Stefanie Gutheil is a Berlin-based artist. It’s impossible to forget her paintings once you’ve seen them: those mixed creatures, monsters, spooky smiles and mysterious scenes might be something you will be dreaming of tonight. But don't be scared – Stefanie's art is not that creepy. If you look closer, you will definitely discover lots of amusement, love for the human being and the animals, free souls and amazing stories from the artist's surreal wonderland.
Stefanie, when did you start painting?
I started painting in my childhood, but at the age of 17 I got more into it. In the beginning, I was a graphic designer in Ulm, but then I moved to Berlin, where I enrolled at university and started to take art pretty seriously. Later on, I invested all my money in renting a small studio in Berlin where I paint almost every day and spend most of my time.
How does your day look like?
In the morning I come to my studio with my dog, I switch on the music and start preparing to work. In the first 2-3 hours I sit around, look at my paintings, think of some ideas, do some research on the internet, and then I start painting. Generally, Berlin is the right city for a painter, as there are many talented artists and the stress level is very low. In the evenings I often visit exhibitions or openings where I meet with my friends and exchange ideas with other artists.
How do you choose colors for your paintings?
I choose them by following my intuition. In my earlier paintings –which were much bigger and fuller–, I was using almost all of the colors. Lately, though, I’ve started simplifying my art; I choose colors more thoughtfully and try to focus only on some of them. But mostly everything happens while painting, ideas rise in the process. I don’t do many sketches, I might just take a photo of the painting, then work a bit on it in Photoshop, maybe reshape forms, check how colors work with each other, and at some point I know what to do and I get to it.
Who are those creatures in your paintings?
I am very influenced by Hieronymus Bosch, David Hockney, and Matisse. There are so many artists I like and get inspired from, and there are so many things in our century to get influenced by. In my paintings –mostly the earlier, bigger ones– you should try not to lose track of what is happening in the painting. Using these monsters and mixed creatures is my way to escape uniformity, so that you can’t guess they are black or white, woman or man. I find lots of weird things and lots of madness in this world. Humans are like metaphors I often mix with animals, as nature of is based on instincts, and often humans behave like animals, don’t they? (Laughs).
Did you believe in your childhood that there was a monster under your bed?
Sometimes I thought of that, but I was not a coward kid. I had many fantasies and some of them were frightening, but I’ve never gone extreme. Actually, the older I get, the greater my fears become. For example, when I am deep in the ocean I always think that there is a shark nearby, or when I am in this charming lake that has this brown, dark green color I fantasize that there might be a monster under my feet. I love dreaming about my monsters, imagining them as a cream cake or something amusing. I think I have a great imagination. (Laughs).
Tell me more about your working process.
First I have an idea that mostly comes from my unconsciousness. It’s surreal, it’s something that I saw, heard, or experienced. I might have this idea for days or weeks on my mind. In the beginning it’s blurry, but as time goes by it gets clearer, and then I just wait for the right moment to start. When the time comes, I prepare the canvas, the colors, and start to paint. During the process, I change many things and I like to work on several pieces at a time, as I get many ideas and inspiration that can be used on another canvas besides the original.
Do you express your feelings in the paintings?
Feelings are very important to me. When I am happy, it’s summer, or something good has happened to me I use happier colors and try to add humor and fun in the paintings – when I am in a bad mood, or it’s winter and cold, I use darker colors. I grew up with books like Alice in Wonderland, and at the same time observed the works of Hieronymus Bosch, who used mixed creatures already in the 15th century. All of these childhood memories later came together and mingled, and now come to life through my paintings.
Are you sending society a particular message through your work?
My art is open to anyone. They can find their stories in my paintings; they can feel and see different things. Sometimes people tell me stuff and I’m like, “Of course! You are right, it’s exactly what I meant!” This is what I really appreciate, this is what painting is all about, I am not a book writer or a photographer, I don’t tell a clear story – my art is open to interpretation, filled with codes, hints, and spontaneity.
How does Berlin affect your work?
Berlin is relatively cheap in comparison to other European cities. That means you can afford to rent a studio or a small space to work. There is always something going on here – it’s a city of parties and events, full of young people. Berlin is not for bankers who always rush to work, it is rather a place for crazy, mixed creatures. Berlin is also a great place for clubbing and tasteful music. What I really like about this city is that it’s full of fetish elements; here you can see middle age scenes in sex clubs, parties, and fashion. For example when I go to Berghain there are many weirdos and freaks that are kind of inspirational for me.
What are you currently working on?
I am in the middle of the process now, trying to simplify my work. Before creating something, I always need to struggle, make some shitty paintings, mistakes, and at some point, things clear out and I am ready to put all the thinking into canvas.