Elsa, a female malamute, wags its tail this way and that energetically. “She’s having to stay inside a lot these days and she’s finding it boring,” Christa Bartesch says. Bartesch twists a piece of fabric into a rough ball and throws it to the dog. Her workshop in Budafok is not exactly the perfect playground, rather a place for colours and canvas screens, for ideas and abstract works of art. With many narrow windows and a view over the Danube, the rooms on the top floor of Art Quarter Budapest are the perfect spot for a freelance artist.
Christa Bartesch’s career started in Münster, her home town and a university town in Germany where she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 1988. She then moved to Berlin for a four-year stint in her own workshop, eventually moving to Budapest and a workshop on Hajógyári Island.
She has since lived and worked in the Hungarian capital, changing her place of work only to move to Art Quarter Budapest, a complex of buildings in the old Haggenmacher Brewery to which artists from over the world come to give free rein to their creativity. “The artists in this house give out a lot, their presence alone is a great source of inspiration – one can feel that,” says Bartesch.
The life of an artist is not always an easy one. “It is not easy to live from it but everyone knows that,” she says. Her teacher in Münster even sought to dissuade his students from such a career because of the difficulties of earning one’s bread and of working in a workshop, “here you are totally on your own”, the master said.
It is one of the reasons why she started to keep a diary, to record everything that relates to her painting: a creative crisis, a success or a spiritual epiphany – whatever it is. Bartesch gladly talks about her work but it is clear that, in the end, one can experience a picture only on one’s own.
Her oil on canvas paintings are not easily described. “In fact it is impossible because it is all in the eye of the beholder.” Bartesch relies on colours to create fictitious places in her pictures. She works with a number of coatings to obtain a certain depth. “It is particularly important for observers to have a trained and attentive eye to be able to recognise the distinctions,” says Bartesch before emphasising the importance of the original. “A reproduction is just a hint of the original, one must experience the original,” she says.
She understands her paintings as “a form of self-limiting action, to create in a disguised form a spiritual domain.” One could compare her paintings with a situation where one has just woken up, bleary-eyed and in need of orienting oneself: “when things haven’t been allocated a meaning yet”.
This “not-knowing” is important to Christa Bartesch, who is fascinated by how children see the world, not giving things a prefabricated meaning but dealing with new situations as observers. An umbrella, for instance, is not identical to another umbrella, it is individual in the way it lays and in the creases and shadows it creates.
Bartesch explains this in an emotional, passionate way, as painting courses are her new project. To her groups of two to eight students, she does not aim “to teach painting” so much as “to help people to find their own style.” Those interested are given the opportunity to paint what they want, while she takes a step back, discussing their paintings with her students and attempting to sharpen their vision.
She sees the painting courses as a total success, one she enjoys a lot and which helps her students to encounter art. She gives the example of one shy lady who often asserted that she could not paint, yet went home at the end of the course satisfied with her pictures.
There will also be courses for children, a project to which Bartesch particularly looks forward. “Children see the reality of the world in a totally different way.”