Barbara Kuebel is a painter and printmaker known for her bold figurative portraits. Her paintings and prints differ in style, colour and technique. When working in paint, Barbara adopts an abstract expressionist style and a broad palette When working in print, Barbara’s works take on an illustrative, almost graphic appearance.
Barbara has recently joined the platform, and we caught up with her to learn more about the evolution of her style, the different techniques she uses, and what an average day is like in the studio.
How would you describe your artistic style?
The significant and most important feature is the line. Coming from cartoon-like drawing and being strongly driven to sculpture, shape and movement are my personal questions when starting an artistic process. More specifically, I would call it an artistic analysis through a single line. This sounds strange, but for me, it is a form of analysis when creating a simplified shape through lines that reflect a 'momentum'. To show the 'sitting' of a sitting person – and not the sitting person. To show the action - and not two persons interacting.
My style also comes from intensive figure drawing in the past – my backbone. I still see myself as a graphic artist rather than a painter, although I studied Painting at the Academy of Fine Art Vienna. I always felt that I had to compromise my inner motivation to experiment outside painting. Maybe that’s a good driving force to create a style that was just right for me.
When judging my own works or what I consider important for works is the potential of the gesture, which for me is the 'hottest' part when drawing. These works sometimes are completed in a stage of development where I just want to feel myself through the activity. But these pencil drawings with very thick graphite sticks are important for later works – for instance, the woodcuts.
What messages or themes do you want to communicate with your work?
I’m coming from a more constructivist position where meaning is made by getting rid of 'readymades' – things that you believe to recognize, but sometimes it does not fit into given concepts. Maybe it’s similar to not being able to understand a joke at the moment it is told and just one or two seconds later you get the point. This is the way I want the viewer to approach my works.
Having said that, I try to stretch the understanding of correctness and intentionally lean towards imperfection, to create a moment of adjustment in the viewer. I also use the idea of a knot to understand these accumulated figures. Having two strings one could play endlessly in tying them together. Having that in mind I mostly use two players in my composition and I believe that the challenge to combine them is endless here, too. In terms of a subject matter, I pull my ideas from social situations which can have an awkward feature. That’s the reason why the figures do things that seem sometimes obtrusive, but still in a funny way.
How has your style evolved over the years?
My style is the result of a long artistic engagement and testing, where I iteratively reduced free drawing based on the momentum of gesture to a single line. The line is my primary carrier of information which defines an area, positive space or negative space for the monochrome woodcuts. The constructivist aspect became stronger.
I also feel fascinated by calligraphy in terms of composition and significance of dynamics within the writing, for instance, Arabic calligraphy or Japanese Shodo.
How does your practice differ when working in print or painting?
These domains are parallel things but I need both aspects to consolidate myself. Painting is a process-oriented field for me. I work in a watercolour technique, which means that I hardly paint in layers or “erase” by painting over something because correcting something confuses me. Consequently, I do not paint in layers and unpainted space is as important to me as painted areas. I use pretty thin pencils at the moment which has a similar ductus as the cutting knife for woodcuts.
What’s an average day like in your studio?
I've always had a studio close to my home because I have 3 children. Because we live in a studio-house I am reorganizing myself around unfinished and finished works. The production of a woodcut takes about one to one and a half weeks. I start with a spontaneous idea, draft roughly on the block or cut directly without a draft. Then the knife is not used different from a pencil and each cut line will be visible as corrections are not possible. I stress that I would not correct, even if I could, this is part of the working process. I do not use more than one colour, all that needs to be done is included in one block. The cutting is a dirty and dusty process and takes 1-2 days till splinters are dry and can be brushed away. The paper is torn not cut and needs to hang freely for two days to adjust to the humidity. The climate here in Alabama is extremely warm and hot in summer which is good for the paper I use. The dry climate makes the paper stubborn and the colour does not transfer nicely into the paper.
The printing part is physically hard labour and I print it all by hand. So practically speaking, all edition prints are monotypes because I cannot apply the same manual strength to all pieces in an identical way. I normally teach some days a week, then I work in the afternoon or the evening. The weekend days are reserved for motorcycling and completing commissions.
What/Who are your key influences?
I generally see myself influenced by a European art tradition, especially when it comes to the profound use of materials. I do not use materials that don’t last long or rot away.
I have always been fascinated by art defined by physical engagement and gesture. To name some artists I list Georg Baselitz, Markus Lüpertz, Alfred Hrdlicka or Karel Appel. I am also an internationally influenced artist. Being born and raised in Austria I have lived and worked with my husband and kids in international settings such as Brazil, The Netherlands, Switzerland and the US.
Specifically, the South American art tradition primed me to look into things that are accessible (materials) or need to be talked about (themes). For example, Brazilian art is not thinkable for me without knowing something about the artist. There is a strong body-mind connection between artwork and artist which is very much different from a European tradition where I believe that expectation and career decisions impact how many artists structure their work. I also see that South American artists publish their theme in a very straightforward and honest way, the materials which are used, the space which is there define the work. There is nothing such as pompous presentation for average work. All that is shown in public is radical, serious and strong. This is the reason why it is in the public.
I am influenced by my work in the area of teaching and social psychology and I need these work relationships to impact my artistic work. I will be moving to the UK soon and I’m looking forward to what to expect in the UK.
I think that art in the US at the moment is extremely exciting with many young artists defining their own body of work besides gallery trends. To mention someone: Christina de Miguel.
Who are some Rise Art artists with work you're enjoying at the moment?
Are you currently working on any exciting new projects?
I’m preparing pieces for Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, New Orleans. I've just received an invitation for the printmaking Triennial in Livno Bosnia Herzegovina for next year and there is an art fair in Oxford I will do this October. I'm hoping some other things will work out after I managed the move back to Europe.