In order to understand Rotraut’s art, we first need to grasp her life as a whole, both its fixed coordinates and its intercontinental movements: from her birth in Germany, just before the war, to the blossoming of her work in her studio in Paradise Valley, near Phoenix Arizona, via Australia, where she also has family ties. We need to understand the inspiration for the emotions and impulses that drive her forward.
As a young girl in stricken postwar Germany, Rotraut lived on a farm. There, the experience of working in the fields was decisive. In a text on the artist for Galeries Magazine (December 1987-January 1988), Pierre Restany wrote: “Her oneness with nature and sense of universal harmony are based on the balance of physical energy and awareness of effort. Conscious of space through energy but also through time, Rotraut has retained her sensitivity to the seasonal alternations of life in the countryside and to its magic rites. Even today, whenever there is a full moon, she makes a ‘galaxy,’ a big gestural and spatial composition that comes to her instinctively, all in one go. That is how she takes hold of space in order to ‘sow stars’.”
Another thing that Rotraut has kept from her childhood in the country is her almost mystical attachment to the earth: “I love the earth like a mother,” she told Gilbert Brownstone. I can take it in my hands and feel it, touch it with my feet. Through my love of the earth, I gather energies, I concentrate them, I let them run through my body. I grew up with nature and in nature. Nature is my home. I can feel the elements, like life itself.
“In the early days, I wanted to kiss the earth, to paint only one picture. And paintings came out of me like pigeons taking wing. This single painting is one that I am constantly making. It must contain an imploding, exploding energy, like a signal to those with whom I want to communicate, and like a mountain. You cannot draw a mountain. It’s a point that rises in direct connection with the spirit.
“A work of art is like a soul wanting to be born and that chooses its parents. I really do see things like that,” she told Harry Bellet.
Rotraut asserts that Nature is the essential engine of her creativity. As she told me, “That’s where I find all the sources, where I get my energy. I communicate with Nature. The world made gods and prophets to rule over the peoples, by putting them in moral and ethical shackles in order to keep them away from Nature. But still, humankind has always made Nature the place of sensibility an intuition. I am thinking of the stone rows at Carnac, of Stonehenge and the menhirs in Brittany that I used to go to see, and of the people who lived around them: the immaterial is powerfully present in those places.”
In the heart of Arizona, where she lives, Rotraut is reminded of these realities every day: “The desert is a place of spirituality. To live there, you really do need to be very close to God. Here, the power of the elements, the landscapes, the plants and the flowers create a microcosm where you can feel the spirit of the Indians.”
Above all, in her ongoing quest for vibrations, Rotraut looks for that decisive moment in the most manifold and secret forms of expression. “A scribble can interest me for its energy,” she says. But there are also all those forms that come to life, under her guidance, born from a subtle combination of chance and necessity.
“One day,” recalls Jean-Pierre Frimbois, “Rotraut had the idea of mixing glue and plaster, forming a kind of compact paint, in a plastic bottle, then pressing it and squeezing out random, sometimes almost abstract forms that served to inspired her sculpture. Her sculpture-reliefs were the result of this initial gesture, the simple pressure of her hand. These sculptures can be in steel or aluminum. It’s all about liberating energy, a notion that is very important to Rotraut.”
It is this energy, this inner drive, that Rotraut always works with. “When I sense that I need to make a galaxy or a form, I just make it,” she says. “I draw out from deep inside what it is I want to express. I dig deep. The subconscious is connected with everything; you have to make it manifest. Everything I do, every time, is about making the unconscious conscious. I accept what comes to me and try to get off to a good start. I don’t think art should have any limits. That would be absurd. It must enjoy total freedom in all forms of expression, all experiences, all materials. And I give it every possibility. Without worrying about what others are doing, without talking to other artists. For me, painting is making love with life.”
At Knokke-le-Zoute, the whole gamut of Rotraut’s art is on display at Guy Pieters: a “Galaxy” with cosmic impulsions, the hearts, full of sensitivity, her very recent bronze sculptures playing on the richness of forms and subtlety of the patinas, and the immense, bright red Roadrunner which puts its powerful seal on her creative originality.
Jacques Bouzerand, March 2006.
Hymn for Rotraut
Thou art ever at the forefront in hope of the sign
Come from an infinite void that absorbs all of time
And thine upraised hand senseth the perfumed breath
Of a future already past where thine art is pleasured
And where at times thou dwelleth the joyful witness
Of a miracle like unto what comes into being
Beneath the bridging arches of an immense rainbow
Beneath which on that day thou dreameth to pass
With all thy paintings thy sculptures and all those
Who while here present cast toward the world beyond
The truest of the best of their daily labors
André Verdet, Saint Paul de Vence, May 12 2002.