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“The Artist”
In Conversation with Anna Kuen
From Vincent Van Gogh to Simone Bodmer-Turner, clogs have long been worn and adored by artists from all walks of life. For Pre Spring ‘22, we introduce brand new BIBI, a wooden clog steeped in tradition and reinterpreted through a contemporary lens. To mark its launch, we step into the Berlin-based studio of artist and model Anna Kuen, and discuss the principles and significance of her artistic endeavors.
Images: Nikk Martin
Words: Katie Cazalet-Smith
Aeyde: Tell me how you started off as an artist.

Anna: I studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and graduated with my diploma at the end of 2019. After that, I decided to move to Berlin where I am now based and where I have my studio. Before studying Fine Arts I went to a school for music and arts, where I used to dance ballet and work at the theater. I also played the double bass and piano. There was an overall humanistic approach to my education. Also, my dad is a restorer of paintings and sculptures, so I grew up surrounded by art.

a: Your work is mainly abstract, with rich use of color and line. What led you to favor this particular style?

AK: My work was almost photorealistic in the beginning, and then it underwent a natural development where I started to reduce everything and through that, I began to find my own style. The structure of my paintings and the intensity of the colors represent how I perceive the world. I am a very visual person and almost have a photographic memory for colors, which makes my art a mirror of my mind in some way.
a: How would you describe being an artist in Berlin? What about this city informs your paintings?

AK: I think every surrounding has an impact on creative work, especially visual work. So there is definitely something of my life in the city to be found in my paintings. But my work is more based on nature—the nature that surrounded me when I grew up, like the mountains, as well as things I collect. I collect images and books about mountains and natural structures and intuitively use parts of these images for my work. It is also influenced by being surrounded by very old and sacral art, as I spent a lot of time in my dad's studio and in churches he worked in. I still have a collection of documentary photographs that I like to integrate into the process as well.

a: You have described your painting process as “just painting”. How much of your work is planned, and how much is intuitive?

AK: There is definitely a small amount of planning involved. I have certain rituals that help me to start on my work in the studio—I write, I keep a studio diary, and I make very simple sketches with a black liner. This gives me a rough idea of how the canvas will be structured. Everything else happens within the process of painting. It’s a very intuitive way of exploring the topics on which I base my work.
a: You use phonetic language to name your work. Where does that convention come from?

AK: I’ve done this for a very long time. It started because most of my works’ titles are in a dialect that is tricky to write. I later discovered that this was really important, as it gives the work freedom of perception. There is a sound rather than a word or sentence connected to the images, which allows a greater opportunity for the individual to perceive the work, without being confined by the artist’s specific vision.

a: You model as well as paint. How do these two worlds intersect for you?

AK: Modeling gives me the freedom to pursue my art and allows me to develop my creative work even further. I used to strictly divide these two professions and felt like my life and my identity was split in two. So I thought, why not allow myself the freedom of doing what I am doing? Although there are scenarios in which there is no connection between the two fields, I didn’t want to cut either out. Modeling also has a performative aspect to it, which one could argue is a form of art as well.
a: What do you like best about each mode of artistic expression?

AK: Painting comes naturally to me. During my studies I experimented with different techniques and different modes of artistic expression, only to come back to painting as the most fundamental and instinctive way of expressing myself. In my work as a model, I enjoy the parts that feel like acting, that require an element of ‘getting into character’. In each profession there are parts I like and parts I dislike. And even the parts I dislike are important in their own way, because they allow me to grow.

a: Are the clothes you choose integral to the artistic process? What makes you feel most comfortable when you’re working?

AK: I don’t give much thought to what I wear when working in the studio. I have a pair of trousers which are almost entirely covered in paint. I have been wearing these for about 15 years, so they have became my ‘work uniform’. It became one of my rituals to change into my workwear as soon as I get to my studio. I also have old paint-covered pullovers with holes, because I need to be warm while working and I am unable to work without being covered in paint.

a: There is an enduring connection between artists and clogs. What does this style of shoe mean to you?

AK: It’s interesting, because the clog has been a ‘worker’s shoe’ since the 13th century, even appearing in art history over hundreds of years. Even Van Gogh painted them, and many artists wear them in their studios, too. Now it’s become a desirable item to be worn outside the working context. I personally like the style of clog worn with fun socks, or to combined with tailored trousers or even a suit.
Images: Nikk Martin
Words: Katie Cazalet-Smith
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