Reading the experiences of the models was a pleasure of a very particular kind. Probably once the texts are published no one will ever appear for a portrait sitting again.
I read how I force people into vises, squash them behind table-tops, refuse to speak with them, dismember them into components, fail to perceive them as individuals. I take up my work like a silent Gulag guard, remote and monomaniac.
Yet it´s all untrue. We enjoy cordial human interaction and are often deeply involved in conversation that I have to set the brush aside. All my sitters are fed, warmed, chauffeured, they tell their troubles and I tell mine. We take lengthy breaks, eat dainty morsels, important calls are put through (stock prices, yesterday´s box-office, cookery instructions for neglected latch-key kids). We just have a great time. We listen to music; there too I´m putty in their hands. Only in cases of the most serious incompatibility do I ask for mercy. They obviously don´t know what terrible power they have over me, in what dependency on their moods and appointment books I live. If I am described as the mistress of events, in truth I am their slave.
Yes, when painting I do dismember the person into individual parts, but not so as to ignore him or her as a whole. Indeed, the one thing I aim for is to capture the person´s essential wholeness. It is striking that the sitters experience obsessive work on one detail as a degradation from subject to object, as an injury. This is a mistake. The sitter determines the shape of the process, an paints alongside me. The grumblings of emotional volcanoes, the psychological imbalances are both particularly alluring and real risk factors, since the sittings can occasionally degenerate into a kind of Strindbergian dance of death. Conversely, in the case of narcissistic personalities I may have to paint certain prominent sections of the picture secretly, then covering them up, because a conspicuously spotted lilac sofa or an intensely checkered jacket, which I paint with the same pleasure and dedication as the bridge of a nose, seems to the sitters to outshine them, leading to extreme ill humor. It´s a problem I know from the theater.
Yes, I have a preconceived idea – and I have to, otherwise I would never decide on a particular motif – but it can be altered, in fact it begs to be altered. If everything were settled beforehand and only had to be “implemented”, painting would no longer interest me. The work with the model is what gives the picture its unexpected turn. In the course of a sitting, people show more of themselves than they want to, especially when they get tired; then their defenses and self-discipline weaken, and they at last fall into their habitual postures. I follow the changing of the points, surprised and open-minded. Curiously I wonder where the journey will lead.
I usually already know the people I paint. I memorize their typical postures, the expressions of their faces, a particular movement – I have within me a kind of automatic observation mechanism, a deformation professionnelle. This becomes fascinating when I paint theater people: there´s a meeting of professionally deformed observers. They watch me just as closely as I watch them. They are conscious of the means at their disposal, and catching them in an unpretended, authentic state is difficult. Peymann, for example, refused to the very end to follow the progress of which really means he wanted to artificially preserve his naivetè and to outwit himself. The converse case is the three youthful and naïve convenience store clerks, who looked at their picture every day, yet would never have been able to stand any differently.
Wieland Schmied is a right to speak of the mise en scène of human interaction. From my perspective, the reference to the theater applies more to the outward working methods in the studio: carefully chosen décor, lighting, familiarity with technology, and so on. But if I hadn´t worked in the theater, the same material would probably still have painted its way out of me, and with the same rituals. Again and again I read that my paintings is theatrical. Agreed, if the conclusion is drawn that everything which happens between human beings is necessarily theatrical.
What I really loved about my time in the theater was the great wealth of distinctive faces, and the relationships, grown organically over time, with artists whose sympathy when their head is shifted for the third time just touches my heart. They see how I whirl about in front of the picture, and sense from my expression that something bad is going on. They suffer with me because they know the situation from their own experience. When the session is over and they see from the corner of their eye that everything is ruined, they are not disconcerted but merely make a brief, private calculation of how many extra hours I am now going to keep them from their own work. They show solidarity. Cozy in the nest of their faithfulness, in fear of loss (the model disappearing into the blue) doesn´t haunt me so fiercely, and together with them the journey can continue on its unregulated way.
Later the painter reads wonderfully complimentary interpretations of what she wants. Yes, it´s all true – her pictures are, among other things, commentaries on, analyses of the Zeitgeist. But what does she really want? She wants the red bulge of an armchair with the cyclamen-colored curve of a hip, against a pea-green wall interrupted by a yellow edge. That´s her fun zone.