She wants her paintings to glow. And for people to feel things that they have never felt before as they look at them. “I want them to be taken by surprise,” Theresa Kallrath explains. In the distance, the outlines of Stockholm’s archipelago begin to emerge: the lights on the big wheel in Gröna Lund amusement park gradually become brighter and start to sparkle in the endless blue twilight. At 11 pm it is still not dark in Fjällgatan, on the edge of the district of Södermalm. Kallrath gazes out over Stockholm and the dramatic play of light in the sky.
In Vasaparken the artist works on sketches for her large-scale paintings.
A stroll through hip Södermalm: Theresa Kallrath waits for her friends Jessica and Florian.
The next morning sees Kallrath working on drawings in which red and blue seem to explode – sketches for her large-scale paintings. She sits in the morning sun, on rocks that divide Vasaparken park in two. A group of girls gathers nearby for their morning exercise; a kindergarten awakens to life a few metres further on. Playground giggles and chatter are carried in the wind. The artist loves working outdoors in good weather, in the courtyard outside her studio in Düsseldorf, where she lives, and also here in Stockholm, a city that she knows very well. Visiting feels a bit like coming home for the 31-year-old. Although Theresa was born in Germany, she has a Swedish passport thanks to her mother, and lots of her relatives still live near Lund.
Things started going well for the artist shortly after she finished her degree at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf – one of the most important art academies in the world, where professors like Joseph Beuys once shook up the system, Hilla and Bernd Becher revolutionised photography, and world-famous artists like Andreas Gursky teach today. Energy is bursting out from her large-scale paintings. Theresa applies up to 15 layers of paint in her work, letting it crack and split, attacking it with a knife, and even dragging whole canvases across the floor of her studio. “My way of working is very robust,” she says.
After a short detour to the golden, gleaming Sven-Harry’s art museum that stands adjacent to the park, Theresa drives the new A-Class towards Gamla Stan, the historic heart of the city characterised by winding streets and alleyways. Back in Düsseldorf, she uses a car2go smart car for most of her everyday journeys. She now steers the A-Class through Stockholm’s quiet streets.
When the summer solstice comes, most of the city’s inhabitants depart to celebrate midsummer in the countryside with their families. There is a strange stillness in the air – as if the city is holding its breath.
In Gamla Stan, Theresa meets her brother and enjoys cardamom buns as part of the traditional Swedish coffee and cake break known as “fika”. Martin Kallrath gave up his career in industry to support his sister on a full-time basis, and he is now responsible for organising contact with galleries, handling PR and maintaining relationships with collectors. “My sister’s paintings impart a strength that is difficult to describe,” says Martin. “Although there are thousands of artists in Düsseldorf alone, only a few are able to make a living from their art. My sister got to that point very quickly, and that makes me a little bit proud.”
Her paintings are created “robustly by hand”, in her own words.
Theresa uses the voice-activated assistant in the new MBUX infotainment system to get her to her next appointment. “Hey Mercedes, show me the way to Tak restaurant.” The route to one of Stockholm’s dining hotspots appears on the in-car display screen. Directly above the restaurant is a bar that offers spectacular views of the city. “There are no colours without light,” Theresa observes, as she watches the sky darken over Stockholm. “Bright colours fascinate us, but they also have the power to influence us.”
As the clouds clear after a short rain shower, Theresa takes a stroll through the hip neighbourhood of Sodermalm, where cosmopolitan Stockholm can be seen at its very best. Colourful old buildings make the perfect setting for galleries, bars and boutiques. Theresa heads to Berns – a hotel, bar and restaurant all under one roof and an institution in Stockholm. Here she meets friends and they talk about the pioneering spirit in the city, discussing why Swedes have comparatively so little fear of failure, coming to the conclusion that in Sweden, getting it wrong is not seen as the end of the world, but rather as an incentive to try again. This notion can also be seen in Theresa Kallrath’s work. Her paintings pursue openness. The wild impact of the colours, the rough surface, the vitality emanating from them, all reflect a spirit of dynamism and energy – audiences are simply entranced.
On the journey home, Theresa glides past illuminated shop windows. What made her decide not to paint specific figurative objects any more? Theresa explains that this decision has made her art more personal: since taking this direction, her paintings have represented something different for her and for anyone who looks at them. Yes, her paintings should glow. The swirling layers of paint have a hypnotic effect, both stimulating and calming at the same time. Not only does this make them aesthetically beautiful, but also emotional.
Soft: Theresa Kallrath enjoys Sweden’s midsummer light.
“It would be presumptuous to be too prescriptive,” she says. “It’s all about freedom and independence – mine and that of whoever looks at my art. Otherwise I would spoil what is in people’s imaginations.”
Theresa accelerates and the city moves past faster. If you half-close your eyes, the lights become blurred and merge into an abstract play of colours in the twilight.