Munich; Studio visit _ Thilo Westermann and ‘Vanitas’

by Venetia Kapernekas

An afternoon of incredible beauty and inspiration visiting  Thilo Westermann‘s studio last week.

Flowers of almost supernatural perfection, arranged in exquisite crystal vases, captured in classical black and white – timeless elegance….he has entitled the series Vanitas, and he uses this term with a very careful precision.


‘Lilies and card with putto, 2013. Reverse plexi painting, 11.7 x 8.3 ins (29,7 x 21 cm)


‘Vanitas (Paeonia lactiflora) 2, 2014. Reverse plexi painting, 8.3 x 5.8 ins (21 x 14,8 cm)

Westermann uses the old technique of reverse glass painting – a craft that in contrast to other ways of painting works in a negative process (as it were from back to front)…

He builds each image from tiny dots he scratches from his blackened surfaces. He makes a minute mark, he repeats the gesture again and again. He continues to do so in lengthy way… this is a weeks-long, detailed process.


Detail of the yet unfinished painting „Homage to Redouté“

He creates trompe-l’oeils, not just of photographic images, but of the entire technical process connected to them, and he correspondingly builds each image from tiny black dots in front of a white background….  (Martin Thierer)


Detail of the yet unfinished painting „Vanda Miss Joaquim 3“

 Martin Thierer has described, Westermann’s still lives persist in a tradition that reached its apogee hundreds of years ago in the Baroque period. It may not be entirely abandoned today, but when artists return to the still life it is always with a nod to its earlier heyday….Vanitas – the term was coined in Classical Antiquity and from early Christianity onwards characterized and defined man’s relation to his worldly existence in the philosophical-religious context. It was said that all man-made things by intrinsically being perishable, were doomed to failure, and first and foremost this meant art. The influence of the Vanitas idea was so far-reaching that in Renaissance Florence, thousands of art works suspected of being blasphemous in thrust were consumed by the flames of Savonarola’s infamous Bonfire of the Vanities. (Martin Thierer, published in: Thilo Westermann Vanitas. Nürnberg, Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2014


Bouquet with Prada card, Munich 2014. Print on paper, Diasec, 39.4 x 59 ins (100 x 150 cm)
IMG_8156Working tools


Detail of the painting „Chinese orchid (Homage to Ma Lin)




IMG_8155                                                                                                                               Detailed color pencil drawings on paper done in 2002

Thilo is  influenced by history and the „stories“ behind things.  “For example I am most intrigued by the fact that there are certain breeds of peony having been named after European celebrities. Peonies origin in Asian countries but Western explorers took the plant to their homecountries as a souvenir or as precious exotica hundreds of years ago. From here on the original peony has been transformed and redesigned according to Western aesthetics. Moreover the flower became even more westernized by being named the name of a (Western) movie star etc. It’s a way of dealing with colonial heritage and identity.” (Thilo Westerman, studio visit)


a beautiful book has been published by Verlag für moderne Kunst
Edited by Institut für moderne Kunst Nürnberg and Oechsner Galerie
Concept and layout by Thilo Westermann
Texts by Christin Müller, Aoife Rosenmeyer and Martin Thierer
Language: English/German
Edition: 1,500 copies
168 pages (you can buy the book here)


Kathja Fast,   a lovely & promising young filmmaker preparing for shooting a documentary on Thilos’s work


Kathja Fast and Thilo Westermann
….Thilo Westermann is attuned to the languages of attraction but resists the imperative to make evanescent images. And thus he is thoroughly contemporary, working in but at a remove from his time. If the great still lives of the Baroque period celebrated the perfection and the fleeting duration of all that is worldly, Westermann reconsiders that period as a means to hold fast to something lasting while all around him is fleeting.(Aoife Rosemeyer, published in: Thilo Westermann Vanitas. Nürnberg, Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2014, p. 136-143.)

Thilo Westermann is represented by Oechsner galerie in Nürnberg

In his collaboration with Daniel Wingate for the international luxury brand ESCADA Thilo transferred his concept of the self reflecting image from painting to the world of fashion. Transcience clashes with the approach to create something lasting. Excellent workmanship and the masterly depiction of all details form a new language oscillating between picture pane and three-dimensionality.


Installation view of „Vanda Miss Joaquim 2“ and visitor with the ESCADA meets THILO WESTERMANN blazer at Thilo’s solo show „Stilblüten“ at Institut für moderne Kunst Nürnberg



Window display at Saks Fifth Avenue New York: the cocktail dress of the ESCADA meets THILO WESTERMANN collection

Giorgio Agamben’s essay What Is the Contemporary was published in English in 2009.  For Agamben, the two kinds of seeing are inseparable; brightness harbours its own ‘intimate obscurity’. Darkness is also key in the tradition of still life; often flowers, fruits or foodstuffs seemed to emerge from the darkness of an interior, as if to emphasize their fleeting existence and their fate to return to dust like all mortal things. (Aoife Rosenmeyer on  The Contemporary Artist,Vanitas. Nürnberg, Verlag für moderne Kunst)


‘Vanitas (Vanda Miss Joaquim)’, 2013. Reverse plexi painting, 8.3 x 5.8 ins (21 x 14,8 cm)