Artist Q&A

Kerstin Roolfs

Where are you from and where are you currently based? 

I’m from Germany and studied Fine Arts in Berlin before I moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the mid-90’s. I’m still in Williamsburg and I have a studio in the South Bronx.

 

What is a typical day like for you? 

Dog walks, meditation, news (German & US) while having breakfast, getting ready to paint/draw or tutor art or German and/or meeting friends and/or seeing shows in galleries/museums, dinner, exercise, meditation.

 

What drew you to making art? 

As a child I liked sports and art. I was exposed early on to the arts, my grandmother was a fashion designer, my aunt a painter and my mom loves fashion, the arts and sports.

Kerstin Roolfs, Scudder, 2002, © Kerstin Roolfs. Image courtesy of the artist.

Was it something you knew you would do from a young age? 

Yes, I knew I wanted to be an artist and a teacher in seventh grade, and I knew that I wanted to live in NYC by eleventh grade.

 

Can you describe a memory associated with art that could be considered a turning point, either that led you to pursue making art or that influenced your work? 

I had finished a sculpture at school and brought it home (it must have been my second to last year of high school) and I have a very distinct memory of my step-mom saying to me that if she had such artistic talent as I did, she would definitely have made a profession of it. A turning point that influenced my work profoundly was definitely my move to Berlin and, with it, the exposure to professional artists as mentors and artistic peers at the University of Fine Arts.

 

Your body of work spans such a wide range of subject matter, can you speak a little bit about where you find inspiration? 

Broadly speaking I draw my inspiration from life. I’m interested (and always have been) in philosophy, psychology, politics and history. The fundamental questions of life like: Where do we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? Why do we do what we do? Why do we behave in certain ways? Not only as individuals, but also as communities and cultures.

Kerstin Roolfs, Heads 1, 2019, © Kerstin Roolfs. Image courtesy of the artist.

Are there concepts or themes that you are continually drawn to? 

I’m definitely drawn to unearthing the unconscious, trying to free what is hidden inside of me, trying to bring it out on canvas or paper. The Surrealists called this method automatic drawing/painting. It is very interesting to just get into the flow and see what comes out. I love being surprised by the results. On the other hand I’m drawn to concepts. Conceptual art is the opposite of automatic drawing/painting. For example: My Global Beings Series is based on Plato’s Symposium, precisely the part where Aristophanes explains why and how people find their partners. I combined Aristophanes’ writing with sketches of deformed babies I drew in the medical collection of the Charité (University-Research Hospital) in Berlin. The Global Beings Series is a conceptual work and it incorporates philosophy, medical studies, myth and humor.

 

Who are some of your biggest artistic influences? 

My biggest childhood/teenage influences are: Edgar Degas, Caspar David Friedrich, Franz Marc, van Gogh and Gauguin. While I was studying art I loved Soutine, Kandinsky, Anselm Kiefer and Sigmar Polke. After my studies and while living in NYC I loved (and still do) Jean-Michel Basquiat and Matthew Barney. (Oh gosh, I just realized they are all men :))

 

Are there any recent developments you’ve gone through in your artistic process? 

Yes, I opened up to a more playful and experimental way of working again. The previous years I was working more conceptually and currently I’m back to a more experimental (automatic drawing/painting) cycle.

Left image: Kerstin Roolfs, House of the Rising Sun, 2019. Kerstin Roolfs, House of the Rising Sun 2, 2019. © Kerstin Roolfs. Images courtesy of the artist.

What is the most difficult aspect of your process? 

It can be difficult to get into a ‘flow state’ (a term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) especially if I cannot find enough solitude and time in this noisy, crowded, and fast paced city.

 

Has there been a recent exhibition that you’ve seen that had a lasting impact?

Yes, I love the work of Hilma af Klint. Amazing conceptual paintings. I saw her original work for the first time this year in the Guggenheim Museum in NYC.

 

What are you currently working on?

My current cycle is about the unearthing of the unknown a.k.a automatic painting (coined by the Surrealists), and in the best case scenario I love to see completely unexpected and unexplainable forms, colors, and compositions. Since I believe in Dualism or yin/yang, I’m working on a conceptual series too. It is science-based and the medium is watercolor on canvas.

Discover more of Kerstin's works in our shop or come visit our gallery space on October 24th to check out her work in person. Kerstin's work will be featured in our Autumn Group Exhibition along with three other artists.

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