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Interview with Heike Simmer
Heike Simmer's CV is as multi-layered as is her work: born in 1982 in Bad Ems, she started her career in theatre and opera. Her drama studies took her to Cologne where she has been living since 2004.
After working as a wardrobe and directing assistant she decided to study painting and has been working as a freelance artist since 2011. For Motel One Cologne-Neumarkt she made an exception and committed to a specific theme - unusal for her but defintively a success!
10 Questions for... Heike Simmer
What was unique about the commission by Motel One Cologne-Neumarkt? The dimensions! Simply everything about it was big. In two-and-a-half months I finished three large-format paintings, the largest of which is 4 x 8.32 metr es. Every room has one of my paintings in it. The amounts of paint, sandpaper and paintbrushes it took, as well as the amount of artistic freedom I was given, were all huge.
You paint over your pieces multiple times. What remains visible in the end? I put paint on and then take some of it off again with sponges or sandpaper. When there are around 20 layers on top of each other, each one leaves a mark; they flow into one another providing the painting with depth. It's a spur of the moment decision how much I choose to cover over or remove.
How challenging is the creative process? It's the process that counts for me. I don't like to be bored and so I switch techniques before I get too fixated. To begin with, I work in quite a physical way: there is something performative about it. In the lobby you can see a making-of of my art. It shows how the painting, speed and techniques vary. From the subtle appearance of a finished painting, it's hard to imagine the complex creative process that precedes it.
Where do y ou find the inspir ation for your works? That's a difficult question to answer because it's more complex than tha t. When it's going well, it's quite effortless and inspiration can be found everywhere, but the rest of the time it's hard work.
How did you interpret Cologne Cathedral for the hotel? My work enters a dialogue with the flowing elements of the building: the light in the interior, the water, the gargoyles on the façade and the fleeting nature of life going on in front of the Cathedral.
From the subtle appearance of my finished paintings, it’s hard to imagine the complex creative process that precedes it.
What is the significance of the small details, like the animals in the paintings? My work consists of three stages: the abstract surface, geometric shapes and figurative details within the abstract space. The challenge was not to become narrative, but to show the sacral and the fleeting nature of the moment - i.e. the Cathedral versus the area around it.
What kinds o f figures are hidden in the paintings in the hotel? Objects like pigeons, soap bubbles or gargoyles are hidden within abstract surfaces. The smallest detail is a tiny dog, which is easy to overlook.
Is there anything special you did to prepare for this particular commission? Working on a specific theme is unusual for me. At the beginning there is always a certain atmosphere. So I had to find a way to naturally involve the Cathedral in the whole process. That's why I would always go past it on my way to my studio, looking at the building from inside and out and at the lives of the people there. In this way I compiled a kind of archive of impressions and images. That was my food for thought. Once I had that, the work could begin.
How do you feel about the reactions to your art? It's fantastic when looking at my paintings does something to the viewer, or when people get in touch because they want to see or know more.
Where do you normally get your inspiration? You can't go wrong if you head to the Museum Ludwig and the Kolumba. If you're interested in small experimental spaces, you should check out Art Initiatives Cologne (AIC) for an overview; the Temporary Gallery, the Strizzi and the PiK are not to be missed either.