Wolfgang Stiller

Burnt out bodies

Thomas Jukes

“When we are confronted with an artwork we always bring our personal experiences and history into this observation or reflection. Sometimes this can be much richer and more original than the intention of the artist. If we limit our encounter with the work to the intention of the artist, we deprive ourselves from some unique experiences.” - Wolfgang Stiller, 2020

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Wolfgang Stiller is a German artist who was born in Wiesbaden in 1961 and has been working as an artist for almost 40 years. Primarily an installation artist, Stiller has become a very well-known and much-shown artist across the globe, amassing over 55 solo shows and an incredible 85 group show exhibitions! However, Stiller’s artistic journey to a globally known creator was not an easy one. Through his early experience of the arts, Stiller began studying communication design but was painting and focusing on his installation work in the background. Realising that he didn’t want to end up in some creative office environment would push Stiller towards making a name for himself as an artist. Thanks to a friendly connection Wolfgang was accepted into the prestigious Art Academy in Düsseldorf. Still, at this point, he was mainly painting but his work and mind were continually drawn to space and his works began their journey into the 3rd dimension. 

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After leaving the academy Wolfgang moved to Berlin in the late 1980s, the city was still divided and at the time was not seen as the artistic centre of Germany. Nevertheless, Wolfgang never regretted his move, and when the wall came down in the following years' everything in the city changed. Over the next decade of his life, Wolfgang Stiller started focusing on his large-scale installation projects. Whilst being the art-form that most excited him it sadly did not have the same effect for galleries. However, many museums took the young artist on for solo shows and he was even being picked up by private collectors. Stiller was sticking true to the art that he was passionate about and was more than happy with the exposure that he was getting from the museums and private collections. 

Wolfgang continued to face challenges of getting his work into gallery spaces after he made the move to New York in the year 2000. With his time in the studio rapidly waning and side jobs taking over, Wolfgang Stiller made the decision to move across to Beijing, China in 2006. From here he would not look back, his work was incredibly warmly received. Seemingly having stepped into a different world he began finding it easier and easier to get work into the huge arts spaces that were springing up all across the megacity. His works drew great and curious audiences and whilst over there he would begin the series of works that have become his most well-known pieces: the Matchstick Men series.  

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Since starting the matchstick men series Wolfgang Stiller’s interest in the human head, separated from its body, has steadily increased, with his latest works all containing human heads in varying locations and situations. His matchstick men works are fascinating pieces to behold, they evoke a very surreal experience within the viewer as we look upon them. Seen from a distance they easily resemble a very standard match, yet blown up to a ridiculous scale. The detail work of the pieces is incredible with the rich and deep black scorching its way down the wooden stick. And then of course there are the heads of the matches, quite literally in this instance. Each match has at its top a human head, seamlessly sculpted into the wood. The heads that Wolfgang has used for his most recent works focus on representing people of different origins, through this universal notion that concerns every human being.

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These specific works by Wolfgang Stiller are therefore open to the public interpretation, however the artist is consistent in the following statement “My main motivation for this work is the impermanence of our human existence as well as pointing out the way we burn and waste human resources, which can be said for every system.”

From our point of view, there is an interesting sense of peace that comes from the work, like a beauty from the flames that has warped and altered the matchstick but the human head remains unchanged.  Perhaps it is to say that there is an individuality to all humans but in essence, we all burn the same, we are all made from the same material. 

However, you choose to view these pieces by Wolfgang Stiller there is no denying the visual and mental impact of the work. His installations are stark yet beautiful, and yet, also haunting and somewhat unnerving. They are a demonstration of an artist who has always stuck to what art means to him and not to other people. Wolfgang Stiller has not taken the easy path to artistic success, he has remained true to his personal experience of art and it is giving the world installations that challenge us, make us think about the nature of being human and of our world around us. They inspire different reactions from different people, do you relate it to personal experiences or does it seem like an installation of somebody's used-up playthings. Individuals burnt up for the sake of seeing them burn? 

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Photographize granted permission to feature photos by Wolfgang Stiller

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