Art, Symbols, Fascination
& The Eternal Love Of The Light
A Retrospective With Silvia Hartmann by Nicola
I: Of Rock Pools & Elusive Elephants
Nicola Quinn: So Silvia, I would really like to know about your new
paintings, why you decided to do these, what is behind them and what
they are, the series as a whole.
SFX Silvia Hartmann: Well, I’d like to say there was years of
planning involved, and I am sure there was, on some level. But as
far as I am concerned, something just turns up, and sets this
sequence of events in motion.
NQ: So you have an idea and you just go and do it?
SFX: That’s it. It just occurred to me one evening that I would
like to try something, I had an idea to try something with the art
programmes that I have, and in the course of trying this I saw
something else and was absolutely fascinated by it.
Now, I’ve always, always been fascinated about lights, and
colours, and patterns.
NQ: When did you first start drawing, painting and expressing
yourself with colour?
SFX: I have always loved colours and lights. Do you know these
multi-packs of felt tip pens with all the different colours you can
get? Well, I always used to love those and just the actual colour,
in and of itself, and when you put them together, when you are
actually drawing something on a piece of paper, I find this as
fascinating as watching a sunset.
It is just the actual existence and the movement of the colour
and the light that I find completely fascinating, and I can do that
autistically endlessly. It draws me into its own universe in a
time I was on Bexhill beach, and I pointed out a tide pool and said,
“Look, this is an entire valley, this is an entire land, where
Tolkien's armies fought, and over there, there is a huge mountain
they had to traverse!”
It’s a tiny little rock pool but you just go into it, and this
landscape expands around you, of possibilities and of potential, and
there is always something that draws your attention.
NQ: So there is an element of fantasy and imagination about
everything you see?
SFX: I don’t think it is necessarily fantasy. It’s there.
NQ: You said about the rock pool, and the Tolkien world.
SFX: That was an example of, look what is there!
You think it is just mud, and a bit of water and a couple of
rocks, but it isn’t.
It is so much more than that.
It is a world, with events, and an existence, and it is endlessly
And EVERYTHING is like that.
Every leaf, every little bit of sand, everything is like that.
NQ: But have you never felt the desire to paint or draw in the
realist way? To try and represent those things?
SFX: No, because I know I would fail so bitterly!
That’s what I always say to people who are “whining artists” –
“Oh, my sky isn’t good enough!” I want to slap them – of course it
isn’t good enough! Who are you to – paint the sky? The creator made
the sky, and not just that, it made us with our neurology to look at
it and experience it the way we do.
How are you supposed to put that on a piece of paper?
You could break yourself into bits and never ending frustration,
trying to paint anything and have it be anything.
It doesn’t work like that.
I think what you need to concentrate on when you try to paint a
sky is, “How is this sky making you feel?” and then try and create a
symbol of that time when you went and looked at the sky.
A symbol that contains the essence of that experience.
NQ: The essence of the state you felt you were in at the time?
Yeah, like say there was this white fluffy cloud up on the left hand
side at the time, when you saw this eternal blue sky, the
endlessness of it and experienced this, and this is what made you
want to “capture the sky”, if you will.
It is not the sky you’re trying to capture, it is your experience
So all you really need to make that work is to paint the
background blue as best you can, then beg the creators forgiveness
for the miserable attempt at the impossible – know up front that you
will never, ever be able to paint the sky, to get that blue right.
Of course you can’t get the blue right!
In order to get that blue, you need your eyes, looking up at that
sky, and a planet with a stratosphere and the entire universe behind
NQ: Whoa ...
SFX: So what would make a lot more sense is to think that what
you are painting is a symbol, a reminder of that experience.
So you do the blue the best you can with what you’ve got, do your
best, and then just put a little fluffy white thing there, on the
top left hand side, and that’s it – there’s your homage to the sky,
to that moment.
That would be my version of realism.
NQ: That seems to be what a lot of people do, and the
difference between the ones who touch us, and the ones who don’t,
are not so much the perfection in the replication of it, but the
essence of that feeling, coming through.
SFX: Yes. And one of the things that gets in the way of that are
considerations, and the artists own fears and reversals. Like, they
get very frustrated if they don’t get the right shade of blue. But
you can’t get the right shade of blue. It is impossible.
NQ: And in the striving for that, it takes it further away
from the experience.
SFX: Yes, it takes it further away. The more bitter and twisted
you get about not getting the right shade of blue, the further away
the experience and the actual thing itself becomes, so the first
thing I think an artist needs is some fucking humility here.
You can paint an elephant – but that’s NOT an elephant!
So you’ve always taken that approach?
SFX: I went through the phase of trying to paint an elephant and
have it be an elephant and wondering why I was so dissatisfied with
my efforts! [laughs]
When I got my head around the fact that not only not I, but
no-one at all can paint an elephant, I was left with the question,
“Well if I can’t paint an elephant, what can I paint?”
I can paint a symbol of an elephant, and you can make that symbol
as elaborate as you want, so it can look pretty “life like” and
people might say, “Oh that’s a great elephant, you did really well,
it looks exactly like a photograph of one!”
You can do that, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Or you can just put a big grey blob in the middle of a piece of
paper, or you could take reds, and greens, and purples, and blacks
and silvers and just try and express what an elephant feels like to
Then you’ve got this picture full of colours and of weirdness,
and it is called, “The Elephant”, and that’s what a lot of people
don’t understand about abstract art is that the artist tried the
best they could to express that thing, that inexpressible thing that
an elephant really is.