Rider’s Lens: Hunting for Surprises with Tina Graf
In our latest edition of Rider’s Lens, we introduce Taiwanese-Austrian visual artist Tina Graf, who shares a vibrant selection of work that’s inspired by her experiences in nature. Find our interview with Tina and an exploration of her mixed media artwork here…
I was immediately captivated by Vienna-based artist Tina Graf’s work when I stumbled upon her unique book of linocuts, A Cyclist’s Alphabet, through which she beautifully brought to life a dozen of the small elements that unite most bike trips. Digging deeper, I discovered that much of the young artist’s bold and colorful work is a direct response to her time spent outdoors, especially on two wheels, and she often incorporates elements found in nature directly into her work.
For this Rider’s Lens feature, I chatted with Tina to learn more about her process, what inspires her to continue creating new work, and how she transposes the feelings of joy she gets from bikepacking and being outside into her art, which often centers around the female body. Find my interview with Tina and a peek at several of her past and ongoing projects below.
To get started, tell us a little about yourself.
I’m Tina Graf, a 24-year-old female painter, performer, and printmaker, currently living with my boyfriend in Vienna, Austria. I spent eight years in Taitung, on the east coast of Taiwan. Then moved to Salzburg, Austria, where I hiked, climbed, and cycled around the Alps as much as possible. I love cycling and bikepacking because they make me super hungry for all the good things in life.
What’s your background in art?
Back when I graduated from high school with a special focus on music and arts, I knew I wanted to work in a field that I could put my own imagination and creativity into. This is how I came to visual arts. I studied mathematics, art, and education at Paris Lodron University and Mozarteum Salzburg and worked as a freelancer in my studio at Salzburger Kunstverein. These days, I’m studying drawing and printmaking at the Academy of Applied Arts in Vienna. I’m represented by the HAAS & GSCHWANDTNER Gallery (Salzburg, Austria) with my paintings, drawings, prints, and performances.
I hunt for surprises while creating and invite chance whenever possible. To never become bored with my work or methods, I combine various mediums and techniques to cause collisions and to surrender some control of the process. Creating is like a journey to me, where the way is my aim, and the creation is a manifestation of the journey. In my daily life, I’m continually in search of paradoxes, irony, satire, and taboos to draw from and incorporate into my work.
How do bicycles figure into your life and work?
On sunny days, I spent most of my time outdoors. Salzburg is a paradise in that sense. I love my giant playground in front of my door with its high mountains, blue lagoons, and forests as far as the eye can see. As the seasons change, there is always something new and exciting to explore. This is how I connect to my inner child and find the ability to look at the world with curiosity.
In the woods, I can be me. In the mountains, I feel myself. There is no one to judge and tell me what to do. As a woman of color, these kinds of places are rare and valuable. In society, I often have to face discrimination, but in nature, I am enough just the way I am. The essence of my artistic work is the female body. While cycling, I can strongly connect my body to my surroundings, which I love and enjoy.
An important part of my work, which I made in summer 2019, is called #kraxelnundschnaxeln. It’s drawn from the feeling of pure freedom that nature gives me. On a long hike through the Bavarian Alps, including Watzmann, Hochkalter, Großer Hundstod, Schönfeldspitze, and Selbhorn, a friend of mine and I both went topless on a tightrope walk.
In Europe, there’s a whole culture of sunbathing topless or naked at rivers and lakesides. On super hot summer days, it’s common in Austria to see men hiking, cycling, or lying around with bare breasts. I don’t see why women should behave differently than men do. So, as a female artist, I like to play with a sense of humor and appropriate men’s rights for me. Art is by no means entertainment, but humor is the best weapon for criticizing and drawing attention to topics. So, #kraxelnundschnaxeln is a performance and humorous commentary on the not at all funny topic of gender equality.
We captured the performance on an analog camera. Back in the studio, I searched for a method to work with nature, not against it. I wanted to capture that special feeling of freedom and being enough just the way I am, based on the performance and photographs. Along the way, I discovered cyanotype, a photographic printing process using sunlight. I love the idea of letting the sun draw for me. Works such as Akt den Berg hinaufsteigend (Nude climbing the mountains) and Eros und Tod (Eros and Death) are examples from 2019.
At the beginning of winter 2020, I was looking for an opportunity and a task to bridge the long dark winter days. My artist’s book, A Cyclist’s Alphabet (2021) is marked by feelings of delight and excitement. During the time I was making it, I often reflected on my previous bike trip with my boyfriend in the summer. We cycled around Austria in the largest radius the COVID-19 pandemic would allow. Originally, we planned to ride into Asia via Istanbul, but due to the travel restrictions, we finally opted to ride from Vienna to visit Brno (Czech Republic), Bratislava (Slovakia), Budapest (Hungary), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Zagreb (Croatia), and Trieste (Italy).
Part of the route led us along Danube, the second-longest river in Europe. I was fascinated by its color scheme and the diversity of landscapes on our bikepacking trip. I felt compelled to capture and express what I saw right away, so I sketched 12 relevant moments of our trip one evening. In my drawings, I tried to juxtapose words and images in a humorous way. The word “home” is combined with the representation of a tent. The espresso from the Bialetti pot, cooked over the fire, served as “fuel.” The 12 pen and ink drawings then became the basis for my linocuts, which I later published in an artist book, attached with bicycle bolts instead of traditional binding. The artist book consists of an edition of seven (for seven countries we have traveled by bike) and is now available at the HAAS & GSCHWANDTNER Gallery in Salzburg, Austria, and on Artsy.
What kind of projects typically capture your interest?
I only work on projects I enjoy. This is the greatest thing about being an artist. Independently creating work has allowed me to be free and authentic and has given me the chance to develop a personal style and approach. It takes one to know one, and I think opportunities to collaborate with other beautiful human beings who inspire me are essential to developing my visual language further. Bringing various disciplines together allows me to learn, grow, and be a better creative person.
Most recently, I am collaborating with Anna Ries (jewelry and sculptural artist) and Maria Ritsch (photographer). Pierced pearls and rings composed in colours (2021) is the title of our collaborative work. Interdisciplinary overlapping techniques, experiences, and approaches result in a kind of symbiosis among the three of us. The goal is to merge, penetrate, superimpose, wet with color, cut, omit, and add. To create a new language together.
What tools and materials do you usually work with while traveling?
Some things I always have with me in my self-made frame bag are paper, pen, watercolors, and my Canon FTb or Rollei 35t camera. Things I often find on the spot and integrate into my work are campfire coal, stones, flowers, and wood. My recommendation for a method to use in the field is cyanotypes, as I mentioned. You can make the sun draw for you, and it’s a low-cost and easygoing way of working that produces a beautiful result.
What are you up to these days?
The beginnings of all my projects are intuitive. I set myself a clear starting point. I think in advance which direction I want to take, a possible duration, and what I need on my way. Then I go.
There are a lot of things sport and art have in common. Among them are passion, love, enthusiasm, persistence, and consistency. The current series I am working on is titled 356 Days – Under Pressure. It’s a kind of marathon-like challenge I am facing. This time I set myself a one-year challenge using a modified method of linoleum cuts. I am creating 365 unique prints by layering several spontaneously cut, abstract color fields over each other.
I have no other restriction than the duration and the format. Within this frame, I want to emancipate myself from any expectations and let the moment speak for itself. It might sound monotonous at first, but it’s a roller coaster ride in truth. Alone at my studio, I sometimes can’t help but laugh out loud. Believe it or not, a line can be funny. A surface can appear threatening. Colors can jump, tilt, float, cause discomfort, or whisper gently and lovingly. I’m like a kid watching a stunning magic trick over and over again.
I am curious about my limits, where to draw my motivation from, and how to surprise myself while repeating the same movements. The good thing about art is there is no fixed scale of measurement, as in sports. It’s not about speed, time, distance, or any other new records. The only thing that counts is joy. This is what I want to share within my work.
Do you have upcoming plans or goals for new work?
My next dream is to go on an artist’s residency in Georgia, the country in Eastern Europe, in the Caucasus. I want to start by cycling to Tbilisi from Vienna. My father has been working there as a geologist for a couple of months, and his stories make me daydream a lot. The people, the landscapes, and the food all sound amazing! Beyond that, my goal is also to exhibit in major exhibition houses, such as Mumok and Lentos in Austria and Biennale di Venezia in Italy.
Lastly, any parting thoughts to share?
I find it difficult to put a signature on my work. I don’t see myself as the sole author. It is my immediate environment that whispers the lines I record. Behind my signature, there is a group of fabulous, beautiful people, and I want to say thank you to my family and friends and to the stranger who bought me a coffee as I sat writing this. And last but not least, to my boyfriend, Moritz for being my lover, inspiration, and muse.
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