A look behind the scenes of the exhibition.
In the following interview with Rudolf Brudl from Straßwalchen and Jutta Blühberger from Strobl, the artists of the exhibition “Giving Color to the Saints”, granted us a look behind the scenes of the exhibition.
FDA – Rudolf Brudl, you are the initiator of the exhibition “Giving Color to the Saints”. Tell us how the idea for the exhibition came about. When was that approximately?
Rudolf Brudl – Yes, how did it come about? Through visits to the Kollegienkirche. The Kollegienkirche is a pearl of Salzburg. It’s such a fine thing when you go in there. I visit it often. The thought has increasingly occurred to me that there are so many saints up there. I don’t know many of them. One knows only a few, but many are no longer known. And one also does not engage oneself with them. Then the idea came to me to do something so that the saints would become better known. They still have something to tell us, even in our time. But something different than back then. That is clear. That was two or three years ago. That’s how long it’s been going on.
FDA – And how did you then come up with the idea of inviting Jutta Blühberger to join in?
RB – Yes, that was very interesting. She was a relatively new member in our association, artforum Salzburg. We had a good conversation. And then the conversation turned to questions of faith. That’s when I realized that Jutta might be interested in the subject. The theological aspect and this form of art. Then I asked her, and she spontaneously said yes relatively soon. Which made me very happy. It has become a fantastic project, I believe, a great collaboration.
FDA – How did you experience it, Jutta?
Jutta Blühberger – Of course I was very pleased about the request. As Rudi says, we had a good talk. However, I had my doubts, since I did not grow up Catholic and had little to do with saints so far. But that didn’t seem to bother Rudi. Finally, I thought I would just take up the challenge and agreed.
FDA – So this has been going on for more than two years. How did you go about it?
JB – In the first year, I slowly felt my way forward and dealt superficially with all the saints who are in the Kollegienkirche. Then, little by little, the ones that Rudi and I finally chose began to emerge. Then I started reading books about these twelve saints. It was important for me to get to know the person behind the legends. This then led to the accompanying texts, which can be seen in the exhibition next to the paintings.
RB – You keep thinking about them, they won’t let you go. You have to deal with the saints. How they lived. What they have to say. What is relevant for our time. A special challenge for me was then – the idea was to paint an abstract image for the respective saint – how do you implement that? One deals with the matter. What is it that you then take out of the life of the saint and that you want to concretize.
FDA – How did you approach the selection of the saints? Each of you chose six saints. How did you do it?
RB – First, you have a personal relationship with individual saints. At first you choose the ones you know. Then you read up a bit on the subject. And then you discover for yourself, the particular saints that you want to work with, so to speak. This was a good decision. There would have been many more saints that you could have used. But that’s the way it is. Maybe there will be a sequel?
JB – For me it was clear pretty quickly that I wanted to work with the mystics. I felt a certain kinship with them from the beginning. The relatively unknown Saint Ivo also fascinated me. Otherwise, we tried to form groups of three saints each who had something in common. And so I set out to find saints who, like Ivo, had worked for the disadvantaged. Both being a mystic and working for the disadvantaged are both things that are close to my heart.
FDA – Is one of the saints particularly dear to you?
RB – I wouldn’t say that. For me, all six have become very important in the course of time of working on the project. And I couldn’t say that I would leave one out or not.
JB – I also think it was such an intense engagement with each of the six saints that they all became equally important to us.
FDA – What particular challenges did you encounter?
RB – At first it was a real challenge to paint. How do I implement this? And then sometimes you think, you’ve hit a roadblock. Dead end. But as they say, the light came back on. I am religious and I also have a good connection to the heavens. Again and again I had the feeling that the saints were there. That something was there that helped me along. The important thing for me is that the viewer also feels what you intend as a painter. These emotions and feelings. I wanted to bring life situations of the saints on the canvas, of each of the six saints that I have chosen. For me it turned out well. And the viewers must then form their own judgment.
FDA – Which of the saints were the most challenging for you? In terms of painting, or in terms of content?
JB – For me, Bernard of Clairvaux was a particular challenge. I couldn’t get to grips with him at first, contrary to my expectations. In between, I wanted to put the book down and choose another saint. I was really disappointed. In the end, his painting received the title Dilemma. And that’s just what I felt in the study of his life that frustrated me, even while painting. It also took me the longest time to do his painting.
RB – In terms of content, there were two that were particularly challenging. Luke, the evangelist, and John the Baptist. They needed a pilgrimage for something to come of it. And after that I went home and knew what had to be done. And then it happened as spontaneously and quickly as it did with the other four. That was the second part of the painting process. But it was just as beautiful as the first part. Although at first there were these uncertainties and these open questions that you have in advance. That was all gone. And then it went in one go.
FDA – So it was a longer incubation period and then it came very smoothly to the birth of the paintings.
RB – I’m very spontaneous in painting. For me, it all has to happen quickly, but in my mind. It has to “flow.” The spontaneous is very important to me. It makes a certain tension that is necessary for me. The paintings were actually created in no time at all. For my standards. But Antonius was joking with me. First the arm was too short, and then I improved it, then it was twisted. You can’t leave it like that. Then I broke it off. Then it was just a light stroke and then it fit. That was very funny for me. I thought to myself, he’s playing a joke on me.
FDA – How did you approach the painting process?
JB – After a year of preparation, reading books and writing texts, I then started painting. Or with the preparations for it: Stretching the canvas and priming in several layers. One of the most important steps in my technique is the first layer with the marble powder structure, which then determines everything else. That’s when I recalled everything I had learned about the saint. And then from the subconscious I applied the first layer. There, of course, the Holy Spirit also plays an important role. Then come countless layers with different colors, all of which I prepared myself. Each layer must dry. And each step needs a dialogue with the painting. What does the image need, what is still missing, where do I have to remove something (i.e. take away paint). It’s a longer process.
RB – In the run-up, you think about how to implement it. That was the preparation time; about a year we were working on it and then it matures. Then you have to put it on the canvas. And that can happen very quickly in some cases.
JB – With me, it’s more the opposite. Intuitive process painting and using paints that I grind myself with pigments is really “slow art.” It takes patience and perseverance. But what goes around comes around.
FDA – What are your hopes and expectations for the exhibition?
RB – For one thing, I’m excited to exhibit in this sacred space. It’s a wonderful church. It’s one of a kind. And to work with this theme is a privilege. One hopes, of course, that the exhibition goes well. Each picture, each text must form a unity with the rest. You can think about that as much as you want in advance. But you only see [whether something fits] when it’s hanging. How everything works. And of course you hope that it would look good in the church. And that people interested in faith, but of course also people interested in art – that’s equally important for me – come to visit, and look at this exhibition.
JB – Yes, I also feel it is a privilege that we are allowed to exhibit in this wonderful church. And also the theme. It’s something very special. That’s why we invested a lot of time, also in the introductory texts of the saints. I have gained many important insights from that. And now I hope that these saints will also speak to the hearts of others through our images and texts. That they will be encouraged and blessed by this.
RB – And that perhaps some positive thoughts can be brought across in our difficult, crisis-ridden times. A little drop that will help make life more beautiful with each other. That one takes care of the environment. That one appreciates the realities that one has in life. And I don’t mean luxury. I don’t mean luxury, I mean the necessities that you need and that which is so self-evident that you appreciate it more.
FDA – Rudi, this is not the first major project that you have initiated.
RB – Topics are always important to me. To think about certain topics. To implement them with art. This connection. Because art is something important in life. It is valued far too little. And people often think too little about why it is so important.
FDA – As far as I know, “Art against Violence” was such an action.
RB – That was three years ago. That was about art against violence. Art arouses emotions and when you deal with art, emotions play a big role. Reducing emotions or aggression, that’s all possible. Developing new ideas. Activating the brain to positive things. That was the ulterior motive. It was a big project that took place at three exhibition venues.
FDA – You are very active as the second deputy chairman of the artforum Salzburg association. You invest a lot of time there, in addition to your professional life.
RB – I simply enjoy spending time with art. To engage with it because it’s something important, I think. And I also enjoy the work in Artforum. The members are open to new ideas that can be implemented in consultation. Every new idea is welcome. And then you just see how you can implement it. And working together with colleagues is always invigorating.
FDA – And from that point of view, would you do it again – an exhibition like the one in the Kollegienkirche? Or are you always doing something, just not the same thing?
RB – It’s always exciting to do something new. This project in the Kollegienkirche is a highlight. Something quite wonderful. However, it is very time-consuming and labor-intensive. But the collaboration with Jutta is very pleasant, enriching and appreciative. I would do it again!
JB – That’s how I experienced it, too. It was an incredible amount of work, because it is a really special exhibition with a special theme. But the collaboration with Rudi was super, and that made a lot of things easier.
FDA – Any final words?
RB – I’m just fascinated by creating a connection with the saints. That was a very different time. You can’t forget that. I experienced that brokenness with John. What do I take out of his life? And then basically it was something quite beautiful. At first, the beheading didn’t leave me alone. But what are you doing then? And afterwards, after the pilgrimage, this idea came to me – with the water of life, because that is something very essential in baptism. It’s just not as easy as some people think to simply brush paint onto a canvas for an abstract picture. It should be identifiable. With the thought that one has and with the saint, as he lived felt and worked.
FDA – Thank you very much for giving us a look behind the scenes of the exhibition. We wish you much success with the exhibition!
[This interview is a behind-the-scenes look at the art exhibition “Giving Color to the Saints,” which will open at the Kollegienkirche Salzburg at the end of October. The artists Rudolf Brudl from Straßwalchen and Jutta Blühberger from Strobl have dealt with twelve saints, who are brought closer to the visitor of the exhibition through painted artworks and texts].