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Art Watch : Wolfgang Stiller

Wolfgang Stiller is in focus for our Art Watch for today. This section is brought to you by Art From Us and Divvya Nirula. The Artists we spotlight here can be from any field, across any discipline, and using a variety of media. We share here why we think they are important and worth watching. Be it genius creators of eras gone by. Or the upcoming contemporary artist who is yet to have their first show. All come under the purview of Art Watch.

Wolfgang Stiller has created some of the most iconic sculptures that cannot be forgotten in a hurry. For the sheer shock value that they have. His human heads in their various postures, eyes closed, seem to adorn shelves and tables and in the most unlikeliest of places – as matchstick heads. Stiller ironically maintains that Matchstick heads isn’t what his art is all about. But for the audience that he has won for himself – it is something that will remain with them. His interest in the human head without body, has increased steadily. He finds the human head itself, a very fascinating subject.

Born in 1961 in Wiesbaden (Germany), in 1961, Wolfgang Stiller was actually a student of communication design between 1981 and 1984, at the GHS Wuppertal. It was later that he pursued his education in Fine Arts at the “Kunstakademie Düsseldor. The years spent in understanding communication, body language and expression have found their way into what he creates.

He is extremely widely travelled and has worked in several different cultures. Each of them have rubbed off on him a little bit. The sculptor has worked between Turkey, the United States and China, he is a guest professor in the NYU.  

Why Wolfgang Stiller?

Wolfgang explains his work as “The meaning and content of a work grows while I’m in the process of doing the physical work. One could read those burned matches as worn-out or burned-out human beings. The installation can appear like a battlefield or just like some playground where someone played around with matches and dropped them.” Basically he does not like to be typecast – or summarised by the world.

He had several big influences, and not to say that they were all big artists. But he has relayed that his high school art teacher was his first major inspiration and encouragement. In terms of artists whose art inspired him, it would be Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti, Andrea del Sarto. He also loved the Arte Povera movement.

“I always admired Bacon and Giacometti for ignoring the trends back then and just keep on doing what they wanted to do. Joseph Beuys was also very important. I admired his spirit and his poetic way of handling all kind of materials.”

Not Just a Means to an End

Wolfgang Stiller has always been interested in creating meaningful work for society, and honestly hopeful that it would end up in a museum as well! It may come as surprise to many contemporary artists but Stiller has been committed to his work and the process of creation with very little regard to the commercial aspect. Here he says so himself –

“I was not interested in the commercial aspect and didn’t even try to work with galleries. I think the same counted for most of my colleagues back then in Germany. Making lots of money was not really an issue. Artists and audiences were both interested in content and quite critical.”

In a poignant interview he reveals that when he was acquainted with the current trends of the artworld it really shocked him that there were less takers for what the artist had to say and more interested in what kind of backing they had –

“When I came to New York in 2000 I was shocked that content was not of any interest. People just wanted to know which gallery represented me. Almost no one would ask about content. I don’t know if that was different in the New York from the 80s.”

He now lives and work in Berlin, Germany. His work appears in several renowned public and private collections.


For more Artists handpicked by Divvya Nirula – explore the ART WATCH archive.

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