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The sensational experience of drawing – a deviation from reality, a fantasy and a game of Sophie Holstein’s imagination

January 16, 2010 by · No comments

An interview with artist Sophie Holstein by Maya Kolarova

Sophie Holstein
Photo: Personal archive

    Sophie Holstein – biography notes and artist statement

    I was born in 1983 in North of Germany. After I graduated from high school in 2003, I moved to Madrid for half a year to learn Spanish. I was curious to discover new places. Afterwards i worked on my portfolio which got me into Parsons School of Design in Paris where I studied for two years. From there I transfered to New York where I graduated in 2008. Then i moved to Berlin where I rented a small studio in Kreuzberg and where have been working on my paintings during the last year.

    The theme of the actual group show in Hamburg ‘Home’, is very often the starting point for my ideas. ‘Home’ means microcosmos, hierarchy, relations, conflict – it is a focus of energy that has the potential to both give everything (love, protection, roots, ect.) and to harm (emotional and physical brutality, bondage, ect.).
    My main focus is the discrepancy between facts and perception – physical closeness and emotional distance, conversation without understanding, the difference of how we evaluate ‘things’.
    I work from observation and imagination. Just like a moment we remember, filter and interpret, it is a composition of sharp memory and blurry recognition and fantasy.

Sophie Holstein
Photo: Sophie Holstein, oil on canvas 100 x 90 cm

How did you become aware of the fact that you wanted to be an artist? Was there a certain event in your life that determined the course of your development?

As a child I started to sketch people around me wherever I was. In school I would often draw my teachers. The pages of my schoolbooks were bordered with floating figures. I did not know what it meant to be an artist, but I knew I wanted to draw.

Sophie Holstein
Photo: Sophie Holstein, oil on canvas 130 x 90 cm

Is there a certain person – an artist – who has inspired and influenced your development? In what way is that person important to you and how great is the impact he/she has on you?

In Berlin I met Ahmed Alsoudani, who had also just moved from New York to Berlin and had rented the studio next to mine in the old warehouse in Kreuzberg. I soon called him my ‘ping pong’ partner as we spent most of the time together painting and talking. I admire his fine thoughts and his complicated work. He is a wonderful painter and person. Coming from two opposite parts of the world we met in a world that was ours.

Sophie Holstein
Photo: Sophie Holstein, oil on canvas 180 x 130 cm

How did your work change over time – what are the differences between your initial works and your present ones?

My focal point has always been the figure. At first I worked on small scale ink drawings or oil paintings. The figures were depicted as gestural silhouettes in abstract spaces. During the last year I focused on details, facial expressions, fabrics and objects. The overall compositions became more complex.

Sophie Holstein
Photo: Sophie Holstein, oil on canvas 180 x 130 cm

What kinds of materials do you like working with? Do the different kinds of materials bring different sensation to you?

I switch between working with ink on paper and oil on canvas. Scratching over the surface of a paper with a fountain pen and watching the ink soak into the paper scare is a sensational experience. The overlapping of translucent color fields reflects a characteristic, unforgiving sensitivity. Oil paints and brushes in contrast are soft but they can cover what is underneath and lead to a more decisive behavior.

Sophie Holstein
Photo: Sophie Holstein, oil on canvas 130 x 180 cm

Could you tell me more about the process of creating a work? How does it happen? Do you think over an idea or just give in to the inspiration? How do you feel while you are painting and afterwards?

My paintings are all based on observation and imagination. I collect stories and images in my head to then reconfigure the scenarios into sketches and eventually transfer them onto a canvas. The initial drawing on a canvas will define the basic composition and the formal setting. During the process of painting the figures become alive and the atmosphere starts to breathe. Sometimes I change not only a lot of details, take away or add objects, but also redirect the dynamic of the whole scene as a reaction to the development.

Sophie Holstein
Photo: Sophie Holstein, oil on canvas 130 x 90 cm

In what way does your art reflect your personality?

My paintings reflect what I see – inward-looking and outward.

Sophie Holstein
Photo: Sophie Holstein, (Frucht) oil on canvas 100x 90 cm

You were born in Germany, then you moved to Madrid to learn Spanish, afterwards you lived in Paris, then in New York…and you finally returned to Germany again. How did it all happen? How did this influence your work? And why did you come back to Germany?

Curiosity drove me to Madrid as a first step after graduating from high school. I started studying fine arts in Paris at Parsons School of Design. After two years I transferred to Parsons School in New York where I graduated two years later. It was very important to me to study art in an international environment. Students from all over the world, with different cultural and educational backgrounds met at one place to create, discuss and learn. Then my visa expired! I wanted to move to Berlin, the place where artists can find studios and still live in a vibrant metropolis. The old, but newly upcoming city with its unconventional and sometimes dysfunctional structure interested me.

Sophie Holstein
Photo: Sophie Holstein, oil on canvas 130 90 cm, 2009

What sort of events, situations, relationships and people influence your work? And in what way?

I am interested in people, drama, tragedy, and conflict. Stories that I was told or books that I have read provoke images in my head. I watch families having dinner in restaurants, couples walking in a super market, faces in the train. Most of the time I can’t hear what they are talking about so I watch their postures and behavior. In my paintings, I don’t claim truth – I deviate from reality, fantasize and play. The people in my paintings are actors on my stage and already detached from their initial models.

Sophie Holstein
Photo: Sophie Holstein, oil on canvas 40 x 30 cm, 2009

What do you most sincerely believe in?


Sophie Holstein
Photo: Sophie Holstein

    2006-2008 BFA, Parsons The New School for Design, New York
    2004-2006 Parsons School of Design, Paris,
    major in Fine Arts

    2009 Galerie Kuckucksnest, Berlin

    2009 lets go home, S-KAI building, Hamburg
    2008 Thesis Show, MC Gallery, New York
    2007 City Symphonies/Urban Muck, fifth floor Gallery, New York
    2007 Mentor- Meteor, fifth floor Gallery, New York
    (Catalog with essay by Tom Zummer)
    2005 Parsons School of Design,
    End of the year show at Espace commine, Paris
    2004 Parsons School of Design Gallery, Paris

    2006-2007 BFA Deans Scholarship

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