Christina Niederberger is primarily a painter who has had a studio with ASC since 1998, she is based at the Chaplin Centre. She studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art (now part of Central Saint Martins) and received her MA and PhD from Goldsmiths College, University of London. She has been pursuing her practice since 1992. Christina is part of the upcoming group show ‘Studio Confetti’ at Terrace Gallery (@terrace_gallery) opening 1st July – 18th July, curated by Karl Bielik. Her work will also feature in the upcoming show and timed auction ‘TOP 100’ organized by the Auction Collective taking place at Downstairs Brixton. The auction and Private View will take place on June 23rd at 7pm. Viewing room and further details can be found here.
Is there a starting point for your art practice?
I understand this question on three distinct levels: daily practice, becoming a professional artist and the work itself.
Regarding the daily practice: Every day when I enter my studio is a new starting point for my art practice. Even when I know what I want to do on a particular day, I try to keep an open mind for what might happen.
With regard to my professional art practice: I felt from an early age that I wanted to be an artist, but it was not until I moved to London in 1992 that I seriously embarked on this career path.
Regarding the work itself: I always start with an idea/concept and an image in my head, how the painting should look like. The finished work is quite often different from what I envisaged, as I understand the painting process as a dialogue between myself and the canvas. A painting can surprise me – be it in a positive or negative way.
What was the first artwork of note you remember making?
That must be a drawing of a duck I made, according to a note on the paper, aged two and a half. Although it seems unlikely that I can remember doing this drawing I do have some vague recollections, but I am not sure if I reconstruct these in hindsight. I remember a deeply satisfying feeling and struggling with the feet of the duck. I am glad this drawing survived all these years as it has become an important symbol for me being an artist.
Do you collect anything in particular?
I like collecting stuff, but I have never collected anything systematically in the proper sense of the term. For many years I collected all the plastic tops from the containers of milk I used for my consumption just to see how many I am going through within a certain period. At some point these bottle tops became even relevant for my art practice as I started to use them as stencils for my paintings. Now I tend to collect more randomly; interesting objects/toys I find on my walks. In my studio I also have a small collection of soft toys which I cover with the leftover paint when I clean my palette. Over time they become paint encrusted sculptures and sometimes I exhibit them alongside my paintings. On a more serious note, I collect works from other artists but due to a limited budget I cannot pursue this collection to the extent I would like to.
Is your artwork where you want it to be?
I am happy with the work I am doing now, but there always remains a desire to improve, develop and discover. In that respect every painting leaves me with the wish to do better with the next piece of work. In the nearly 30 years since I have been working as an artist I have been going through many phases and developments and it is good to see how my work evolved. Since some years I am more certain about what I am doing and feel less of a push and pull into different directions. I think I have now finally found my voice, but I remain hopeful that there will still be plenty of room for development and improvement in the future.
How do you order your time?
I am lucky that I can work virtually full-time as an artist and that my studio is near my home. I try to be in the studio by around midday. As I mostly listen to BBC Radio 4, the programs provide me with a natural rhythm throughout my working day. In general however, I do find it difficult to structure my studio time as art practice needs both discipline and freedom which are not always easy to reconcile. Regarding the management of my spare time, I notice a significant difference to when I was employed as I do not really experience any longer a sense for an end to the working day, a weekend or even a holiday.
What’s your favourite meal?
Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. But if it comes to my own last supper it would have to be venison with all the trimmings how my mom used to cook it on special occasions. The meat of stag or deer, marinated for a week in a mixture of red wine and vinegar with spices, slowly cooked and garnished with wild mushrooms and crispy bacon cubes, homemade egg flour dumplings, red cabbage, sprouts and cooked halves of apples stuffed with cranberries.
Do you have a mantra?
I do not have a mantra, but I greet my studio when entering and thank it for the day when leaving. I always hope that my studio neighbours don’t hear me doing that.
(left) Penelope, 60x50cm, oil on canvas, 2020
(right) Anni Albers Wall Hanging (1926) as a painting, 90x60cm, oil on canvas, 2021
Tell us about a piece you are currently working on.
I am currently working on a painting with which I imagine a tapestry design by Anni Albers from her time at the Bauhaus as a painting. Despite its ground-breaking ideas, the Bauhaus remained quite conservative regarding its gender politics. Investigating the gendered nature of painting is an important aspect of my work and I am interested in the ways in which representations are shaped by cultural notions of the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. My paintings of embroidery/textiles reference the historical (feminine) domain of crafts and design whilst their rendition as paintings in oils alludes to the traditionally (male) domain of high art. During the first lockdown I became interested in Homer’s description of Penelope in the Odyssey, how her weaving by day and unweaving by night is used as a metaphor for her waiting for Odysseus’ return; a symbol to depict the passing of time. The lockdown made me think about possibilities to depict time, its apparent standstill, and our waiting for better times to come, without being too literal. I did several paintings of weaving patterns, some of which are so detailed that they almost illusionistically mimic the weave of the canvas they are painted on.
Revue (after de Kooning), 130x125cm, oil on canvas
Is there any advice you were given that you would like to share?
During my MA at Goldsmiths Gerard Hemsworth once told me that the cleverest works of art are quite often the dumbest and the dumbest turn out to be the cleverest. I also remember being told that we should think of ourselves primarily as artists and not as a practitioner working in a specific discipline. Another valuable advice was to always trust my instincts and gut feeling.
What sources do you turn to for inspiration when you are creatively stuck?
The beauty of being an artist is that doing art is a lifestyle and not a job. As a result, and as everything can be art, anything and any moment can potentially inspire a new work. This means that inspiration can be found in the most unexpected places and moments such as watching a film, reading a book, a conversation, meal or walk. More obvious sources are exhibitions and, in general, looking at other peoples’ work. In my studio I have a big pile of small postcard sized wooden boards. Quite often, when I am stuck, I work out and play with ideas and potential subject matter on these boards. I call them my ‘inbetweeners’ and, as I approach them without preconceptions and apprehension, they quite often help to unblock my creative flow.
What pastimes have you been entertaining yourself with in lockdown?
I started to do analogue collages on old postcards. The cutouts I use for my collages are entirely from art magazines, catalogues and art books. The collage work is very playful and the resulting art historical potpourris I create on these cards often make me laugh. The possibilities to arrange different historical periods, styles and to mix these with contemporary art are endless and very inspiring. Meanwhile I have finished about 600 cards and I have to think where I want to take this work further. I want to continue with these collages but currently feel that they are too far removed from my studio practice to be included in exhibitions with my paintings.
Does place inform your work?
Only indirectly but as a native Swiss, having lived for the past 28 years in voluntary exile in London, I am acutely aware of place and origin. Without being able to pinpoint the exact influences, I am certain that my work would look different if I would have remained in Switzerland. I am also aware how the location of my studio and the studio itself shape my work to a certain extent. I have a studio with ASC since 1998 and, during that time, I had to move my studio several times which always affected my practice to some degrees. I do develop a strong connection to my studio space as it is my refuge and a place in which I spend a lot of time. In my current studio at the Chaplin Centre, I feel extremely happy. I don’t think that this is only due to the studio being a short walking distance from my house. There is something in that space that puts my mind in a good place, which undoubtedly has a resonance in my work.
Do you like mistakes?
Both, yes and no. On one hand mistakes are integral to studio practice, they can be interesting, they can open new unforeseen perspectives and, as I learn from them, they constantly provide me with the motivation to do another work which will hopefully be better. On the other hand, mistakes can be annoying and sometimes even demoralizing.