To peer into the collages of Jörn Philipp Sohlmann is to walk into a fable. Suggestions of stories emerge: a young boy communes with a black bear, a spiral staircase ascends from a forest floor while a woman sprouts mushrooms like a plane ejecting propellers. Childlike wonder is essential for entering a world set aglow with butterflies, fauna, wildlife and other sentient beings. Collage Corner is pleased to present the gentle artist, poet and musician.
VV.: Jörn, how are you? I’ve been following you on Instagram for quite awhile now. When I first approached you last winter, you were finalizing a new series. How has that gone?
JPS.: I am good, thank you. I hope you are fine as well! Yes, a few months ago, I was actually thinking to be nearly finished with a (as I then thought) small series of new collages. But the whole idea has grown to a bigger project. I am also working on bigger formats now and the collages are getting more complex than initially planned. It is a series of dense landscapes that center on the image of the river or creek as a kind of stage for exploration of the unconscious, of time and of our disturbed connection to the wild. I will probably be working on it all year long…
VV.: In light of the current climate, and the impact of the coronavirus, Germany is rolling out a staggering $54 billion in emergency grants for freelancers, cultural workers and artists. Were you aware of that?
JPS.: Yes, I think there are indeed 50 billion EUR that have been provided for small and micro entrepreneurs from all economic sectors, to help them out during this crisis. If I get it right, artists can only apply for it, if their art is their main income. But it is still a very good and important step in my opinion. Of course it is really tough right now for all kinds of entrepreneurs, who exclusively depend on that income.
VV.: Were you always a visual artist?
JPS.: I fell heavily in love with music as a young adult and especially between the ages of twenty and thirty, music was the center of my life. But then over time, visual art took over and became my main focus.
VV.: A few other artists I have interviewed – Sam Donaldson, Michael Matos – have made their roots in music. What was it about the visual arts that made you transition from one medium to the other?
JPS.: I played guitar in a band called “bambikonzept” for a few years. It was a very important project for me. When we broke up in 2014, that marked the end of an era for me. After playing in bands for about 10 years straight, a lot of my routine changed. I was very sad the band split up, but I was also happy to suddenly have a lot more time for other stuff – like collage. I soon began to collect lots and lots of magazines and books, started to rip all of them apart and to create an organized collection of already cut-out collage elements. So for the following years, I actually did not really work on too much art – I mostly worked on a good basis, on my material. Last summer I moved to a new place and now I am just beginning to really harvest fruit for the first time, being able to work a lot faster, more focused and with a new sense of play.
VV.: Please tell me about “Parangartirunajo”
JPS.: “Parangartirunajo“ is an EP that was released in 2011. It features some of my very first self-produced recordings from 2007 (I made my first collage the same year). I designed the artwork in cooperation with a good friend of mine. With one exception, I created the artworks for all my records myself. From time to time, I do that for other artists as well. Just recently, for example, I created the artworks for the new singles and the new EP from FRAU – a very interesting Band from Copenhagen.
VV.: I was overcome by the joy that infused your work; There’s a touch of musicality. Would I be far off to infer Stuart Davis or Wassily Kandinsky?
JPS.: They have not been directly influential for my work, but I definitely like the melodic energy of their paintings. A very interesting perspective actually – I never thought about those parallels.
Slide 2: "What do you want from the boy" (2016) Paper collage 21.5 x 24.5 cm.
Permission given by the artist.
VV.: Describe your process for making collage?
JPS.: It depends on the piece. Sometimes, as in “What do you want from the boy” and “Room 1″, I start with an image of a room or a landscape, which I use as a kind of stage…I [rotate] the image around by 90 or 180 degrees and attempt to find “a new room” or “a new scenery” which I then alter in many ways – mostly with an illustrious collection of figures and things. In my new works, I build up big landscapes from many smaller images. Besides that, I make more clean and minimal collages as well, like in my ongoing series “Gegen das Alltagsgrau”, which shows surreal scenes with black and white figures, in some cases, even just one figure, on a plain grey background. Sometimes, the process is more composition, sometimes more at play. At other times, it becomes abstract. I paint as well – mostly with acrylics – and mix that with collage.
"Chance and curiosity are...fundamentals in my creative process."
VV.: Has your approach changed since you first began?
JPS.: Yes and no. Chance and curiosity are still fundamentals in my creative process, but composition has become more important as well. Besides that, painting is getting increasingly interesting for me and the formats I am working on are slowly but surely getting bigger.
VV.: Do you have a favorite piece or series of collages?
JPS.: I really enjoy collages like “What do you want from the boy”, because it plays with narration in a way that is entertaining to me. This is something which interests me a lot at the moment – to create different narratives within one image – but without really telling a story. The works in progress of the new series adapt a lot from some of the smaller formats I have made over the years; playing with fragments of stories and..familiar images overgrown by very unfamiliar settings. I also like a series I made in December 2014 called “Simsala Bimbala”. Made up of sixty-four small paper collages, [the series is composed of]…black and white [images], but with colorful alterations of only the heads of most figures. Making those was a lot of fun!
VV.: “Flusseinwärts oder Die Tiefen der Trekkingpfade” (2020) is a marked contrast from “Room I” (2016) in terms of tone and attitude. Certainly, time has elapsed. One piece is somber while the other “at play”. The approach is even painterly, no? Even “Drunter und drüber im Garten der F” (2017) suggests kinetic movement. ”Flusseinwärts oder …” is full of texture. May you describe how you arrived at these? Did the new decade signal a new vision?
"Flusseinwärts oder Die Tiefen der Trekkingpfade represents...a new starting point."
JPS.: Maybe you are right. I think the new decade does indeed open a new chapter of my way. “Flusseinwärts oder…” is a pretty bustling image, playing colours with the topics of psychedelics, traveling and romance, but for me, it represents more of a transition stage than a new starting point. “Room 1”, on the other hand, focuses on space and on feeling. It is just a quiet work. Both represent directions I like – just like folk music and garage rock – I love them both!
VV.: How is the work of artists significant in the days that we now live?
JPS.: I think the work of artists can always become important to people, when they develop a connection with it. Art can definitely be comforting and exciting at the same time. Especially if it can inspire one to create something interesting for themselves. That is maybe most important these days, with so many people stuck at home: the chance for everyone to rediscover the artist in themselves. Like all children are artists, all parents are too, even all those who forgot it. Art is a good way to process emotions and thoughts. Maybe now is the moment to give it a chance to dance again.
VV.: Jörn, I couldn’t help but notice that your poetry carries the same spirit as your collages. You came out with a book of verse a year ago, no? May you please share with us a verse of poetry?
JPS.: Actually I am still working on that poetry collection as well. I hope to finish it soon. It will be completely in german though. But sometimes I write in english too. Here is a little poem from a few years ago – just to give you an impression.
The title is “And Then Again. It’s Now”
Have you ever heard of the wild winds on empty staircases, leading to the rush of mornings outside? I was born for a reason. I will fly like books into the hearts of children, will crawl onto beaches after years of swimming. Let me dance once more. And then again. And again.
I will send you letters as long as you embrace the chaos of your ideas. I love to see you, when you’re not so well dressed, country style, with sun in your hair. The time has come for us to move. There is a garden awaiting our arrival. There is a song, written for us and we seem to be the only ones in the whole damn country who haven’t heard it yet.
All those wild horses you draw, when you’re daydreaming, they will find paths that do not yet exist. Maybe today is the day that changes everything forever.