I've known German born artist Eva Bauer for some time now, roughly twelve years, having attended Northumbria University during the same period. In university we were acquaintances who experienced some of the same things and went on some of the same trips but we weren't close friends. Early 2006 I took up a studio in The Mushroom Works in Newcastle only to find that my neighbouring studio was occupied by Eva. We've crossed paths many times, however June 3rd 2009 Eva agreed to undergo the traumatic experience of being the first artist to be interviewed for the Newcastle Artists Society studio visits. I am still thankful that Eva was as gracious, forthcoming and honest as she was. I've spoken to several artists since then and I'm starting to see that these interviews can be a valuable way of understanding the social climate and the emotional web that is the art scene as it currently stands. So many of Eva's responses speak universally to the artist's struggle and my first question was possibly in anticipation of that.
Damian Huntley: How easy do you think it is to make contacts in the art world in the North East?
Eva Bauer: It’s not. If you go to gallery openings, you go there to socialise usually, and not necessarily to network. It depends but most of the time it’s just people I know and you go to the opening to show your support. I find it hard to fit my work into places because I think there are a lot of galleries my work might not fit into.
DH: Well when you look at a gallery and think “My work might not fit in there” do you contact them anyway?
EB: I don’t contact them. I think I have got a problem with that anyway, like maybe many artists do; I don’t actually apply enough for things, it’s not even that much about time, it’s generally thinking “Ahh they won’t take it anyway,” which I know is completely the wrong way of thinking about it. It is a confidence thing. When I do get a rejection I take it so hard, it’s just horrible because you put yourself through this process and you send images (to galleries) and I always think that the images might not even represent my paintings that well because they are quite hard to represent.
DH: I was thinking about this the other day, one of the things that doesn’t come across well on photographs of your work that I’ve seen on web-sites and it is always hard with web images, you don’t get an idea of the visceral quality of your work.
EB: I don’t want a huge light glare on them either,(which happens when you use a flash) that’s wrong as well so how do I do it. Paying a professional photographer is quite expensive, with photography you have to arrange it and everything then gets prolonged and by the time you have it all it’s just a really long process to actually build up your own confidence, build up your portfolio, build up the paintings that you’re really confident with to send out there and do it.
DH: Do you talk to other artists about it much?
EB: Not that much, no. I mean I talk to the people in here (The Mushroom Works) but a lot of the people here are not necessarily concerned with the same problems because they have different practices. I mean there are some things that overlap and we can see it’s definitely a confidence thing to just apply for stuff but for example; I could do with talking to some people that might know some galleries that they think my work could fit into and then I could check the gallery out and then I could contact them. I think that’s the biggest problem I’ve got, you can look up 10,000 galleries and you might think, “I like that one” but then some of them seem too established, some of them seem like they are doing something else again or they are going in one direction only. I’m just not sure that I’d fit in.
DH: if I was producing the kind of work you’re producing, I would look at galleries and think, “Well they’ve got nothing that is like my work, maybe I’m just the artist that they’re looking for. EB: See I never think like that….
DH: Well you should.
EB: That’s exactly what I mean, I think oh they’ve got nothing like my work, so I won’t fit in, that’s what I think.
DH: How do you describe your work?
EB: Well obviously abstract, I don’t try to represent anything on purpose. If it does represent something or it ends up looking like something it’s almost by accident and that’s fine and people read stuff into it which I quite like. That's what I want them to do anyway, I want people to look at it and see things for themselves even in the completely abstract works that are not like the drawing ones that I do now. I think they’re quite decorative, it’s the colour, the richness of the colour and in my drawings it’s about shapes and patterns, repetitive marks...
DH: Have you ever considered taking that a step further and collaborating with a textile designer?
EB: Yes I’ve thought about it, especially on this new piece, there’s something that people actually say, 'this reminds me of this bag I saw,' the whole pattern and colour thing could be used in a different way. I’ll probably do some greetings cards or something with textiles. I could do textiles works framed up. I quite like the idea of collaborating with other people. Sometimes it can be a bit lonely to just sit here and paint and sometimes you think "what the hell am I doing?" anyway because you need an input and you need things to change. So collaboration can only be a good thing, you can only try it and see if it works. The only question for me is how commercial do I get? That’s one thing I have to establish.
DH: So what’s more important to you, are you more concerned about being a critically acclaimed artist or about making a living from it?
EB: I think I’d rather make a living from it to be quite honest. What I have done is I’ve worked from here, I’ve worked in Newcastle for a good few years now, since I graduated, and I’ve built up a base in Newcastle. I’ve got some sort of contact list that I can email when I put on a show; so I’ve built all that up, I’ve got a lot of friends or friends of friends that have bought my work, I’ve done commissions for people. But it’s only in Newcastle. To get away, to get that step further that’s the one thing I have to work on now.
DH: Do you see the Newcastle art scene as a potential contact point for a global stage or do you think it’s very insular?
EB: I think there are some galleries that have got it right. I do know people from all these niches, different places and I sometimes think they might know what I do but they’ve never approached me. I automatically think that because they haven’t been interested in me, they must know what I’m doing, they don’t like it and it’s another one of those things where you just give up too soon. I’ve not tried very hard to be honest to get my work out there. When I look through my exhibition list, it’s mainly here (The Mushroom Works) which gets a different audience now and it keeps changing with the new exhibition programmes, but it’s not enough really to just exhibit here because that's where my studio is.
I turned the conversation here to some of the shared experiences we had of life at University. I often wonder how much of an ongoing impact my experiences at Northumbria University had on the path I've followed.
DH: How well do you think that experience set you up for life as an artist?
EB: Not at all.
We both laughed about this.
EB: Simple as that. I think we did some professional practice and I can’t quite remember what was actually practical about it. Basically you don’t see it as a business, you just do your work. I'm still doing my work, I’m still painting and I have not given up. Most of my friends teach. Or they use their practice with some other job. Maybe that’s the only way it works but then some artists seem to make a living, solely from their practice, so how do they do it?
Last summer was great, I had a show here and it went really well, I sold work and it was great. I had a commission with Newcastle Building society which was fantastic. It was nice being paid for what you do instead of having to make it and then wait to get paid for it. Then in the autumn and spring it all went…… nothing. Again, I kind of blame myself partially because I didn’t do much but I also took on more work (day job) instead of doing my own thing.
DH: Would you ever move for a gallery scene?
EB: I don’t know if I would move for that reason, but I might consider it. I’m not completely set here, it depends on too many other factors in my life. I think Newcastle has more galleries now but I’m not sure what they are doing and I’m not sure about the audience in the North East. I think if you approach the right people you will have the audience. There are some really commercial galleries in the city centre but I’m just not sure about what they are doing. I had an exhibition where I didn’t sell one painting, I think it was possibly to do with the dreadful weather the opening night which was the worst downpour we had all year, that almost halved the number of people that would normally come to an opening. I was told (by the gallery) that it might not sell as well because it’s abstract and people that buy abstract might only buy a work from someone they know really well or they’ve heard of. In that sense I think galleries do sell more representative work and they do sell more local scenes.
DH: So… how did you get into art?
EB: I used to always draw with my Grandmother when I was little. She loved drawing and she actually sat down with me and put something in front of me and made me, no 'didn’t make me' draw, but I just really enjoyed it, sitting there with her. She always wanted to be more creative and she didn’t get the chance because obviously those were different times and there wasn’t any money to go into the arts. That was just unheard of. I think that early influence has definitely something to do with me being a creative person. When I went to school, I always enjoyed art but I didn’t know I was going to become an artist yet. I was interested in it in my late teens, early twenties and I went to exhibitions and saw stuff. I always liked (Gustav) Klimt a lot and I went to see a Schiele exhibition (which later informed an interest in Vienna and art nouveau, etc.) and started to make an effort to see more art but I still didn’t necessarily want to become an artist as such. I always knew I wanted to be creative though.
DH: Can you pinpoint the moment that made you want to be an artist?
EB: Well it was a little more to do with me moving from Germany to England and doing a foundation course. That didn’t exist in Germany, you basically just have to decide what you might want to do for a career and then go for it. Basically you finish school (you have to have A levels or some form of further education to get into Uni) and then you decide on a course... The whole portfolio application process in Germany is a big deal because everything has to be (or had to be, then) certain sizes. When I first looked at it in Germany I thought, I don’t want to do that, it seemed a bit constrained to me. I know there’s some brilliant universities and lecturers in Germany. Berlin is fantastic for art but when I was that age, trying to find out what I could do, it just looked a bit too ominous and there were too many rules which is a very typical German thing sometimes. Then my friend whose family is from England suggested, let’s go do a foundation course, her mum talked to her about it and said, “if you don’t know which direction you are going, this is a great thing to do, “ and that’s how I heard of it. I was free to do it and we had some support of her family so we didn’t have to pay rent for the first year or something which was fantastic. So it was all there to just do it and try it and ….. I stayed. Forever...
The foundation course was great because it was like a taster and you could do graphic design, sculpture, fashion, and fine art, I think that’s the four things I had.
DH: So where did you do your foundation?
EB: North Tyneside College it was called then. I think it was one of the tutors there that actually gave me the confidence and said something like: "if you don’t get in (to University) I’m going to run round naked and play the trumpet outside"...(laughter) He was really convinced. The whole foundation course experience is great because you just did what you wanted and explored ideas there was time for 'messing about'. It was a fantastic experience and the teaching was good. As soon as I had tried fashion, graphics and sculpture I knew I wanted to do fine art and that’s what I did.
DH: So what brought you to abstract art or has it always been where your interests lay?
EB: I think I did more figurative things when I was quite young I drew flowers and things, objects, and then later I got 'bored' with that and somehow moved away from the figurative. Especially during my degree, it was all about experimenting with textures and surface and colour came into it eventually. But I think something more illustrative is happening in my recent drawings, still abstract but maybe some of it is coming back again. I think most art evolves, changes and 'goes back' to previous ideas... I mean this (pointing to the work in front of her) is already changing to what I did a few years ago, quite a bit and there are some things in there obviously you can recognise as possible flower shapes.I think moving from one culture to another, has probably influenced the way I work as well. you get more concerned with actually just doing things, you can’t really read too many theory books. They’re a bit more 'tricky' because it is your second language, I think if I’d read some books that I had to read here in German, it would have been a lot easier and I still sometimes think, “why do I find all of this so hard?” it’s because I have to think about it three times instead of just once. I mean (English) it’s a language I can speak and I can think in, I can read and write but there is still just that difference with it being my second language.
DH: Do you think the language of art criticism or art theory is sometimes deliberately obscuritan?
EB: I think it is meant to intellectualise a lot. I don’t mind some of it, I mean you do it yourself when you look at stuff, but I’d rather make art that people like, (or they might not like) but it’s more about an emotional reaction to the work rather than about this big meaning behind it all. You can see meaning in so many things and I’ve had this with people that have bought my work or commented on it. Some people get it and some people might not get it and the people that get it say exactly what I would say in a statement, it’s about mood, emotion, feeling, it’s about things you see and that’s all it is. I don’t need to go on and make a book out of that, you know what I mean. Art is there to see, it’s not there to chew over a thousand times. It’s a visual experience and it’s a language in itself, so why should you 'overanalyse' to explain it all?
DH: Do you feel confined by your work at all?
EB: Sometimes yes. I’ve sold something and I’ve tried to do something similar again because it’s sold, which is nonsense because my work is quite spontaneous, so if I then take that spontaneity and make it again, reproduce the same idea it just ends up being something else and usually it isn’t as good in my opinion. Maybe that’s just me being over critical as well. I don’t reproduce a work and make it exactly the same obviously but if something has worked before it becomes a safety zone. A lot of my work sometimes ends up looking like something I haven’t planned anyway, so there’s some control and some is more accidental.
DH: So do you scrap work at all?
EB: I don’t do it a lot actually but that’s become something since I started painting in a studio and trying to be professional, you have the experience to do it, you almost forget to experiment. You do what you know and you forget that you should just mess around, which is all I did at university. The third year was the first year I actually produced a body of work because I had to for the degree show, which was great, it was a great experience but I’ve stopped messing around because I feel like I don’t have the time because I do not do this as full-time, (as I would like) every day anyway. What you do at university, you get criticised for something and you probably change something there. Ross always questions that actually because I made a drawing in charcoal in the second year on a huge piece of paper, you had to spend a certain amount of time on it. I gave it to him years and years ago and it’s in our flat and he loves that piece, he’s always loved it possibly more than anything else, that was his favourite and he doesn’t understand why I’ve never done anything like it, but it was an exercise we had to do, that’s how I saw it. The piece is probably good even, who am I to say? I’ve just not done something similar again, since. I’ve done things with it, with elements of it. That's often a reason for me to hang on to work, it is all part of your 'artistic development' and you can see the changes that happen over the years.
DH: Do you feel like you came out of university stronger or a bit battered?
EB: I think I came out of it alright and I was happy in what I did but then it stopped. There was nothing, there was me and my work and then I knew I had enough knowledge of what I had to do to get a studio space and continue but after that there was nothing.... no help. I didn’t ask for it much either; I’m not blaming the outside world, it is also something you have to do but as a painter you do sit and do your work on your own and paint and not really consider it a business. In your dream you almost want to be discovered by somebody, you want to be lifted up out of your chair, you want to be stroked and you want to be made into this great star (laughter) which I’m not sure if I would want all that. I don’t know if I would want to become this really famous person. But in a way, wouldn’t it be great if someone would just be your protégé and go “You are fantastic, this is what I’ve always wanted on my walls and I’m going to make the whole world like you.” Wouldn’t that be great? Who wouldn’t love that? It might exist, maybe it does exist in London and other places but I’m not there and I’m not there to try it...yet.
Words: Damian Huntley
Photography: Ryen Huntley