Paul Zimmerman in conversation with Sonja Kalb, “During this pandemic, people have rediscovered their longing for beauty and nature.”
Paul Zimmerman: Let’s start from the beginning. What’s your background?
Sonja Kalb: During my schooldays, I discovered my love of art. Colors, color compositions and beauty have always fascinated me. I have my talent from my grandmother. Through my studies as a graduate engineer in textile and design, I received a comprehensive artistic education. From nature study drawings to photography and nude and portrait painting, I learned to work with sound craftsmanship and to express the quality of my own personal image development and interpretation.
PZ: Nature seems to be a major inspiration for you. Why is it important?
SK: Nature paints the most beautiful pictures. We depend on nature to provide us with all of our precious fresh air, water and food.Nature is the basis of life for humans and animals. I see my painting as a contrast to our fast-paced, digitalized modern era with its disregard for the environment. It is a statement of my understanding and concern for us all to develop more responsibility and respect for the world around us and to rediscover the importance of the sustainable protection of nature.
PZ: What is your artistic process? How do you create your paintings?
SK: I start in my head and when I get into the flow, my mind guides me and everything comes together naturally. In the end, I reanalyze the work with a fresh perspective. I concentrate on the essentials, eliminate representational aspects and reduce everything to color and form. Color contrasts, composition, lines and surfaces, surface structures and textures serve as my design elements.
PZ: You work in various sizes. Which format do you prefer?
SK: I love large format pictures because they captivate the viewer from a distance, but smaller pictures can also present a wonderful challenge.
PZ: Do you have any particular goal in mind when you start a new piece?
SK: Sometimes you know the title of the exhibition and you start to think, but if you are in the flow you don’t think anymore. Or you know the location, which sometimes affects the format. In general, I paint from the heart.
PZ: How do you know when the painting is finished?
SK: My artworks come into the public only after I have had them in my surroundings for a while and feel they are ready. If an artwork does not convey the right spirit, it will not be shown.
PZ: How has your practice changed over time?
SK: Like many artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, I have progressed beyond figurative painting to collages and from there to abstraction.
PZ: How does the pandemic influence your work and sensibility?
SK: I have just opened my solo exhibition in the local German state parliament; the title of the exhibition is called “Nature Awakening.” I did not know that the title would be so topical because planning for the exhibition began in June 2019. I have painted an artwork of the same name in monumental dimensions of 210 × 280 cm to welcome and captivate the visitors. Now people see the beauty of nature and feel its relaxing effect. During this pandemic, people have rediscovered their longing for beauty and nature. Nature and light have always played an important role in art. I always recharge my batteries in nature and by the sea – and then pass this power on through my pictures.
PZ: Which artists are you most influenced by?
SK: Per Kirkeby with his nature works, Gerhard Richter with his abstract paintings, Pablo Picasso’s Cubism period, with its reduction to surface, basic elements and geometric forms. Further comparisons can be made with Arshile Gorky and Karel Appel through their aligned implementation of line and color.
PZ: I know that in November you will be exhibiting at Yukyung Art Museum in South Korea. What are your other upcoming projects?
SK: Due to the pandemic, a lot of exhibitions that were planned for 2020 have been postponed or cancelled, including the group exhibition at the Metropolitan Art Museum in Tokyo. Now it will take place in 2021. More projects are in planning but we have all seen how the pandemic affects our plans. I don’t want to speak about them yet.
Paul Zimmerman is an art critic and writer living in New York City.
Paul Zimmerman in conversation with Sonja Kalb, New York: Artery, 2020: arterynyc.com
Timothy Warrington, Sonja Kalb
Sonja Kalb’s entrancing opuses have the relentless capability to offer the viewer the illusion of utter transportation to realms of mysterious oceanic depths or ethereal journeys traversing a cosmos of thought and expression. Kalb’s abstract creations truly reflect her sincere affinity with the natural world, through which she shares an erudite understanding of the environment that she presents with resounding aplomb. Indeed, this phenomenal artist was awarded the accolade of ‘Best Abstract Artwork’ at the Chianciano Biennale hosted at the Chianciano Art Museum, yet it is clear that Kalb’s academic understanding of her medium profoundly investigates an abundance of historical references that contribute to an overwhelming sophistication visible in each artistic conception. The monumental dimensions of much of the work combined with exquisite execution and sense of timeless mastery confirms Kalb is a considerable 21st century talent.
Kalb’s intriguing artistic journey highlights her astute consciousness of art history, which can be detected in her assertive use of medium. In her early career, Kalb indulged in more classical tendencies that led her through a meandering path of figurative drawing and painting, collages, and later to large abstracted works of art, as many artistic masters of the 20th and 21st century such as Pablo Picasso have done. Kalb’s creative and intellectual homogeny with Picasso can also be noted when observing their cardinal penchant for reducing complex forms to their surface and basic elements with exuberant emotion and flair. This extensive artistic exploration shines through every brushstroke, each of which demonstrate her irrefutable expertise and appetence.
The graceful representations of subtle light and gentle movement within the biosphere of Kalb’s artistic identity evince the artist’s astounding ability to cast an authentic touch of light across her stunning compositions. Certainly, it is this luminescence that Kalb achieves throughout her collection that vehemently connects the viewer so unreservedly to each piece; Kalb coalesces nature’s pure, unabated beauty and her innovative Abstract Expressionist approach with an eloquent ease thus gifting each individual viewer with their own personal landscape that possesses an understanding of the harmonious balance in which the limitless diversities of the natural forces coexist within. This distinctive aspect of Kalb’s method is breathtakingly apparent in ‘Twilight’, in which the intrinsic sensorial experience of the transience is immortalised as the eye traverses the canvas and the spectator is inclined to escape the present day as they are radically enthralled and consumed by the dexterous complexities of the artist’s approach to her medium. In this respect, cerebral connections can be detected between the philosophical proclivities of Kalb and Gerhard Richter, particularly when considering the avant-garde application of paint and the impassioned gesture that can be found in the oeuvre of each artist.
Perfervid tones saturate Kalb’s canvas; her intense hues suggest a visual curiosity towards the Fauvists, which is visible in her symbolic and evocative use of intense colour that provokes an intuitive and primordial response from the viewer. The infatuating textures and hues found in each of Kalb’s pieces also reflect the artist’s mirrored cognitive approach to the Expressionists - particularly when considering ‘Cosmos’ - as the infatuating enigmas of the galaxy are heralded with bold presence and simultaneous delicate nuance.
Kalb’s poignant and emotive works reflect a distinct influence from the German Expressionist group Die Brücke, particularly when considering Emil Nolde who shares Kalb’s insatiable predilection for an emblematic use of oil to create an inherent aura of Mother Nature’s glorious creations. ‘Lake’ remarkably reveals a trove containing the vivacious mysteries of life swimming below the surface of the water through an elegant translation of her fundamental outlook. In this instance, Kalb’s abstracted forms contain a tender attitude, as seen in Per Kirkeby’s depictions of nature, and enable viewers to envisage their own interpretation of the landscape evoked.
When observing ‘Rainforest’ and ‘Amazonas’, it is possible to detect conceptual ideals that align with the Tachisme movement, particularly when considering the intrepid application of medium that Kalb ventures upon. Further comparisons can be made with Arshile Gorky and Karel Appel through their aligned implementation of line and colour that harbours cardinal and inexpugnable emotion; a captivating curiosity is provoked in the viewer, who is beguiled by the composition and inspired to wander through the densely populated jungle portrayed in order to uncover the hidden narratives within its terrain.
Kalb’s academic approach towards her creativity is reflected in the masterful manipulation of her materials that seem to layer hues, thereby chronicling the journey of the artist’s synergy with her work. The textures created at times even correlate with the philosophies of the Dada movement; each subsequent stratum at once masks and reveals an integral aspect of the narrative contained within the artwork. This mesmerising technique is exemplified in ‘Blue Mountains’, where each layer unveils an element of rich history and thereupon develops a fervent intrigue in the viewer.
Kalb’s astonishing ability to skilfully conceive significantly large and museum-worthy compositions with such graceful impact firmly demonstrates her supreme creative talent. The artist’s ebullient personality radiates through every subtle motion in her oeuvre and conveys her connate perspective to the viewer with exquisite serenity and eloquence.
Timothy Warrington, Sonja Kalb: Critical Analysis, London: International Confederation of Art Critics, 2019
Frank Schablewski, Emotion
The term „emotion“ has its roots in classical Latin and beside its meaning for affective and feeling states and the arousal of the soul, it includes „motio“, the ancient word for movement. Nothing seems more symbolic, when referring to the effects of Sonja Kalb‘s works of art.
Through her abstract and expressionistic painting styles Sonja Kalb perfects her own artistic techniques, placing one’s focus and concentration on the basic substance, neg- lecting the characteristics of the objects themselves. In her paintings Sonja Kalb declines the use of objects to bear and carry colours. When a shape, an object, or a landscape becomes visually perceivable to the eye, it is the achievement of our own memory and willpower, trying to define every light, every shadow, every brightness, or every dark- ness,even each and every colour by itself, as a figurative objective, a human being, or a landscape. Sonja Kalb paints the most basic essentials only. For her, it is a matter of the pure substances of colours, including all variabilities and coincidences the human eye may see in abstract art: Every brush stroke, every hue of colour, every use of the spatula, and all materials used have been long-prepared in a foregone spiritual thinking process. Those who have followed the artistic career of the artist for longer periods of time know the paths she walked upon, changing from figurative painting to the abstract painting style, as did many artists of the 20th and 21st century.
The paintings illustrated here mostly indicate a new and further evolution, leading yet again into a new direction. On top of the formerly known painting dimensions and tech- niques of Sonja Kalb, such as colour contrasts, consistency of colours, composition, lines and spatial surfaces, regularity – and the opposite – the surface structures, the tex- ture appearance, and noble impressions of seemingly interweaving colours, Sonja Kalb has discovered and developed her own unique painting style by the use of strongly thin- ned paints. In her new pictures, paints run, paints blend in, paints phase out. These gra- dients of colours create new visual perceptions and new spatial perspectives, opening the painting support in a unique way and showing a new element residing within flowing liquids: Gravity is the power which directs the paint flow in such work processes.
It is the artist’s intent to invert and reverse exactly that paint flow in order to win and obtain new picture dimensions. The pictorial structures of Sonja Kalb, graspingly appropriate to the Latin terms structura, naming the proper assembly, building, the relationships of colours and composing elements and struere, the layering and blending sequences of colours. Nowadays, the artist applies tinted liquids over and underneath the pastose or opaque colorlays, thus widening the picture space to an organism of colour and even greater versatility. Not only on top of, but also underneath the structures and compositional builds of materials like pigments, acrylates, inks, oil chalk, and fillers, does the liquid tincture flow – a very difficult process to control. The human eye favours symmetrical distributions and harmonies, calming the mind and arousing feelings of happiness. By the means of all expressionistic abstraction, such are the characteristics of the Sonja Kalb paintings.
The colour variation of red, „pink“, is composed by Sonja Kalb to abstract and dynamic rhythms, the paintings bearing the similar titles „abstract rhythm“ and „dynamic rhythm“, show the spontaneous and direct dealing approach to colours and the reflective style of painting by the artist. Titles as „lofoten“, „bali“, „bali blue“ and „fjord“ naturally strongly suggest a search for landscapes to the spectator, as if the vastness of pictorial space could be captured through the perception of land and water. The flowing movement of paints and colours in the pictures prompt emotions and remind one of landscapes as seen by the spiritual eye.
Her paintings entitled „aqua“, „atlantic“ and „boats“ seem to evolve from this elementary discovery of thinned liquid blue colour to become sensational incidents themselves. Everything seems to float. Nothing and no one is able to hold or hold back water. Sonja Kalb’s picture world acts and plays with the effect and atmosphere of the colour shades; the spectator dives in and out, up and down. In the same way the shoreline lends an ocean its shape and size, the artist works selectively with her paints and colours until she reaches and achieves a maximum effect on a surface as large as possible. Here she accomplishes those very special harmonies and symmetries, allowing back and forth contact between the unconscious world of the soul and the cognitive.
Frank Schablewski, Emotion, in: Egon Heidefeld, editor, Sonja Kalb: Emotion, Krefeld: Galerie Heidefeld & Partner, 2015
Dr. Stefanie Lucci, Déjà vu
The intensely colourful paintings of Sonja Kalb generate an immediate suction on the canvas dragging the spectator into her works depth activating his or her entire senses. Her paintings can almost be tasted, felt, scented and heart. In doing so the probing glance floats through openly structured spheres of colour – perceiving shapes, structures and textures condensing abstract paint marks into physical hunches, which oscillate in a suspenseful dynamic between shape creation and disintegration.
Sonja Kalb works in sequences, each of which is distinguished by a specific selection of colours. Her latest sequence for example is dominated by a chord of red, orange and silver. Colour is not just put on, but the artist rather explores the peculiarities of each colour. Silver for instance spreads into a spectrum ranging from almost white to nearly black.
Sonja Kalb’s paintings are carefully composed. Despite swiftly determined painting gestures the artist examines every placement, exploring relations of proportion, extent, colour and structure. To do so she employs a multitude of techniques: colour is put on with abroad brush, she uses filler and prints texture into the wet layers of paint, allows paint to flow and brushes over paint marks. Layer by layer the colour spheres are arranged on the canvas one above the other.
Despite the fact that colours are constructed haptically to the front, the glance does not remain focussed on the surface, but penetrates the layers of colour in alternating movement, as if looking through a glassed window. In itself the work of Sonja Kalb seems to be about optical phenomena like light, shadow and reflections.
Some works emphasise the centre while others are more openly designed. Wide landscapes, nature, oceans and rivers form before the inner eye while other works evoke city scenes and architecture. In the process pictures never develop concrete shape, but rather evolve like memories glaring up, like moods suddenly revived, resembling a déjà vu experience. Sometimes titles offer hints for interpretation from the artist’s perspective.
Sonja Kalb gains inspiration gains inspiration by travelling and through natural phenomena. Her works however are socially and politically motivated as well. Just one example is her recent sequence on the depth of the sea. Sonja Kalb: “To display the entire beauty of the underwater world by means of painting is my way of alerting people and to respond to the consequences of oil pollution and Fukushima. “
The artist invites us to join her in travelling the world and displays it in all its beauty. As Luigi Mailipiero put it: “Art is the wise mirror of the soul, enabling us to learn how to live our existence proper and undistorted; having the ear at the bosom of colossal nature, whose pulse, essence of our living, shall be undisturbed by human tyranny.”
Dr. Stefanie Lucci, Déjà vu, in: Egon Heidefeld, editor, Sonja Kalb: Abstraktionen, Krefeld: Galerie Heidefeld & Partner, 2012