A few years ago, while casually looking through some painting groups on Facebook, I discovered the work by Oliver Kohls. Kohls' powerful, brightly lit, and richly coloured pastels just leaped off the screen and I found myself immediately transported to the Northern shores of Germany - I could feel the cool damp sand under my feet, feel the sunshine and sea-spray on my face, and could hear the foaming waves tumbling onto the shore - I was hooked and wanted to know more. Kohls is also a fellow blogspot blogger. He participates in pastel competitions and his work has been quickly gaining international
And now without any further adieu here is Oliver Kohls' interview along with selected works.
Artist on Artist Interview with Oliver Kohls
Oliver Kohls.Polly: Hello Oliver, and welcome to my studio blog, it’s a great pleasure to have you here! Would mind telling us where your from and how you chose pastel as your medium?
Oliver: Hi Polly, thank you so much for having me here. I am from Germany and I live pretty close to the North Sea. I came to pastels by coincident. A couple of years ago I did not have my own studio and I was looking for some sort of medium that I could safely work with inside my house with four children around. So oil was not an option but once I tried pastels I was hooked. I love to work with both hands and my fingers. And as I am not very patient there are no drying times. Perhaps the only disadvantage is that you have to put the finished work behind glass.
Evening Light Baltic Sea. 40 x 70cm. Pastel. 2013.Polly: Would you please describe your earliest memories as to when you realized you were an artist?
Oliver: I just found out, honestly. I never considered myself as being an artist until lately. I am interested in art since childhood and I painted without being asked to do so. Five years ago I was really exhausted by my job as a naval officer and my demanding family life. I needed some time purely for myself and I started painting again. It brought me back to nature as I learned to see. I could think about my next paintings anywhere, e.g. driving to work or sitting in a boring meeting (not that there are many in the German Navy). Painting became more and more important to me and beside the creation of works of art I started to study the theory of painting. People started buying my work and others were asking me to teach them the way I do it. This was probably about the time when I realized I am an artist.
Buoy in the Sun. 65 x 30cm. Pastel. 2013.
Polly: Could you tell us about your education and training?
Oliver: There is not much to say about it from an artistic point of view. I got an university degree in politics and international studies and was trained in the German Navy and the Royal Navy. This had little to do with art. But I think it helped me in planning my own way as an artist and I saw a lot of places. So I have to confess that I never received any formal art training. I read lots of art books and some of them really helped me. Another way of training yourself is to look at artwork by other artist. Sometimes when I see a painting which really touches me I start analyzing it. Why is it that the painting impresses me? Where is the center of interest? What about the values? Is it predominantly warm or cold? Is there an underlying color scheme etc. etc.? Answering these questions helps me a lot with my own paintings. The big advantage of educating yourself is that you can do it at your own pace and that you can determine what to study. On the other hand a helping hand may prevent you from going the wrong way. But anyhow as I went this way relatively late in life I will stick to my own method.
Oliver Kohls' vast array of beautiful pastel colours ....
Polly: Tell us about your influences and inspirations.
Oliver: The impressionist painters influenced me a lot. When an artist captures the light I am usually touched. My favourite artist are Joaquin Sorrolla, Anders Zorn and of course Claude Monet. Having spent many years at sea I am still inspired by the endless impressions the sea has to offer. And water and landscapes with water in it are my main source of inspiration.
Buoy at Dusk. 65 x 30cm. Pastel. 2013.
Polly: In your own words, how would you describe your style?
Oliver: My style is pretty realistic. I wanted to go the hard way from being able to handle a realistic painting towards a more loose style. And I am not even half way through it. I try to capture the sea, the sky, reflections the way I see it and the way it touches me.
Red Poppy. 40 x 60cm. Pastel. 2013.
Polly: Most of your work depicts water; tell us about your connection with the water and how does it effect your artistic spirit?
Oliver: I spent almost all of my life close to the sea or at sea. I was sailing and windsurfing from early childhood and consequently joined the Navy. So I looked at the sea endlessly and was always taken by the amount of scenes the sea has to offer. This has influenced my art strongly. I think I can see if something looks right and if a mood has been captured well. A senior captain who spent all his life at sea commissioned a painting of his first ship two years ago. When he picked it up his eyes became watery. This was a huge compliment to me.
Oliver Kohls at work in his studio.
Polly: What is your studio routine like; do you give yourself a schedule to work by or do you work when you ‘feel’ it like, what is your overall process - do you work from life or from photographs you take or a little bit of both, etc?
Oliver: To me every painting is a project. It goes from viewing archived photographs, doing some sketches to the painting process itself. As I am not yet a full-time artist this seems to me a good way of doing it. Once the project has started I do not need to "feel" like it. I can continue to work whenever I have time to do so. Beside this I take my time to experiment with other mediums (oil, watercolor) and to study art books. I do the occasional plein-air but this is something I want to intensify. This mixture of producing (to sell), playing (to grow) and studying (to know) works well to me.
Marsh. 32 x 60cm. Pastel. 2012.
Polly: Tell us about the art community in Germany: What’s it like? Are there strong art communities with art associations where artists can show? Are there preferred art forms as such painting, landscape, figurative? How difficult is it to acquire recognition and gallery representation?
Oliver: Hmmm, what I am supposed to answer? The art market in Germany seems very strange to me. Access to the market is rather restricted. There are some artist communities but they are not so much organized in art forms or in mediums. It is quite difficult to get gallery representation especially if you haven't got an art degree. Realism is not very popular or let me say there are not many artist who paint realistically. I try to establish a regional footprint by exhibiting at some places. On the other hand I try to gain some international recognition by publishing articles or via the Pastel Society of America for example. Once people see my paintings I usually sell well. So this gives me hope for the future when I want to increase my production and need to increase my income.
Am Ems-Jade-Kanal. 40 x 40cm. Pastel. 2014.
Polly: Often many artists create a recognizable ‘signature’ for themselves which they maintain and rarely indulge in some artistic ideas they’d like to pursue; do you have any ideas outside of your known ‘signature’ that you’d like to explore with your art?
Oliver: Yep. I am fully aware of the problem you mentioned. And that is exactly the reason why I try different mediums and play around without the need to produce. Once you created a recognizable 'signature' there is a temptation to stick to it. I see myself on a long path of artistic development so I want to grow as an artist. Sometimes I would like to speed up the process but, I guess one needs to be patient.
Polly: If you could try your hand at another medium or genre what would it be and why?
Oliver: I do try oil and watercolor and I love to work with wood. I did some portraits, painted ships and I even painted dogs and cats (commissions). I do not want to be restricted to seascapes and landscapes but this is what challenges me artistically at the moment. After all I believe that it does not matter what you paint. There are everywhere similar challenges to overcome. But I think portaits could be something for me in the future.
Himmel uber dem Ijsselmeer. 50 x 70cm. Pastel. 2014.
Seagull at the Beach. 50 x 70cm. Pastel. 2012.
Polly: I’m curious to know, in your professional opinion; what constitutes as a good piece of art?
Oliver: A good piece of art to me is a painting, a sculptor or whatever that touches me. Do I feel something by looking at it? This sounds profane but I think it is not. I try not to jugde other peoples artwork but I can say what I like and what not.
Anse de Sainte-Croix. 50 x 70cm. Pastel. 2014.
Anse de Sainte-Croix. 50 x 70cm. Pastel. 2014.
Polly: If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Oliver: Vincent van Gogh. I just read a scientific biography by Christoph Arnold about him of more than 1000 pages. It is obvious that his family bended the truth after his death. Many letters he wrote or which he received are lost allegedly. It was understandable that his family and friends tried to put themselves into a positive light shortly after his death. But I think nowadays the truth would be helpful in understanding his art. And although this biography was well researched the conclusions were not always convincing to me as an artist. So although Vincent van Gogh would probably have eaten little with his sensitive stomach the conversation would have been very interesting to me.
Polly: Who has been the greatest support to you as an artist and how?
Oliver: My father-in-law who was a real friend to me. Unfortunately he died two years ago. He talked to me a lot about my art and life in general. He was a pastor at the Lutheran Church in Reading, PA. He rode a Harley-Davidson, played many instruments and was a piece of art by himself considering the tatoos he had. He taught me to be self-confident about my art and this was perhaps the most important lesson I learned. Self-criticism is to me the most important skill an artist should have during the painting process. But once your painting is done this has to stop which was not easy for me to learn.
Polly: Tell us what your thoughts are on being an artist and what has been the most challenging thing?
Oliver: The most challenging thing was to realize what I want to do in life. Which is being an artist. Especially as my biography is not the one of an ordinary artist. My income was reliable and secure. And now I am on my way into uncertainty. Even people who do like my art do not comprehend the step I am taking at the moment. And this although my sales figures are rising constantly. It is something one has to come to terms with oneself. But I am looking forward to it. Painting gives my great pleasure. I love the whole process and I am very satisfied once a painting is finished. Two years ago I started to conduct workshops to see whether I do like to teach painting and from September onwards I will be teaching some evening classes. And yes I do like it and people are appreciating my intuitions. But nevertheless teaching needs to be on top or next to painting.
Oliver Kohls with his pastels.
Polly: What words of wisdom would you offer to young and aspiring artists?
Oliver: Does this question mean I am no longer young and aspiring? No kidding: Trust yourself artistically, go and create! And don't be frustrated by denial. If you want to be successful economically it all comes down to non-artistic skills like marketing, planning and communication. If you get the right balance and if you really enjoy to create it will work out.
A Simple Wave, 17.5 x 85cm. Pastel. 2014.
Polly: Thank you so much for your time Oliver! And lastly, is there anything else you would like to share with us about you and or your art?
Oliver: I want to thank you for interviewing me. I hope the people who are reading this interview enjoy my answers. If by coincidence someone from the art community out there thinks my art is okay and could imagine some sort of cooperation I am up for it. Have a look at my website www.oliverkohls.com (it is in German and English) to see my paintings and contact me per email at email@example.com. Thank you!
Polly: Again, thank you, so much Oliver for your insightful interview and for sharing your work with us. I wish you the very best with your artistic life and endeavors in the future!!
And thank you to my followers for reading Oliver Kohls wonderful interview. Please feel free to leave a comment below.
Cheers, ~ Polly ~
To learn more about Oliver Kohls and to see his work please visit his web-site, blog and Facebook page.