Rory MacLean meets Kerstin Hille
Hille grew up on the outskirts of Dresden. As a child she always drew, often on scraps of paper that her mother had put aside for shopping lists. Her small, fragmented images were like visual haiku verse – clear and precise with elements of both beauty and mystery – and her parents recognised her talent. Her father signed her up for art classes at the Neustadt tractor factory where he worked, and Hille learned how to handle pencils, charcoal, linocuts and clay from the resident works artist ('Kunstmaler').
‘I loved the smell of lino ink, the texture of charcoal; I took it all in like a sponge,’ she recalled.
Her enthusiasm led her to an evening course at Dresden’s Academy of Art which she took in parallel with her A-levels. But she advanced so quickly that other art colleges wouldn’t give her a place, saying that she was too young, thereby seeding doubt and diverting her into advertising and graphic design. Thankfully her talent was recognised by the Kunsthochschule Weißensee where she trained under Nanne Meyer.
Hille’s drawings have a deliberately fragmented, surreal quality with hints of Edward Gorey and Shaun Tan, as well as an overwhelming feeling of loss. She creates imaginary, parallel worlds which are linked to the real, wider world. In Sammelkarten, a series of 56 printed cards, she illustrates obscure new ‘unwords’ which had been coined by bureaucrats or cultural commentators. For example Kultursuche – which translates literally as ‘the search for culture’ – shows two be-hatted men shining torches at each other to detect their inner spiritual skeletons. In Schöpfungshektik – or ‘the bustle of creation’ – a thinking man’s profile replicates itself. In Attraktionsplanung – which means the plan for making something attractive – three, pointy-breasted women dry their spiralling, pink hair in a beauty salon. Hille handed out her quirky cards on the Berlin U-Bahn, slipping them in to ticket machines, provoking comment and conversation.
‘I am always surprised why I do things,’ she said with a laugh, at once liberated by and anxious about the inconsistency of her artistic evolution. ‘It just comes out of me.’
In Yesterday and Today Hille draws often unrelated elements together to create sparse, haunting and lonely images: a flight of birds, a nest and the sun; her grandmother’s clock. Like much of her work, Yesterday and Today is inspired in part by the music she hears (her father is a passionate amateur pianist). To ensure that her images don’t become too pretty or precious she draws them with a cheap, multi-coloured biro, a deliberate act of aesthetic sabotage.
‘I can’t, and I don’t want to, explain it all,’ she said. ‘If I could find the words to describe my work I’d be a writer.’
In My 246 Best Friends, a work-in-progress, Hille is drawing intimate A5 portraits of her friends. ‘I keep thinking about how we are aging, about both living in and holding on to the moment.’
To give herself time for creative work she works both as a part-time illustrator in Berlin and a drawing instructor in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
‘I enjoy teaching as it forces me to explain what is important in drawing,’ she said. ‘It helps me to focus ideas and brings me clarity.’ Hille sighed and then went on, ‘But for me there is nothing like drawing itself. When I draw I am so in the moment, so present. It’s a process of discovery, of evolution. With it I feel that I am creating my own world, and that brings me tremendous satisfaction.’