"Art makes me feel like champagne is running through my veins instead of blood.
This August I had the honour of shooting and interviewing wonderful Elisa Gratias, german artist and writer living and working in Mallorca since 2014. Elisa was born in Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany in 1983, she studied translation in Leipzig, Toulouse and Geneva before she moved to Paris in 2009. Six years ago Elisa came to Mallorca for a month, but stayed there ever since, working as an independent artist, writer and translator. Apart from translating, writing articles for her blog about self-love and painting in pop-art and neo-expressionism style, Elisa writes for the independent online newspaper Rubikon.
This meeting was a chance for me to reconnect with myself on a new level, as I have a very close connection to the art world. Studying art history and coming from the artist family myself I have always been fascinated by artists and their lifestyles.
The result of a five day stay with Elisa and her two cats Frida and Ghost at the studio-flat in Mallorca is this photo-interview, which has become very personal for both of us and which I'm happy to share here.
Self-portraits, paintings of Frida Kahlo, Jared Leto and Buddha, landscapes with tropical plants and numerous drawings of Elisa's cats Ghosty and Frida decorate the walls, pink goes together with green, red with yellow, gold with black, some paintings are direct references to David Hockney, some are a modern reinterpretation of German expressionism and Mexican surrealism. Elisa's flat is so vibrant and tells so much about her personality, there is color and individuality in every object and every dress she wears. Each thing here is telling a story about its owner. And this interview will complement this story.
- Elisa, how did you start painting?
In 2015. It was almost by chance. My boyfriend at that moment told me that he used to paint when he was younger. So I bought canvas, oil and brushes for him to motivate him to paint again which didn’t work. One day I was bored and started painting without having any idea what I actually wanted to paint. I only knew the colours I preferred and wanted to experiment with.
The result was my first painting “True Colours”. My boyfriend found it incredible when he came home from work and immediately sent a photo of it to his aunt, a Mallorquin artist. At the same time, I was making a psychotherapy and my therapist once said: “I think you are an artist.” I smiled and she asked me what that smile meant. I answered: “That would be too good to be true.”
So, I went to a painting class with my boyfriend’s aunt and just started painting. It helped me a lot to overcome excessive thinking – at least for the time I paint and concentrate only on the process. That's how it started.
- So art is your therapy ? What do you consider the most inspiring and healing part of making art?
That it never ends. The more you paint and talk about art that you like - the more inspired you feel. This was a real revelation for me. I always had thought, that people start painting or making art because they have an inspiration. That might be the case for many of us. We keep waiting for the inspiration to start making art and as it never comes we think we are not talented and destined to be artists. In the painting class I learned that all artists first copy paintings from other artists. So that’s what I did, too. That’s actually how we learn everything. We imitate. Language, walking, behaviour … After a while, I started to change the colours of the paintings and then I started to repaint photos – as I was fascinated by faces so much.
Since I found my passion for painting, I feel safer. It is something that fulfils me and depends only on me. It is so nice to think about the things I will learn step by step in the years to come, until I die, to see the evolution of my artistic style. Art makes me feel like champagne is running through my veins instead of blood. Sparkling inside me.
- How do you define art and who is an artist for you?
An “artist” is easy: A person that creates art. “Art” is trickier. First I thought, everything that is the result of a creative process is art. But after a debate with another artist, I agreed with him, that art might be reduced to the results of creative processes that are not functional or created for a functional purpose like food, furniture or press articles …
That’s the magic of art. It enriches our lives without being functional. Just by its existing. Listening to music, looking at a painting or a sculpture, reading a poem … I like that definition of art. But actually, I don’t care a lot about what art means intellectually. I love painting and I love showing my paintings and discuss about other artists' paintings and look at them. That’s it.
- So art is emotional and never functional for you? Do you think it's possible to put both together in one piece, like Bauhaus School was teaching us for example?
Since I had that conversation and thought about it, I realised that the functionality takes away the poetic aspect that makes an artwork so attractive and mystical. But I would not argue with people who see that differently. I like the idea that with art there is at least one thing in our modern world that has not to be functional to be valued and appreciated. And at the same time I love the idea to combine functional things with art so that everyday life becomes more artistic and poetic for more people. But not every designer chair is art for me and not every painting is art either. For me art is also about feeling. Does an artwork communicate a feeling or not? The conclusion of all this might be: The definition of art is very personal and paradoxical in my case. I can live with that. Do we need a definition for art? I find that very interesting ... that we even love to think about those things. But what does it change? People might never agree on that question of what is "art" and that makes it kind of special, too.
- One of the main questions for every artist: how do you overcome inspirational crisis if you have any?
By taking a pencil and paper and just drawing a little, if I feel the need to do that to stop thinking too much. And if I do not feel the need to paint, I just allow myself not to paint for a while. Before our photo shooting, I had not been painting for three months because I didn’t feel like it. Then you came and we looked at my works together and were talking about art all the time, so when you left I felt the urge to draw and paint and I had so many ideas. That’s the other inspiring facet I love about art: You can share it with other people and they give it back to you. It creates this feeling of abundance and vibrancy.
Elisa in her bedroom. Behind her is "Ghost and the swimming pool", 2017.
Ghost is one of Elisa's cats and one of the main motives in her paintings :)
- How do you find clients and where do you sell/show your art?
I show and sell my paintings on the biggest flee market in Mallorca in Consell, where you can buy everything from one Euro clothing to designer furniture for several thousand Euros. That is where I also sold my first bigger painting “Frida in Gold”. Even when I did not sell any paintings, it was a great feeling to show them to a public and observe people’s reactions. I also show my art on Instagram and on my Website. Money is not an important factor for me, I offer my paintings for sale because it feels nice and I cannot keep them all in my flat forever.
- How do you define your art? Which style do you paint in ?
I don't want to analyse my art. That's exactly what is important for me while painting - stop analysing the world around me and my psyche, but just let emotions and feelings flow. In my own words I would describe my style as ingenious, melancholic and colourful.
- I see a lot of tropical motives in your paintings. Does this inspiration come from the nature landscapes here in Mallorca?
I love tropical and exotic plants like palm trees and cactus. They fascinate me with their simple beauty and ability of surviving even in difficult conditions. But the inspiration of painting plants comes from Frida Kahlo's works. I moved to Mallorca for the Mediterranean nature but I did not realise that it might have inspired me even though I painted aloe plants I always see here, so it was a subconscious inspiration.
- Does this surviving in the dry desert despite all the drain remind you of your own experience ?
It reminds me of how I feel with my emotions and vulnerability among people who act so cold with each other. I often feel too fragile for this world, that seems to be the desert of emotionlessness. I wonder if many people feel like that but don't talk about it.
- You told me your most favourite artists are Frida Kahlo and David Hockney, I can see lots of references to their art in your work, why them, what makes them so special for you ?
The colours!!! The vibrant colours expressing melancholy and stillness, pain and everyday life. I always loved the water and blue has always been my favourite colour. When I look at David Hockney's "Swimming pool" I feel the desire to dive inside. I love diving with open eyes and looking at the light effects underwater. He expresses that in an incredible way.
In Frida Kahlo's paintings I appreciate that she shows herself with all her defaults and pain. A contrast to our "Instagram happy face society". I often miss authentic humaneness in our interactions even with friends. We all complain about others and at the same time we just want to be loved as we are ... while trying to change everything about us we don't like or think others don't like about us ...
Frida’s pictures express the pain of human existence, I think that is why she is so famous even outside of the art world - people long for showing themselves as they really are, but they are too afraid to do that. No-one is teaching us how to be ourselves and at some point, we all get tired of “"wearing a mask”.
Hockney's paintings while being very different have a similar message to me, they show this "perfect picture" with pools and sun while they are kind of sad because there is no "life" in them, they show some kind of emptiness.
- Name three most important things in your life?
Reading, painting and writing.
- Where do you see yourself in twenty years?
If I am still alive in twenty years, I see myself painting. More than I do now. Bigger formats because I might have a bigger studio by then. Or very small ones because I might live in a caravan … I don’t know. The current Corona crisis makes me realise that nothing is stable and I'm trying to be more aware of the present. This moment counts, I'm not making plans even about this winter yet:)
- What makes you happy?
I am learning that the feeling of joy can arise without any reason. When we do not expect anything. When I am just here and now. Being aware of the moment and just see what surrounds me and breathe.
And all the small things of every day life: a free parking slot, the smile of the person I am in love with, my favourite food, reading in bed before falling asleep, stand-up-paddling with my friends during sunset with this great view over the sea and the mountains, the moments of thankfulness for the life I offer myself by making conscious choices even if they are always combined with risks and sacrifices.
Realising that acceptance can create inner peace in any situation and learning to focus on training my ability of acceptance.
To discover more about Elisa and her work, feel free to visit her website or instagram account.