Collage artist Petra Zehner discusses her experience adapting her life and art practice during the pandemic with Esthetic Lens. She candidly opens up about the struggles it has caused but shares the hopeful optimism that keeps her motivated.
1. How are you holding up?
The past nine months have been an emotional roller coaster. There was a lot of anger at the consistently inconsistent measures taken by astoundingly incompetent governments all over the world, frustration, disappointment, denial, and a growing anxiety about the future. Some of it is thankfully [?] slowly replaced by resignation and fatalism (those things are unpleasant but still better than anger). I myself am holding up quite well. I have health insurance, a home, and am not at risk of losing any of that anytime soon. But months of helplessly watching more and more things fall apart all around me – careers, businesses, institutions, relationships – is taking its toll. That said, I am also hopeful and optimistic for the (hopefully not too far off) future. I think we are all more resilient than we may feel at the moment. We just need to make it to the point where we can start to rebuild without the constant threat of new restrictions hanging above us.
2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?
On a practical level, a lot of projects for this year had to be postponed at first, and now most likely won’t happen at all. While new work opportunities are very, very slowly coming up again, solely artistic or creative projects (like exhibitions, artist meet-ups, or workshops) are still on hold. On a personal level, this enforced break gave me time to pursue things I usually wouldn’t have time for. Still very much in the realm of collage and illustration though. So there is a silver lining. I’m trying to stay away from the pressure of constant self-improvement some people seem to be putting themselves under. I get the notion. I was very briefly tempted to learn something entirely new too, like playing the guitar, or to finally read every unread book in my library, but in the end decided against it. It looks like we are going to be in this for much longer than initially anticipated, so just to find the energy and creativity and motivation to continue to work on a regular basis may soon become difficult enough.
3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?
Anything I’ve added to my practice? No, I don’t think there is. Not that I can tell at this point at least. I do believe that we tend to focus on and overestimate short-term, and to under-estimate long-term consequences though. So ask me again in a couple of years.
It was easy to ignore or deny in summer, but we are still very much in the middle of this pandemic. Here in Europe, we are looking at a very, very long and potentially very confined winter. I’m an introvert and don’t mind being and working on my own. Or so I thought. Because even I am starting to be scared at the thought of another nine months (dark and cold ones this time) of this. I miss social interactions, easy access to people, art, culture, and subsequently inspiration and ideas. So it’s not that I added anything to my practice, but that I noticed a part of my practice that I had underestimated and/or taken for granted. And I intend to cultivate it more in the future.
4. Of the artists you follow, who’s handling this particularly well?
Some are handling this better than others, but I have yet to meet someone who is handling it particularly well.
I am a German collage artist, illustrator, and graphic designer based in Paris, France.
After studying literature and linguistics in Berlin, and graphic design and marketing in London, and after many years of a rather nomadic life, shuttling back and forth between Europe, Southeast Asia, and North America, I now work and live in Paris.
My first love was (and always will be) words, with art coming in a close second, chronologically speaking, as I discovered it only thanks to being able to read about it.
After leaving Germany, I started to experiment with writing, photography, illustration, and graphic design until I discovered collage as the medium that combines it all and works for me.
I am currently working as a freelance artist and graphic designer, and I run Paris Collage Collective, a small, international collage community that aims to encourage creative expression and collaboration.
My collages are done using both analog and digital techniques. Some are exclusively analog, but the majority is a mix of both. Analog elements are either manipulated by hand, scanned, and then assembled digitally. Or they are scanned as is, manipulated, AND assembled digitally. There are parts that are done entirely digitally. And then there are collages that are prints of digital work but finished by hand with analog elements. The collage world is still very much divided into analog and digital artists, and from what I can tell, there are not many who do both (even though the number is growing). While I don’t mind sharing my general approach to collage making, I like remaining vague about individual pieces, which part is done how, etc. I don’t think one technique is more difficult and therefore worth more than the other. And using both strikes me as closest to current life and therefore most representative. Our lives are moving more and more into the digital realm but there still are and always will be analog elements to it. So mixing both digital and analog elements in art, with the transitions often nearly impossible to spot, and also/therefore ultimately irrelevant, suits me well.