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多位藝術家 /INTERVIEW: “Light Filters Through The Gaps In The Leaves” ARTISTS

INTERVIEW: “Light Filters Through The Gaps In The Leaves” ARTISTS

[ Exclusive Interview ] ARTIST Jen Hitchings / Stefano Galli / Maria Sainz Rueda / Theresa Möller

Artemin Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of “Light filters through the gaps in the leaves,” the group exhibition of four artists Stefano Galli, Jen Hitchings, Theresa Möller, and Maria Sainz Rueda, altogether showcasing 14 recent works. The exhibition is on view from April 6 to June 16, 2024.

Jen Hitchings

LA-based artist Jen Hitchings (b. 1988, New Jersey, USA) makes contemporary surrealist paintings influenced by the Hudson River School, Japanese landscape paintings, science fiction film posters, and 1960’s-1970’s album art. Hitchings paints her interpretations of western zodiac constellations in the sky not out of a particular fascination with astrology, but rather investigating religious and philosophical ideologies from an objective lens through the use of symbols. This perspective is merged into landscapes she observes or imagines, exploring the human tendency to ascribe meaning and interpretations of our actions to and from celestial bodies of the sun, moon, and stars. The surreal nature of Hitchings’ work lies in her mastery of color, peculiar symmetry, depictions of mountains or clouds with surreal wave-like patterns, and the blending of sky and earth in an uncanny flow. She captures the changing phases of the sun and moon akin to recording time with their trajectories as humanity had to do before the advent of timekeeping machines, illuminating her interest in the mysterious forces of the universe and human thought.

Artemin: Why did you choose red and blue to represent Taurus and Sagittarius in this series? Additionally, why did you opt for a yellowish hue in the painting “Nike Missile Silo, LA”? All the pieces are presented in monochrome; does this hold any particular significance or purpose?

Jen: All of the 14 x 11-inch paintings on panel that are titled with initials, a location, and a western Zodiac sign are painted within a series of 12 total. The series of 12 is painted in a color gradient, so that all 12 together span the visible color spectrum. The color chosen for the composition is intuitive but not strategic or symbolic. I keep a folder of photographs that other people have submitted to me to turn into paintings, and I determine which composition becomes a painting with that person’s Zodiac/Constellation in the sky.

Nike Missile Silo is a very different painting for me, since the composition was made plein air on top of a hill in Los Angeles near the Nike Missile Silo site. It was a fairly overcast day and the landscape we were painting was very dry and brown, so the yellow color felt most emblematic of the location. The fact that it was near an abandoned missile silo probably had some influence on the fairly apocalyptic cloud and sky color. 

I’ve been making largely monochromatic paintings for a long time–the initial inclination was to challenge myself to mix many colors to convey a compelling image while staying within a narrow range of hue. I also aim to evoke either a time of day, season, temperature, or emotion with each painting’s color choice. 

There are paintings that feel like a hot California desert dawn, or a cold, damp lush Pennsylvania park. I grew up in the northeastern United States and moved to the South West in 2021, so a lot of my new work is exploring the similarities and differences of the two landscapes.

Artemin: You often depict natural landscapes. Are these scenes based on places you’ve visited, or are they products of your imagination? Among the places you’ve visited, are there any particularly memorable ones? If so, why?

Jen: I’d say about half of them are based pretty directly on a place I’ve visited, and half are entirely imagined but still influenced by elements of places I’ve been. A lot of the waterfalls and rivers are influenced by where my parents live in Pike County, Pennsylvania. They moved there during the pandemic, which is when I made a pretty big shift in how I was making paintings, and a lot of the wooded scenes of that landscape made their way into my work. A lot of the desert paintings are influenced by the environment that I currently live and work in – the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys in Los Angeles. When there’s a location in parentheses of a painting’s title, that’s usually referring to the physical place I modelled the composition after. However, when paintings are entirely imagined places, I invent the name of a mountain or lake, and that’s the title. For example, Lake Bassbinder isn’t a place and the painting is entirely imagined. The title relates to an inside joke I’d had with a partner. Piños Peak (Winter Valley) is also an imagined place, as is Mount Menses. Mount Menses is loosely about menstrual and moon cycles, hence the red color and title.

Artemin: Are there any new forms of expression or further explorations you’d like to attempt in your future artwork?

Jen: Yes, I’m currently developing a bit of a symbolic language that is being incorporated to the edges of paintings that I’m working on. This is a very new process, and I’m still exploring what exactly it will become, but for now, I see the process as a very subtle hint to an underlying language that supports the painting’s surface image. I’m also breaking away from the symmetry, mirroring, and doubling that has dominated my compositions for several years, attempting to create more harmony and movement between elements in the foreground and background. I’m also trying to add more surrealism and ambiguity to the elements in each painting. I’ve wondered how to further convey personal emotion, desire, tension, love, pain, etc. into each landscape. I’ll be an artist in residence at Colstoun in Scotland soon and plan to produce a lot of small works experimenting with materials, as well as very large paintings which I rarely make.

Stefano Galli

Stefano Galli (b. 1989, Florence, Italy) creates a fantasy world where giant insects inhabit the forests and enormous flowers grow on alien planets. His paintings depict mysterious and energetically charged ecosystems, thriving with life yet carrying an ominous tranquillity that hints at the apocalyptic consequences of global warming. It’s as if a pristine land, untouched by human interference, emerges from the extreme devastation. Galli’s use of mobile devices to sketch flying insects and then transferring them onto canvas combines traditional painting techniques with the innovative attempt of our digital age. His compositions, with clear distinctions between foreground and background, create strong contrasts and break conventional norms. What’s most striking is Galli’s talent to showcase his exceptional painting skills in the distant landscapes while boldly incorporating brightly colored insects in a deliberate “bad painting” style. His approach is free-spirited and daring, and from both compositional and stylistic perspectives, Galli accomplishes a successful and well-executed experiment in making layered and vibrant paintings.

Artemin: Why did you choose “jungle” and “insects” as your themes rather than other landscapes? Is there any special significance or inspiration behind this choice?

Stefano: The paintings I exhibited in this exhibition represent jungles, and yes, for the most part in the last few years I have focused quite a bit on this theme.
Not only of the jungle itself, but of nature. I started developing this theme in 2020 during the pandemic, when the whole world was locked in homes. Maybe discovering the theme of nature and the great jungles and forests that I had seen until a few months before in the trips I made in Asia, was a natural process dictated by the need for something that was denied at that time, traveling, being free to move, being in contact with the world. I am interested in the theme of nature because it is something that we and our society are obliged to relate to. I think that the background of the natural landscape and the digital interventions that I draw on it with my mobile phone, which I then bring back on the canvas also painted in oil, can lead to a reflection on the relationship between our society, technology and nature.

Artemin: Are these scenes inspired by real locations or products of your imagination?

Stefano: Usually, there is no rule, many times I have an idea and I find images that can help me, or I see an image and an idea comes to mind that I can realize.
use photos of places I’ve seen, photos I find around or on the internet, or maybe I just start from an idea I have in my head; I mix both real and imagined imagesx because I know that the process of painting changes everything! I like to be influenced by the process, I always want to feel ready to change my ideas.

Artemin: What prompted you to incorporate vibrant colours and prominently featured insect motifs into your artwork? Is there any particular significance to this choice?

Stefano: Yes, as I told you, the idea behind it is to combine two languages or rather two ways of conceiving drawing and painting. In fact, first I paint the background, then I photograph it with my mobile phone and using the phone’s design software I add a layer; In the case of these jungles I added insects and moths and then I put everything back on the canvas oil paintings.

The natural world of forests contrasts with the digital elements introduced through the use of the telephone as a medium now ingrained in our daily lives, an extension of our bodies and our vision.

By photographing and redesigning new elements with the mobile phone, a process of transformation begins, and a change in the meaning of the image.
With the gesture familiar to contemporary society of taking photos, modifying them, underlining them or adding elements, fused with the practice of oil painting, an atmosphere of suspension between reality and imagination is created, combining two languages born from different needs but both belonging to the world of painting.

Artemin: Which artists do you admire? How have they influenced your work?

Stefano: There are so many artists that I like and that have influenced my work. Artists who work with painting for the most part, but not only. Among them David Hokney, Gherard Richter, Marlene Dumas and Peter Doig, whom I have always seen as great masters of contemporary painting. But also Wilhelm Sasnal and Adrian Gheine always for painting up to Urs Fischer Roberto Cuoghi who do a different kind of work.

Even some lesser-known names such as Austinlee or Luca Bertolo, for their interesting way of interpreting painting. These are just the first names that came in my mind, but the list would still be long.

Artemin: How do you typically structure your day as an artist? Do you have any other interests or hobbies besides painting?

Stefano: I usually divide my working time between working in my studio and teaching. I teach art at the University of Nantong, so a couple of days a week I’m busy teaching, the rest of the time I dedicate to my artistic work. I try to keep a fairly standard schedule, in the sense that I start in the morning, and I try to work until dinner time, about eight hours. 

Of course it depends, it’s a fairly flexible schedule, sometimes I work in the evening and I don’t work during the day. However, it’s a job that leads me to spend a lot of time alone, also because when I’m working I need to be focused only on what I’m doing, so when I finish work I feel the need to go out and spend time with other people. I really like to go out and have a social life, just to compensate for the time I spend in my studio.

I like to travel and I also try to do sports sometimes, but most of my time is dedicated to my artistic work which for me is both work and hobby. It’s not something I experience as a work commitment.

Artemin: Have you participated in any artist residency programs? If so, how has this impacted your work?

Stefano: I participated in an artistic residency at the end of 2022, with Noname studio in Shanghai, in their spaces in Zhujiajiao, the water town of Shanghai. 

I spent about a month and a half there, and it was a very interesting and formative experience because it gave me the opportunity to be completely immersed in my work, in a very relaxed environment, away from the chaos of the city. 

This place, which belongs to a city as big as Shanghai, looks like a bubble, where time flows at a different speed, suspended between the present and the past. 

I had the opportunity to rethink my work in this bubble, away from my daily routine.

Artemin: Do you have any new ideas or artistic expressions you’d like to explore in your future paintings?

Stefano: I can say that I’m working on a new series, I don’t really know where it’s going to take me. What interests me is to investigate even more deeply the dynamics of the impact and use of image in the society in which we live, how we interface with them and the relationship between reality and the digital world, in this time in which everything seems to be more and more connected.

Maria Sainz Rueda

We rarely have the opportunity to sink into the water and let buoyancy relax our entire body, drifting effortlessly. However, for Leipzig-based Spanish German artist Maria Sainz Rueda (b. 1976, Heidelberg, Germany), the sense of fluidity has always come naturally. Ever since she began dancing at a young age, she has been fascinated by it, and now she expresses it more profoundly through her paintings. Many people endured a pessimistic year in 2023 amidst natural disasters and human tragedies. Similarly, Sainz Rueda has been deeply concerned about disasters caused by human ambition, such as war and climate change. The perspective on life offered by British biologist Merlin Sheldrake’s book, “Entangled Life: How fungi make our worlds, change our minds and Shape Our Futures”, has given her a new perspective. She marvels at the infinite potential hidden within organisms, thus engaging in a process of self-release through her painting after untangling her own complexities. The linear fluidity in her artwork, intertwined and flowing with different colors, seems to collide with the buoyancy of water, unfolding like unique organisms thriving. It’s as if a vast amount of water, fire, and air simultaneously flood a space, evoking a disturbing yet captivating sense of beauty.

Artemin: What message and concept do you aim to convey through the depiction of drifting and flowing in your artwork? Why did you choose to present it in this particular manner? Does this reflect the core concept of the overall theme?

Maria: Fluidity as a core concept in the sense of a constant movement between becoming and passing is essential to my work. I see my latest body of work called «What Will We Be« including the paintings at Artemin Gallery as a meditation on the relationship between time and space, on the powerful forces of the elements, on human-induced climatic changes and the degradation of life-sustaining ecosystems. At the same time, it reflects the emotionality and unsettling beauty inherent in the constant change of relationships, bodies, and other aspects of life.

When I paint I love this moment of losing myself in the pictorical movement. I guess this imagination of fluid movement is an essential part of me and transforms into painting. In the last years, my painting evolved into a deeper intensity of fluidity. I wrote some notes on it for an artist’s statement: »It is an apparent naturalness that emerges in my works. In the sceneries, I depict, diverse life forms appear, mostly plant and organic growths, gaseous cloud condensations, rock formations, water accumulations and occasionally blown tissue or comets. The diversity of forms and colors in nature and the plant world becomes a broad spectrum of expression for me, rich in ambivalences, possible symbols and metaphors. Also meteorological processes such as storms, fires, droughts and floods. A sense of familiarity and reality is intended and freely invented protagonists appear in my scenarios but stay vague for the most part. It is difficult to determine where and when these scenarios take place or where the movement or light comes from. Water, fire, and air often seem to flood the same space at the same time.«

In my works, I strive to create a kind of poetic reality in which the imaginary and the real merge. I am not interested in the exact reproduction of nature, but rather in creating an emotional resonance and inviting the viewer to enter a space of reflection and contemplation. My painting thus becomes a dialogue between me, the painting and the viewer.

Artemin: In expressing the concepts of drifting and flowing, how do you select the colours for your compositions? Are these colour choices aimed at conveying the concept and atmosphere of the artwork?

Maria: I will quote parts of my artist statement that fits well to the question: »The artificiality of the forms and colors allows me to stop time and transform the space, creating shifts in perception and ambivalences. These can open the view to a variety of possible narratives. I am not concerned with certainties or answers, I see my work process as an exploration of possibilities and paradoxes.« In Entanglements and in Splash I choose vibrant reds as color of vitality, danger and intimacy at the same time and yellows as color of light, ambiguity and energy. I have a strong affection for the idea of color as a medium of communication beyond words.

Artemin: Which artists or artworks have influenced your creative process? How have they inspired you?

Maria: One of the artists which influenced the most my work is Pierre Bonnard.

What I found in the work of Bonnard was this moment of simultaneity of time and space, color and movement, lightness and density, everything is happening at the same time and at the same vibrant intensity. His work is full of contradictions and ambiguity. Qualities I seek in my own work. Peter Doig on the other hand, opened the field of landscape painting on a radiant level which was at a time when the landscape was rarely seen, simply mindblowing. And he is a marvellous colorist. My first real role model for becoming an artist was getting to know Camille Claudel. Her attitude and her work impressed me deeply when I was a young person, and opened my mind to the possibility of becoming an artist myself.

Artemin: Have you ever participated in artist residency programs? Has such an experience impacted your creative process?

Maria: All the three artist residencies I experienced impacted my practice on different levels and each opened up a new door. The first led to a new practice of dense and drawing from nature, using signs and letters as the initial starting point, a practice which has become part of my paintings too. The artist residency 2020 in Linz in Austria expanded the dimensions of painting into the monumental format and in the last one in 2021 at The Museum for Printart in Leipzig, I had the opportunity to explore the medium of multicolor Aquatinta/Etching (Note 1.) which enriched my practice deeply.

Artemin: Looking ahead, do you have any new forms of expression or themes you would like to explore or delve deeper into in your painting?

Maria: My artistic practice is circular and in my paintings I keep coming back to ideas and concepts I had at a certain point, dialoguing with new impulses. Currently, I am reinvestigating the relationship between abstraction and figuration, and I am exploring new textures and perceptions of light. A completely new path is the inclusion of auditive and sensual notations I started making last autumn in an ancient wood in the Polish Riesengebirge.

Theresa Möller

Montreal-based German artist Theresa Möller (b.1988, Leipzig, Germany) finds inspiration in the colors and forms of nature, allowing imagery to guide her portrayal of the natural world. Delving into her works, one can perceive a reflection of a psyche, albeit chaotic, yearning for a semblance of order. She gravitates towards sweet mauves, powdery blues, fruity oranges, and marine greens, delicately weaving intricate yet orderly lines that intersect like wild growth in a field. Conversely, the backgrounds of her pieces are rendered in chaotic states with paint, while the foregrounds present order with clear lines. The gradient effects and the interplay of numerous intertwined lines form geometric blocks of color, a skill Möller delves into with ease. Consequently, her works possess strong expressiveness, while also showcasing intense emotions.

Artemin: Where are your works typically inspired by? What led you to choose the use of lines and watercolour-like washes to convey your concepts?

Theresa: The basis of my work are my everyday perceptions and my subjective aesthetic experience. My daily route to my studio during my time in Leipzig, Germany led through the Leipzig floodplain forest; my life in Montreal is connected with excursions and intense experiences of northern forests.

I want to create fragmentary landscapes that oscillate between illusion and abstraction. Certain constellations can trigger associations and the eyes of the observers can recognize familiar things in some contours. Other parts of the painting are left more imprecise and open the space for ambiguity and interpretation. The viewer‘s imagination is challenged without dispensing figurative references.

Artemin: How do you determine the colour schemes for your compositions?

Theresa: My paintings are created in the process. I always start with a first translucent layer of acrylic paint. I usually choose two intense colors for this first layer of paint. The paint diluted with water is applied rather uncontrollably and gradients, contours and shapes arise, which are partly random and unintentional. It acts as a friction surface to which I must react in the further painting process. Gravity and coincidence play a role in this step. I like the fact that the material of the canvas develops its own structure and effect rather than human-made brushstrokes. Starting from this basis, I add lines and more concrete elements with oil paint in the process, thus creating more and more recognizable space. I subsequently establish determination, materiality, and physical presence in the picture. I highlight elements, concretize figures and create contrasts.

Artemin: What ambience or concept do these works aim to convey?

Theresa: I aim to pursue the aesthetics of the landscape, searching less for the supposedly original, but rather engaging with the unclear situations and following my subjective perceptions.

I refer to my observations, experiences, and perceptions of different landscapes, to their own color tone based on the light and color conditions present, to their own pattern triggered by the vegetation types, forms, and structures, and by their formation, their change, and their decay. The nature is particularly appealing to me artistically because here I find something that I can recreate in my visual language: structure and disorder; diversity, repetition, and richness of forms; power, destructiveness, and tenderness. I am interested in the ambiguous transitions between organic growth and cultural formation and between recurrent emergence and inevitable decay.

Artemin: Which artists have influenced your work?

Theresa: After studying illustration, I had a great desire to study painting at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig (HGB). I was able to develop a lot there, working on large formats, figuratively and in color. I had my studio in the old cotton mill in Leipzig, where many of the successful art scene, such as Neo Rauch, Matthias Weischer, David Schnell and Tilo Baumgärtel and the other painters of the so-called New Leipzig School, have their studios. Even if not intentionally, the formal language and the colorful pictorial space of the artists in my environment occupied me and unconsciously influenced me somewhat.

Artemin:  Apart from painting, do you have any other interests or hobbies? How do these interests influence your artistic endeavours?

Theresa: I have been an avid nature lover and observer since childhood, I love walking in wooded areas and loved playing and hiding in the woods as a child. I play the cello, expressing myself through music and listening to music is very important to me.

Artemin: Could you share how you typically organise your day? Have you participated in any artist residency programs?

Theresa: I use any free time I have to paint. I have a very structured day, especially because I have two children. I usually go to my studio in the morning and I paint from morning to afternoon. My studio is located in an old factory building in eastern Montreal. As soon as I arrive at the studio, I forget about everyday life and time and am totally focused on painting. At the beginning of my time in Montreal I had a residency at the Fonderie Darling, and before that a residency in Germany on the Baltic Sea. This time was very intense, as life and work are no longer separate during these stays and you spend all your time in the studio, seeing your work all the time.

Artemin: In the future, do you plan to experiment with new forms of expression or delve deeper into specific themes?

Theresa: At the moment I am working on new, very large formats, larger than I have ever worked before. The large surface of the large format offers me more freedom and openness to experiment with colors. I can also leave fragments relatively rough and let the elements of the painting speak for themselves in their potential and with their strength, dynamism and expressiveness. The size requires the courage to take risks, but also confidence in my ability because large works are much more difficult to plan and control than smaller works, where I can also sort out less successful ones.

Artemin: Having grown up in Germany and now residing in Canada, do you find that these two different countries and environments have influenced your artistic creations differently?

Theresa: Living in Canada opens the possibility for me to relate to new impressions, situations, and experiences in my work. It excites me to leave familiar environments, engage with new natural, cultural, and artistic topographies, and further develop my artistic practice in new situations.

The exhibition is titled “Light filters through the gaps in the leaves” to point out the shared expressions of the four artists in both imagery and state of mind. With 14 vibrant artworks resonating at a high frequency, it feels as if viewers are immersed in a rainforest, fostering a diverse array of flora and fauna. Beneath the canopy of lush foliage, beaming sunlight subtly filters through, creating an ecosystem that is not only nurturing but also surreal and intriguing for viewers to explore.

Note 1. Aquatinta / Etching

“Aquatinta” is a printmaking technique, also known as aquatint, which involves using acid to etch copper or zinc plates, resulting in unique textures and color effects.
On the other hand, “Etching” is another printmaking technique, also known as intaglio printing, whereby an acid-resistant substance is applied to a copper or zinc plate, patterns are then etched into the plate in the acid-etched areas, and finally, the image is printed using ink. Therefore, in the article, the artist’s interest in exploring Aquatinta and Etching refers to two different printmaking techniques.

Editor / Jasmine Pai / Artemin Gallery