Transition and Evolution
By Chelsea Koressel
Some of us relate to art as the expression of the self. This concept takes place across all mediums of art including; writing, painting, sculpting, and translates into many different vocational choices. The landscape for an art- ist has never been more broad and it’s become quite interesting to witness the growth behind an artist’s body of work. Although writing was the first true passion for German born artist, Birgit Huttemann-Holz, her artistic and self discovery expanded into charismatic, encaustic paintings. Huttemann-Holz’s interest in matters of the psyche are translated from her early poetry to her intricate, rich paintings and truly gather the spirit of the human.
Huttemann-Holz began writing at a very early age with much success as a young adult. By the age of 21, she earned herself a stipend from the German Pen Club for the Youth. Her creativity was initially inspired and eventually amplified by her professional artist uncle, Werner Holz. “My uncle was a Magic Realism painter and I loved being in his studio, but there was a bit of baggage and drama,” explains Huttemann-Holz. “Maybe this is why I didn’t pursue art at first and found my way back to it after 30 years on a different continent.” This exposure, along with the influence of her country of origin, was the beginning of her artistic journey.
Renaissance | 20” x 20” | Encaustic, Oil on Panel
Growing up in a German village near Karlsruhe, with spectacular surroundings, seems inspiration enough for a dreamer such as Huttemann-Holz. She poetically describes her surrounding home; “The upper Rhine Valley, close to the gorgeous, romantic vineyards and wineries of the Pfalz on the other side of the mystical dark hills of the Black Forest.” As a young child she also remembers traveling quite frequently and even admired places such as the Acropolis, Mycenae, Greece, and the Byzantine Mosaics of Ravenna, Italy.
Huttemann-Holz, very quickly, found herself uprooted from all she knew. She soon found herself in Detroit, Michigan with her husband and three children. This very sudden and perhaps traumatic change of scenery, along with the trials of marriage and motherhood, began moving Huttemann-Holz in a very different direction artistically. “I moved to the U.S. Suddenly, I couldn’t write anymore. I was cut off from my mother tongue and at the same time, I struggled to communicate in a new language. How do you express your humor, your concerns, your intellect, if all you have is six years of English study?” Her form of self expression had to change.
“I started to paint,” explains Huttemann-Holz. “First in acrylic, later in oil, and finally, after four years, I discovered the encaustic painting technique. All of a sudden, I felt at home. Everything clicked.” Nostalgia also seemed to play a part in her new desire to paint. “Maybe it was the smell of beeswax that let me think of being back in the meadows of Germany...I only knew that something resonated deeply inside of me and lead me to paint on a daily basis.”
Her education with painting began here and was primarily self taught. She took some classes at the College of Creative Studies in Detroit, with a few other periodical moments of study at places like the Summer Academy for the Arts, Marburg, Germany. Her real education was her passion and drive and a real focus on her current choice of medium, the ancient painting technique of encaustic hot wax painting. This involves the heating of beeswax and adding in colored pigments, which is then applied to a surface, and can be reheated and re-molded throughout the art piece. Huttemann-Holz explains, “I use fire and razor blades to attack and challenge my paintings. I leap and fail, but where creativity and failure dance, I approach the truth.”
Her choice of medium seems perfect for exploring her many concepts with transition and failure. “Because encaustic has a lot to do with loss and restoration it really spoke to me. Also, it is a very crude painting me- dium and I needed to conquer it. I use a fiery, hot butane blow torch. It is unforgivable, forceful. I need to attack my paintings, push my limits. I have to fail in order to get better and better.” Huttemann-Holz loves playing with other fun concepts in her artwork, such as tracing the primary patterns in humanities cultural and spiritual evolution. Such deep and intricate concepts can be connected to some of her major influences.
German painter and sculptor, Anselm Kiefer, is one such influence. His works also deal with cultural issues as well, with a focus on confronting his cultures dark past. Themes of Nazi rule are prevalent in his very confrontational pieces. Another influence for Huttemann-Holz, is Frida Kahlo De Rivera, a very famous Mexican Surrealist painter, known for her self portraits. Certainly can’t forget the most influential artist, her Uncle Werner Holz, with his Magic Realism paintings. You can definitely sense the impact of these artists’ on Huttemann-Holz’s dynamic works of art, each with a foothold in culture and the spirit of the human.
Huttemann-Holz plays with similar themes in her current work with touch of the ethereal. “I am exploring our desire for a lost Eden. In our fast changing world the infinite splendor of change, of evolution.” You can see her play out her ideas in her titled work, “Til My Soul is Flight,” and, “Extinguish Thou My Eyes,” with such rich and decadent design and color. Time and care has clearly gone into her work.
Til my Soul Takes Flight, 24"x18" encaustic, oil on panel
Extinguish Thou my Eyes_R.M. Rilke, 30"x30", encaustic, oil on panel
She has also gained recognition and notoriety for her pieces. Her most recent award was first place for the American Arts Award in Abstract Expressionism. She’s also received best of show, Platform Award/Paseo Originals Art Gallery in Oklahoma City, and first place for Grosse Pointe Art Center, MI for their show, “Urban Edge.” In addition to her many nationwide awards, Huttemann-Holz has been recently featured on Saatchi online for their “New This Week” collection, for the week of April 21, 2014. She’s exhibited across the country in Chicago, New York, New Mexico, and currently has work displayed in the Netherlands and Germany-
With her current interest in mythology and religion, we can be sure to expect some breathtaking pieces. Huttemann-Holz truly embodies the concept of transition and growth of an artist. It speaks quite literally through her choice of medium and through her cultural challenges. The rich pigments and ambient textures all swim together to create a very ethereal, or “Eden” like feel that we can all relate to as spiritual humans.
Her paintings are always teaching, always holding on and letting go. Huttemann-Holz expands, “Loss and restoration - this is what life is all about. These are the immanent patterns of any hero in mythology, death and resurrection - hopefully to find a better place - in my paintings at least.” The adventure behind her next artistic undertaking is highly anticipated.
Saatchi Collection: " New This Week" 4-21-014
Studio Visit Magazine, Vol. 23, Dec, 2013
Artists combine work in "Between Heaven and Earth", The News-Herald, MI, Nov 20, 2013
Studiovisit with Birgit Huttemann-Holz by Oxford TV, MI "How Great Thou Art",
May 15, 2013
Paseo Originials exhibit to feature Selected Works by Six Emerging & Mid-Career Artists
Over the last two years Paseo Originals Art Gallery has built its focus around artists who are bold and innovative; and it was in that same spirit that the Paseo Originals team conceived the “Platform” National Juried Exhibition. Seeking emerging and mid-career artists who offer an angle with which to appreciate something new, we sent our exhibit prospectus across the nation and artists responded in kind. A jury was formed which was composed of the following:
- Steve Ligget Founder of Living Arts Tulsa, OK
- Bradley Jessop, ED.D. Director, School of Fine Arts, East Central University Ada, OK
- Laura Warriner Co-Founder, Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition
- Founder, [Artspace] at Untitled Oklahoma City, OK
- Karen L. Orr Owner, Paseo Originals Art Gallery Oklahoma City, OK
- Tony Morton Director, Paseo Originals Art Gallery Oklahoma City, OK
The jury chose six artists to be featured during the exhibit which will open on Friday, March 1st during the First Friday Art Walk on Paseo. The awards juror, Alison Amick, Collections Curator for the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, will allocate her selections for monetary awards prior to the opening of the exhibition. Representation and solo exhibition awards will also be selected and awarded by the gallery owner and director prior to the opening reception. The six selected artists, Nicholas Scrimenti, Mark Hatley, Steve Whitfield, Birgit Huttemann-Holz, Allie Jensen and Araceli Tarraso, represent a broad range of creative method and artistic style. The exhibit will close on March 30, 2013 and selected artists will remain in contract representation through the calendar year.
Wax and powdered pigments are the painting media of choice for Michigan based artist Birgit Huttemenn-Holz. Her encaustic painting style tends to be very visceral and luminous with a focus on depth. She is compelled to attack her paintings with the aggressive force of the razor’s edge and flame in order to challenge the image. Her current series “Aeon” centers on the genesis of beauty and ephemerality and the infinite allure of entropy and decay. Her aggressive compositions take the viewer through a clouded lens into cityscapes, eruptions and natural wonders where the truth behind the image is always just slightly out of reach creating opportunity for the observer’s perspective to take hold. Her paintings are the artist’s attempt to get near to the truth but, never arrive.
Affairs with Serpents and HeroInes,
River's Edge Gallery, Wyandotte, Nov 7, 2011- Jan 31, 2012
Natalie Haddad, Ph D. candidate in Modern and Contemporary Art,
University of California San Diego, freelance art critic
San Diego/Los Angeles
As the body announces itself in the soft curves of a back and hips barely covered by a black shawl it refuses to give itself, as the object that makes flesh the Cartesian cogito of Man. She refuses capture. She faces away. She stands barefoot on a grassy path in the woods, legs poised to walk on her way. Anyone may follow.
One of several photographs by Patricia Izzo in Affairs with Serpents and Heroines at River’s Edge Gallery, “Persephone Returns” distills something of the exhibition. Where often exhibitions focused on women challenge the oppression of the fairer sex within a male-dominated society either by cultivating an environment of exclusion and hostility toward men or by fashioning equality through sameness, Affairs invites the viewer, female or male, to cross over into its world. Drawing much inspiration from mythology and the psychical worlds of women, the show’s three artists––Izzo, Barbara Melnik Carson, and Birgit Huttemann-Holz––create a space permeated with the sediment of life, all the experiences, senses, and secrets that form the stratified landscape of each moment. The diversity of the works, along with an emphasis on time-honored techniques (Huttemann-Holz works in encaustic, Carson in clay, and Izzo paints many of her photographs) augments the sense of timelessness and free passage between mind and myth. In Izzo’s painted photograph “Bed 23 Is Going Home,” a young woman in a yellow dress sits on a narrow institutional bed, projecting a melancholy smile to the camera. The woman is the artist’s grandmother, photographed in 1944, a fact that adds to the layers of meaning in the work, but it’s not necessary background for the viewer to feel a sense of identification with the image. Another of Izzo’s photographs, of a strapless dress on a hanger, emerging from darkness and painted an electric blue (“Broken Spell”), reflects on “Bed 23” like a future or past in perpetual wait.
The subtlety of the artworks in the exhibition is disarming; they play with socially accepted associations between femininity and passivity by coaxing in the viewer with soft, lilting beauty and then revealing the full strength of the feminine gaze. It’s a gaze that dominates the gallery. Carson’s clay and found object sculptures of semi-androgynous faces with puckered red lips and large, drowsy eyes, mounted, seated on pedestals, or enclosed in boxlike “frames” with ephemera, surround the viewer like a chorus of ageless seers, and cast a spiritual net that enchants the entire space. In this context, the more worldly women and girls, particularly those in Huttemann-Holz’s paintings, assume an otherworldly air.
In one work “Young Ariadne”, a girl of age ten or eleven dressed in red, with long blond hair, is the Minoan princess who crucially helped
Prince Theseus overcome a minotaur and escape death in her father’s labyrinth, and later became the mortal wife of the god Dionysus. Leaning against a wall, arms stretched behind her head in a lounging pose, she gazes out and into her own reverie with enough ease to capture time in the eternity of dreams. The image suggests that both youth’s innocence and adulthood’s wisdom are mere phantasms. A portrait of a young woman with downcast eyes and pensive face, pale skin sheathed in the billowing gown of a ballerina and bathed from behind in shadows "Serenity" could be its grown up sister.
Though any conventional notion of feminism is upended by the work in Affairs, the claim, made famous by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex (1949), that women are made “other” by male-dominated society, is more appropriate here than its academic origin indicates. De Beauvoir argues that women are given a false aura of mystery by men. What’s too easily lost in the statement is that oppression is the enemy, mystery is not. The women comprising Affairs––forest nymphs and goddesses, artists and viewers––invoke the strange spectral “otherness” that hides in the light of the mundane, eluding those who lack the eyes, ears, or heart for it. Long before de Beauvoir, Woman was already the province of the “other” in mythological traditions. Stories of superstition and mysticism, which corrupted the purity of Man’s idealized woman, begat tales of feminine threats, nearly always rooted in powers that required (masculine) suppression. Among the most infamous of demonized women is the daughter of the sea god and goddess Phorcys and Ceto, the Gorgon sister Medusa.
Caught with Poseidon by the jealous Athena, Medusa’s punishment––snakes for hair and a gaze that turned onlookers to stone––was also her power. Even after her death at the hands of Perseus, her defeat was never quite complete: her head became the face of Athena’s shield; the goddess of war was forever represented by the chthonic mistress. In more than one work, Carson turns to the figure of Medusa. A sculpture entitled “Medusa” is a chalky white head mounted on a piece of found driftwood, from which rainbow-colored snakes emerge as wild waves of hair. Another work, “Out of Eden,” is a shard of a woman’s face––eye, nose, spirals of wire hair, and a glimpse of lips––mounted on an image of an apple and placed next to a snake.
Everyone knows this story, but the work’s proximity with “Medusa,” along with Izzo’s “Persephone,” Huttemann-Holz's " Young Ariadne", and all the women so defined by these legends, cuts a seductive swath of night across the garden of the known.
"I paint with beeswax mixed with pigments and fuse each layer with fire"
By: Noell Wolfgram Evans
for umbrella magazine, 2009
Many artists pick up a crayon at an early age and are overcome with an intangible feeling of artistic destiny. Other artists find their talent later, after they have had the experience of life to draw upon for inspiration. Such is the case with painter Birgit Huttemann-Holz who didn't pick up a brush until her late 30s. That late start though gave her an opportunity to build a wealth of memories and experiences, which today fuel her art as inspiration: "I paint from memories, burned-in images that are surfacing right before I fall asleep, in my dreams, or while I wait to finally get to work. If every artist visits his or her places of childhood then you may say I am very influenced by my European roots."
With all of this inspiration, Birgit has become a multi-disciplined painter (she uses beeswax, pigments, fire, and oils) of both landscapes and inscapes. Although separate topics, the subjects have a relationship in tone and emotion as Birgit explains "...both are holding nostalgia, mournful tunes, and lyrics. They are a sentiment." The way she represents these moods though is quit different. The inscapes are figurative and act as more narrative translations while the landscapes tend toward the abstract, acting more as a stage from which she can project her emotions
For Birgit, a part of the fulfillment comes from the preparation to create. She is in many ways an artist under the DIY aesthetic starting at the beginning "I mix my medium and paints from scratch." The process from there is very intensive and inclusive, which allows her to really input herself into the finished piece. A passively creative artist she definitely is not. "I paint with beeswax mixed with pigments and fuse each layer with fire (blowtorch). I love the physical impact of the blowtorch. The evolving mountains and valleys, possibilities, lost designs in the mixing, and melting beeswax...The use of the razor blade is thoughtful, thorough, controlled. Scratching away the layers to get to the truth of a feeling, finding the right colors, is my great joy. It opens routes of creation and seeing, you would have never guessed."
Interview with Birgit Huttemann-Holz, neoconartists.blogspot.com 2011 http://theneoconartist.blogspot.com/2011/02/interview-with-birgit-huttemann-holz.html
Embracing the Wonder of Art, Grosse Pointe News, 2009