HUNDHUND Studio Visit: Kim Bartelt.
Over a glass of white wine in her evening-lit studio in Wedding, Berlin, Kim Bartelt told us her story. Of developing her practice, of coming of age in foreign lands, and of course, navigating life in this strange pandemic world.
Bartelt may have been trained as a fine artist, but at a certain point, her sensibilities led her away from using paint as a medium, instead opting for paper on canvas as her means of expression.
“Even when I was painting, I was painting layers to achieve the desired semi-transparent effect, and to keep every step visible.”
And although she is originally from Berlin, her artistic development is found elsewhere, between Paris and New York, after leaving Berlin in search of new inspiration.
“Berlin felt quite grey and aesthetically not very pleasing during my childhood and adolescence. The post-war architecture made me long for more warmth and history.”
So she made the move to Paris to study art history, where she was “introduced to classical beauty… Renaissance/Hausmannian architecture, decorative arts, antiques, well dressed people, fine restaurants, boulevards, beautiful interiors and lots of art.”
But the cultural elegance that Paris offered her was flipped on its head when she moved to New York to continue her studies at Parsons.
“Everything was raw, wild, fast, loud and rough.”
"The fine art studios were like the New York artist lofts in films. Big, open spaces with columns and lots of paint and plaster on the floors and space for thought and work. And at night there were great clubs, bars and music, people from all over.”
But having her formative years stretched across three iconic, cultural capitals threw uncertainty over the idea of ‘home’.
“I spent a lot of time thinking if it’s better to go back to Paris, or to stay in New York, or go to Berlin or somewhere else. I actually made a few artworks on this. A sculpture called ‘a 1000 possibilities’ and another one ‘going round in circles’. Both quite large, ceramic installations.”
Once graduating in New York, she fell into working in fashion, painting sets for photoshoots. The seeds of her current exploration were found here, when she began collecting leftover papers from the shoot sets.
“I had a bag full of coloured ones and started making a big composition with the different papers. I didn’t really know what it was and I gave it away. It was only years later when my sister, who I had given it to, told me everybody loved it so much.”
When I asked Bartelt about the themes and feelings behind her work, she explained that, to her, the fragility of the paper speaks to the fragility of life.
“The good things are so short, you really have to grasp them and keep them somehow. It can change in a minute. The truth is that with pasting the paper onto the surface I somehow have the feeling that I can pin those moments down, keep them, archive them, have them stay, instead of getting lost."
I was curious about the experience of working with such fragile materials, and how she approaches tears and rips in the paper.
“It just adds to it. It’s like the Japanese ceramics that are fixed with gold. It makes them more precious. If it was just a flat surface it wouldn’t be interesting. The small tears or wrinkles make the character of the work, to me they are like the skin of a person which tells the story of their life, things will turn out the way they should, I think.”
I was curious as to how Bartelt has been navigating her artistic practice during the pandemic.
“I was glad to have been able to continue going to the studio during lock down... For me, it’s very important to stay in the routine. To create every day. Then it comes easily.”
And this idea of routine has become central to her practice.
“Years ago, when I went more casually to the studio, a few days in a row, a few days not, it didn’t work so well... Once one is in flow, it flows.”
Continuing on the theme, she left us with some final thoughts:
“I don’t ever sit and think on what to work on next; one work always leads to the next... It’s important that one does what one loves, the rest will follow.”
Thank you to Kim. You can find links to her work below.
Words and photos by Ewan Waddell.