they also require each other.
For example, I work on a very chaotic image for a while, move some elements to the front, let others wander, bury other things, flood them or dissolve them. I start thinking in elements when I work and I’ll say things such as ‘I’ll water this down or I’ll put some wind into this’. That’s why I would say that my works are energetic force fields. But in the end they have to turn back into something I can explain with words, something I’m able to describe – they can’t remain as force fields that aren’t accessible or clear to me. I think that exhibiting works is a sign that I’ve arrived at that stage of being able to turn them back into identifiable creations and that I understand the works. It’s about creating something light and simple that is simultaneously complex.
WS: How would you describe your experience at UdK Berlin? What did you learn in terms of your practice and personally?
FB: I made friends for life. I met some great people. They’re companions in suffering but there’s a constant cross-fertilization that’s taking place. That’s the most valuable takeaway. The rest is more of a bonus. I think I learned more when I was working than in the seminars.
WS: What’s next?
FB: I’ll spend another year here at UdK to do my ‘Meisterschüler’*. I think that word is funny because studying means to experiment, to learn, to disrupt oneself, to test oneself, to question, and to doubt oneself. But ‘Meisterschüler’ also means switching from being an apprentice to becoming a master. It almost sounds as if you could become a teacher afterwards! I plan to give myself a project for the year and take this time to create.
*The title "Meisterschüler/Meisterschülerin" is not to be compared with a master’s degree and has no equivalent in the Anglo-Saxon educational system. This title is an honour awarded only to the very best students in the German arts academy system.
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