Catch Up: Cultural Inspiration in Interview with Kathrin Kuhn

It was a couple of years ago that Kathrin Kuhn’s fashion collages first enchanted us with their beguiling glamour and sophistication. Since then, her work has expanded both aesthetically and conceptually, painting her worlds in finer detail and finding inspiration in the diversity of the cultures around her.

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Above: from the mentioned ‘Hijab’ series

While the backdrops to her constructed characters are now littered with intriguing narrative elements, the initial inspiration for the character designs often come from the new communities she has found herself living alongside.

In our conversation with Kathrin, she talks about the change in the use of her materials, her interest in other areas of design, and how personal and social shifts have helped to drive her artwork forward.

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Above: from the mentioned ‘Insomnia’ series

For those new to your work, please tell us about yourself and the stages you go through to create your images.

I am an illustrator based in Berlin, I mostly do digital collages and mixed-media art. I work for magazines and fashion brands, lately I have done some art direction for Look- books, where I put the photographs of the models into the setting of my collage world.

It is a very versatile way to tell a story and create a certain look. I use pieces of magazines, old books, cartoons… and also more and more photos I take myself.

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Above: from the mentioned ‘Hijab’ series

How has your creative process and use of materials evolved since we last spoke if at all?

I still scan a lot, but I don’t keep so many books and magazines anymore. I like having my material digitally on a hard drive.

As my archive is growing, I have become less dependent on external images and recently I have started to make more and more pieces myself, either I draw them by hand, photograph them, or build them in Illustrator/Photoshop.

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Above: from the mentioned ‘S.O.L.’ series

It seems that you’ve expanded your focus from figures and their clothing to include a broader range of detail in the scenes in general. Can you tell us about the thoughts that lead to steering your work in that direction?

I am intrigued with creating a world for my characters. The great fashion illustrator Li- selotte Watkins once said that she invents a background story for her ‘girls’ in order to make them appear like they have a real life.

That’s why my second passion is interior and architecture. I am trying to put my figures into worlds that fit them. Fashion always goes together with its surrounding, the stage. The effect of fashion can be enhanced or diminished by the setting.

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The starting point of an image is often an atmosphere I want to create. For example, in the ‘S.O.L.’ series, I wanted to have this heavy, sun-soaked August light, combined with a look that you can sometimes find on the orange-tinted snapshots that your parent’s made of each other in the seventies, long before you were born.

Or, the series ‘Insom- nia’; the starting point for that came from my sudden obsession in neon signs at night, this deeply urban feeling of the humming city that surrounds you, and protects you, and never sleeps, which I find very comforting, when I can’t find sleep myself.

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Above: from the mentioned ‘Hijab’ series

Is there anything that has particularly inspired the developments in your work?

Last autumn I moved from a very touristy, hipster part of town to a more rough area, and it inspires me a lot. Here, the people dress differently, they obey other rules, they don’t try to look like fashion bloggers.

You see more people seeming effortlessly off-center, and I like that.

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Also, here you see headscarves on the women, they are also worn by the young muslim women who were born and raised here, and I have a feeling that some of them want to send a message for a more liberal way of dealing with this religion, for a more modern interpretation of it.

I see that as a positive message, especially in the light of the current discussion about refugees that we have in Europe. It is definitely possible to have several religions and lifestyles coexist peacefully. I see it every day. That’s why I made a series of fashion illustrations with headscarfs, called ‘Hijab’.

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Is there anything else you are working on besides your photo-based work?

As an exercise for myself, I have started an Instagram project for which I am drawing. It’s called ‘Girls and Apes’. And, well, it is about girls and apes.

I have become obsessed with this weird topic for some reason, I started quiet innocently when I produced a drawing for a drawing contest.

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The topic was free. For some mysterious reason, the girl and the gorilla appeared in my head and wanted to come to life. The drawing was rejected, probably because it was too cheeky. But I still find it pretty fantastic and I want to show more girls with their monkeys, give a voice to them, show that they are not alone and that it’s okay to love your monkey.

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© Kathrin Kuhn, 2016

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