Of Love among the Arts

by Dieter Asmus, painter

"Carmen", I asked the painter Carmen Hillers, "Your name is often connected with music. Firstly through the Latin word for song, and secondly through the indestructible opera of the same name: Why did you become a painter?" Could it be that she is the reciprocal Gustav Mahler, who, as we know, did not become a painter but a musician? Solution; she has no need of it at all, since she is married to the composer and singer Steffen Wolf, and this record you are holding in your hands right now is the first material testimony of their many years, even decades of collaboration. How do you imagine this to happen?  Original sound Steffen Wolf: "In the piece Eight Views of Moonlight, the beginning of the composition is a scanning, a delicate touch of the work, a tracing of the individual elements of the picture. In this almost sensual questioning I collect basic themes for the composition of several movements. It almost seems to me that the whole thing is like eavesdropping. The work is not "set to music", there is rather the seed for the musical composition".


Now the love between painting and music is not necessarily obvious at first sight. Between the visual arts, things are relatively simple. At the art academy, for example, a sculptor meets a painter: professional agreement, i.e. a common intersection of both disciplines about 90% - of course. It gets hairy when (as here in our house) a writer has to explain to a painter (i.e. me) what the tertium comparationis between an art nouveau text (let's say Hofmannsthal) and an art nouveau picture is (e.g. Klimt). Little black fidgets, vulgo letters, have nothing to do with a painting that may be very colourful. Nevertheless, the matter is clear, difficult to grasp in secondary language!


With Carmen Hillers  and Steffen Wolf the case is not much easier. Their works (I say: abstract for simplicity's sake) do have timbre, rhythm, composition, i.e. strong analogies in music, which is abstract by nature, but better: they can and want to be non-representational (in my student days, by the way, the main demand on painters was "to paint like music"!) It cannot, like me, "form" a goose (the range of such a work lies between the extremes of concrete observation and abstract organization of shape). The "representational", her material connection to the material world, is the most intimate and atavistic thing one can imagine, namely our own body. Its intentional and involuntary vegetative movements, the rhythm of the heartbeat, the rhythm of breathing, finally, closely linked to these, the rhythm of walking (the "Andante"). Sounds of movement, work and contact, noises of other living beings, finally, as the second extreme, the sounds, the "music" of birdsong - this whole range comprises the music in an organized and to an intended expression "condensed" form. Because it is so strongly connected to our body, it touches us most directly: - and makes us dance!


Carmen Hillers' works are non-representational and two-dimensional (trained on Cézanne and Klee), mostly restrained in colour, often small (less than 1 square metre), sometimes tiny (which is why I once called her "Master of Painted Haikus", her inclination towards Japan, where she will soon exhibit, notorious). She paints lavishly on delicate papers and with egg tempera on very delicate, unprimed cloth (voile), so that they remain translucent and a shimmering, irritating quasi-spatiality is created, contrasting with opaque parts. A greater contrast than with my works (realistic, large format, spatial) is hardly conceivable, yet the communication 1A, a miracle of European painting culture, works! 


If you have seen the large wall in Carmen's last exhibition in Blankenese, it is clear that it was "composed" according to musical principles, almost in the sense of a score: no individual works (although each of the differently sized formats can exist on its own), but clusters, rhythmically, as a sequence with reading direction, though also in opposite directions, but always in motion, in a flow. "That my works, my pictorial thinking and feeling, have a musical effect cannot be overlooked," she says herself.


So if one is to draw a (preliminary) conclusion from the collaboration of Carmen Hillers and Steffen Wolf, one can observe Both works, music and painting, remain autonomous despite all interaction, they run - at a certain distance - like two parallels next to each other, intellectual-artistic interference flashes shoot back and forth and comment on each other, a dialogue on the highest level. We, the listeners/viewers, who have not lifted a finger, but have opened our senses wide and trained our sensations, are the doubly pampered beneficiaries!