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Taken from the Catalogue ´KUNST IM ÖBV - ATRIUM ´ 2005, interview with Elisabeth Sula conducted by Eva Enichlmayr:
Her spiritual search for meaning brought the Viennese artist Elisabeth Sula to India, with “India“ standing for an “exotic experience“ as Gauguin and others before and after him might have made in the Caribbean. In brightly shining magenta, orange or an azure, her paintings conjure up the tropical luminance of this Caribbean sun and feature a lush vegetation far from Europe’s cold countries. Her constant dialogue with traditional ways of thinking and acting of the West and the Far East – apart from studying painting at the Academy of Applied Arts in Vienna, Elisabeth Sula also studied philosophy – is rooted in her longing for awareness and authenticity. Thus, it is only logical that her most recent cycle “Healing Room“ also leads into imaginary (spiritual) spaces, which deal with the attentive awareness towards the self and in which one may “stroll and nurture oneself” (according to the art promoter Andrea Überbacher).
This (India) trip to her inner self led to an expansion of her paintings and (spiritual) spaces and in some paintings to an almost inebriating explosion in her choice of colours.
Within the scope of the exhibition in the ÖBV building in the year 2002 you created a cycle especially for the Atrium. What was it that fascinated you most with this room?
I was highly impressed by the special light conditions, with the light intruding from above and the positioning of the upward pointing pillars. With my paintings I wanted to resonate with the energy of this room, following the upward direction of these pillars.
Browsing your earlier catalogues, the profound changes in your work over the years become highly evident. How would you describe the process of your artistic development yourself?
Up to the mid-90ies, apart from painting and photography I produced a large number of experimental paintings using various materials and objects, mainly sculptures with paper-mâché on canvas and on wire grid. Paper-maché looks just like plaster, but weighs less, is not as fragile and can be moulded like clay. The predominant colour of many of my works was white then, I referred to them as my “Zen-cylcle”. I attributed great importance to expressing tension through applying reduced means, in particular through light and shadow.
Works of art in white? – A huge difference to your paintings on display here in our house, don’t you think?
While creating my white works I also did paintings in relatively monochrome colours. Actually, it was my trips, especially to India, that inspired me to use colours increasingly.
How did your relation to India develop?
In the course of my spiritual search for meaning I felt an intense urge to gain distance to the life I led then and to start something new. Among other things, reading an Indian master, philosopher and professor of literature from the North of India had a great impact on me. I was deeply moved by his texts and I began to take an interest in the Indian culture. During my stays in India I always felt extremely enriched – by everything, the country, the art and culture as well as by the encounters with the people there. I have come to India regularly since 1995. And I feel that the more I explore my own soul, fathom my own inner depth and open up new rooms inside of me, the more new rooms develop in my artistic work.
Inner landscapes – is this an appropriate theme for your paintings?
I’d rather say spiritual landscapes, soul themes. It is those spiritual contents that I am absorbed in at the time being and that I then translate visually in my cycles. I always work on several canvasses at the same time and each painting consists of multi-layered, mainly transparent layers of acrylic.
What are you focussing on at the moment?
This year, I realised a “Kunst-am-Bau“ painting at the Education Centre of the Ministry of Interior in Traiskirchen, referring to a text passage from Laotse’s tao te king. To me, his wisdom, written down around 600 B.C., is of timeless validity. In my view, in addition to acquiring knowledge, education always has to include a cultivation of the heart as well. In this work I used colours and symbols in a highly deliberate way, whereas in other paintings they appear by mere intuition.
How did you use colours and symbols in the current cycle “Healing Room“?
In this cycle, I create inner spaces, in which you may stroll to nurture yourself and to regenerate and replenish your inner resources. In this context, Andrea Überbacher established a link to nomads who take along their carpets as “substitute gardens“ on their journeys through the desert. The paintings intentionally display an oriental touch, the floral element they contain is a metaphor of inner blossoming, the development of one’s own potential. By placing the ornaments in a rectangular order, a protected room for evolvement and development is being created.
You are strongly interested in philosophical, spiritual topics – do you write as well?
In addition to my art studies I also studied philosophy. But what fascinates me most with painting, is the fact that I can express something in a painting that goes right to the hearts of the viewers, regardless of their nationalities or mother tongues. It represents a different level than reading and appeals directly to the viewer’s subconscious. Nevertheless, it is of vital importance for every artist’s positioning to take a stance – also with political and ecological issues.
You can pride yourself of an impressive number of exhibitions – what is the secret of your success? Or in other words, would you consider yourself a successful artist?
That depends on one’s definition of success. In my view, I am successful whenever I can get across the essence of my inner aspirations in my works in an authentic way. I am glad that I am able to live on the sale of my works. And it means a lot to me to hear how people take pleasure in my paintings and that people gain power and energy from them. To me, leading a successful life means maturing to achieve a maximum of awareness and personal responsibility.
For how long have you been working as an independent artist?
Actually, I always have. During my studies at the Academy of Applied Arts I started to do exhibitions and never wanted to do anything other than art. However, I never was focussed on only one method of expression in my art. I can also see myself working as a photo or video artist. It is important to me to realise topics in an artistic way and to make transparent what my inner aspirations are.
You have lived in many different countries – does the place where you live influence your work?
Yes, among other places, I have lived in Paris, in Italy and repeatedly in India. Whenever I was embedded in different cultures, I was also prompted to create different paintings. Paris is a wonderfully fertile soil for artists, teeming with multi-cultural impressions and offerings. When in Italy, I feel at home, I love the beauty of the country and am enchanted by the ample treasures of ancient art. When in India, I enjoy most of all the spiritual wealth, the colourful plurality of the exotic oriental flair and ambience, its art and culture.
Which role does nature play for you?
Nature is the living space where I replenish my energy resources and where I can nurture myself energetically – apart from its aesthetic opulence. And yet, the colourful saris of the women, the markets and the temples of Asia, for instance, also provide visual sources of inspiration to me. The colour effects there are much more intense than they are here, this is true for everything, like for instance, the clothes, the architecture and nature. Our Western civilisation uses colour in a far more reduced way. It is certainly no coincidence that grey and black are the predominant colours in our consumption-oriented world devoid of any meaning.
As compared to Austria - which differences did you encounter on your stays abroad with regard to the position of the artist in society and to the society’s attitude towards art?
Unfortunately, I often experience the collective mentality in Austria being very reactionary – regarding the respect for oneself and for others. This becomes evident particularly in hierarchical structures. According to my own experience, warm-heartedness and openness are a natural expression of personal dignity among people with cultivated hearts and souls.