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Home > Discover Mumbai > Art and Culture > Ulrike Arnold

Ulrike Arnold 

Ulrike Arnold after The Big Bang!

German artist Ulrike "Then, there was a big bang! And I realised that the earth, in her natural element, would give me my way of expression, my canvas and my colours," says German artist Ulrike Arnold, who uses rocks as her canvas and crushed mud and stones as paint. Arnold has made her fifth trip to India, this time as part of the German Festival in India and has chosen to express herself through the 'Art in Nature project.' This art project involves four German artists Ulrike Arnold, Gabriele Heidecker, Peter Strauss and Timm Ulrichs and four Indian artists, Rimzon, Shuvaprasanna, Manisha Parekh and Sheila Gowda working on a singular theme, 'Art in Nature' on various mediums and anywhere in the country. Ulrike chose to colour the rocks and involve trees in her art installations in Badami, Karnataka, and rough it out in the wild for 30 days. meets the artist-adventurer on one of her sojourns in India.

The earth has been your medium of self-expression. Why did you choose this medium and was that uniqueness the reason you were chosen to represent Germany in India during the art festival?

 Creative pursuit: Ulrike I have been painting for the last 20 years only with earth as my medium and canvas. My first introduction to this medium was when I was studying music in art and wrote my exam papers on pre-historic rocks by studying old cave art. I found magic in these old cave paintings. Ten years later when I was in France I saw the red of the earth mud, the material used by the first artists on the planet. At that time, it was like a big bang, I was greatly moved by this medium and realised that it would be my ideal form of expression. I decided to experiment, not using artificial colours, but just using rocks on site. I started making my paints by crushing rocks and mixing the powder with a binder (resin). I was studying at that time at the Art Academy in Dusseldorf, Germany where I received a lot of encouragement from the professors to continue with my experiments.

My work reflected my passion for travelling, meeting people, studying various cultures, philosophies and religions. Everywhere I went I looked for places that had a magic attraction to me to start my work. In the beginning I used all the natural elements to paint on canvas, it was later that I got the idea to paint on rock-sides. I painted first on the rock surface at the Crestone Zen Monastery in Colorado and the Christ in the Desert Monastery in Abiquiu, New Mexico. That is probably the reson for Max Mueller Bhavan to invited me to partake in the 'Art in Nature' project, since for years I have been working with nature materials.

When did you decide to film your work?The earth her canvas - Ulrike Arnold
I have always been doing paintings in nature in remote areas. So, it was important to have a film to show the project because otherwise it was impossible to describe my work nor practical to expect people to travel all the way to Badami for a viewing. Most of my work stays in nature where it belongs. In Badami I did a painting on a rock-side with painted flags and ropes to symbolise the idea of transformation. I also created an art installation in a tree, planted 7 trees as an art work to depict samsara (the infinite cycle of life) and also painted on canvas. To showcase my work to a larger audience I was searching for someone who could film the whole process. I had heard about documentary filmaker R V Ramani, whom I met in November, when I was doing my research. He agreed to film my project. The whole of January I spent in nature working in Badami, while Ramani captured me and my work with his third eye.

Are you are restricted by only earth colours?
Yes, there are colour restrictions, but I don't think of it as a limitation. I want to create something about the essence of the place, something like a diary note in abstract form, so the colours available on - site are essentially the quality of the place. The creative end result is typical of the landscape, colour and material with rough surfaces but the images are my interpretation of the place - the weather, feel, people and even history. I worked in Badami in Karanataka and the mountains of Thiruvanamalai in Tamil Nadu.

Have you ever faced problems working on these remote sites?
As soon as I identify the site, I talk to archeologists and ask for permits. I never tresspass on holy or sacred land or sites of archeological significance. In America, I have created rock art at more than 50 sites, but most of it has been on private land or that belonging to monasteries.

Is this nature's paint short-lived?
While working on canvas I can use binders and the work can be preserved for over a hundred years. I have no control on my work with nature and I believe that the ravages of nature give a new meaning to my rock canvas. Sunshine will not fade the rock colours unlike chemical ones. I usually identify surfaces protected from rain and harsh sunlight. Even this will fade with time. The art installation, which I have done on a tree, using ropes, leaves, flags and earth, looks like a snake, and it is quite possible that a dog will bite it off or somebody might steal it. I do expect these changes and it is a reason why I have planned to come back to film the same places after a year's time.

What were the reactions of people in Badami to your work?
Here people came and bowed down to my work, worshiping it and even offering flowers. It was really amazing, they even brought me food and water. What struck me most about Indians is the love and respect they bestowed on me. People were touching, feeling and pressing the art work and asking questions about it.

Is there an art movement or an art group in Germany who use nature as their canvas?
I would not call it a movement, I just developed this technique for myself. While travelling to different countries I discovered that there are people who create things out of the earth either using an ecological theme or natural material. Perhaps this has come about because people all over the world have become more environmentally aware.

In this expression of nature, I found a commoness among us eight artists. The circle was a predominent force in our work as was trees and the earth. I have also used a circle for my painting, which has a roundness about it.

Are Germans more exposed to the art scenario in Germany?
Art is not just 2-dimensional. Art does not happen only in museums and galleries, art can happen anywhere anytime. The common man has to be exposed to art. All over the world people concentrate on the commercial and more functional side of art. I remember when I painted on a 7-metre long canvas, a lady came up to me and said, 'Nobody would want to buy this. It would fit in anyone's home decor.' I can never paint for someone who say I wants a 10 cms by 5 cms, vertical painting with more blue colour to match my sofa. That's just not me!

By Anupama Vinayak

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