Photo: Jane Baehren
In my life, I have met many rainbows. I've even had the pleasure of interviewing some on this website, like gradient ceramicist Angel Oloshove and light worker Andi Valentine. But I have never ever not once gone over digital seas! Alina Birkner (Munich. 1989) is the first artist I've interviewed from Europe. A few weeks ago I posted a photo of James Turrell's Raethro (White) to my Instagram account and Alina liked it! I then found myself scrolling through her popular account @new.age.shit. I was reminded of her calming, shimmering, large scale paintings and fell in love all over again. In her mesmerizing work, Alina uses a brush to fuse light with colour and explores the perception it creates with the viewer. After staring deeply into the luminously weightless pigments, one simply gets lost. They challenge you to look farther than what you are used to. And by all means, please let them take you there. I invite you to dive further into her mind below.
Can you tell us about your artistic upbringing? I was born to a mother, who is a sculptor, and a father, who is a painter. Growing up as their child inspired me more than I can probably understand myself. I remember how my mother, who is an incredible draftsman, used to sit in the kitchen, drawing shapes that would later become sculptures. They were supposed to be harmonious and balanced. It seemed as if she was connected to an everlasting flow of ideas, always creating something new. She did not have a proper studio and somehow managed to create an impressive body of work, even though there were times when she had to take care of four children. Like her, I would sit at my little desk, drawing for hours. Everyday. It was a world of my own, I would make up stories and dream away. My mother also made most of my toys, dolls and their dresses. And my father made some furniture for us or painted a big beautiful tree in my room as a surprise for my 10th or 11th birthday. He taught me technique, beginning from building a canvas to how to paint a portrait. My father has always been interested in colour and light, so both my parents taught me all they knew about art or their definition of art. But I also saw them struggle, financially and with recognition. I understood that being a good artist is not always enough, you also have to make contacts, go out into the world, and show yourself. You need a lot of luck, too. It was painful to watch their disappointment in the outer world, as their work and idealistic attitude did not seem to fit into the art world's aesthetic and somehow cynical philosophy. So for a very long time, I did not want to follow their example and become an artist.
How did you choose your Instagram handle, @new.age.shit? Haha, I love it. I watched a video that is called "Shit New Age Girls Say" and laughed so hard. I grew up in what some would call a new age environment. I also went to a Steiner School. I enjoy many of those ideas -- until the point, they become a new dogma. You have to question everything, I think. The world is full of different perspectives. There is not only one truth.
I am obsessed with gradients. What inspires your unique color palettes? Oh, I am too! It seems like they're everywhere right now. I am in love with colors and obsessed with light. My palette is the rainbow - rainbow through a milky fog. My professor once said to me, "your colors are artificial, the colors you are using don't exist in nature." I disagreed! There is the sky, there are northern lights, and yes, maybe some colors are more bright, like from a dream or different state of consciousness.
How do you perceive color and light? I can feel it as sensations in my body, feel what part of my being they speak to I think. Maybe it is a mild form of synesthesia... but I am also very interested in how colors are perceived by other people. Isn't it curious, that some sensations might be unique to us, and others might be shared, as to say universal? There is also so much that our physical eye can't see!
Who are you influenced by? Many people. I don't know where to begin but will try with Mathias Grünewald, whose transcendental depiction of the resurrection of Christ left a strong impression on me. Then Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael, Bernini, Turner, Monet, Jawlensky, Hilma af Klint, Rothko, Eliasson, Flavin, Turrell and so many more artists have inspired me and opened my eyes to a new way of seeing.
When did you first hear about California's light and color movement? It was a couple of years ago....A curator, who is also a friend of mine told me about it. He pointed out how my work related to it, so I had to check it out.
How do you decide the borders of your paintings? A lot of my work is intuitive. I sometimes "ask" the painting what color it wants, and if it answers, I try to trust this answer. But some steps are also logical, it then has to be a certain border.
How do you stay motivated? How do you create new ideas? When I have an idea, I'm very curious how it would look as a finished painting. There's a strong need to make that painting, I can't stop thinking about it and am very excited to start. New ideas often come from my last painting. I also make sketches and drafts. So I would say my main motivation is my own curiosity. It is also important to have a goal – like the next show. Or when someone buys a painting, so I know I can have my studio for a bit longer and pay my rent.
Do your ideas stem from your memories, experiences or day dreams? All that you mentioned! I also observe the sky, sunsets in particular.
How have people described your work to you? I see rainbow pastel clouds. Some people have said that they feel like infinity. The feeling my work evokes is much more important to me than a description of the painting in itself.
”Art is an illusion and at the same time reality. It can give, and it can take. I prefer Art that gives you something, makes you feel richer, more complete after experiencing it. Art has the power to elevate, transform but also disturb, take you to darker places. Still, coming from the heart, it nourishes the soul and is therefore of vital importance.“
How is Munich compared to other German cities? What is the art scene like? Munich is comfortable, clean, and slow. It is a wealthy city, where there is little space left for creative development, as rents are the highest in the whole country. But still, there is a small scene and many collectors. Munich has some fine museums, too.
I read online that you enjoy the "Great Art In Ugly Rooms" art blog. The artist who runs it, Paul Kremer, lives and works in Houston. I feel like you both have a strong relationship with colour. You are more ethereal and he is sharper and more geometric. Would you ever consider showing your work with him? If you could, what other artists would you like to collaborate with? Haha. Yes, it is such a self-ironic blog. Masterworks in hideous places. Ugly can almost become pretty again. But I have no idea really. When paintings or works from other artists start a dialogue with mine, it makes sense to me. I'm open to collaborating.
What music are you listening to nowadays? Right now I listen to Queen. They were one of my favourite bands when I was a teenager. So much energy! I dance and sing to their music in my studio whenever I need a break.