Q. What is the primary motivation behind your work? How would you describe your creative impulse?
A. For me painting is creating a new universe far off reality. In these universes, colors and shapes rule. A new series I am working on is called “living room creatures.” It all started when I tried to imagine places I like to spend time in. I like living rooms - especially when they have nice seating. I suppose this was the starting point for this new series. In general, I want to combine colored surfaces with shapes, symbols, forms. Those have to be unique, sometimes mysterious, sometimes funny and above all they have to be interesting. I like creating and looking at shapes that might represent something but it is not completely clear what it is. The colored surfaces have to be complex and multi-layered. Combinations of colors have to be unexpected. In my work I want to surprise myself I guess. Break rules. Take risks. Fight boredom.

Q. Why do you prefer to work on oil & acrylic on canvas? Have you used other types of media in the past?
A. I have always worked with acrylics. When in art school (Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris) I used paper instead of canvas, but this was only because I couldn’t afford canvas and stretchers. I prefer acrylic paints as they work well with the way I paint – fast, spontaneous. I like the fluid character of acrylic paint and the fact that it dries quickly. I don’t think oil paint appeals to me at all and I would not want to use it. I have tried oil sticks in the past which I liked.

Q. Please give a basic description of your creative process (how the work is made).
A. I work on several formats at the same time which creates a certain dynamic. The paintings are flat on the studio floor (otherwise paint would drip) and I work on them by going from one to the other. I might even use same colors. Sometimes I draw beforehand or whilst I am working. My work evolves and changes throughout the whole painting process. Once I start to paint, the paintings begin having a life of their own. I have no set idea in my head before I start working. My starting point might just be an emotion. Or just plainly the desire to start somewhere. My work consists of many layers of paint. These often come from the fact that I paint or draw something which I then don’t like and therefore half erase or cover up by putting a new layer of paint on top. Consequently, unexpected combinations of tones might suddenly appear. I then have to decide whether to keep those, reduce or erase them. Same about symbols and shapes I use. I work directly on the canvas without trying to paint a shape beforehand. Sometimes the form I want to use looks not right. Then I paint over it but in a way that allows to still detect what was underneath beforehand. This way the painting seems to be moving forward and backwards a lot. There’s definitely a lot of movement.

Q. How do you choose the color palette for a series? Do certain colors contain symbolic meaning or significance for you?
A. There’s no symbolic meaning. What is most important for me is to have as many different colors available. This way, combining colors becomes more interesting, more playful, more unusual. I always start a painting with one color and then work my way round from there.

Q. How would you describe the progression/development of your work throughout your career? Are you addressing the same issues, or are you seeking simplification of expression, or is your work becoming more layered and complex?

A. I have been painting for 12 years, not including the 5 years in art school. I am trying to simplify expression I guess. In the beginning my paintings were crowded with shapes and symbols. They still often are. But it feels like I want to prioritize or highlight certain elements more. And I am still looking for symbols which are interesting. Maybe more personal shapes? The more I work, the more it seems that my paintings are about me and my life. This is definitely what has changed over the years. Also, color combinations have become more sophisticated.

Q. Which artists do you admire?
A. Matisse, Dubuffet, Basquiat, Baselitz, Paul Klee, Michel Majerus, Josephy Beuys, Kirkeby, Jean-Charles Blais, Jan Voss, Jean-Pierre Pincemin, Claude Viallat.

March 2007

Written by Helga Isak, an art historian in Zurich, Switzerland; Published on occasion of Sabine Tress's Spring 2007 exhibition at Galerie Proarta in Zurich, Switzerland

Standing in front of the pictures of Sabine Tress you become aware of active life and a freedom from the burden of everyday thoughts. Both the colors and the arrangement of the motifs reveal a freedom of execution and the elements of the picture appear at first sight to be untroubled. With her directness and openness the artist clears the way inside the beholder to a positive, spontaneous and exciting world in which there is always something new to be discovered.

It is only on taking a second look that bizarre situations become apparent in the pictures. Suddenly dangers appear as if out of nothing: monsters fight and bite on another, pistols are fired, comic heroes are involved in thrilling action. There are incubator lamps encouraging little monsters to grow, or technical devices for bringing creatures to life. A number of stories are told and they open up a rich repertoire of playful movement to the beholder. Inspired by science fiction comics, the pictures of Sabine Tress often show robots or spaceships integrated into the universe. And yet the artist's sources of inspiration are multi-faceted and range from Georg Baselitz or Michael Majerus through animation, television, and children's books. In the microcosm and macrocosm hidden from our eyes, all kinds of creatures and small animals come together unseen by us: we can only imagine what they are like. Life in the invisible leaves all possibilities open, as can be seen, for example, in the work entitled Sparklers.

In contract to this fantasy world there is also the image of the real environment, to which Sabine Tress gives equal value when incorporating it into her style. "I find it a good description, the idea that I collect many of my impressions and impulses outside the studio and then contemplate my treasures once they are hidden away," says Sabine Tress in an interview in 2006. The combination of fantasy and the real world gives rise over and over again to mystical moments, which, for example, remove a flower scene from the safe world. Everyday life has many faces, so that not only flowers and fields, but also hamburgers and animals such as cows, dogs and bees can become motifs in the paintings.

Towards the end of the 1990s Sabine Tress's picture language expressed itself in a kind of loose painted writing across the entire picture format. In spirit of Cy Twombly, several thick layers were painted onto the canvas with free gestures. Small collages from comics were inserted where they were barely visible, remaining concealed by the dominance of the painted 'writing.' This phase in her work opened up the way to free, unrestrained brushstrokes. This development led into a picture world that deals with narrative themes in several layers and broad brushstrokes. As can be seen in the painting Chopped Nuts, events overlap, layers cut across each other and the layers of color are scumbled over one another. Bright colors, abstract surface elements, shifts in perspective between large and small ad absurdum, plus the artistic creation of a lack of space and a restriction of the moving figures are stylistic devices the artist uses deliberately.

The encounter between the abstract and the figurative in Sabine Tress's work gives rise to an exciting production, in which the boundaries often become blurred. Shapes can refer to objects or be abstract bearers of energy and expression. The drawing is applied to the picture surface spontaneously and is greatly reduced. All that remains are more contours to give the figures shape and bring a suggestion of speed and movement into the room. Sabine Tress works with opaque and translucent acrylic colors and spray cans and also incorporates chalk drawings and collages into her works. She is often compared to Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose spontaneous, caricature-like drawings are similar to the works of Tress.

As a result of her studies under Jan Voss at the Ecole nationale superieur des Beaux-Arts in Paris came the first association with representations of animals and mutated creatures, which Sabine Tress modifies in an unrestrained, playful way. Play on words and nonsense, and poetic, frequently ironic anecdotes put in graphic form animate the works of Jan Voss. Whereas during the 1960s the modifications to animals in the drawings of Jan Voss is still very lyrical, twenty years on from then they have become expressively figurative and are used in combination with color. By spontaneously applying paint to her symbolic shapes in the style of a painter, Sabine Tress succeeds in creating a dualism between drawing and painting. The new pictures Shiny Shiny, Polo Chic and Victorian Out bear witness to a virtuosity with the brush and unify the complexity between expressive gesture and color composition. In this phase of her work from 2005/2006 Sabine Tress achieves a perfection in the interplay between her previous work cycles and finds her way to something completely new.

A more austere effect is achieved by the way in which the forms in the Living Room Creatures series of 2007 have been created, making them appear more dreamlike and unknowing. The upholstered furniture hovers between abstraction and being recognizable as objects, and first and foremost conveys the feeling of the living room, its coziness and sitting on a sofa. Monumental, organically rounded shapes overlap one another. There is a slight hint of stylized frills in the curves calling to mind parallels with grandma's crocheted tablecloth or plump cushions. But despite the peace and coziness the room hides a secret. The forms represented merely suggest associations are deliberately removed from tangible reality. Here the artist is stepping away from the graphic execution that through its combination with color opened up a new way into painting. The Living Room series bears witness to an intense deepening with techniques and possibilities, and concentrates on using painting to represent feelings.

For a long time now the artist has been wanting to find symbolic codes for thoughts, beings, emotions and sounds. For example is 'Ted' a piece of furniture or a UFO? First and foremost, it is an interesting shape that arouses associations.

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