Artist Gabriela Hirt creates paintings and sculpture that explore collective history, isolation and social injustice. Find more of her portfolio on her website.
When I went to high school, I was told I couldn’t paint. I believed my teacher and turned to pottery and writing as creative outlets.
For over two decades I worked as a journalist for German publications, loving every minute of it. But I longed to express myself more viscerally. During a sabbatical, when my family and I lived on a sailboat in the Mediterranean, I picked up the paintbrush again. I knew I had found my real purpose.
Bowing to a long affinity with words, my paintings usually start with stream-of-consciousness-writing, followed by mark making through gestural movements using my whole body.
I like to work large. There might be six layers of paint before the specific narrative of a piece is beginning to evolve. Accessing intuitive somatic wisdom while at the same time using analytical inquiry is a constant, fascinating balancing act to me.
I grew up in Post-Holocaust Germany and have long been interested in questions of guilt, racial justice and reconciliation. To me, history is enduring, manifesting in our bodies throughout generations. What has happened in the past governs present and future, ultimately defining our capacity for tolerance.
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Since I live in Canada as an immigrant from Germany, it is of particular interest to me how trauma and collective guilt keep us mired in constructed concepts of hierarchy, perpetuating colonial injustice.
In my paintings and sculptures, I tell narratives of abstracted figures in relationship with each other. These often touch on themes of isolation and disconnection. I focus on the language of the body, which to me is the honest storyteller, especially when it comes to social interactions. Faces, on the other hand, are treated ambiguously on purpose.
The paper sculptures I create are in direct relationship with my paintings. As a matter of fact, they are meant to feel like they’re coming alive and stepping right out of the picture plane.
My stylized figures might be antagonizing, yet they always have more in common than not. This is conveyed by their similar fabric, colour, marks and linework. You might say there is a lack of skin laying bare the vulnerability and woundedness of victim, perpetrator and joyful dancer alike. Questions of a power imbalance are relayed by sizing, positioning and movement of the figures on the canvas and in 3D.
In my work I reflect on the disconnect I perceive in society and the suffering caused by injustice rooted in fake mental construction of superiority and inferiority. It is my hope that my work creates conversation and reflection particularly within viewers of privilege.
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