In the Spring 2015 issue of Whitewall, we talk to emerging artist Sara Von Kienegger about her “Fallen Stars” series, painting in a Mondrian dress, and her “key card” unique technique.
WHITEWALL: Last year you showed your “Fallen Stars” series, portraits of celebrities who have recently passed, during the fairs at Art Basel Miami Beach. This year, you’ve started work on a new series. Can you tell us about it?
SARA VON KIENEGGER: It’s all portrait work. I do landscape as well, but now [this is] specifically portraits. I’m doing my “Genius” collection with my keycard technique. I’m choosing the geniuses from our time, for example, like Umberto Eco—he has a very interesting face. I’m going to paint white on white, very light in color so you have to be far from the canvas to actually make out the face.
WW: You mentioned your keycard technique. How do you paint entirely using keycards? How did that start?
SVK: How it started was I was in Geneva, showing some work. I had been traveling, in a rush, and I had nothing with me. I had my paints and I had my canvases but no brushes. So what was I to do? I went “Okay, what do I do now?” I took the card from my hotel room and started painting with it! Just some accents and stuff and then using my hand in between to move the paint around. And that’s how I started the keycard technique.
My “Mondrian” series using only red, blue, white, and black is all about Mondrian. I had Mondrian colors in mind because I had just watched the Yves Saint Laurent movie and was feeling inspired. I decided to go to the Mondrian Hotel, get a few Mondrian keycards, wearing the YSL Mondrian dress, and I painted my Mondrian “Fallen Star” series.
WW: Wow, you have a Mondrian dress! Those are quite rare. Do you have a background in fashion?
SVK: Fashion design I’ve loved all my life, and I had my first fashion show when I was 16 in Austria, but it wasn’t to sell; it was just to show. And from there I started doing furniture design as well. I worked in advertising as well, in Dubai, but after a while I wanted to get back to painting, back to basics, back to doing things with my hands.
WW: So you’ve always painted?
SVK: I did, since I was really young with my grandmother and my mother. My whole family’s pretty artistic, from both sides, father’s and mother’s side.
WW: What was the starting point for your “Fallen Stars” series?
SVK: I was thinking about celebrity portraits, and everything is done. You have Jimi Hendrix and Marilyn Monroe . . . But when I thought more recently deceased stars, no one had painted them yet. Beloved stars like Heath Ledger, Whitney Houston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michael Clarke Duncan.
WW: Are these people you personally admired?
SVK: Yes. But, for example, I didn’t even know River Phoenix, but when I started painting him, I was researching and I found him so interesting. His face just captured me. When you start painting you start thinking about a person, you start thinking about the pain, you start seeing the pain in the eyes.
Painting “Fallen Stars,” I’m a little more insecure about people recognizing who it is; people who are related to this person may get upset by the way you represented them. But in the end it’s mine, and if you like it you like it, and if you don’t, you don’t.