Who is Voila Schmitt?
June 2021, the lockdown was beginning to ease up in Berlin, Germany, and the social crowd starting to build up, across different parts of the city, again, forming clusters – some with open air music and beers in hand.
And at the top of the Gesundbrunnen bunker, on that very warm summer evening, catching sunset amidst chatters with random strangers, I said hi to Voila Schmitt!
Voila Schmitt is a multidisciplinary artist based in Berlin, Germany. Her work and style mainly focuses on collage-making, sculpture and traditional graphic art.
I was curious about her style and how she expresses her creativity so I asked her to open the window to her creative world. Let’s peep through.
The Creative Big Bang
At what point did you identify the need to create, and what was your early inspiration?
I remember from very early on how I enjoyed painting and drawing. As a child, I would spend countless hours, together with my sister, on a little table, painting. We would tell each other elaborate stories of adventures with two invented characters and simultaneously illustrate them with crayons, ink or watercolour.
Our characters were two girls with black and blonde hair and long braids and they were travelling all over the world. I still have some of the paintings from that time and remember, vividly, a lot of the stories we invented.
When I think of it now, I am surprised about how focused and independent we were as children, not only in developing our abilities to draw and to illustrate, but also to make up stories and characters.
My father had a big bookshelf and as a child, I could only reach the lowest shelves, where he had stored books with paintings by the French Impressionist Seurat, and books with illustrations by Gustave Doré. I especially enjoyed Seurat’s paintings, because the illustrations by Doré were quite dark.
As I grew, I could access more and more books in my father’s bookshelf and through that I discovered more and more art books. This was a fun introduction into history of art and it definitely shaped my own desire to create and become an artist.
At the early stages of your creative journey, how did you build your confidence to create?
I discovered already as a child that through patience and exact observation I could learn to draw whatever I saw. And since I always had a very strong sense about what I found beautiful or interesting I also learned to distinguish quit quickly between my successful or unsuccessful artworks.
Later on I, unfortunately, lost this ingenuous attitude towards my own creations and became very critical, not only of my ideas, but also of their execution. It came to the point where I even stopped making art for long periods of time because I could not handle the disappointment that I felt if something didn’t meet my self-proclaimed standards.
I assume that most artists know these phases of doubt and creative block. It is important to remember that they will pass. No need to force anything, the creative flow will come again on its own terms and in the right time. At least that is my experience.
My father had a big bookshelf and as a child I could only reach the lowest shelves, where he had stored books with paintings.Voila Schmitt
Creative Life & Style
Typically creatives like to label their craft, what label would you put on your work and what
I personally don’t feel the need to label my work or to categorise it. I work in printmaking, collage and sculpture and very reluctantly also paint, but I don’t commit to a certain style and cannot name one big influential art form that is my main source of inspiration.
I think that my work is also quite diverse in this sense because I often skip from one medium to another and from one theme and influence to another. This goes together with the fact that I also pursue multiple projects at the same
time, like sculpting and collage, lately.
“Collage” and “Printmaking” are the latest forms through which you express your creativity, what pulled you into this path?
Printmaking had always fascinated me but it is not a very accessible art form. Just like most of the traditional printmaking techniques you need a lot of technical knowledge and also a well equipped studio. So I started from home with monotypes and woodcuts, because I could print them without a press.
Thankfully I soon found some inspiring places here in Berlin, where I could learn different techniques like etchings, cold needle and aquatint from experienced and established artists, and also practice them independently.
When corona started, I could no longer access these places anymore and, more or less, accidentally started
making collages. A former flatmate of mine had left me some old books and magazines that he didn’t
want anymore. I thought it would be a good idea to practice colour composition, because I had predominantly been working in black and white.
I considered collaging merely as a form of exercise and not really as an independent art form. But that changed very quickly.
“Spontaneity” and “Surprise” are two words you used in describing how you source materials for your collage, in an interview with Berlin Collage Platform. How do you balance staying spontaneous and keeping that element of surprise while also having the need to tell a story with your work?
The story just magically appears. At least that is how I experience the process of making collages. But to be more precise: In the process of collaging you are constantly making choices but the fun part is that this happens very intuitively. It would be wrong to think though that the choices are random and arbitrary.
They are shaped by your interest in a certain topic and this is how consistency and eventually a story is formed. On a more technical level, consistency can of course also be achieved through choosing a certain style of collage or a limited source of materials, say from only one book or magazine. Hence there are many different ways to balance spontaneity and consistency in collage.
And how would you say your collage stands out – if we had to distinguish you?
A lot of people when they hear ‘collage’ think of a certain very well-known and established style of collage that you could call absurd photomontage. It is characterised by merging elements together into forming a surreal and often funny new image, say a fish with a hat or something of that sort.
I think this style is influenced by the Dada movement and artists like Hanna Höch. My starting point into collage was less to create images of that sort but to practice composition and to work within a relatively restrictive approach and I think you can still see that with most of my collages.
Creative Outlook and Ambition
Creativity and “the self” are one and the same. How do you balance the pain/disappointment/failure of the self from not affecting your creative process? Do you manage? How do you heal to stay (or return) on the creative path?
Like I said above, I learned to not force my creativity and that if I patiently wait, it will come back eventually. Now I also experience how the responsibilities and commitments of every day life can gravely impact the curiosity and the leisure that form the basis of most creative processes.
Consequentially, it is important for me to shape my life in a way that allows for this leisure and for time for boredom as well. Unfortunately this is often a luxury and I cannot always afford it.
Do you have a “favourite” from all your works? If yes, which?
It is impossible to pick a favourite for me. There are certainly some works that I like more and also some that come close to being my favourites but that normally only lasts very shortly. Currently I am really fascinated by my sculpture project “Garden of Loss”.
I put one of my sculpted clay busts onto an abandoned cemetery in Berlin and document the process of its decay.
Because they clay is not fired it is dissolving under the rain and the changing weather conditions. It is a symbol of loss and a challenging process for me to learn to let go.
How do you see the creative space evolving in globally? What roles do creatives have in influencing policies and societal trends, inequality?
It is difficult to say but certainly most interesting to watch the developments. I think the role of art and artists in social and cultural change is simultaneously overrated and underrated. It very much depends where in the world you are working and creating from and under which political circumstances.
Here, in Germany, I sometimes observe a sort of need to justify ones own creative work. As if it is only valuable and permissible if it serves a social or political purpose. And while I understand the motive for this, I believe that political action and concrete acts of solidarity are much more effective in achieving political change or a more just and sustainable future. And they are very necessary!
Of course the two approaches are not mutually exclusive and I don’t want to undermine or belittle the effect art can have on our society and politics. I am also aware that in other parts of the world the situation is a fundamentally different one and so is the role of the artist or art in them.
If you had to share ideas/brainstorm with one creative in the world, who would that be?
If it comes to brainstorming, I would rather just talk and mostly listen to some philosophers and intellectuals that I admire. That certainly comes from my studies in philosophy and political science.
But I would adore visiting some of my favourite artists in their studios and just watch them work, for example, Lee Krasner or Louise Bourgeois to name just two.
Three words to remember you with?
I would like to eschew this categorisation.
Find Viola Schimmt
You can find more of Voila Schmitt and follow her creative journey on Instagram, and also purchase some of her intriguing art.