"ART IS THE AIR I BREATHE. I COULD NOT LIVE WITHOUT IT. I THINK, EVERYTHING WE ARTISTS DO HAS TO BE BEYOND THE VIEWER'S EVERYDAY LIFE. TO MAKE THINGS VISIBLE, NO MATTER IN WHICH WAY, TECHNICALLY OR CONTENT-RELATED."
Claudia Kaak is a figurative-realist painter. She was born in 1987 in Heppenheim (Bergstraße), Germany. She was the second child of working-class parents. When she was five years old her parents divorced. Nothing was explained to her. Her mother just moved away with her and her one-year older sister. Right away she got to know her mother's new boyfriend. He was a sadist. Sometimes he came home at night, drunk and forced her mother to open the door. Claudia tried to protect her (as a young girl). She always wanted to go back to her father because her mother mistreated her. She can remember only one time when her mother hugged her.
Claudia only saw her father on the weekends when he didn't forget to pick the little girls up. During the weekends, the father worked because he was a workaholic. So, most of the time Claudia was on her own and her sister didn't want to play with her because she said Claudia was disgusting and stupid. The sister didn't even want to touch her hand. When her sister played with Claudia she had to play the evil stepmother or something like that. Her father lived in the same house with his parents. Claudia's grandfather was an alcoholic, chain smoker, and a choleric person. In the evenings, the children of her uncle, her sister and herself usually sat in the grandfather's smoky living room while the adults got drunk.
At school, she was harassed every single day from the very first day. For how she looked, for what she was wearing and how she behaved. So, she only learned that she was not loveable and could not trust anyone in this world. The only thing Claudia was not attacked for was drawing!
When Claudia was about eleven, finally her mother and her boyfriend separated and shortly after that she got to know her mother's new boyfriend. At this time, he was in jail. Claudia decided to move back to her father. In Germany, at the age of twelve she was able to decide where she wanted to live. Her mother said she did not want to see her anymore because she said she would receive less money and this was her fault. But Claudia had to see her, her father forced her to. Claudia was all alone because her father worked until late at night. One year after this decision, her sister moved in with their father and her. It was again another kind of hell.
At the age of fourteen Claudia was sexually abused by a stranger. She began to cut herself and tried to kill herself twice. No one really cared. She isolated herself and drew – her only escape from reality – or she learned for school to prove that she was not what they used to call her.
She didn't visit her mother anymore and rarely had contact with her. The mother didn't care at all. Her father went to his new girlfriend, whom was the mother of Claudia's former best friend. Claudia really lived alone at the age of fourteen. The father used to bring her a small amount of money every week and shouted at her for no reason. Her father wanted her to make her own money as soon as possible. Nevertheless, she decided to study. When Claudia started her studies, she had another nervous breakdown. She decided to stay in a psychosomatic clinic where they told her she had borderline personality and a complex posttraumatic stress disorder. From then on, she knew why she always felt different from everyone else. But it also helped her to understand herself better. She started to paint a lot.
In 2010, she met her husband and after one and a half year they married. In 2012, her daughter Laura was born. About three years later, shortly after her state examination her son, Janosch, was born.
Claudia Kaak has been featured in publications, such as American Art Collector, PoetsArtists, Millionart (Stayinart) or Ophelia Magazine. She was part of the exhibition 'The Gesture' in a german museum, Ludwiggalerie in Oberhausen among artists, such as Gerhard Richter, Gottfried Helnwein or Xenia Hausner. Her group exhibitions include also shows in New York at RJD Gallery, Zhou B Art Center in Chicago, Gormleys Fine Art in Dublin and Principle Gallery in Alexandria. She has been a finalist for the 13th and 14th Annual ARC competition and has been awarded by the International Guild of Realism (2019).
Claudia’s works of art are a reminder that nothing is forever beautiful, but neither ugly. It is that comfort zone between the two where somehow you find yourself seeking solace in the strength that is depicted in her art. Stumbling upon a sincere expression of pain, of hurt, or misery only awakens in you the ability to trust. Strangely enough you find a safe place in her works of art. Because whatever was, you realize that you have not suffered alone. However it was, you realize that somehow, we all are interconnect and in this web of life we feel each other’s deepest feelings. Without pointing fingers, without disguise, without holding back, you are allowed to feel, to express, and best of all, to experience a strength in knowing that whatever your story is…it is reflected in her art. Claudia is a master at offering a give and take – an even exchange in this cycle of life where we all are light and we all are shadows. Claudia’s art offers you that reassurance that perhaps you were subconsciously seeking.
Q. What role does the artist have in society?
A. I think, everything we artists do has to be beyond the viewer's everyday life. To make things visible, no matter in which way, technically or content-related.
Q. What’s your best childhood memory?
A. As a child and teenager, I was skiing every winter with my father. I miss that a lot, but it was not only positive because it was associated with peer pressure.
Q. As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?
A. Although it seemed very unreal to me, I wished to become an artist. But actually I had no idea because every time I said what I wanted to become people around me said that I wouldn't.
Q. Do you remember the first art you made? What was it and how old were you?
A. Depends on what you call art. In my opinion my first art work was 'Untitled (Series 3, Nr. 1)'. Although I called it Series 3 it was my first real project. I painted it in the university for a sculpture-seminar, called 'Der Sockel' ('The pedestal'). I decided to create the counterpart for a pedestal, a special frame for a painting. My lecturer said: "Well, ok. But you have to create something very special. I don't care what's on the painting." I was going to plan a cellar shack in front of the painting, so you can see the sitting figure through the wooden strips. As I began to paint the work I showed him what I created so far and he was speechless. He said that he didn't expect that and that I should make an installation. To hell with the frame. So I exhibited the painting as an installation in the, so called, "catacombs" of our building.
Q. How and when did you first become seriously interested in art?
A. That's difficult to answer. I never wanted to do anything else and I always was interested in art but when I visited the Gymnasium (upper school) and it seemed more concrete to me I started to read a lot about art history.
Q. Tell us about your particular style and how you came to it?
A. I am a figurative realist painter. I love artists, such as Rembrandt, Lucian Freud, Gottfried Helnwein, Waterhouse, Velázquez, Géricault or Bouguereau. They influenced me a lot. I am self-taught and I learned painting by watching paintings in person or from the internet. At the beginning my painting style was more loose. Now I like to work more detailed.
Q. What does your art aim to express?
A. It deals with existential feelings, the inner strife of human beings, deep emotions to the extreme limit of pain but also the complete reversal. I want to break the taboo to speak about and show feelings and emotional disorder.
Q. What personality trait has gotten you in the most trouble?
A. I don't know. Maybe to be honest. Many people don't want to hear the truth.
Q. What have you had to sacrifice for this career?
A. I studied teaching for art and history but I don't want to practice. I give workshops on wet-in-wet painting but I do not work as a teacher because I disagree with the German school system. As a teacher I would receive a solid, regular income that I sacrifice. I don't regret that.
Q. Who are your biggest influences? Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular?
A. My biggest influence is the work of Rembrandt. I adore his brushwork, direction of light and story telling. I love Bouguereau for his sensitive as well as expressive figures and how he created flesh tones. But I also like Gottfried Helnwein very much for his courage to show reality. There are a lot of amazings artists. For example I am inspried by the work of David Kassan, Dáire Lynch or Anna Wypch.
Q. Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
A. I think more than most of the other jobs but because of my traumatic experiences I don't enjoy interacting with many people. So, I don't try to counteract it. Aside from that, I am working in my living roon. So, when I work during the day my children are around me and sometimes also my husband.
Q. Apart from art, what do you love doing?
A. I love to spend time with my children. I love reading, do sport, riding horses, singing and crafting. I miss skiing, what I did every winter until I was 14 years old.
Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?
A. I don't paint what I see but I paint what I feel and know. I mean that this is me and I paint how I see the world. This point is very important because my feelings are really different from most people's - more intense. I only know how it feels this way. I always feel fear and pain. Also when I am "happy." I don't know what it feels like to be safe or to feel at home. There is no safety in my brain!
Q. What does 'success' mean to you?
A. Success for me means to be able to spread my message as far as possible and to be able to keep painting and create new work.
Q. What are the biggest things you've learned in life thus far?
A. Try to live in the presence. Don't judge everything that happens to you. Sometimes also bad experiences can turn to something positive.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and by who?
A. I was told to paint what I believe in and don't care what other people say. Always to be true to yourself and try to believe in yourself. This advice was given by my dear lecturer for art, Lucie Beppler.
Q. What advice would you give to the next generation?
A. Never apologize for being an artist. Be always true to yourself and protect your work! Keep your name clear and don't make compromises. Be concerned with doing good work and ready to fail.