"You need to show work in the right place": Christiane Baumgartner

German artist Christiane Baumgartner studied Printmaking at the RCA from 1997 to 1999. Born in Leipzig in 1967, where she currently lives and works, Baumgartner is known for her intricate monochrome woodcuts. Baumgartner was interviewed at the Spinnerei in Leipzig by RCA graduate Hannah Murgatroyd during her painting residency there in 2009.

Hannah Murgatroyd: Tell us about your time at the RCA.
Christiane Baumgartner: I went to study at the RCA in 1997 on a D&AD scholarship. I wanted to be in London and I had heard that Printmaking at the RCA was similar to my school in Leipzig, the Hochschule. I had already studied printmaking and book art for eight years in Leipzig, and when I came to the RCA I realised I had done all the technical courses. That’s why I suddenly became interested in video and photography. I experimented with how to print a photograph with printmaking techniques using cold surfaces. For instance, plate litho onto aluminium, or silkscreen onto glass. The result was shiny, more like monitors or screens.

HM: Why did you leave London after graduating in 1999?
CB: I thought after London I could never go back to Leipzig because it’s a small city. I thought maybe I should get a studio in Berlin. I tried to keep a studio in London, but this was not possible because flights at that time were not cheap. When you finish your study you think, "I feel like I am falling down a big hole." But I still had my studio here in the Spinnerei. When I came back, Leipzig suddenly became famous through the Neue Leipziger Schule of painting. Several galleries moved into the complex and it became an arts arena.

HM: Was this return an easy one?
CB: My teachers from the art college had all retired so I didn’t have a connection to the art scene any more. I was just sitting in the studio with other artists coming in. You need to show your work in the right place. Luckily, I won a big art prize and became known.

HM: Tell us about being at the Spinnerei.
CB: The Spinnerei really is something special. It used to be one of the biggest cotton mills in Europe, with 4,000 people working here. Many factories closed after the Berlin Wall fell and the Spinnerei became a positive example of how the factories could be used. Now there are about 100 artists here, and I don't know how many businesses. It’s really different to London. In London I used to live in warehouses and always had to move out because the buildings were renovated and turned into lofts and became really expensive. 

HM: Is being in Leipzig, or Germany, essential to your work, or could you be anywhere?
CB: The first year I was back here it was difficult. I didn’t have video editing facilities. Studying in Leipzig in East German times, we weren't even allowed to use photographs. It was a totally different way of thinking. The idea came to me to use woodcut as I had done in Leipzig several years ago and video as I had done in London because woodcut and video are both techniques to reproduce images. Woodcut was the first reproduction technique – the slow one – and video the quickest, and the most recent. 

HM: Are you represented by a gallery in Leipzig now?
CB: I used to be, but then Leipzig painting became so famous and, well, there’s me with my woodcuts on paper. When framed, the prints are too heavy to take to fairs, and they are cheaper than a painting. I found a gallery in the Netherlands (Johann Deumens) which specialises in editions and artists' books, and I also work with Alan Cristea in London.

HM: You just had major shows at the Spacex and Ikon galleries in the UK. Is your career quite international?
CB: Yes, probably because I don't have a German gallery. My Dutch gallerist is really good at selling my work to museums and he deals mainly in the US and Switzerland. I am beginning to think about the next big exhibition in Philadelphia at the beginning of 2010. It's called Philagrafika and will be the Philadelphia Museum of Art and other places. I really should look for a gallery in Germany, it’s a bit stupid not to have one.

How do you manage the work-life balance? Do you have assistants?
Two years ago when it started to become really busy I thought maybe I should get an assistant for my office, but I was always afraid of having someone around me! I have two work spaces, an office at home and my studio at the Spinnerei where I make the work. I don't have internet access or a landline telephone in my studio. It is important to be free from administrative concerns.

HM: Do you have a strict routine with the studio?
CB: Not so strict. Usually I check emails and make phone calls at home in the morning. I get to the studio around ten or eleven. I try to be there before lunch. When I am in the cutting process I work until seven. Then I go home and carry on working with images on the computer. Sometimes I work in the studio at the weekend, and sometimes by the Baltic Sea, where I have a garden house. It's great to take your plates and carry on working.

HM: So your work is your life?
CB: Yes, but I love it!