The natural world is magical, mysterious and ultimately unknowable. The Garden of Eden is the original metaphor for being, that unimaginable paradise from which humans were banished but seem always to seek to return to, perhaps like the Romantics who sought the sublime in nature. More recently, science has revealed captivating mysteries about the natural world. Trees in a forest communicate and share resources through a complex mycorrhizal network of interconnected roots and fungi. In the deepest reaches of the ocean, clusters of tiny organisms flourish around thermal jets and metre-high corals grow that are thousands of years old. Since the earliest ages, nature has compelled and terrified humans. Cologne-based artist Mevlana Lipp is deeply fascinated by the natural world in its pure state, as well as in the space it occupies in the human imagination. To Mevlana, the curling tendril of a vine, the rounded form of a seed pod or the gentle swaying feathers of a crinoid become signifiers of complex sets of emotions and experiences, communicated in a language outside of human linguistic codes. Part semiotic metaphor part primordial creatures from the deep, the organic organisms in Mevlana’s artwork reach out across time and consciousness to whisper about where all things began. The mesmerizing relief forms in Mevlana’s paintings float against deep black velvet backgrounds that are impenetrable and unknowable. But therein lies the appeal.
AMM: Hi Mevlana! Can you tell us what life events triggered your interest to study art? What have been the highs and lows of your artistic journey?
ML: I grew up in a creative household. My father is an artist himself, therefore it was natural for me to see and make art. The idea to study art solidified after my graduation from school. I began to study art and philosophy, but soon decided to concentrate entirely on art.
I try not to divide my career into ups and downs. Looking back, I have always been able to learn something from the challenges I have encountered so far. Sometimes it was hard, but the only thing that helped me was to carry on.
AMM: What ideas are you currently exploring in your art?
ML: The first people millions of years ago. In my current reliefs I depict plant-like creatures in a prehistoric space that embody feelings and communicate with each other. The interactions between these beings are not driven by thoughts but are purely emotional and instinctual. Although these concepts underlie all my works, each one creates an individual atmosphere.
Often this atmosphere is not completely fixed. Whereas in some works themes such as tenderness, closeness and sexuality are clearly emphasized, in others the interaction shown is characterized by ambiguity or suitability. These themes are deeply rooted in human nature and concern us today just as they did in the past.
AMM: How does your work connect with your personal history?
ML: I grew up in a very small village surrounded by nature. About 80 people lived there back then. I spent most of my time playing with other children in the forest. Biology already interested me a lot at that time. For a long time I wanted to become a biologist or animal filmmaker. I remember that my first self bought book was about mushrooms. This fascination for nature in all its diversity has left its mark on me since then. The complexity of biological connections often appears like magic to me. These impressions are closely interwoven with my work.
AMM: The floral features in your work visually seem to take on a 3-d form, looking as though they stand alone as sculptural shapes within the contrast of the deep black on the background. What comes first in your work – sculpture or painting?
ML: I’m actually a sculptor. Recently, I devoted myself more and more to relief and developed an approach to painting. At this point I can no longer separate the two. That’s why the answer should be: Both.
AMM: In your recent first solo show ‘Eden’ at Krupic Kersting Galerie in Cologne earlier this year you were exploring the idea of ‘paradise within creation’ referring to the remnants of ancient times such as the Stone Age. Could you expand on your chosen topic?
ML: I chose the exhibition title because the world I depict in my reliefs embodies a place of longing for me. If one follows the Christian tradition, paradise is the place where life, especially human kind, was created. In my current work I try to offer a new concept of the Garden of Eden that is perhaps closer to biological reality. The first life arose in the deep sea near volcanic springs.
The plant creatures in my reliefs float in a timeless black space and evolve into different forms. Sometimes they take the shapes of hands that are half consciously exploring their environment and thus can already represent a further step on the evolution scale.
In the exhibition Eden I also showed sculptures for the first time. These were based on fossils from an abstract stone age. While I see my reliefs as portals into a long past time of creation, the sculptures were conceived as a kind of fossil that has survived until today.
AMM: The idea of ‘deep sea creatures’ really comes across in your recent work. The illuminating abstract curved shapes remind us of a mysterious and mesmerising basic form of life, yet within their beauty there is a sense of unknown. What do you hope viewers take away from your work?
ML: Actually, I don’t try to think about it that much anymore. I just try to share what concerns and touches me. I learned in the last few years that I create the best work by staying as close to myself as possible. It’s not always easy, but I’m getting better and better.
AMM: Bearing in mind your interest in nature what are your thoughts on climate change?
ML: Climate-change is probably the greatest challenge our generation faces. Sooner or later the dramatic consequences will affect all of us, no matter where we live or how big our bank account is. Therefore, it is important to change our behavior now both politically and privately. I try to bring more awareness into my everyday life. Every purchase can be a decision for or against the climate. On closer inspection I discover many things that can easily be altered without paying a hefty price.
AMM: You seem to have a fascination with bold gradient tones and neon colours, which give your compositions a very sharp and distinct look. How do these colour choices support the thinking behind your work?
ML: The colours are inspired by creatures of the deep sea. In a sphere without sunlight, the bioluminescent colours are used for communication, hunting or reproduction. In my current work they have a similar function. They create atmospheres and tell stories, they communicate with the viewer and each other.
AMM: Was there a particular reason why you chose to work with wood and velvet materials? Are there any new mediums you plan to incorporate in your work?
ML: Since I come from sculpturing I’m experienced working with wood. I know how to handle it and like the natural material with its small imperfections. I came across velvet while searching for a material capable of absorbing light and creating an illusion of infinite depth. I used mother-of-pearl in one of my latest works and I’m intending to use it more often now. Last but not least, I have recently started to dye velvet myself. Thus, I can create brighter colors which act as backgrounds in some of my new works.
AMM: Did any particular art movements or artists influence your work? What are your sources of inspiration?
ML: Georgia O’Keeffe, Hilma af Klint, Henri Rousseau, Henri Matisse, Meret Oppenheim just to name a few artists I admire. My biggest inspiration is probably nature itself. I love to visit gardens, greenhouses and aquariums. The storage of my phone is always packed because I take so many photos there.
AMM: Over the years your compositions have developed a more fluid, softer and gentle appearance. What influenced this change?
ML: Actually, I’m not quite sure. What I know is that my work grows and changes with me. I’m turning 30 this year and have the feeling that many questions in my life are slowly clearing up. The last 5 years have been marked by many changes and accordingly my work has changed a lot.
AMM: You have previously intimated that the ideas for your work are influenced by a desire to escape the obligations and constraints of today’s society. How do your physical surroundings influence your process of work? How would you describe your ideal place of escape?
ML: The place where I work plays an important role for me. To be able to concentrate I need a relatively quiet place and time for myself alone. Nevertheless I appreciate the possibility to exchange with other artists without leaving the studio house. In this respect I am very satisfied with my current studio-situation. In the long run I would like to have a studio in the midst of nature. A place where you can live and work, but which also has a good connection to the city. As I draw most of my inspiration from nature itself, this would probably be my ideal refuge.
AMM: What does a typical day in your studio look like?
ML: I usually arrive at my studio in the morning, have a coffee and water my plants. After that I start painting, drawing or cutting. At lunchtime I meet up with artist friends from the same studio-building. We often cook together or go out for dinner. Afterwards I usually work until the evening. I really enjoy the regularity of this routine.
AMM: What do you value most as an artist?
ML: The freedom to shape my days on my own, the opportunity to earn my living with something that really fulfills me and the huge variety in creating my work.
AMM: What do you do if you happen to find yourself at an artistic standstill?
ML: In first instance I keep working and bin what doesn’t turn out well until I’m back in my flow. If it doesn’t help I take a day off and try not to think about it. Afterwards things often clarify on their own. Sometimes I’m too close and distance is the only thing that offers a solution. Over the years I have developed a feeling which method is the most promising.
AMM: In which ways do popular and social culture influence your work?
ML: I don’t consciously draw my inspiration from pop or social culture. Nevertheless, I am part of a society, which is shaped by popular and social culture. The influence is certainly there but not intentionally chosen.
AMM: What is your personal relationship to social media? How does it affect your creative process? Are there any blogs or websites that you find particularly inspirational?
ML: I’ve been using instagram for a few years now. For me it’s a great way to show my work to a wider audience while staying up to date. It’s great to be able to connect with so many artists worldwide and have interesting exchanges. At the same time I notice the strong pressure that social media can create and the challenges it poses. I try to maintain balance and keep my inner distance.
The longing for a place in nature where one can escape the visibility and demands of today’s world and the simultaneous desire for contact and intellectual exchange is probably reflected in my ambivalent relationship to social media.
I find many instagram accounts interesting and am fascinated to be shown unknown positions again and again. To name a few on instagram: the_art_estate; painterspaintingpaintings; artmazemag ; and yngspc.
AMM: When not creating how do you enjoy spending your time?
ML: With friends, spend time in nature, cook, listen to podcasts, read and watch series.
AMM: What’s next for you on the horizon?
ML: My solo exhibition ‘Basic Instinct’ runs until 20.07.19 in the ak-raum in Cologne.
Up next are group exhibitions in London and Klagenfurt.
Find out more about the artist: www.mevlana-lipp.com
Interview by Maria Zemtsova, text by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Magazine.