Redd Walitzki grew up in Bavaria, a German state famous for Medieval walled towns, the iconic fairytale castle and the towering Bavarian Alps. The artist now lives in Seattle, but spending her youth in such a storybook setting clearly had some influence on her seemingly magical art.
Often set in gorgeous natural environments, Walitzki's works tend to feature bold, beautiful women who push the boundaries of femininity with high-fashion style and an almost ethereal eroticism. Her latest exhibit, Stranger Than Earth, runs through August 12 at the Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles, and her new pieces reflect a profound personal and professional journey that saw her create in ways she never had before. (Click here for a video example.) PRØHBTD spoke with Walitzki about the process, her characters and the role psychedelics played in bringing it all together.
Who is a Redd-painted woman, and what personality traits define her?
The muses I am most drawn to are strong women with an avant-garde kind of "femininity." Androgyny and beauty that fall outside the standard commodification of aesthetics is fascinating to me. Most of the subjects I paint, especially for the pieces in Stranger Than Earth, are creative powerhouses of their own, whether they are artists, photographers, musicians or models. I'm trying to capture the essence of these amazing women while also transforming them into more mythic and otherworldly versions of themselves. There is no one personality type, but all of them are very creatively open to trying things that fall outside of the mundane. This freedom results in pieces that are unique and push the boundaries of art and fashion.
Couture fashion is a common theme in your art. What does a woman's fashion sense say about her personality?
Fashion is the ultimate form of self-expression—it allows us to create the version of ourselves we wish to show the world. The power of fashion is also transformative. It can take you anywhere from fun or edgy, to elegant or alien.
In my previous work, I actually haven’t painted much "clothing"—the figures were generally nude—though the makeup and styling had a high-fashion feel. But in this series, the challenge of painting elaborate dresses seemed like the next step since couture-fashion is such a big source of inspiration to me.
For Stranger Than Earth, you traveled to different places for the initial references. Where did you go, and which place made the biggest impression on you?
This series was the first time I shot photo references outdoors… usually they are created in the studio. It seemed most exciting to choose really unique and memorable locations for that leap. Many of the pieces were created while photographer Kindra Nikole and I spent a week in Iceland, roaming the twilight landscape in a camper-van and shooting photos in a variety of locations. (Note: image below shows the art and photo together.)
The frozen waterfall photoshoot for the Snowblind painting was definitely the most extreme and intense. The first time we tried to reach the location was right after a blizzard, and we had to turn around before reaching it and came close to catching frostbite. But when we tried again, everything fell into place, and the shoot itself was one of the best creative experiences I've had. My sister Roxanna modeled in the below-freezing weather and looked like a frozen flower come to life.
Are there elements of your visual style specifically geared to showcase climate change and encourage people to do something about it?
While working on Stranger Than Earth, climate change emerged as one of the main concepts behind these pieces. All of the locations these paintings are grounded in have been reshaped by humans, and will be dramatically altered during our lifetimes as the climate evolves. The figures are also wearing man-made materials, like mylar, plastic sheeting and silk flowers, which are byproducts of how we are treating the planet. But for me the most interesting artworks leave some complexity open for the viewer. So in these paintings there is a sense of the upheaval and change our world will go through, but also hope that perhaps we will find new ways of interacting with nature and solutions to adapt to this strange new world. Hopefully that comes across by having the figures in harmony with the landscape, through the colors they are robed in, and the reflective surfaces they are using for protection. Art is a great gateway for new ways of thinking, and perhaps these pieces can help inspire some new ways of approaching this complicated issue.
What symbolism is inherent when a woman's face is partly obscured in a piece?
Exploring identity is fascinating to me, and a slightly obscured portrait is a great way to play with that theme. The women in these paintings are revealing parts of themselves, while also remaining a mystery behind the glossy masks and visors.
In what ways does the series reflect the highs and lows that characterized the past year of your life?
Stranger Than Earth began from an open and exploratory place—I was interested in experimenting with new elements like landscapes and fashion and trying new panel designs and mixed media techniques. But while I was in the early stages of the paintings, my personal life fell apart. I went through an intense breakup of a 12-year relationship, and a close friend committed suicide, all at the same time as the U.S. Election. So the colorful, hopeful pieces that I’d started were jarring in contrast with the darkness all around.
While in that really bleak space, to combat artistic fatigue, I began to experiment with a micro-dosing regimen, using tiny amounts of psychedelics to stimulate creativity. This led to a breakthrough, and some unexpected and exciting new directions emerged from it. As I kept going with the work, immersing myself in creating the art ended up being a salvation. To me this series is both about loss and hope, on a personal level, and also on a more universal scale.
What aspects of the female form do you find inherently beautiful as an artist?
The human form is inherently beautiful to me: I’m drawn to people of both genders and fluidly in between. This series featured the female form more prominently, partly because these ambitious photoshoots were only possible by working with some of my closest collaborators. I was also interested in portraying women as "explorers" since, traditionally, men are thought of in that role. But in future projects, I'd love to paint more men or gender fluid people as well, and find new ways of investigating what "beauty" is.
As for specific features, I never tire of painting hands, but lips and eyes are also really lovely.
With your more recent works, do you find yourself using a darker or lighter color palette, and what influences might be driving the shift?
Color is always a huge part of my work. Often my ideas originate from planning a color palette and the emotion that comes from it. In these pieces, there was a balance between the colorful riot of the Tulip Fields, and the soft hues of the ice lagoon and frozen waterfall. The self-portrait Landslide, which came from the darkest emotional moment, is stark and has very little color in it at all. Only after returning to a more hopeful and stable place did the bright and colorful paintings make sense to me again.
In your art, how does glamor reflect its original etymology and meaning?
The word "glamour" used to refer to the spell of false beauty a faerie or otherworldly being would cast over humans to win them over. For me that relates to the way advertising and the beauty industry function today… as a beautiful deception. But art can also weave a kind of illusion. It can pull you into another world or emotion, and that’s fascinating too.
You grew up in a town famous for its extensive and gorgeous gothic castle. Did seeing Burghausen Castle every day help shape your love for visuals that often feel like mythical stories and fairytales?
Yes, I'm sure growing up in that region of Bavaria had a huge impact on shaping my visual style! We used to swim in the lake at the foot of the castle, and my family always told stories about the elves and gnomes in the woods. Those fairytales and the influence of the beautiful rococo palaces and gothic cathedrals in the region must have subconsciously affected how I think visually now. But it's also interesting to transform this heritage into something new, which is why I love to play with those design elements in new materials, to bring something more futuristic to this subject matter.
Tell me about your collection of Squishables.
I do have a not-so-secret love of cute things, like Squishables. There’s something super soothing about crawling into a pile of soft pillows. While packing for the Iceland trip, I needed to protect one of the elaborate headdresses I’d built for a photoshoot, and a Squishables Taco was the perfect size and shape, so they come in handy, too!
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.