Keike Twisselmann

A painter and performance artist, she has agreed to an email conversation and provided 10 discs with drawings and paintings and photographs. Those impressed me with sameness of visual means: clashing hues do not clash, over saturated brushstrokes define the precise outline, the subject matter dwells in the imagined world embracing on occasion fairy tales and myths. Memories of German Expressionism, of Emil Nolde’s watercolours created during the dark oppressive years, resonate with Twisselmann’s facility to work with saturated brushes wet in wet, staining, dragging, pushing, swirling  to conjure up creatures and their world.  Dream and attentive observation drip energy into one another to preserve the passion of being. (Sometimes they laugh).

Keikesketch blue horse 2002

Blue Horse, watercolour sketch, 2002

My first question is decidedly pedestrian:

 Is your studio tidy? 

Keike Twisselmann, Im Wald, a part of series Ich glaub ich bin im Wald, 2008

KT: The studio in Berlin is a long journey from where I live, so it’s always a “trip” to be planned in order to save petrol (public transport is double the time, expensive and dangerous late at night) – so I go by my Mum’s car or motorbike.

… so art work-ing is removed from household-ing…

kEIKE bookmark-bunny

Bookmark – bunny

(small watercolours and sketches are made at home)

You can’t eat off the floor in the studio, but I always clear it whenever I need clear thoughts for new ideas.

While working, it’s a no-access zone!

I work mainly on the floor – no matter what medium or size – until my knees give up!

Keike studio 2

Studio with I think I am in a forest, 2008 (Ich glaub ich bin im Wald)

It’s a growing arrangement like a jungle…

I paint with music on … anything from classic to heavy metal…I like the sunny, colourful improvisations by Jimmy Hendrix (he almost seems to do on the guitar what I try on the canvas! – Power!)

I don’t like interruptions while painting – I’m getting “lost” in concentration…so any interruption is lethal to the process.

Whenever I burst into action, I work to exhaustion.

 What inspired you to become an artist?

KT: I don’t know, it just went that way…fate?

I always “made things”…

…maybe I didn’t loose my childhood curiosity? the inquisitive mind…

Keike red birdblauerschlaf2

from series Worlds of Consciousness, 2007

some people said, it just runs in my family…a lot of engineers, inventors and artists – including an opera singer (my great granddad was the heroic tenor at the Semper Oper in Dresden) … my great granny’s uncle adopted her as a favourite daughter…he organised the parties and events for the king of Saxony for which he got a lot of medals (weird!) – I still have some funny drawings by him…and some other old stuff and documents…

…but I don’t think, that was my motivation or inspiration…

I’m inspired by life…!!!

 What are your preferred materials and formats?

Keike Sail ,1995

Sail, 1995

The first thing is the IDEA – the form, media, material and format follows…Years ago (around 1996), I wrote this:

On creation

The most important point, the nub where creation happens, is the IDEA (gr. “eidos”). This should not be readily confused with a solely rational process, as the “idea“ stands beyond the often so wrongly assumed division of a “rational”/” irrational” antagonism.The process of creation is a philosophical act; holy and unholy down to its very core.

On Performance

Art has the privilege of a certain freedom towards political issues; so-called “non-political” art can be abused the easiest and is therefore sometimes much more dangerous to human comfort than so-called “political“ art.All art is political. The only problem lies with our confusion of politics with power.We all perform our roles within our lives, the role of the performance artist is to investigate, reflect and react to them. Performance art is a „spontaneous ritual“.

On outer differences

Versatility and diversity within the products of a continuous conceptual process of work are vital to artistic progress and quality of work; thus, two seemingly different results have the same origin, the same “eidos”.

Keike Twisselmann, Belfast 1996

I guess, this is still valid for my way to work.


Keike Twisselmann on number 67

In your youth you have chosen to study for a  Master Degree in Fine Art. Increasingly people doubt that MA degrees  are  a good pathway for an artist. If you were to design a postgraduate degree in art – , what would you see as essential and what as desirable?

I needed to do a masters degree at that time, because I wanted to go back to study more – I needed the discourse and exchange within an academic setting – which gave me the intellectual feedback and financial security for further development…I think it’s a very individual decision everyone has to make for themselves. I don’t think you can generalize to state that a masters course is good for you. It was good for me at that particular place and time. Going back to do a university course is down to the need of academic research & feedback…

I’m now considering a PhD – in fine art.

kEIKE mz sketch1

Sketch 1, n.d.

 You are a good painter. Your paintings are strong, colourful images – looking at them I would assume that many people would like to live with them, thus buying them. What has art market done for you? How do you support your art practice?

Keike  6 doors6doors

Six Doors, 1996

What has the art market done for me? – Nothing. I exist outside the market. Like most of my colleagues, I had to sign on for a long time, then disaster struck and since then my family keeps dying bit by bit. I support myself with my inheritance at the moment, but I couldn’t work for a long, long time – I was paralysed with grief!

Keike seated nude

Seated Nude, 2013

My mother-in-law, Pat Callaghan, helped me to get back painting by inviting me to her life drawing sessions at the Art College.

I only sell my paintings directly to the enthusiasts (they hang around the world in private collections alongside Beuys and other culprits) – I never had a gallery interested enough in my style of painting to take me on more permanently as “their” artist. Even though an expert from Sotheby’s confirmed the suspicion, that my paintings will be worth a lot one day, once I have a “name”.I don’t care about “fashions” in art – I just work away on my own ideas and get on with it…

Keike life drawing 2011

Life drawing 2011

…which means, I am supported by my art on a spiritual and metaphysical level and a lot of people support me on that level – but my art cannot financially support my living expenses. If I worry too much about finances and the future, I would go insane.

20 years ago I said: “All I care about in life is to have enough to feed myself and buy art materials to keep on painting” – a bit naive, but I suppose if you are an artist, who is interested in making art, this would be your credo – if you are an artist, who is interested in making money, all you care about is your sales figures (“the figurative art of making money”!) and it shows in your art.

Keike and motorbike

I am afraid that there are many more painters  like you whose work is good but not a part of the art market. How you support your practice may be a kind of advice to them. So – how do you make it possible? And another thing, you attached a photograph of you racing on the motorbike. Can we have it here? I am interested on that need of yours to have a parallel practice, performance art and motorbike racing. Both,how it has been  so far, and what do your dreams hold?

It’s no secret – but a fact of life…(we deal with it every day in the bbk = visual artist “trade union” in Berlin) and I don’t think, my main pursuit ever was to be part of that market – or I would have managed it eventually.My main pursuit was working hard on making my art, not marketing my art.

But I’m afraid, I cannot give advice on survival tactics to anyone struggling. I don’t have them myself. I just get on with life with sheer optimism and a naive panache…(maybe you acquire that when you come from a wealthy middle class background, I couldn’t see too many people from a poor background not feeling a priori need to better their financial situation…and you won’t find too many artists (or musicians) from families like that, because artists need the financial support of their families in some way or another when they “start out”…but I’m going off at tangents…)

Keike life 2001 hot colours

Life study, 2004

The motorbikes…I have three of them…two 35 year old GDR twostroke MZs (the equivalent may be a CZ, which you may remember) – one of them I race  every year and a 35 year old yellow (what a loud 70s colour!) Honda 400/4 Supersport in Belfast

I don’t want to ride the little MZ over, ’cause it’s got a very small engine and I don’t want to blow it, but I’ve got the in Belfast. Riding a motorbike is like working on a painting and a performance in one…you need to concentrate so hard, you’re “in the zone”…(maybe akin to the Japanese art of Zen? I don’t know. I never practiced it.)  Especially racing the MZ…added with adrenalin, of course – as wild and daring as I start a painting!

Keike Blue dreamer, 20007 Worlds of Con...

Blue Dreamer from Worlds of Consciousness, 2007

(The way for me to relax is playing the violin…I just play for myself & pleasure. Now after a long pause…my friend Aidan Mulholland, a musician and violin & bow maker from Belfast, said, the violin always takes its revenge if you don’t practice every day…but I can’t seem to get that strict discipline…)

In my metaphysical “dreams”, I dream of peace, justice and that people learn from each other to get along with each other…in my real dreams, I dream of the people I love – the dead and the living…and feel a bond of love and friendship beyond time…being a “social animal” I love humanity and despair about it at the same time – but I get so deeply touched by a simple human gesture – and upset about greedy, selfish behaviour! – call it “humanism”?

And at present? 

We are preparing an art project (“everything in colour/colourful – as long as it’s grey”) at the moment in Berlin Schoeneweide, a former industrial area – now derelict and desperate at the outskirts…a breeding ground for ideas like the Nazis (“…the bitch is in heat again”, Brecht, – Michael said I should transform that into painting!) Our main funding body is LAP – a local action plan against Nazis. Our project is for people from people – we want to involve a lot of local, active people and make it a good summer to happily remember!

You can have a look on:

Thank you.


About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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