“During this pandemic, people have rediscovered their longing for beauty and nature.”
Paul Zimmerman in conversation with Sonja Kalb
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.
Rainforest II, triptych 2017, mixed media on canvas, 31″ x 47”
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?
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.