Malta-based German artist WIBKE SEIFERT’s first solo exhibition is about reaching out to the public through her eclectic artistic expression. Joseph Agius talks to the artist and discovers that the pandemic was the trigger for her to explore her artistic talents.
JA: You discovered that you have a considerable artistic talent at the start of the pandemic. Was there a particular occasion during the days of lockdown that triggered this? What induced you to paint and sculpt?
WS: The lockdown questioned the life I knew. It threw it from a speedy race to solid ground, and it stumbled. Social contacts were replaced by words shared online or over the phone, freedom of movement became one-directional: only towards close family or towards oneself. At the same time, it was suddenly shadowed by an economical threat that nobody could have imagined.
But the lockdown was also a chance to pause and take stock. If it provided for anything at all, it was time, an incredible amount of time. I had to change gear, reduce the speed of my life. So I started painting rainbows during quarantine as many kids did. I placed them in the window and wanted more. I found this art shop in San Ġwann which offered contactless delivery and, still in quarantine, I started experimenting with oil and aquarelle, created light and colour to make up for this difficult situation. And I never looked back.
JA: Your oeuvre is very versatile, ranging from the traditional landscapes and urban cityscape to the wild chromaticism of expressionist portraits as well as floral representations. Are you still searching for a personal style? Is this exhibition about your exploration of various genres and styles, maybe as biographical pictorial chapters in the development of your new passion?
WS: Yes, my last one-and-a-half years was one of exploring. Exploring myself and the different media to use. I wanted to try a lot and was incredibly fast in the beginning. Having nothing to lose, one dares most, I guess, and this daring was a huge impulse. I ignored boundaries of what I can or cannot do for the sake of simply experiencing. Only now have I started to slow down and take stock.
My exhibition, kinds of home, connects my longing and belonging. Being raised in Germany and having moved to Malta nearly 30 years ago still leaves me stranded sometimes between the two worlds. Germany and Malta are colliding in many ways, in their way of living, their history and culture, in their opposing seasons. But even in simple things, the two nations divide, in their colours, for example, or in their taste or smell. But I do seek home in both worlds and this search forms part of most of my creative work.
JA: This stylistic eclecticism is carried forward to your wide choice of media – from watercolour to oils, from lino prints to sculpture and to what looks like stained glass. Now that you have mastered all these media and know their idiosyncrasies, are you ready to concentrate on one of them or you don’t want to limit yourself to just one mode of expression?
WS: The stained glass is an oil painting. It just looks like glass. I like to play with this kind of illusion and my present work in progress, the last painting for the exhibition is again tricking the eye and tests one’s fantasy. It is in oil, too, and oil tends to become be my preferred medium.
And though I admire artists who use their biggest brushes and create so much depth with them, most times I fall back on my smallest one and spend hours with the finest details. Oil stays smooth and soft for a long time. It needs days to dry and compared to watercolour or acrylics I can work on it as slowly as I want.
My exhibition, 'kinds of home', connects my longing and belonging- Wibke Seifert
JA: One feels that there is the influence of German Expressionism and artists like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Alexei von Jawlensky and Max Pechstein. Do you consider these artists as influences? Are there any other artists you could mention as influences?
WS: I wouldn’t have named them straight away but if I look at their art it surely strikes me. I might name Oskar Kokoschka as an artist whom I have admired for many years. He might have influenced me but what exactly does influence mean? I don’t paint like him or wouldn’t even dare to try. But his exaggeration of forms and faces, his wide visions of cityscapes, how he puts 300 degrees of Prague, Hamburg or London onto one flat canvas fascinates me.
At home, we have paintings of Nikolaus Sagrekow, a Russian artist who lived and worked most of his life in Germany like Jawlensky, yet is not that famous. I seek what I see: Sagrekow uses very bold strokes for his landscapes or flowers and yet they look light and simple. This contradiction strikes me, but I would rather work with the smallest brush myself.
Local artists Andrew Borg and Catherine Cavallo come to mind, and are surely of influence because I simply like their work. Art is about daring, and I admire anyone who does so and succeeds. And admiring others obviously feeds my own ambition – whether it is urban art or displayed in a museum.
JA: Your series of six lino prints, titled Sun Over Malta, documents a progression from the idyllic to the seriously factual and newsworthy. Here you use pages from The Sunday Times of Malta as templates providing context – Daphne Caruana Galizia and a Steve Bonello cartoon in the last print of Sun Over Malta. The idyllic landscape is transposed on the cruelty and crudeness of the real and the documented. What’s your take on this?
WS: I have been living in Malta since 1995, raised a family, and for decades we have run a business that gives many people a kind of home. I don’t see myself as a guest on the islands but as part of society. In December 2019, I felt it natural to walk in Valletta, to wave the Maltese flag and to ring a ship’s bell in front of parliament until I was nearly deaf myself. The situation on the island is my situation, it’s personal. And while I was doing the first four prints of the series Sun over Malta, I felt the need to twist them. It is not irony. It is a direct comment on the situation at that time on the island.
Kinds of home, hosted by The Xara Palace, Mdina, runs from October 22 to November 11. One-quarter of the proceeds from the sales will go to Id-Dar tal-Providenza.
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