© 2020 – 2022. 2chairs artspace

A talk with Sandra Stops

Hi Sandra, happy to have you at 2chairs. You studied political science, today it seems so relevant and important to better understand political decisions as they affect our daily lives. What was your focus there and why you decided to quit?

Hello Lena, thanks for having me here. Maybe first, I finished my studies, not dropped out. I graduated as a political scientist, and I am still proud to have achieved a "very good". I chose political science because I didn't want to choose a specialization immediately after graduating from high school. I thought a broad general education was fantastic and this degree programme offered access to diverse topics and fields of activity with its many possibilities. During my studies, I concentrated on international relations and environmental policy. These were my biggest areas of interest: untangling complex interconnections and relationships and understanding how conflicts can be prevented or resolved. I studied for part of my degree in the UK and worked for many years in an environmental research institute. These experiences showed me how important political education is. That's why my first freelance job after graduation was in political education.

Then you also did a master's program "Intercultural Education". What did you learn from your university education? What do you find the most useful?

I completed the postgraduate programme after earning my living in political education for a few years. The programme offered me a good opportunity to scientifically underpin my practical experience. I enjoyed accompanying international encounters, which were often a challenge for everyone involved because it is often not that easy to approach people across political or ideological boundaries. During my studies, I was particularly influenced by one of my lecturers who introduced me to the dialogical principle according to David Bohm and Martin Buber: "All true life is encounter" said Martin Buber. Since then, dialogue has been an important motivation for me. At university I matured and learned a lot for life: to organize myself, to proceed in a structured way, to question representations and regularities and to stand up for myself and for my interest.
After such diverse studies, you landed in Berlin and found your own business – Chocolatière Manufactory. Why chocolate? How did you come to this decision? What was the idea behind it?

It was time to check whether what I was doing was really what my heart was still beating for. The work was precariously paid, I was constantly on the road and decisions were made by higher authorities that made it clear to me that I didn't want to carry on like this.

I enjoyed working with people a lot and I wanted to hold on to that. Over the years I had observed that it makes a big difference how I approach people when I want to communicate something to them. Each of us has one or maybe two dominant sensory channels. Some are more likely to respond to what they hear, others to what they read, and others are more likely to grasp things when a haptic component comes into play. I wanted to give this more space, both in my work and for myself. I missed the sensual aspect of life – sensory perception, our feeling, hearing, tasting etc. came up short for me.

Chocolate is a good way to reach people and, as it were, to convey content from behind through the chest into the eye, to stimulate conversations and open new perspectives. Since I'm curious and like to take on challenges, I decided to build up a new business for myself with "Sense for the Senses". At first, it was mainly about evenings of delight, during which I tasted chocolate together with other people. Gradually, I started making my own chocolate creations. In the end, it was always about questioning why we like what we like, what we treat ourselves to, what we don't and why, and about raising awareness of the origin of the ingredients, the production process and the cultivation conditions of cocoa.

Do you remember when you have the idea to be an artist for the first time? What did the decision-making process look like in choosing art as your main professional activity?

Oh yes, I wanted to become an artist, or more precisely a painter, even during my school years. Back then, Henry-George Cluzet's film "La Mysterie de Picasso" was shown in our cinema club. I was so taken by this film, the passion, the playfulness, and the creative power that flowed from it, that I said, that's how I want to paint! I want to devote myself to the creative process just like Picasso. But the environment in which I grew up was not as conducive as I needed it to be. The image of a poor, crazy artist with alcohol and other addiction problems was omnipresent and the likelihood of me becoming the second Picasso was zero.

Nevertheless, painting was something that always accompanied me - even at school I preferred to draw and paint rather than follow the lessons, which seemed to me to be irrelevant in many places. After school, however, I decided to study something "proper" first, then earn some money and live up to my family's expectations. After graduating with a degree in political science, I gave myself a drawing course lasting several months, in which I learned to draw from scratch and then later also painted with colour. My motivation to go into the chocolaty context had a lot to do with taking a big step further towards a creative business. And the summer months, when the chocolate business was down, I took the time to work intensively with paint: my hands were then in the paint instead of the chocolate. Over the years, it became clearer and clearer to me that my dream of becoming a painter was still inside me and was making itself heard louder and louder. But I was afraid. It was only when a very good friend had a serious accident and was in a coma for several months that I realised I didn't want to waste any more time. I decided to get down to business and give my dream of being a professional painter a chance, rather late than never. Since 01.01.2020 I am officially registered as a visual artist and have started to live my dream. It is still exciting!

Could you please describe your artistic process?

Painting for me is a process of dealing with what I encounter and experience daily. It is a physical process that often begins with me visualizing an emotion I have encountered. From this intuitive beginning, I gradually develop a dialogue with the painting surface - often paper, sometimes canvas. I layer, take away, build up and thus gradually find the subject and the motif. What I have seen and imagined flows into this process. Sketches and photos often serve me as memories of encounters with people and places.
Let's talk about your show "Hidden behind these eyes". What should the presented artworks say to the audience?

I like to immerse myself – in faces, places, and stories. Part of the work as an artist is to go into oneself, this "entering into dialogue" with the work that is being created and reflecting on what we perceive, accept, reject, and experience. I chose the artworks because they represent my thematic focus – portraiture, landscape, and abstraction. In addition, I feel that the composition, especially with the orange chair, is coherent in terms of colour, and the arrangement allows the viewer's eye to wander.

"Kreatürlich" is a work that emerged intuitively. In my working process, I leave room for chance and the unexpected: there is a moment when something appears that was not there before, and I decide whether to follow it or not. I only wanted to give a hint in the artwork that there is more to it than a certain mood or the hint of a certain place. The viewer should become active and see for herself where is this painting taking me. What does it trigger in me? The

Sarah Schultz, visual artist and teacher, sitting on 2 chairs
colours and the mysterious glow appeal to me. It reminds me of a deep forest, through whose trees the evening sun can be seen. The starting point for this work was the desire for peace and stillness that is most likely to be found in forests. The different shades of green draw me deeper into the painting, so that I can linger in front of it for a long time and think I discover something different in it each time. My imagination can go on a journey.

The second piece is a self-portrait. I often use myself as a model because I am always available.
With portraits, I'm mainly interested in the moment: a glance, a thought, how someone holds their head or my idea of what's going on in that person at that moment. I like to paint with my fingers, or the heel of my hand and I like it when the paint is thick. In this work, I even used oil pens, which have a creamy texture. Wonderful! When I paint, I work in layers, i.e. I like to scrape the paint off again or really massage it into the painting surface. That's why I use heavy paper that can take a bit of punishment and doesn't tear right away. Painting is bodywork for me: exhausting and playful, concentrated and satisfying.

"What's on your mind" is the most recent of the three artworks. It shows that I also like to use
collage elements or mixed media to create my works. This fits in with the open process. One
question I often ask myself is, what if...? I often make sketches of the paintings in between or
photograph them as they are being created and try out different things in the image editing app. I spend a lot of time looking at my work in a different setting. Often these exercises and experiments lead to new impulses.

Can you agree that the manifestation of emotions is a driver of your creativity? Why is it so crucial for you?

I find emotions and especially the way we handle them fascinating. We deal with them every day, in ourselves and in others. But they are not the driving force behind my creativity. My driver is rather the desire to reflect on what I encounter on a daily basis: to process and reassemble what I have experienced, perceived and read, not unlike doing a jigsaw puzzle. I want to understand, show connections, and initiate a conversation or a dialogue. Not everything can be translated into words, and where words don't help, we use music, painting, sculpture and so on. I love playing with colours, lines and brushes, so I paint and don't write songs.

My work also includes artworks on the themes of grief and anger. And my working process often begins by visualizing an emotion. Everyone can try it out: in a subdued mood, the handling of paint and brush and even the choice of tools is different than in a contemplative, loosened and relaxed mood. Expressing myself - including my own emotions - is important to me. And painting is a wonderful medium for personal expression.

How do you use your feminist lens? How does such an optic influence your artistic
practice and life in general?

I have a dream: I want to create a world in which women in particular stand up for their visions
and dreams and dare to live them! I am convinced that our world needs a great diversity of
lifestyles and plenty of lived creativity to be a liveable place for all.

An important project in my artistic work is the ongoing series "Anger is Beauty". I paint the anger of women. I am fascinated by the strength and vulnerability of women who find their way to deal with attributions of femininity. In personal conversations, I talk to my models about their understanding of anger and what makes them angry, but also about what it is like for them to see themselves painted being angry. The answers are extremely moving. If you combine this with reading, for example, the book "Speak Out" by Soraya Chemalys, it becomes clear that the way society deals with female anger has the potential for change in many places. This is where my portraits come in: I find the paintings powerful, beautiful, and touching. And I experience that they affect, even challenge, viewers. Furthermore, I work a lot with women and find networks of women for women fundamentally important.

Please share your plans and ambitions as an artist. What do you want to achieve?

I want to touch people with my art and open a space in which dialogue is possible – a dialogue with oneself and with others. As an artist, I am on my way to expressing myself creatively and playfully, as Picasso did, so I see many more years of creative work ahead of me. And of course, I want my artworks to be seen and to find collectors. Specifically, I want my paintings of the "Anger is Beauty" series to be exhibited together, and I want to find a wide variety of models who will lend me their anger. Above that, I still want to travel a lot and paint and exhibit in various places, to immerse myself in new faces, places, and stories, to develop a feeling and to be imbued with...

Thank you, Sandra! It was a pleasure to talk with you! Looking forward to seeing your series "Anger is Beaty" at the coming 2chairs group show in Berlin Art Week 2023 and your new projects!