Born in Italy, based in New York City, Bettina Werner, known as the Queen of Salt is not only the artist creating her original works on the basis of salt, but also the creator of the Queen of Salt Foundation.
Read below interview published recently at Bettina Werner’s site.
So you are an accomplished, international artist born in Milan, in 1965. You are also hailed as “The Salt Queen,” due to the technique you invented using salt as your medium. You have immersed yourself with this ancient element for almost 25 years now. What led you to using salt originally?
Homer says, “Salt belongs to the sphere of divine and stands far above human.” I truly believe salt is the fifth element due to its importance in life. Salt is a basic human necessity, our bodies cannot function with out it. Salt was used to preserve food, think of the ” Magazzini del Sale ” (warehouse of salt) in Venice. It was a form of currency, a derivative of the word “salary.” It has been used in the past to bring good energy and ward off negative influences and has also been synonymous with prosperity and health since ancient times. When I began incorporating salt into my paintings I found magic occurring in each single crystal. So I began amalgamating it with the colors I would create, and it seemed to pronounce their essence exponentially. I adopt the minimalist philosophy of “less is more” and when experiencing the art one is able to fully appreciate texture and color at its height. I capture the soul of this mystical element to share, and as I allow my eyes to trace the natural movement I get lost in its beauty and power.
You were raised in Italy and attended the prestigious Brera Academy of Fine Art in Milan, and arrived in New York City for the first time in 1989 to pursue a future in contemporary art. Do you believe your traditional roots influenced your journey?
Absolutely! I didn’t move to New York looking for enlightenment. I came seeking appreciation. I knew I was bringing something new, and I know that America is a place that supports new ideas.
I said before that my work is minimal, but there is warmth to my minimalism expressed by the color, texture, shadows or even traces of the movements of my hand in the salt. It’s a traditional European warmness. I always admired artist such as Antoni Tapies and Yves Klein But when I experienced the work of Donald Judd I was touched emotionally. I was perfectly able to mix these two concepts of the mental, abstract, severity of American Minimalism and the warmth of the European Art Informale.
You seemed to jump directly into success when you arrived in New York. The first gallery that launched you in the early nineties was one of the top galleries in Manhattan. Your artwork was immediately exhibited along with other historically iconic artists such as Miro, Arman, Calder and many others. How did it feel being in your mid twenties and already being recognized along with such highly regarded artists?
It was the perfect American dream! I was so young and was given an amazing opportunity because people believed in my work. I’m sure it is any artists dream to see people respond so well to their artwork. History shows that many artist’s work isn’t truly appreciated until after their death but no one should be surprised about the opportunities and limitless possibilities offered here after seeing President Barack Obama sweep the election!
I agree. Your talent has definitely made an impression on contemporary art. Sometimes being a woman in a male dominated industry can make it more difficult to become successful though, and women often times have to go out of their way to gain the respect they deserve even if they are well qualified. So, do you believe being a woman, that you had a more challenging time becoming successful in the art world, and secondly do you think being an attractive woman played for you or against you?
Well, we all know that the art world is one of the toughest fields for women to be allowed to succeed. There are far fewer women in museums, and art history books. It is easier for women to succeed in fields where their physical image is the focus such as modeling, and acting, but when it comes to intellectually stimulating fields it is much harder for women to be respected. Therefore; yes, I do face my own share of adversity.
Even through your adversity, It’s also very unique and admirable that you were able to establish a respectable non-profit Foundation. What is the purpose of The Salt Queen Foundation and why was it created?
The Salt Queen Foundation was created to protect and conserve my artwork and the invention of my technique created with textured, colorized, salt that I developed in the early 1980’s. There are many people in the art world that are greedy and they try to take advantage of artists especially since we have such a reputation of being aloof. I have encountered great disappointment, immense neglect, fraud and even criminal abuse of my artwork when dealing with different entities in the art world. I had no other option than to become more cautious, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and mount my own defense. I alone am not able to protect all of my artwork forever so I needed to find a way to build a legal fortress of sorts around my creations. I am actually interested in finding a publisher now so that I may write a book that explains in detail my experiences with the art world.
The Foundation is also promoting the importance and education of salt, as well as to encourage innovative art techniques utilizing abnormal materials. The Foundation hosts and sponsors different contests where the contestants are asked to create music, literature, etc., inspired by salt, and the contestant with the most innovative creation is rewarded.
Some of your more well know paintings are the Dalmatian paintings. What inspired you to create your collection of 102 Dalmatian paintings?
My beloved Dalmatian, Tibino, inspires these paintings. I got him as a puppy and he quickly became my muse from the love that I felt for him as my companion. I named him Tibino because it was my nickname as a child and he went with me everywhere like my shadow, he was an extension of me. Many of the paintings are of Tibino in different places. Like “Tibino in the Ocean” or “Tibino in the pumpkin patch”. Now his soul and the memories of our time together is still captured and conserved through the art. This quickly became one of my most appreciated collections.
You seem to always be able to create new, unique, collections using salt. Your different series of artwork range from your Dalmatian paintings, to your Chakra paintings, salt sculptures, and even functional artwork such as your dining table and your salt bed. Tell us more about your different Art collections.
Besides the collection inspired by Tibino, I have many other art collections. To name a few of the most recognized there is the “kiss collection” which was created for an Italian charity auction and featured in a book with many different international artists and celebrities giving their version of a kiss to raise money. Then there was the “Millennium Collection”, which was all gold, silver, and copper. Created in 2000 to celebrate the new millennium and exhibited at the Trustees dinner at the Whitney Museum. The Chakra Art collection, which is inspired by my quest for spiritual enlightenment and are paintings of seven different colors, each symbolizing the seven different chakras. The red and white “X painting” inspired by the story of the Greek Emperor Constantine and is created to inspire whoever is around to conquer their fears. There is also the “Never mind” series. I create one annually when I feel like I just need to forget about everything and let go of all of the stress and disappointment that comes along with life. Lastly, I have a series of small “ladybug paintings”, which are meant to bring good luck.
Speak about your unique techniques used in creating your artwork?
Creating my art is an extremely intimate affair, almost similar to making love being that it is a process of creation. Each piece of art that I create is like a child to me and in life when one sees the beautiful creation that is a child, the technique and process in which it is made is never a question or revealed. The child should be appreciated solely as an untainted creation. This is how I see art. The process is a private matter that only the creator should have access to, otherwise the creation is then tainted.
Ok, how long does it take to create one of your works of art?
43 years… (She laughs) It truly takes all of my life and experience to channel into any artwork that I am creating. It has taken all of the internal growth I have gained to be able to come up with the concept for new work, and then bring it to life and donate it to the world.