In the Studio with Theresa Goessmann

Theresa Goessmann's multi-disciplinary practice explores the lives and limits of digital images through means of collection and collage. We met with German artist Theresa to tell us more about her artistic practice, growing up, and journey to where she is now.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?

It wasn’t until my MA at Central Saint Martins that I started to feel comfortable describing myself as an artist. To be honest, I still sometimes get a little bit of imposter syndrome because I don’t come from a traditional Fine Art background. I realised at some point though that there wasn’t any other term that felt right. I guess in some way I have always been an artist, it just took some time to realize the inevitable. The more productive I am, the more comfortable I feel with the description.

Where are you from/what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?

Growing up I never thought I would ever be creative for a living. Both of my parents work in law and all the adults I knew had office jobs. I was always making something, drawing, painting, sewing, but I never considered myself good enough. My mum though, always supported me and my weirdest ideas and encouraged me to go after what my heart tells me to do rather than what everyone else was doing. I grew up without a TV for most of my childhood. While I missed out on nearly every Disney movie, me and my sisters were making magazines, clothes, putting on shows or doing silly photoshoots. I am really grateful for this freedom I had to experiment without any judgement. I think it has definitely impacted my work, in the sense that by seeing myself as an outsider I am less afraid of breaking with the conventions, discipline or medium, for example putting a digital print on a traditional material like canvas. 

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. Have you gone through the traditional route of art school and what was your experience? 

I studied Fashion Design and did a few internships in the industry before doing an MA in Fine Art. I worked in retail afterwards, trying to make work on the side and then went into another internship within a fashion house again. I have only recently moved back to Hamburg and set up a studio here. My path has been a bit of a zig-zag between the two. I used to think of it as a weakness and would despair over the fact that I was less focused than others or that I couldn’t commit fully to one or the other. But now I see it as an opportunity and catalyst for making work that sits in-between categories, both fields have informed my practice now. It enables me to borrow from one discipline and transport it towards something new. 

Really, Really Close and Really, Really Far Away, 2018 and The World With The Three Stripes, 2018

Digital print on poly canvas
Edition of 3
200 x 140 cm

What’s the message of your work? Are there themes/narratives/purpose? Where do they come from? How would you describe your aesthetic? 

All works are deeply personal, even though visually they appear minimal and abstract. There is this moment that sometimes happens standing in front of an artwork, when all the noise both in my head and out silences and there is only feeling and seeing, not even understanding. That moment is magic because it is pure and immediate – and that is what I search for. I can’t really say there is an overall message to my work, I see it more as something active; flexible, something endlessly incomplete, a growing collection of moments and emotions, stilled down to their essence. As a collector, I use my phone a lot, so I started to research digital images, which has become a recurring topic. I am interested in the way they multiply and shape-shift between screen and reality. 

Who and what are your greatest influences? 

It is so hard to pin down just a few, there are so many that have an impact in some sort of capacity. Jeff Elrod, David Ostrowski, Wolfgang Voegele, Wade Guyton, Landon Metz, Paul Kremer, Anselm Reyle, Albert Oehlen, Rannva Kunoy and Stefan Marx are some of my favorites. Icons like Jean Arp, Calder, Matisse and Cy Twombly, too. Abstract expressionism was an early influence and I always go back to it. There was an exhibition at the Kunsthalle in Hamburg over a decade ago showing the lesser known paintings by the dancer and choreographer Nijinsky from the Ballet Russes. People like that inspire me because they show that you can be more than one thing. The title of that show, Dance of Colours – Nijinsky’s Eye and Abstraction, describes so much of what inspires me: dance, color and abstraction. In a similar vein, John Neumeier has been a great influence, too. Especially in his contemporary choreography work, which is so full of strength and energy, yet has such an elegance and clarity to it – a balance like that is rare to find.

Vaslav Nijinsky - The Unknown Paintings/Drawings, Art Found Out

Are your works planned? What do you want people to take from your work when they view it? Do you have the audience consciously in mind when you are creating?

Some works are planned, some are more like happy accidents, and others go through long transformations. It is hard to determine beforehand in which way a work will go and each work has traits I can’t control. When I create, I try to find a state of flow and blend out everything else but the work. I don’t think of any audience, I think it would diffuse the process. Especially with abstract works, it is always interesting to hear what associations and emotions viewers have. I don’t want to prescribe any particular reading to a work. Even though I might have one, I appreciate the fact that each viewer brings their own interpretation and frame of reference.

What events in your life have mobilized change in your practice/aesthetic? How has your art evolved? Do you stick to one medium? Do you experiment? Do you see any parameters to your work? 

I wouldn’t say there are particular events that mobilized a specific change, but being immersed in such a vivid art scene in London and seeing so much art by artists I admire or discovering new artists has definitely given me confidence and motivation to keep going. Sometimes I wonder whether it is enough to make just a few marks on a canvas and how this vague, uncertain being holds against the weight of the world. Nothing helps more in those moments than going to see the Rothko room at Tate Modern or to flick through a Wolfgang Tillmans catalogue. I can get so much into my own head that it is important to become aware of the reality of art in the everyday. 

Temple of Mysteries: The Tate Modern's Rothko Room, Tate.org.uk

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

I wish it was that easy – if I knew the magic formula for a good work, I wouldn’t do anything else! Ideally, a bright, quiet environment where I feel at ease. I don’t like being watched when I work. But sometimes it is exactly the opposite of ease that is the catalyst. The works in the auction here for example originated from a textile sample that I made years ago and discarded, then found again by chance and decided to scan in. I started playing with that scan during lunch time in our overcrowded studio at Central Saint Martins, probably still chewing on a Sainsbury’s bagel, and only months later again decided to trial some printing methods with it. It seems to be an unpredictable game sometimes.

What’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve been given?

Breathe deeply and have trust is what my mom always tells me and it applies to everything. 

What are you hoping to achieve in the future? (projects, collaborations, taking a break).

For the future, I hope to be able to support myself with my art and to commit my time fully to my practice. Then there are so many projects and ideas that I have! I would love to collaborate with a fashion designer or a store, that would be really exciting. I am also interested in publishing and working on a book project at the moment. And ceramics! I started printing on ceramics during my final project and want to experiment more with that. There is also a mass of papers and fabrics I want to work into collages…


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