When we shot our most recent wedding gowns collection in Utah, we happened upon an incredible artist, Ulrike Arnold, who paints the most brilliant canvases using the earth. One of the most inspiring artists we’ve ever seen, we had to ask her a few questions. Read on to learn more about Ulrike and the incredible process she uses for her pieces (It’s like nothing we’ve ever come across!).
Hi Ulrike! Can you tell us about your background?
I was born in Duesseldorf, Germany to a very religious family—my father was a pastor. As a child, I was always creating art. So, I studied music and art to be a teacher, writing my degree about prehistoric rock art. While studying, I visited famous caves in the Dordogne, France where I saw 17,000-year-old cave paintings, which totally fascinated me.
A few year later, I visited the ochre pits with their deep red colors in the Provence. It was like a “Big Bang,” where I suddenly felt: “That’s my thing. I want to paint with the earth like the cavemen and women!”
I decided to continue my art studies at the famous Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where artist like Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter were teaching. In developing my concept, I wanted to create all over the world; I love to travel, discover the world, and to go alone on these expeditions. I dropped teaching to do this intensive work; I had to sell art to go on new adventures, so I’d bring back the finished paintings, rolled into tubes, after months of traveling.
How did you end up discovering Utah?
Since 1980, I’ve been traveling to every continent to create in magical, remote places, like deserts and canyons, and to experience the power of Nature and transform it into Art. I’ve stayed with indigenous people, like the Aborigines in Australia, and first came to America in 1989, inspired by the film Koyaanisqatsi , which features many aerial views over Utah. The four-corners area in the USA is so spectacular!
I was invited by the investor of the Amangiri Resort to paint huge artworks for their beautiful resort in the desert, near Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon. Christoph Henkel, part of the Canyon Equity Group, had seen my earth paintings and thought my style would enhance their concept.
I found a magical place to create on this huge land—in front of a cave with some 5,000-year-old petroglyphs—collected the earth, rock, and sand of the land and began painting on-site. I return often, as there’s such a special beauty there, such intense inspiration all around me.
Describe your process of creating…
I first collect the dirt, rocks, clay, and sand—walking, observing, feeling, breathing in the solitude of the place; then I start creating to “catch the essence” of the location—the canvas lays outside, on the ground, and is part of the land.
After collecting rocks and all kinds of rocky material, I crash it with a hammer, using a transparent glue to mix with water and the Earth. Absolutely no artificial color, just the earth I find at the spot I’m creating. I paint with a brush, with my hands, or throw the earth’s colors—starting with a lot of emotion, big movements out from the body, running or dancing around the painting, lots of body action.
It’s a dialog with the painting, no fixed plan at the beginning. It looks like skin of the Earth and from above, looks like an aerial view, from the perspective of an EAGLE’S EYE! It’s micro and macrocosms at same time.
I let the rain hit the painting, the sandstorms touch the painting, the extreme sun and heat touch the painting. I observe the animals running over my painting. The elements work on it, in heavy storms and thunder. Some animals have even bitten pieces off! All is a collaboration with the animals and the elements.
Which area of the world inspires you the most?
Atacama, a remote desert in Chile is great. But honestly, one of most beloved places with great geological formation, breathtaking beauty, and great variation of the earth’s colors is Utah.
Also inspiring: I met with a meteor scientist in Arizona, and was offered his “cuttings”—when he find meteorites in the desert, he has to cut off slices to observe and send to NASA, but these particles he collected, he gives to me to paint with, too. It’s hard to imagine their age, from the beginning of our solar system! These are messengers from the cosmos, from the beginning of TIME.
Any dream places you’d love to explore?
A Pacific island!