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Through a traveler's eyes - Heike Ahrends' WATER series

Interviewed by Jing Zhao

Edited by Ivy Sarioglu

1. Mountains, water, and trees appear frequently in your works. Why do these subjects interest you?

Are they mountains, water and trees that you see?

You might be familiar with René Magritte's expression, "ceci n’est pas une pipe“. Through his paintings, Magritte is playing with the viewers' thoughts and perceptions.

First and foremost, it is just the paint which is visible on the canvas or paper in front of you. What you see and perceive happens within yourself.

I attempt to remind the viewers of something inexpressible through my works. Something that stimulates their feelings within. The artist can suggest any words or provide any explanations of their works to the viewers, but not the viewers' perspectives. Our brain loves explanations. That’s what titles are good for. They catch the mind. Therefore you can say: “oh, yes that is a tree” and move on. However, have you really seen the subject and perceived it? The perceiving is the grander that includes your senses. It is the feeling.

Naturally, you often see mountains, water and trees in my works. That is correct. These images are my conscious choices. The shapes in my paintings are my “primal images”, like symbols. The mountain can be seen as the triangular shape connecting the sky, earth and human beings. Water is life. Trees are the connection between the earth and sky.

2. In your biography, you mentioned that you’ve been creating arts while traveling to different countries, such as Germany, France, UK, and Italy. How these travels influence your art practice?

Traveling is wonderful, and it is a process of renewing myself. I see the world through the eyes of a foreign. Being in new places and overcoming the uncertainties, is my way of confronting myself, because there is no turning back, or hiding. The unexpected, stimulates me. For instance, I dare myself to have a conversation with a stranger. This kind of change in perspective expands my horizons in an extraordinary way. It leads me to humbleness, back to the basics, to me. I grow with my art by constantly renewing myself, so I feel more alive every time.

When we have to remain vigilant, and rely on our pure senses to response to the surroundings on a foreign land, we are outside of our comfort zone, then we become very creative. I believe this does not only apply for the artists, but for everyone of us.

Almost all the frequent travelers know that we must travel light, sometimes maybe only taking the credit card and a toothbrush with us. You cannot take your house with you, nor your past or your status. We are no one to the locals. We get to view the world with pure eyes, fresh thoughts, then we materializes the thoughts in one way or another. That is how, I paint pictures, but the viewers create the exhibition.

A creative process takes a place outside of old thought patterns, it is thereby evolution.

3. What were your motivations for creating the WATER - AT IN ON BESIDE THROUGH series?

We humans are made of water, and we belong to the nature. Almost like a mantra or mandala. It shows the dependentness of all living things to the water, the never ending cycle of life.

4. What was the process like in terms of creating the WATER series? I noticed you painted on multiple layers, including stone papers. Also, there is text written on the drawings. Why did you make those choices?

While in the open nature where I am allowed to react spontaneously with pencils in front of the panorama, in the studio on the other hand, allow the artworks to be slowly developed and mature. By comparing the slow-art, which includes ongoing layerings and finely tuned oil paints, with the full liveliness sketches that arise from concentrated and intense devotion, one is pre-conditioned by the other.

The Water-series could be viewed as a combination of the two techniques. The bottom layer was created with pencils on stone papers in the mountains of Iceland. The colorful layer happened during my evenings at the studio in Akyureyri. The Haiku-poems that written over the drawings were created during the ferry crossing from Hirtshals, Denmark to Seyðisfjörður, Iceland, as well as during my hikes in the hot springs or horse-riding through the mountains of Iceland.

This Water-series is unique in its execution, and essentially it is a form of diary of my two different states of emotions, switching from outdoors to indoors.

5. Do you feel differently when painting at the studio and outdoors? Which is your preferred way to create?

When traveling through nature, it is more practical to have light papers with you than with heavy canvases. It is a chanllenge to dedicate myself to study the nature while being outdoors. It is a great pleasure also, since I turn back being a child again, as a beginner to arts. No guarantee of success is needed, and I am allowed to be playfull. In the studio, I transform the tangibles to abstracts on the canvas, a poetic instance. I never paint off a photo. Every composition of a picture emerges without reference. I have the picture in mind.

The studio means more than just a place to create to me. It is a serene space for my being. To give the Water-series credibility over the sketch-like nature study, I added colors and haiku-poetry to these contemplative drawing exercises, to amplify the spontaneity of the moment. It is also an exercise for the mind, to reflect memories on the layers. It is where the visual perception and the hearted wordings meet.

My feelings are combined in these two places, inside the studio and outdoors. The combination is my creation. They are both from my heart.

6. What feelings or reactions do you wish the viewers in the U.S. to have, while seeing your WATER series?

My emotional exploration has been manifested in the WATER series. I wish the audience to feel my drive and desire in discovering human nature in foreign Iceland, a place that challenged me to be completely out of my comfort zone. After two months of painting in snow and the freezing cold condition, with constant light 24 hours a day, I constantly asking myself, how much I can paint today in this gusty wind? How much nature I can take in? How much nature I can depict?

A new start happens at the end of this exhibition, for me, for the viewers, and for the gallery. I hope that the viewers can sense this distinctive energy. Johan Wolfgang von Goethe once said: “It must come from the heart, what should touch the heart.”

Could the viewers feel like such? That is fully to be determined by the dear audience in the gallery.

7. What are you working on next?

This year I will be working on the art project OUTSIGHT MOVE IN. It is about how I declare the foreign unknown as my home. By stepping into the unfamiliarities, I generate a powerful creativity and lightheartedness. I am hoping for the surprises with new realizations.

In August and September I have the opportunity to work and live at the Art in Residence “Metropolitan Fujukusou” in Kyoto. Small exhibitions are expected from me there.

Later during November and December 2023 I will be in Paris.

KRO - The Artists’ Association of Sweden has given me the opportunity to stay at Carina Ari-ateljén i Cité Internationale des Arts.

Standing on a foreign land, surrounded by complete strangers, zero language I can speak, and blank knowledge of local culture, these are the best conditions for the my art project OUTSIGHT MOVE IN.

Thank you.

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