You cannot help but be attracted to the space. First, the loud music blaring out of the studio door invites you in where you see a printing press dominating most of the space with its big wheel. Cans of printing inks of all possible colours lined up on the shelf catch your eye accompanied by colorful swatches stuck on the wall. Besides this is a chest of drawers, with different kinds of papers oozing out of it while various tools required for printing rest upon this along with brushes and markers. You then see the source of the blaring music—a music system and tons of CDs and next to that a printing table. And finally, your eyes would fall on the dweller of this studio, Stefi, in her red overalls who is busy scratching on the surface of a zinc plate on the working table. I had been standing at the door for over 10 minutes with my camera, clicking pictures, trying to make myself a part of her world. While I was attempting not to disturb her, I was also trying to make her aware of my presence. Finally, Stefi acknowledges my presence with a smile and continues to work. After a few more scratches on the surface of the zinc plate, we get into a conversation.
This is Stefanie Neuman, a printmaker who comes from a German town called Kropp on the Danish border and now lives and practices her art and craft in Berlin. After studying Ceramics for five years in Kiel, she discovered that her love rests with printmaking. After she completed her ceramic degree in Kielm in the ceramic department under Prof. Kerstin Abraham, she was looking for a scholarship which bought her to the printmaking department where old printing machines mesmerized her. “I loved Ceramics,” Stefi says, “But somewhere deep inside I always knew that I am more comfortable exploring art in two dimension rather than in three dimension.”Brimming with excitement and curiosity, she decided to apply for printmaking as an affiliate student. “It was an impulsive decision,” she continues. “I had one day left for turning in my application, and I asked for an appointment with a tutor whom I didn’t even know!” Prof. Bruce Mc Lean at the Slade School of Fine Art offered her the possibility to come back in four weeks or half a year as an affiliate student. A ‘yes’ to that offer and a six months stint in London later, Stefi believes it was one of her best decisions.
While my mind was struggling to
find a connection between the two disciplines of ceramics and print making, our conversation finally found answers. Ultimately, both the disciplines are tied together with one common thread— treating the surface. Scratching something on the surfaces of ceramics, printmaking is similar treatment on plates and applying color on to it. “Printmaking is more spontaneous,” Stefi says. 20 years later, she has developed a level of comfort with the craft—enough to keep her in the field, but not enough to stop experimenting. With just six months of training in printmaking, she explored techniques, read up, made mistakes and learnt from them. “I could control each stage of work like a perfectionist and calculate each line depth in advance, but to what end? Each fluke of chance, indeed each error, changes and improves my work.“
“There is still so many big prints to print,” she continues. “They are all waiting somewhere…”
Self-learning, serendipity, accidents—these are just another way that the two disciplines are connected. “One can choose to call these coincidences and accidents a mistake, but I call it ‘wonder’,” Steffi smiles and continues, “It always makes my life better. Sometimes difficulties in life makes the best in Art”.
Stefi’s ingredients to art is not the usual. It’s not about making many drawings, or arriving at a composition. For Stefi, it takes a couple of different things that makes a picture pop in her head: right music and lyrics, a book, unique paper found at a flea market, written words. “It’s almost like standing on a river and fishing something out of it,” she says. Just like fishing, the results are sometimes unexpected.Stefi even uses her children’s drawings as inspirations which give an interesting, multi layered approach: on the surface her art sometimes might appear childlike, but on deeper look, we would find a whole new meaning arriving from the layers in information gathered in old letters and documents that she discovers at flea markets. With these ingredients, interesting products surface in the form of encounters, travel books, personal experiences, trivialities, and the jarring eccentricities of life in a large city.
Her techniques range from etching that she learnt in England, to using non toxic supplies for printmaking. “The reason that I use them is not because it’s not toxic,” she reveals, “It’s because they create different surfaces and textures.” In the attempt to continue experimenting, she even bought herself an Aquatint box which stands in the corridor since it doesn’t fit the studio door. She enjoys the slowness of printmaking, the need to follow the sequence, consciously watching what she does at each step, the mixing of colors, the appearance of the final product.
Our conversation is occasionally punctuated by Stefi’s chuckles, which are like a window to her personality. Her collection of papers, is another. She is a frequent visitor to the Mauer Park flea market, always collecting paper bills, antique paper, drawings and handwritings ranging from 20s to 70s. Once, she just grabbed an envelope with letters, simply because she liked the handwriting. “Handwritings are something so personal,” she says, “Everyone has one to call their own.” She was extremely happy to discover handwritten letters from a Family of the 30s to 60s in Leipzig. Amongst letters, greeting cards and marriage cards, she discovered letters written by the mother of the family during the war. Stories unfolded of the war’s scenario, the mother’s employment as a teacher—completely normal scenarios that one experiences in today’s context too. Like squirrels burying seeds underground during winter and forgetting about them, Stefi’s studio is stored with stories. These stored seeds are usually forgotten by the squirrels themselves and ultimately trees grow out of them; Stefi’s trees grow in the form of art that finds inspiration from handwritten stories of years gone by. And her studio space is full of secret seeds waiting to turn into seeds. “It’s like a gift box!” she exclaims.
Last year she won a four week scholarship from the Aldegrever society/ Geselllschaft for a Arbeitsaufenthalt at the Kloster Bentlage ( Monastery) in the Munster area. When the Munster printing department was on the verge of shutting down,they transformed an old Monastery into a site for showcasing different arts. Stefi took the old letters and documents that she had collected from flea markets to this residency and worked on them. In this monastery in the middle of nowhere, art thus found a perfect place to nurture.
Stefi’s curiosity always keeps one of her feet on the edge, looking for now techniques to experiment, new papers to purchase, and old handwritten letters in envelopes to discover. These are the things that keep her going. Her undiscovered ideas, like her studio, are a different world. All she does is open the door.
Allen Shaw and Vaishnavi Rathore