An afternoon with Ellen Schweitzer

This afternoon we had the chance to visit Düsseldorf artist Ellen Schweitzer in her studio.

Ellen creates amazing art and sculptures using mirrors, glass and a wide variety of other materials such as screws, cutlery, light bulbs, ball bearings, metal objects and even empty ink cartridges.

She told me she first started experimenting with creating art using mirrors at the age of thirteen. Her first piece was a gift for her grandfather. Since then she has made countless fabulous mirrors which are gracing the walls of restaurants, offices and homes all over Düsseldorf.

Her pieces are both decorative and useful – many of them actually function as a mirror, but with an intriguing design creating an inner frame around the centre.  The use of glass and metal creates amazing effects as the light is caught and reflected differently as you walk past. The viewer is irresistably drawn in to the swirling forms and the refracted light patterns.

Ellen works with a lot of humour too. In some pieces, closer examination yields strange objects suspended in the glass. One mirror contained rows of screws. Another was a pattern of bubbles and ball bearings.

“Can you guess what this one is?” giggles Ellen, pointing to a huge mirror with irregularly oval shaped blisters covering its surface.

I can’t.

“It’s lenses from old pairs of spectacles embedded in the surface of the glass.”

It seems like nothing goes to waste in the Schweitzer household.

Ellen’s mirror art is unique. She has developed the technique herself, along with the special materials she uses. She pulls out mirror after mirror of her technical tests, where she has documented the effects of different types of glue together with its impact on glass, metal, plastic… Many of the glues she uses, she blends herself, based of years of experimentation.

“Here, see… this one, this is no good at all. It discolours when it dries. This other one, look, it attracts dust after a while, so it doesn’t stay clear and bright. This one is good – but you can’t use it with copper objects because they go green. But this one is fine with copper….”

Under each test is a label detailing the exact location of the individual glue recipe in her notes. German artists are clearly extremely organised – an impression which is reinforced by the neatly arranged jars of glass marbles, beads, screws, ice cream spoons, washers, ball bearings and other items which appear in her work.

“I have to keep my studio spotlessly clean,” Ellen explains. “When you’re working with materials like glue, you can’t risk dust or cobwebs getting into it before it dries. Everything needs to shine.”

Ellen also shows me a lovely range of her hand-made jewellery – where mirrors also feature strongly. Her designs are bold and modern. Some incorporating oddities like screws and fuses, others more abstract – but nonetheless very striking.

I can’t decide between three of her brooches – so I end up buying all of them. I must be turning German… I’ve started my Christmas shopping in July already!

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Filed under german art, Life in Germany

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