Anja Stemmer: “Dancing with Chance”
Anja Stemmer’s internationally recognized works are already represented outside Germany in private collections in the USA, Namibia, Switzerland and Austria. Her paintings derive their power from a mixture of untamed emotions, vivid colors and the superimposition of energetic painterly gestures. She paints in the tradition of Tachism, a current of abstract expressionism. Her abstract paintings bring joy, inspiration and confidence into your life and a positive atmosphere into your rooms.
Interview by Ummuhan Kazanc
Anja Stemmer, “The Butterfly Effect”, 2022, Acrylic, Collage, Shellac, Crayon on Canvas, 120 x 80 cm.
Dear Anja Stemmer, can we listen to your story of switch from professional business life to the world of painting?
Yes, of course. Here is how it all started: “Anja, aren't you working a bit too much?” This sentence has accompanied me for a long time. And at times, I now admit, I really did overdo it a bit. It was many years ago when I really lost the ability to be happy - because of all the work. At that time, I probably just managed to avoid burnout. But it still took a while for things to change.
I asked myself what I could still be really happy about. And via a few detours I came to the conclusion that the answer is colors. Bright colors. Organic shapes. Semi-random, untamed and exuberant, but also deliberately arranged.
So I took my first steps as a "young collector" and looked for affordable ways to get art that would remind me at home that the joy in life should not come up short. I started visiting the "open studio weekends" in various parts of the city. And an inner voice says quite loud and clear: "You can do it too, you just have to try it...!"
No sooner said than done. I booked a painting course or two, but was not happy at all in the beginning with the teaching styles. Until I met a true mentor in Peter Tomschiczek, who gave me tips on the way, how I can go my way autodidactically and how I can answer most of my questions – about composition, material, image composition, etc. myself.
And after yet another period of time while I have been pursuing both careers in parallel, i.e. interim management of mergers, turnarounds and transformation projects and my art practice, I have now decided to allocate the weight and give the room to my art which it deserves and to fully focus on my art career. Since I’ve been selling my work already internationally and nationally with good success, I am confident that going forward just “the sky is the limit”…
Anja Stemmer, “Looping”, 2021, Acrylic, Collage, and Charcoal on Canvas, 180 x 140 x 5 cm.
You present yourself as self-taught artist but you have great experiences with distinguished artists such as Peter Tomschiczek, Jo Bukowski and Dietmar Wölfl. I'm curious about your working process with these special artists. What an experience it was?
Peter Tomschiczek was known for the fact that occasionally participants left his classes crying. But I was happy and proud to be admitted to his seminar and to be able to really learn something from him. The feedback wasn't cotton candy, his comments on my work hit the nail on the head, and I got some important advice along the way that I still benefit from today.
It was similar with the workshops with Jo and Dietmar. One has the opportunity to spend a few days with the real luminaries of one’s field and can witness, among other things, how they approach a painting and also how they tackle and solve the artistic problem cases of some other course participants as well. Based on this input, I could learn to approach my own work more effectively and find better artistic solutions - whereby I always made a point of keeping my own "handwriting" and not simply imitating the masters.
Anja Stemmer, “At the Promenade”, 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 100 x 80 cm.
You paint in the tradition of Tachism. We see mixture of untamed emotions, vivid colors and the superimposition of energetic painterly gestures in your paintings. Can you give us a little more detail about the style and technique of your paintings?
Tachism, which makes part of the informal way of painting (also known as abstract expressionism) is often characterized as a process oriented way of working. You embark on a journey and let yourself be carried away by the painting process so to say.
I often start with a certain color pallet in the back of my mind, but I am always open to change it as new impressions emerge and my “color mood” may change over time. It is important to understand that from start to finish my process takes quite a while, since I work with fluid paint and thus have to deal with considerable waiting times to let each layer of paint dry sufficiently before I apply the next one. So changes in external and internal factors can happen over the course of the time and in parallel they will influence the process.
But my painting also lives from additional, subtle contrasts and not only from the colors themselves. I believe that for instance surface texture also plays an important role in keeping the viewer's interest alive. Giving the eye of the beholder some detail to stick with is as important as making a bold statement to attract attention from a distance. – I always try to balance both before I consider an artwork finished. And this kind of considerations constitute the intentional, more deterministic part of my painting process. Therefore I sometimes call my way of working “dancing with chance”. It’s a balance between non-deterministic evolution and the intentional direction I give to the work.
Anja Stemmer, “Divine Comedy”, 2017, Acrylic and Pigments on Canvas, 90 x 110 cm.
Although you produce abstract works of art, all of them have a very high positive energy. The poetry of colors and brush movements is very impressive. What are the opinions of art audiences about your works usually?
I often hear the word “strong” associated with my paintings, since there is a clear determination and decisiveness inherent in the finishing of my artworks. I’d rather say it is a good part of my innate optimism that shines through here. The audience often also catches a sense of the fun parts of my art making process. And actually I believe that working and having fun or maybe better being in the state of flow must not be opposites in life.
An executive consultant stated recently “your work in combination with the furniture immediately awakens in me the association: FRESH / WILD / INSPIRING and yet for the spirit CONSERVING. I would sit down there immediately to think - but always with a view of your painting!” From statements like this I take it that my artwork also has the power to refresh the mind and inspire thought processes and innovation.
What is the message you want to give to the audience with your art?
There are so many things in life which we cannot control. But we can assume a standpoint of making the best of all these things and events that may seem chaotic at first. And we can attempt to tame them as we go and thus become the driver of our fate. It’s an invitation to enjoy the dance with chance and practice letting go or trust the process.
Is there a subject or place that inspired you while producing your works? For example, how do you relate to nature?
I love deserts and landscapes formed by volcanic activities. Their structures and colors always are an inspiration for me. Nature’s organic shapes, the fractals created by e.g. water finding its way in a river’s delta – there are many aspects of nature, observed when travelling, that sink into my subconscious mind and re-emerge in a transformed way within my artworks. Sometimes I happen to recognize the influence, sometimes the inspiration is of a more generic nature.
I guess you don't limit yourself to one material while producing your paintings. What does the variety of materials in painting mean to you?
Each and every binding agent has special properties and sometimes attracts and sometimes repels another binder. Even pigments of different type can behave very differently. Most probably it is my scientific upbringing in Physics that makes me enjoy the aspect of experimentation, of watching in awe the reactions that may happen when you bring together diverse substances. For me the natural materials create a depth that reflects emotions and ultimately breathes life into my artworks. I experimented for years with reactions of different binders and paints in layers. These react best with acrylic paint, which is why it is the basis of my paintings. I perceive playing with materials also as a natural process and an inspiring and important aspect of my work. It adds to the depth of impressions and creates another element of contrast in my work.
Lastly can we learn about your future plans? Do you have a solo or group exhibition plan?
Yes, once my current exhibition in Benediktbeuern comes to an end, I plan to go on a short holiday. But there are various shows planned for autumn: A solo exhibition at the Säulenhalle (Columned hall) in Landsberg and a group show in Munich are fixed already and I am also pursuing another two opportunities to show my work in a professional context – in the office of a law firm and at a conference venue, Schloss Lautrach - a castle in the Allgäu region of Germany - both as solo shows - where the scheduling has not yet been finalized.