It’s a late summer Saturday morning in Meckenheim, a little German town a few kilometres south of what was, until 1990, the capital of West Germany, Bonn. The day is partially cloudy but with a pleasant temperature and occasionally a shy ray of sunshine peeks through the cloud cover. I drive the few blocks that separate my girlfriend Lilian’s house from the house of Margret by car. My Nikon D750 is with me, in the backpack, together with the rest of the equipment. I am very excited about the job that awaits me: Margret has invited me to her house to photograph her splendid sculptures. A truly unique opportunity, given that, until today, I had only taken photographs of sculptures when strolling through the cities I’ve visited, but never at home, and in company, of the artist who created them.
Shooting a sculpture is a bit like taking a portrait of a person. A sculpture, however, you cannot ask for a smile, to show an expression or emotion other than the one it was given. A sculpture is the expression of the artist’s mind that created it and as a photographer it is my job to document his/her work without risking making it mine, thus allowing the artist’s message, in this case the sculptor’s message, to unbiasedly reach the people that will see it through my photos. And this is exactly what I’m going to do.
Margret is a very well-known and appreciated sculptor in the Bonn area, her works can be found in various exhibitions and are acquired at modest prices by private collectors. If there is a place that better than any other is able to show the essence of her art, it’s the house where Margret has been living for well 39 years now.
Just entering the house, I immediately notice some bronze sculptures, small ones, positioned inside a small cupboard with glass shelves. The first feeling is that this place will have a variety of pleasant surprises for me. Margret accompanies me to the living room where her husband sits in a comfortable armchair, with a newspaper in his hands, listening to a piece of classical music. It goes without saying that also here I spot numerous sculptures made of stone and bronze. Then, through a French door, we reach the garden of the house. It’s a wonderful place where the vivid colours of the roses and the lourishing green of the plants enter in symbiosis with the wrought stone. A place away from the daily life, where nature and art complement each other, merging in total harmony. All of a sudden, the grey sky opens and a ray of sun illuminates the garden. It’s the right moment to take out the photo camera and to take my photos.
Interview with Margret.
Hello Margret, tell us when your passion for art and especially for sculpturing was born?
I grew up in a crafts business – we had a bakery in Cologne and art wasn’t really a topic. There is a letter to my father – I must have been around 12 – in which I very romantically and narcissistically wrote that I would either become an author or a painter. This wore off with time. After the war and the early death of my father we rather had to make sure to survive and to get an adequate education in order to be able to fend and provide for ourselves. When I was about 45 years old and working as family therapist in an advice centre for marriage, family and prenatal conflict consulting, I was looking for other means of expressing ourselves besides language – on the one hand for my clients, but on the other for myself. And of course also to deviate the high emotional pressure. Then I went on a retreat and drove to the sea. There for the first time I took clay into my hands. When I came back home I was looking for my first teacher – that was the beginning.
Today your works are known and highly appreciated in artistic and cultural environments in Bonn and surroundings. Your house – which I had the pleasure to visit – resembles a real art museum. Did you ever, as young girl, imagine that this would one day happen?
No, no way I could have imagined this when I was a young girl. The way I live today is actually quite unusual considering my family origins. After all we were always bound to crafts and trade. After my retirement as family therapist I extended my hobby and took up sculpture studies. In this process, it seemed most natural to combine my sculptures step by step with my garden and house. Visits of friends, neighbours and of other artists in summer or autumn time always supported me along my way. And – very important – I had full support and freedom from my husband, especially to turn the garden into an art landscape. This way we live today in an always changing garden scope, and subject to the topics that touch me in the course of time and that I canconvert into an artistic form.
I know that some of your works are related to particular moments in your life and are thus the result of emotions and feelings that you at that time have lived and experienced yourself. Would you like to tell us about one of those moments?
To answer your question whether there is objects that are in direct connection to my own lived emotions and feelings, I can absolutely confirm this. One and a half years ago I became very ill. After many years of carefree health this was a deep fall into the feeling of sheer pain, helplessness and fear of death. I was afraid of dying – and especially during the nights, when sleep didn’t protect me from those feelings and pondering, the fear was dancing around my bed and penetrated my discouraged soul. Of course, daylight brought back brightness and thus also the control and strength to deal more maturely with the unalterable. Anyway, I wanted to transform this process artistically. This is how the bronze sculpture “dance of fear” came into being. It is almost faceless, but at a closer look one can see its witchlike traits. And it has a hollow belly in which it could have devoured me had I given up.
Is a sculpture for you an exact copy of what you have imagined in your mind or can a sculpture also evolve and change in the course of its creation?
During my sculptor studies, which I started after I retired at 60, we always had to build models before working on a huge stone, a big piece of wood or a subject relevant sculpture. The goal was to train the perception; model and realization had to match exactly. During my own, free works today I often have to smile when I look at its own way the piece of art pursued. I trust in myself and welcome the change that happens through and in front of me.
For an artist, what is the ideal place to create his/her art? And you, where do you realize your sculptures?
You ask me for an ideal place to create art. I can only say: there are favourite spots for me. One is in my kitchen, my kitchen table with view out of the window, entwined by a big green clematis. For a year now we are renting an old farmhouse in the countryside together with some artists and therapists. Interesting for me was – I have a beautiful studio in the barn – that also here I actually love to work in the old outer kitchen of the farmhouse with view out of the window. Why? I don’t know, I just feel it.
Which sculpture is for you of highest value? And which sculpture do you think is the most appreciated by the public?
A difficult question. I think I can’t answer it, because also in terms of value there are for me so extremely many facets and key points that are all depending on the moment. Something similar I experience in the response of the public. The viewer comes in contact with the work: it either becomes important for him/her or it doesn’t touch him/her at all. If it’s important to the viewer this is always an extremely personal experience, very individual and also here very dependent of the moment and the individual mental state.
What are your plans for the future?
Due to my illness my strength and energy are reduced and have changed. It’s not only a question of “more or less”, I’m rather on the way to feel and recognize what is essential – essential for me. This is where I redirect my energy.
Do you have recommendations for young artists, be it sculptors, painters or photographers?
This is difficult to generalize, because every young person is at a different point of its development and state of mind. I can only tell what is important on the way. That is for example the question: does the fire burn in me? And am I ready to pursue this path despite or better can I develop the strength to go through the ups and downs and to reconfirm the often endless processes that carry me further and let me advance? And how dependent am I on response and feedback? It helped me a lot not to have to go through those developments alone. Instead I have – as if I was to make a precious pearl necklace – always looked for people and teachers that shared and accompanied me on each of the relevant and necessary steps. This was good for me in every respect. But also this I don’t want to generalize.