Dance of Life
A visit to the studio of Meral Alma, whose new work should be on view in Bavaria
by Katja Kraft
If you happen to walk past Meral Alma’s studio in Düsseldorf at night, there is a 99 percent, no, a 100 percent chance that there is still light on inside. Black light. Venture a knock on the door and Alma’s boyfriend will likely open it. Because she is working, as is almost always the case. Surrounded by paint buckets and spray cans, ceiling-high canvases and household laundry racks where flowers doused in shades of blue have been set out to dry. In their midst is the artist, glowing like a firefly. It’s rare to see Alma without phosphorescent paint on her clothes. She’s a full-body worker. The eight-by-three-meter work in the studio’s upper loft might be the most striking example of this.
Meral Alma has hung the canvas directly on the entire center wall—an immersive experience for the viewer. It is a spatial illusion, not unlike the one conjured by 18th-century peep boxes. Three hundred years later, Alma takes it to the next level. A click and the ballerinas at the center of the picture begin to dance. Or so it would appear. A look in normal light shows only their silhouettes on the brightly-hued, expressive artwork. Shift the color spectrum in the fluorescent tubes overhead and a second layer appears. Individual areas come to the fore, others vanish, merging with the now-black picture plane. A light wave shift later and the painting, surrounding room and the visitor appear almost entirely black and white; only a flashlight reveals the last apparent vestiges of any color at all.
You stand in front of it, fascinated. And wonder: How did she do that? After all, the artist makes no sketches beforehand. Everything is made from a kind of internal plan. At the same time, she must always bear in mind how a change at the first layer will affect those below. “I basically see it in my mind’s eye. It’s only towards the end that I work with various different light sources to perfect the effect, layer by layer,” Alma explains. The graduate, multiple prizewinner and master student at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf—the same city where she studied German and sociology at Heinrich Heine University and is now working on her doctorate, is no longer an insider tip in the art world. Her work can be found in collections at home and abroad. The work described above—the fourth act in her Circus of Life cycle of works—has already been sold.
To a collector intent on giving many people the opportunity to experience it. In a joint effort with our newspaper, he is looking for a special place to show the painting for an extended period of time (see box).
What at first glance seems as chaotic as life itself is in fact perfectly conceived, hour after hour. “I am of the opinion that there is no such thing as time when it comes to the process of creating paintings. Paintings behave like divas; they’re capricious and feel like they are never quite done,” she says with a loving glance around the room, like a mother taking in her rascals. “Sometimes they bully you into thinking, ‘Now the work is just about done.’ Exhausted but happy I leave the studio in the morning, only to discover that the painting is unfortunately anything but finished the next day,” she says with a laugh.
This tremendous urge for color is something that has been with her for quite a while. It occurred to little Meral, a primary school pupil at the time, to paint her kitchen at home a bright blue—without covering the furniture, tiles and appliances first. “It didn’t go over particularly well—even though I had bought the paint with my saved allowance money!”
Her art is a better fit for the Loisach than the Rhine, especially with regard to the color blue. The area was an incubator for the “Blauer Reiter” artist group around Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, with whom her work resonates strongly. “Even he understood colors as forces with a direct affect on certain areas of emotion. When the effect of conventional paints falls short, that is when I experiment with pigments, powders and liquids—until I have expanded the color palette to include another element.”
All this she says while leading her guest into the lower part of the studio, her “laboratory.” And out of some impulse—perhaps because you happen to be wearing blue shoes and blue stockings—she suddenly takes you by the arm and shouts, “Actually, what you need now is a color baptism! And although these are your favorite blue shoes and you are a bit worried about your new top; even though you can’t really imagine what exactly she means by a color baptism, you hear yourself saying, “Okay!” By then Alma has already whirled up to the loft. She reappears a few minutes later, holding two white Mickey Mouse sweatshirts. “So you don’t ruin your new top.” Then you lean there, against the (still) white wall, clad in a Mickey sweatshirt, pantyhose and your favorite blue shoes. The baptism begins.
Alma sprays her guest with paint from top to bottom. Keeps taking two steps back to look at the work. And all of a sudden you feel what it must be like to be a canvas. Elevated. Bright, from the outside and the inside. And when she says “Done” and fetches the black light lamp, you feel like the ballet dancer. Ready for the next pirouette in this colorful circus called life.