Lower Manhattan/ A Tea with Bettina Werner
di Alessio Consorte e Paola Coppa.
Making a mark in the history of art, is a most outstanding accomplishment for an artist , which is specially attributed to internationally acclaimed artist, Bettina Werner.
A graduate of the prestigious Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, Ms. Werner earned the moniker “Queen of Salt” for her pioneering work with the medium, which she mastered in Italy, a quarter of a century ago.
Her invention of her salt technique encompasses her creative use of texture, color , form and flow of the crystals. Her unique salt artworks, have been exhibited in Museums, which include the Whitney in New York, the Puskin in Moscow, the Triennale in Milan, and in galleries and special spaces internationally, like Tiffany & Co.
I felt that meeting with Bettina Werner, at her magnificent loft, in the newly renovated luxury Philippe Starck building, (www.downtownbystarck.com) located in the Financial District and across the street from the New York Stock Exchange, was like entering a magic kingdom and visiting a real Queen in a Royal Palace surrounded by protective guards and iron gates.
Once I cleared Wall Street’s bullet-proof check points and the conscientious labrador guard dogs, I was greeted by an elegant doorman who was dressed like a royal prop at the building’s plush entranceway . He opened the revolving glass doors and granted me entry into the” Palace of the Salt Queen”, as it was recently described on the spread sheet page of the Wall Street Journal. I then went pass a gorgeous and gigantic 9/11 chandelier relic, vibrating with light, as I walked on a long Hollywood carpet to a spectacular golden knobbed front desk. It was staffed with two stylish and cordial concierges standing in front of a huge television screen running classic movies. After I identified myself, I was guided to a mirrored gold tiled waiting room decorated with trendy gold Philippe Starck’s furniture. They intercomed Ms Werner to announce my arrival and asked for her confirmation for clearance. They directed me to one of the five ultra-modern elevators to take to reach her on the 21st floor.
Once arriving there, I felt lost in the labyrinth of the designer-fashionable hallways.
I heard her charming Italian voice leading me to her loft when I finally arrived in the land of the Salt Queen Olimpo. I was astonished to immediately feel the strength of the numerous vibrant paintings that greeted me. Her unique spectacular textured colorized salt creations were smashing and brilliant!
Standing in the middle of the 2000sq foot loft, was a breathtaking, almost 7 foot tall, Salt Woman Sculpture. It was followed by a 10 foot long sparkling one- of- a- kind Salt Sculpture-table, a functional piece of art that becomes a huge backgammon board to play with and also can be transformed into a salt bed to sleep in.
Bettina Werner at her 25 Year Retrospective at 7WTC, 49th floor
Homer says :“Salt belongs to the sphere of the divine and stands far above human”
Salt is the “Fifth element” due to its importance in life just as fire, earth, air and water are.
Salt has the essence of cleansing and healing. At the cellular level, the balances of salt are essential to life. Creating with each single salt crystal is an intimate experience of magic and mystical movement that captures my soul and empowers me. To quote the great architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohel, “ Less is More “ and when experiencing my art , one is able to fully appreciate the texture and shades of color at its heightened dimension.
One felt a strong impact of creativity when viewing your outstanding Art Collections, at your 25 Year Retrospective , at 7 World Trade Center, in a 40,000 square foot space surrounded with spectacular New York City Skyscrapers. Can we talk more about each of your immaginative Art Collections?
“The 102 Salt Dalmatians Art Collection” was inspired by my beloved companion Tibino.
This series of Tibino’s artworks captures memories of our life together beginning from when I first had him as a puppy.
Damatian painting Tibino, © Bettina Werner 2005
We can see the love for your dog Tibino . It was the talk of the art collectors at the Retrospective on the 49th floor! I also was moved by the “ Tibino in the Pumpkin Patch” and by “Tibino with the New Red Collar”paintings.
These are two important examples, along with all the others, like: “Tibino in the Dunes” and “Tibino’s Joy”, where I stopped the clock, to preserve in salt, these treasured moments we shared.
What does your “CHAKRA: Seven Sacred” Art Collection mean to you?
The seven different colors in my Chakra Art Collection, symbolize the seven different chakras , that represent the energy centers in our bodies, as described in the Eastern spiritual teachings which include awakening and mastering the “Kundalini “ serpent power as it flows through each chakra, reaching the higher self and our enlightenment.
Bettina Werner with Tibino a Soho
A viewer can be captured by the strength of the red color in the “I Swear Love” and in the “ A Kiss from the Queen of Salt” paintings. Can you talk about how they evolved?
They are both part of the “passion art collection”. The “Kiss” was first created for a famous charity exhibition and for a beautiful book published by Leonardo Arte. It was featured along side versions of a kiss from many international artists and celebrities such as Cher, Tina Turner, Catherine Deneuve, Kim Basinger , Bigitte Bardot and Fanny Ardant to name a few.
My small size kiss artwork generated a huge enthusiastic reaction. I then decided to create more “ salt kiss paintings” in various dimensions, as a continuing series.
Bettina Werner’s LOFT
You donated one of your “kiss” paintings at the exclusive international contemporary charity Art Auction event, hosted in Monaco by Princess Stephanie.
Yes, and it was sold extremely well in Monte Carlo. It started as a charity creation and continues to serve charities. The “kiss” always continues to attract new art lovers as an outreach to the world for peace, love and endearment.
What is the deep-felt meaning and implications of the painting: “Preserving with Salt the Eternal light of their Souls”, five panel tribute to 9/11 ?
The entire artwork is a spiritual trilogy.
1) consisting of the great mystery and intrigue of the salt.
2) reaching out to embrace the candle of light symbolizing eternal hope and peace for all mankind.
3) the five different panels are rainbow colors. When we put together the rainbow colors is known to produce the divine white light which is a composition of all colors.
© Bettina Werner 2010
We are conducting this interview sitting on this exclusive roof terrace, of your elegant loft building, overlooking the spectacular scenery of the New York Stock Exchange. We are in front of a huge American flag draped across six enormous Corinthian columns , spanning a massive area , which is the focal point of the NYSE and the center of commerce in the world. It looks like you have made a strong connection with salt and commerce. Do you know more about salt being used as a currency?
In ancient times salt was considered to be a valuable element. This was where the word “salary“comes from. The New York Stock Exchange is viewed below the loft’s windows .
“Salt is More Precious than Gold!” and as Homer relates, Salt stand higher above ordinary human view point !
You definitely are a bright spot in the dull gray Wall Street market place with your radiant artwork and your innovative energy. I read on your website that the 3000 souls of 9/11 were a spiritual call ing that brought you back to Lower Manhattan area . Where did you leave before?
I have been living in the Downtown area with my unforgettable companion Tibino before the terrorism attacks.
In the 1990’s my first loft was on Broadway , then I moved to Mercer street, next to the legendary corner artistic Cafe Fanelli, then to Green street and on to a Broome street penthouse , all in Soho.
You seem to be always in the avant-garde of the art community. When you lived in Soho, it was an art scene that was plenty-full with so many galleries before they moved out to the Chelsea area and before becoming a luxury market retail place for shoppers.
There is a photo of you in your Green Street loft with your Dalmatian and with Leo Castelli, the historical art dealer who launched the Pop Art trend in Manhattan, representing artists like Andy Warhol, Robert Raushenberg , Roy Likchtenstein…and so on.
Yes, I was living in Soho at a most auspicious time of the New York City Art scene . I treasure my beautiful memories of that area and my daily walks with my companion Tibino. He was the only sophisticated dog who was so famous in the monthly art exhibitions , that he was allowed to gain entry into the most exclusive galleries.
I heard that Leo Castelli would stop everything when you two appeared in his gallery.
Yes, it was because Tibino was reminding him of his dalmatian Patrick. I remember encouraging Leo Castelli to get a new Dalmatian. I understand now, after the loss of my beloved one, why Castelli always told me that it was not possible to replace his Patrick.
Leo Castelli,Tibino and Bettina Werner in her loft in Soho
What then made you leave that artistic neighborhood and what was it that attracted your nose and lured you to explore more ?
In approximately 1995, things began to change in Soho. Weekends where full of tourists and commercialism and I decided to explore the quieter TriBeCa and move into a new huge loft to work, it was special. Tribeca then became very glamorous after Robert De Niro’s hot restaurants and the move by John J. Kennedy , whose dog would occasionally fight with Tibino in the street. Situated across City Hall,Tibino enjoyed running in the great green lawn under the Mayor’s windows. This prompted many requests to stop Tibino and I protected him by using my Italian accent – “Sorry, I don’t speak English well”.
After Tribeca became trendy like Soho , your pattern was to leave. It always seems after you move in, things began to pop. So, where did you go next?
On a helicopter…where I got married! And I flew Uptown. I then chose the breeze of the Atlantic ocean, in the Hamptons, to create my artwork in a charming historical 6000sq foot old renovated potato Barn, in Water Mill, close to the artistic Bob Wilson Water Mill Center.
It was your very good fortune to move out from the area avoiding the September 11 catastrophe just in time. When did you come back in Lower Manhattan?
Yes, it’s true,. if I had been working in my loft, a few blocks from the Twin Towers, all my artwork would have been destroyed by the dust as it happened to some neighboring artists in my building.
I came back to live Downtown after my loss of Tibino and when my life changed totally.
I , then felt the deep inner call to be in the 9/11 area. I loaded up my salt, returning to my downtown roots, to help to purify and heal the area, bringing with me a new wave of creative energy . At the time where too few wanted to live down here.
Can you talk about your unique salt painting technique?
It’s an enigmatic, magic, mysterious and intimate affair, similar to making love.
It’s an intense process of creation. Each artwork that I create is like a child to me. When someone meets a child, no one questions the parents about the technique on how the child was created , but focuses on the beauty and uniqueness of the creation at hand. This is how I see art. It is a private affair. The intimacy of creation should be kept secret and treasured by the creator.
Well, It takes 9 months to bring a child into the world. How long does it take to create one of your artworks?
Are you kidding?
I say 45 years to make it short because this is my earthly age. When I create a new piece of art , I bring forth my whole life’s experience, my ancient past life times and my internal growth. I want to share each grain of salt and its radiances with the world.
The artist in her loft in Soho with behind the painting “Bettina Werner 7”
What about your “NEVER MIND” and the “Millennium” Art Collections?
I created the eye-catching “Millennium Collection”, consisting of numerous paintings with vibrant gold, silver and copper colors for the Trustees dinner at the Whitney Museum, in the year 2000. In the “Never Mind Art Collection”, I reach a point of letting go about feelings and emotions, giving me new energy and new insight. Looking at the finished work over a period of time, the “Never Mind” paintings continue to strengthen me beautifully.
Tell me about your inspiration with the red cross “X” series of paintings entitled : “ IN HOC SIGNO VINCES “.
The red and white “x “ symbol paintings are about the ability of crossing out obstacles in our path and going on. It was my inspiration of the vision of the Roman Emperor Constantine in which he encourages us to have the fortitude to overcome our fears before a battle and to march forward no matter what the obstacles may be in our way. My “In Hoc Signo Vinces ( in this sign you will conquer) “ paintings represent my deep rooted belief in my life’s dedication about human beings learning to be alone, working hard to fulfill one’s self. It’s about not being afraid of facing the unknown and feeling a violent desire saying YES to life, to keep going ahead on the dazzling salt of the earth pathway that has been presented to us and in this way finally conquering all.
Can you also talk more about your lovely and colorful Ladybugs Art Collection?
I was first amazed when a Ladybug appeared on the window of my Wall street loft , can you image seeing a ladybug on the 21st floor? Suddenly I looked at her spots, then Tibino’s spots popped into my mind. I realized that Tibino sent me a good luck message and gave me a new inspiration to create the ladybug series. My ladybugs artworks are 17 male, 17 female and 17 baby paintings. Each work in the colors of orange, red and yellow. No.17 is also an unlucky number like No.13, I chose to create 17 of each because it is balanced by the good luck from the ladybugs.The female ladybug paintings are bigger then the male as I was amazed to discover what happens in nature. I’m now working on the “Queen Ladybugs” series that are rounded and much bigger in diameter size paintings. Who knows how much more good luck the Queen Ladybug will bring!
What is the Salt Queen Foundation all about?
The Salt Queen Foundation was created to protect and conserve my cultural salt artwork invention.
The Foundation also promotes the importance and the education about salt, as well as to encourage other artists working with innovative art techniques who are utilizing extraordinary materials and media. The Foundation launches unusual creative contests where the contestants are inspired by salt to create music, literature, etc.. The winner with the most innovative creation is then rewarded.
At the entrance of your Ground Zero Retrospective is a yellow solar painting entitled “ BETTINA WERNER 7” what does this signify?
I always place this yellow bright painting in a prominent place at the entrance way of my exhibitions as a welcoming sign. I started doing this with my first gallery opening in 1990 in the prestigious Fuller Building in Manhattan. I felt the desire to preserve my name in salt with this directional arrow signal, which also has a directional arrow shape as is formed in the American number 7 .I created the “Bettina Werner 7” painting when I first arrived in New York City, wishing myself a good luck journey and to make a mark in the Big Apple.
This painting seems to represent a crowning achievement of your artistic career which was highlighted as soon as one arrived from the elevator on the 49th floor featuring your 7 WTC 25 year Retrospective.
Is the “Bettina Werner 7” painting something of a harbinger?
Yes, “Bettina Werner 7 painting” is my hallmark , my harbinger symbol, like the lead bird showing the way, that accompanies me on my artistic journey . SEVEN is a powerful and one of the most meaningful numbers. Also , seven times seven gives a total of 49 which was the number of the floor of my Art Exhibition. Seven is also the address number of the World Trade Center building.
Before your arrival in America, art critic Achille Bonito Oliva dedicated exclusively to your work , an entire chapter of his essay entitled “pittura con grano salis “that was an important part of his historical book :“ Cosi’ lo stato dell’arte”. He used the bird metaphor to explain your driving creative force.
It seems to me that the bird in you is climbing higher and higher, where do you fly next?
I feel that my mission in New York City is complete and I must soon take another fly to an unknown destination at this time. I feel the best is yet to come.
Bettina Werner surrounded by her unique salt creations
For inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
Artworks created with textured colorized salt technique invented by Bettina Werner in the early 1980′s.
Courtesy The Salt Queen Foundation, New York
photo credit: Gordon Erikson, Izabella Demavlys, Renzo Spirit Buffalo