Ulrike Arnold
Earth paintings
Meteroite paintings

Easel Of Earthy Hues
from The Hindu, 02/15/2001

Chennai (Madras), INDIA

Vasanthi Sankaranrayanan
Recently, the Max Mueller Bhavan, Chennai, screened a documentary by R. V. Ramani on Ulrike Arnold, a painter from Germany. Ulrike Arnold has come to India (sponsored by the German Festival in India) to develop new approaches to a programme titled "Art in Nature". She has chosen two places in South India, the Arunachala hill in Thiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, and Badami in Karnataka, for conducting her experiments in painting. Her work is now complete and as only a part of it is on canvas, the remaining being on rockfaces, she had the visual documentation of the same done as a film, which was directed by Ramani.

Ulrike Arnold, born in Duesseldorf was trained to be a painter at the Art Academy there. She now lives and works in Wuppertal. She classifies her work as Abstract painting, Earth painting or Rock painting. She paints only landscapes, and these too as abstract impressions of colours and forms found in Nature. She uses only earth (mud) as the material to paint with. Apart from painting on canvas, she makes it a point to search for unusual rockfaces and paints on them too, so the name rock painting.

"My technique of using earth instead of paint has been developed by me. Immediately after I finished my training at the Art Academy, I travelled through south of France and Spain and saw some of the rock paintings done by pre-historic man on rock sites. Lascaux in France is one such rock cave. The red ochre pits in Spain were another such. I was fascinated by the paintings on these rocks and the earth colours used by the painters. I wanted to bring about the same effect in my painting."

Ulrike takes a great deal of time to choose the place where she wants to paint. The atmosphere has to be inspiring. The energies have to be right. So, her quest for the right place to paint has taken her all over the world. Once she reaches a place, she goes around the site, digging and collecting different kinds of mud. Then comes the hard task of pounding the mud into powder and mixing it with a white translucent binding material. When she is painting on the rockfaces, the binding material she uses is a kind of resin, obtained from trees. Says she, "It is not an easy task, this search for a magical place, which gives me the right kind of vibes, and preparing the material to paint with." But, she does not mind the hardships, hours of travel, the heat, dust, trekking through uneven terrain. She prefers these to the static security of a four-walled room in a building.

Once she has chosen the place, she has to find the essence of the place by living there, talking to people, eating their food, learning about their customs, habits and rituals. So, painting does not remain an activity done in the isolated seclusion of a private room, but becomes an activity closely linked with Nature and life. It becomes not a self-indulgent, but a meaningful act of self-expression. Ulrike calls her paintings her "artistic diaries, her notes on abstract landscapes." As for the medium she has chosen to paint with, it is not just the colour which is the otivation, but the quality of the material itself. The paint made of earth is never flat; it creates new levels, new spaces and is also an exhortation to preserve the beauty of Nature. Her art is not about decoration or ornamentation. It has various nuances; by using the earth, it seeks a connection with "Mother Earth"; by stressing on the process more than the product, it re-emphasises the Eastern principle of "The path is the Goal" and diffuses the exhibition aspect of painting. It becomes a part of a greater process, that of journeying and seeing distant lands, getting together with people of those lands, talking to them, sharing stories and observing customs and rituals. It is total experience, rather than an isolated effort.

So far, it has always been an experience done alone. But, this time she had the benefit of having some assistants to help her with the work in Thiruvannamalai and Badami. Apart from that, she had the company of film maker Ramani, who provided the artistic insights and dialogue. His film brought out the essentials of the experiences that Ulrike had in those two places. Ramani's technique can be called non-intrusive, observant capturing of Ulrike's experience in film. The magic of the hill Arunachala and the primordial quality of the rockfaces in Badami have been captured with detachment and objectivity by Ramani.

The other interest of Ulrike that came out during our conversation as well as Ramani's film is her faith in snakes and butterflies. These creatures attract her attention because of the transformation wrought by them during their lifespan. The snake shedding its skin is like emerging into a new life; the winged butterfly emerging from the pupa is another transformation into beauty. She also is trying to bring out a new life, a transformation through her paintings. The film captures the mysterious appearance and presence of the snake and the butterfly in each of her locations after the completion of her work.
Through her painting, Ulrike has overcome the fear of being alone in quiet spots. She has also evolved an approach to art which does not isolate her from life and its bounties; instead, it connects her to the insights given by Nature and life.

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