This German artist knows no boundaries: she uses flowers, fruits, furniture, light bulbs and anything you can think of to create cheerful and fun images. Sarah Illenberger has also worked for great fashion maisons, been featured in several magazines and exhibited in art galleries. Her work moves between photography, set design, art direction, sculpture and more. With such a complete profile, we talked to her to know more about the soul who turns flowers into fireworks.
I always wanted to work in the creative field. At the age of 10 I told my mum that I wanted to become an artist – she got a crack up. In those days you couldn’t be an artist, society had to declare you one. I sold my first cigar box collages at the port of a small island in the Cyclades. With the money I earned, I bought fish from the local fishermen that were coming in the evenings.
I think my time in London really shaped me in that sense. British humour and wit influenced my way of seeing and observing my everyday surrounding and environment. Taking photos on a daily basis trains you to look at things more closely and discover the details and fine nuances to them. My eyes are always wide open and I try to see the world through the eyes of a child. Today I got a brief to illustrate an elephant: I wanted to do something with heavy rock, as that’s very symbolic in my eyes. I actually found a big rock in my archive that was shaped exactly like an elephant. Sometimes I am just lucky!
My favourite artwork is always the last one I created. In this case, it is a more natural coloured series of images I photographed in Porto, Portugal, called Almada (like the name of the street I stayed in). The ready-made assemblages feel like little treasures – since all the objects are collected and found in the local neighbourhood and garden. I like both the simplicity of these images and the fact that they touch the most elementary parts of life: fire, water, air and earth.
I carry a small list of materials that I want to use in some way or another... But usually the choice of material underlies the theme and concept of the story. I have been looking at the stucco on my bedroom ceiling for the past year and thinking what I could do with that. Yesterday, I decided to build a wedding cake with it. It worked out well!
There are a lot of artists I am inspired by. I enjoy the irony and versatility of Sigmar Polk or Erwin Wurm, Hans-Peter Feldmann and Maurizio Cattelan. Thomas Demand has obviously been an inspiration in terms of the paper work. Although the first paper installation that caught my eye was in my hometown, Munich, where a stationary shop in the university had hung paper lingerie on a washing line. That sparked my love for paper. I am also very influenced by women icons in art such as Frida Kahlo, Meret Oppenheim and Patti Smith.
We didn’t have much to do with the fashion people at St. Martins since they were in separate buildings. I enjoy fashion to a certain extent. Most fashion brands for which I work want more than just a look or image. They are interested in the story telling part of my work. It’s very challenging to come up with a story around a shoe or a bag.
Furniture, like all design objects, is interesting to play with. I like to personify objects and bring them to life.
I have exhibited in some galleries and concept stores in the past. As I am on the border of many disciplines –sculpture, set design, illustration, art direction, styling etc.– it’s hard to get recognised in the art world. It feels like you have to have studied art and be dedicated to one work practice to exhibit in galleries.
New York Times Magazine: love them for the conceptual language of photoillustration.
Zeit Magazin: strong visual language that challenges me to enter new territories.
Apartamento: Love the people they portray. They have managed to get rid of all the falsehood & slickness in the interior world.
Creating installations belongs to the same process as my photographic work. I build something in three-dimensions, but instead of shooting it and discarding it afterwards, it gets a real audience for a period of time. I have always been keen on the physical process of building something. For bigger projects I have to find other people who are more skilled in certain techniques.
This project was very intense, and my studio turned into a little factory. I was lucky to have a great team of people with me, so it always felt like a social event. Logistics were the toughest part, and I definitely underestimated the packing part at the end of the period. Still, so many things developed during the making process, that it would have been a pity to give it to a production company.
I was sketching ideas with materials from nature for some months: playing with leaves, flowers and such. One morning I walked into a flower shop and saw all these flowers exploding. It was one of these magical moments when you know you have hit oil.
I try to believe in that stuff. At least I apply to my daughter, as she is still young and unspoiled. At the end I think that psyche has a bigger impact on our health than natural sources.
I am working on some self-initiated images and a children book for a new publishing house in Berlin called Tarzipan. I am travelling a lot and hope to escape the cold Berlin winter in an art residency somewhere south.
Happy and healthy.