BY THE POWER OF COLOUR! In an interview with Manuela Rathje.

BY ANDRÉ CHAHIL Photo © Juliane Ruesbueldt  ☞ Article in german.

Mrs. Rathje, you work artistically as a painter and have a studio for art mediation and give painting courses. But before all this became the focus of your work, you were professionally based elsewhere. How would you describe the transformation in your biography?

I think at this point the comparison with the fat bumblebee fits well. She doesn’t know that she can’t actually fly and still does. I didn’t know what I was capable of. I could not either. What potential there is in a person, this is really unbelievable. I have learned immensely over the last four years of my work as a freelance artist. It took me by surprise that my paintings are so popular and appreciated by so many people. It is only gradually that I realize the form of enthusiasm that I trigger.

The banking world is not very creative and it is always about the one goal that has to be achieved. I believe that this is partly necessary, but not very humane and innovative. After my first job as a draftswoman, I switched to the bank – that was in 1982 when there was a construction crisis. I thought they would locate me there in the real estate segment because of my training, and use my expertise for building conversions, etc. I was a construction draughtswoman in my first job. Instead, I immediately ended up in a branch where I worked for 13 years. I then completed my training as a savings bank woman, completed many internal training courses, always dealt with people and ultimately managed a branch, which in turn involved personnel management. And suddenly after 28 years my body went on strike! I didn’t really want to see it, but it became so violent that I stayed away from work for more than a year. I thought in all seriousness during this time that someone else was living my life, so rooted I seemed with my job. Consequently, in 2012 I announced my intention to become an „Atelierista“ and to create my own studio. My husband supported me all the time, even if it wasn’t always easy for him. Our personal environment changed and for most of our friends I was suddenly a stranger. What then also resulted in some breaks, that already hurt. Today I am so grateful about this development and the „flying as a bumblebee“.

A leap into self-employment as an active artist and designer of this kind requires a lot of courage, strength, diligence and ultimately a spark of faith in one’s own work. Herewith you address in particular potential artists who would like to implement this step as well. Do you have valuable advice from your experience that you could give to others?

I like to connect topics, people and their work with each other, I do a lot of further education and training in order to always develop myself further. I like to try out many different things and new paths are always opening up. At the beginning of my founding period, which is usually referred to as three years, I attended many events to see which additional parts I could take up in my studio. For example, in 2016 I was an actor at the german Landesgartenschau and also in the summer for the Stadtpark Norderstedt event, as an actor for art in nature. There I was able to give children and young people the opportunity to experience the effect of LandART. Then there was the economic side, a business start-up seminar in Kiel. Although I was convinced that I did not need such a seminar due to my almost thirty years of banking experience, I nevertheless decided in favour of it and did not regret it at all. It was exhausting, yet worthwhile. Thus I got a lot of knowledge from the beginning, which I use for my independence today. I have also built up a good network over the years and I am always open minded in dealing with my participants in the studio. I enjoy watching people grow, accompanying them a bit and being able to pass on my knowledge. The people feel the enthusiasm and the authenticity. I think this is something very elementary important! 

Your works and subjects are charged with powerful colours. Where do you get your inspiration from? Is there a recognizable pattern in your world of ideas?

I let myself be guided very much by nature and especially in autumn, I feel that I prefer warm red tones for my art. The sun still warms a little and at the same time you can feel a touch of coolness. It is exactly the same with my paintings. The power, the departure, the warming, the peace, the softness. I love the change of the seasons and thus also the change between the departure, the liveliness of nature and times of rest. What impresses me just as much are the cities and their architecture. That’s why I use my photographs as collages in my pictures. For example, I was in Wolfsburg, Dresden, Berlin and Zurich in 2016. The photographs of the Zeithaus (automobile museum) in Wolfsburg taken there can be recognizable seen in my work „Karla“. The pictures from Berlin and Zurich in „Mr. Pepper“ and the photos from Dresden in „Marlene“.

KARLA | Mixed technique, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm 2016 © Manuela Rathje

In detail: I would like to talk about the painting „Blue“. We look at a bull in the subject. It looks at the recipient in a direct way. The softly nuanced colour gradients and the colours, otherwise used untypically for a bull, lend this mighty animal a special dignity. You have given this animal an aura that literally speaks from the inside with an expressionistic feathering. I have the feeling that I will have to completely rethink about mass animal husbandry and meat consumption. All topics of current debates in our society. Do you consciously adopt an attitude towards nature and sustainability? Or does my interpretation lead purely by chance to this topic?

For me nature and environment, humans and animals are thematically important! We live only as visitors on this planet and therefore I think, we should do everything for it, so that following generations can continue to exist. I want to be listened, mediate with my pictures. Especially when it comes to people, animals and injustices. One of my next paintings will be a polar bear, I still wait for the right mood, which I would like to catch for it. The polar bear will then be an ambassador for climate change. 

With „Blue“ the bison (european bison) something special happened, which never happened to me before while painting. On the one hand, painting this work was easy to me. On the other hand, I had an immense reverence for the animal. Achieving an awareness of sustainability through painting is one of the pillars of my work at Atelier Manou.  Through my work, I can move a lot and give the viewer a different approach. When the viewer thinks about the picture and its contents, as in the work „white gold“ about the ivory trade, I have already reached my goal, for example. Also my two pictures for the theme evening „satt ist nicht genug“ with Brot für die Welt, Edeka and the Geschmaxpiraten, a project for Ethiopia , were thematically addressed to sustainability. Therefore I made the two children’s pictures „Caven“ and „Tesfaye“. Among other things, a theme was water. It was also a global and important topic for me personally.

BLUE | Acrylic on canvas, 140 x 100 cm 2017 © Manuela Rathje

In addition, you are also very active for charity projects. Which projects do you support?

One of the current projects is entitled „Creative Young People“. This is about children and young people from social, let’s say somewhat weaker milieus. I finance the project continuously all year, this by image sales and art calendar campaigns. The proceeds are donated to the project, so that I can make it possible for the group to hold workshops in the studio throughout the year. This project is the result of working for an art project at some schools in Rendsburg, Germany. I was able to experience how the children and young people enthusiastically implemented these art projects. There are young people who don’t have any possibilities to find a space for their own creative development and often it fails because of the budget. For example, I invited five young people to my studio for a workshop. The second project is entitled „satt ist nicht genug“. This just premiered and is a cooperation with Mr. Nolte from „Brot für die Welt“, Mr. Hauschildt, the owner of two Edeka markets and Mr. Bracker from „Geschmaxpiraten“. The proceeds from this art auction on the theme of Ethiopia were also donated. I am currently looking for a charity project that reflects my relationship to humans and animals.

Theme event „satt ist nicht genug“ about sustainability in Ethiopia. Auction of the work „With Confidence“ (print) for a women’s project. Manuela Rathje with Torsten Nolte from „Brot für die Welt“, Edeka owner Marco Hauschildt and Jan Bracker from „Geschmaxpiraten“, Germany 2017. | Photo © Katja Buhlmann

Theory of colours, painting techniques and therapeutic approaches. Sometimes there is a fluent transition of these concepts in painting and design courses. The people who visit your „Atelier Manou“, what can your visitors look forward to?

It is very important to me that the person who comes to my studio feels comfortable. In my courses the groups are different and everyone is integrated! My way of working is strongly influenced by art education. This means that I work very impulsively, promote strengths, do not evaluate and proceed in a process-oriented way. Each participant may and should be perceived as an individual! Often it is only a matter of courage and trust. Enthusiasm is always a helpful motivator and finally it is important that YOU get connected to your own painting.

Do you have a nice anecdote from your life as an artist?

Two years ago I exhibited at the Hospizinitiative in Neumünster (Germany) for a museum event. The finissage to my exhibition was accompanied musically by the artist Reiner Bublitz by singing and guitar. Reiner dedicated a song to me, which is about the painter Vincent van Gogh. That touched me very much. I promised him to call my next work „Vincent“. Through this piece of work, I have found the breakthrough to my own style. This work has brought me a lot of luck to this day!

ATELIER MANOU | Insights into painting courses of Manuela Rathje | Photo © Manuela Rathje

If you could name personalities from classical art history or certain works that have influenced your own style. Whom or which work should we remember, think of?

There are some works that appeal to me in a special way. For example „The Kiss“ by Gustav Klimt or „Café Terrace in the Evening“ by Vincent van Gogh. The colours appeal to me in the first place, for van Gogh it is the colouring. It’s the mood and the brush stroke that I find so exciting because it’s so small. In Klimt’s work, it is the composition of portrait and the garment depicted that is composed of so many individual elements into a complete work. From contemporary art I like the colorful works of the Austrian painter VOKA very much. In essence, I have developed something from each workshop and internalized it for my own style. Because it is precisely this circumstance that describes my happiness not to be preshaped. Personally, I find it extremely uninteresting to copy a style completely.

THE KISS (originally „The Lovers“). Gustav Klimt, oil on canvas, 180 x 180 cm, 1908/1909 | © Collection of Austrian Gallery Belvedere, Inv.-Nr. 912.

What will the artist Rathje do in 10 years? 

What will I be doing in 10 years? Painting as a matter of course! I’m already looking forward to what pictures will look like later, because the development never stops. Since my works already enjoy such great popularity, I am curious where I will exhibit. Maybe more abroad … Stockholm or Vienna? I would like to travel to many more cities and bring my inspirations to the canvas. I would also like to continue offering courses and workshops. This of course as long as I enjoy it, support the participants and can accompany you on your way.

Which upcoming project can the art world look forward to at the moment?

I am particularly looking forward to exhibiting at the Kieler Kaufmann, a five star hotel in Germany. One of the most beautiful romantic hotels in the whole north. On 07.11.2017 at 18:30h, the curtain will fall: Vernissage of the exhibition „Powerfully“.  It was also a challenge for me, as the hotel has only been rebuilt some time ago and the interior designers have done an impressive job. The hotel has its very own charm. And since the traditional and the new elements are in harmony, my works complement this address in a complementary way. In any case, the exhibition location has something special for me. And I know that my paintings will feel very safe and will look good in this environment.

Mrs. Rathje, thank you very much for the intimate and very emotional insight into the world of your colours! I wish you a successful exhibition and that you will reach many more people through the positive power of your work.


Andre chahil

Art & Critique | Interviews | Boulevard

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