This Week's AWW
We’re traveling to Germany to learn about our next Agenda Worthy Woman. Thirteen years ago, I was traveling solo to Valencia, Spain for a 2 week Spanish program. Lucky for me, so was this gal. We clicked instantly, and had a blast drinking Spanish wine and mojitos, and chatting about life in Germany and the US. Thanks to visits and FB messenger, we’ve kept our connection. Allow me to share a glimpse at this amazing woman/artist’s story! Meet Silke Forstmeyer.
Name: Silke Forstmeyer
Hometown: Heidelberg, Germany, the city with the nice castle!
Current residence: Cologne, Germany, expensive flat in the nicest part of town, paying through the nose for my rent
Astrological Sign: Pisces
Where and what did you study, and how has it helped shape your career?
I studied Applied European Languages and graduated as a translator for English, French and German. Part of my degree programme, I spent abroad in England (one year) and in France (one year).
Living and studying abroad was the most important and “shaping” experience of my study years, being surrounded by many different nationalities and trying to “fit in” another country, another education system, another society. I particurlarly loved my time in England where I was sharing a little house with three English people – a couple from Birmingham and a guy from London. I shall never forget our together-times in the scruffy living room watching British comedy series or our evenings in pubs watching stand-up comedians.
My studies have helped me to gain what we call “intercultural” skills, i.e. being able to deal with people from many nations.
Where do you currently work, and can you explain a bit about your job?
I work at a private university specialised in media. I am a careers advisor and try to help students finding their way into suitable jobs, cooperating with media businesses in the area but also Germany- wide. I also always encourage and support students who want to spend some time abroad, either studying or doing internships in another country. Going to the US is somewhat tricky for our students because of the working visa process, but some manage, mainly thanks to relatives in the US.
What are some of your past work experiences, and how have they led you to your current gig?
I worked my way through three countries (England, Australia, Germany) and have held various positions, starting from teaching German to foreigners in Cologne, teaching English, organising students exchange programs with the USA. I somehow landed in this university here which is good as I am in daily contact with young people and it’s never boring. Well, hardly ever. My boss is Dutch and the boss-boss is actually from Iraq. Sometimes, the cultures clash a little, but we manage to have a successful university with increasing student numbers running. I guess the key words are respect and communication.
I am also the womens‘ representative at my company, so I have to watch out that women are treated equally especially when it comes to recruiting new professors. Sometimes, it is still sort of a man’s world when it comes to “important decisions” and I am trying to change this...
You are an amazing artist. Can you talk a bit about your art... what is your medium? How did you get started? Where do you exhibit and sell your art?
Thank you for calling me an amazing artist. I guess I am an artist in some way. I think, drawing and painting has always been my companion, even though I did not STUDY art in that academic sense. I think I must have picked it up more actively in 2001, as this was the year I made my first ever oil painting showing a scene from the French film “Amélie” featuring the cafe on Montmartre in Paris where this film was mostly set. Back then, I painted in a group led by the German artist Günter Limburg (he is an expressionist who has a similar style to Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and other artists of the “Bridge,” die Brücke).
Most of my artwork are paintings in acrylics or oil. I have a little art studio within my flat where I work in the evenings or weekends. I started using mixed materials such as ground stones (marble and chalk from the Champagne region in France) and include them in my paintings to create structures.
At the moment, I only present my paintings in small group exhibitions. For example, right now, some of my artworks are on display in a exhibiton called “Together” where artists from Germany and refugees did a workshop together. Last year, I had two paintings on show in a group exhibition with Syrian artists, and it was great to meet these artists in person (most of whom studied at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus).
Of course, hoping that one day, I can also show some of my works in the US...
Every artist has a different way to go about creating their art. Are there any rituals you follow? What’s the ideal place for you to paint?
That is a good question…. I guess most of my paintings start with an idea in my head, a blurred vision or idea. Or a certain urge or attraction towards a specific color or color combination (i.e. one day in winter, I had this thing in my head: “I must paint an orange picture!”)
Maybe it’s best to give you an example: Whenever, I have time to paint, I go to my favourite art supply shop nearby my home. It is called “The Tube” and the same guys have worked there for ages always listening to some drum’n base music. You can ask them all sorts of questions, which is cool.
I then pick the colors that “speak to me” at that point in time and a canvas in the right size. In my studio, I usually start painting, sometimes just throwing colour onto the canvas or with a little sketch in charcoal. I never really work for hours on end. It’s more like I keep coming back to my painting whenever I feel like it, sometimes just for short while, for example until the pasta is ready.
Some paintings are finished within 10 minutes, others take weeks. For example, I have a painting that I struggle with as I cannot decide what colour of hair the woman should have. First it was green, now it is grey. It might end up pink…. I guess these are the paintings that have something to do with me.
Can you take us through a day in your life, so that we not only can get a chance to see how you mix your art with life, but also to tell us a bit about life in Germany?
My alarm usually goes off at 7 a.m. and I start the day with a big mug of coffee (good old American filter coffee style) and some muesli. If the weather allows, I cycle to work – it is a bike ride of about 30 minutes mostly through the green strip of the city of Cologne. Mind you, you have to be very awake as there is a lot going on: cyclists, pedestrians, cars, trams…..the City of Cologne is not the most cyclist-friendly city. From 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m., I am at work in my Career Service office, where I help students with finding internships. This job involves a lot of liaison with companies looking for young talents, but also dealing with staff of the university here and of course, supporting students in many ways.
My evenings are spent mainly with normal stuff, such as cooking and tidying up, yoga-classes, meeting my boyfriend, going for a drink after work, and often going to art exhibitions.
As I have managed to reduce my working days to 4 a week, I have more time now to: socialize with friends, paint, do yoga, try to sell my art mainly online.
I also enjoy NOT having too many plans all the time. As you know, being creative requires a certain amount of “hanging loose” (like sitting on my balcony staring at my plants….).
What advice do you have for others looking to pursue their art?
Keep doing it, stick with it, and try and meet other artists, get inspired. It also helps to go and see other artists’ art, famous and non-famous artists. This year, I have seen an amazing exhibition of Rosenquist at the Museum Ludwig here in Cologne. But I have also just come back from an AMAZING art show in an old castle in Belgium (An art project at Castle Old Rekem, 15 July – 30 September 2018, Belgium) If you get the chance to see it, it is unbelievable: http://www.forumtri.be/en/project/2018 .
What advice would you give your younger self?
Relax! You never know what life brings you and there is no point in working yourself up over things too much.
I had so many sleepless nights in my 30’s…. About work, love, which direction to take. I still have the same questions nowadays, but do not necessarily loose sleep over them any more, as I know, I have survived many tricky situations.
You’re quite a world traveler. Can you talk about places around the world that you’ve either lived in or traveled to? Any favorites?
World traveler….well. I have always preferred to LIVE somewhere for a while rather than being a tourist, so I had the chance to study in France for one year. I also lived in London for 2 years and in Australia, also for two years.
I met my wonderful American amiga Abbey on a Spanish course in Valencia some 13 years ago!! As I had many single phases in my life, I had to be inventive when it comes to holidays. So I did a lot of language courses, sailing trips, yoga trips and also just visiting friends in Europe and the US (Milwaukee, Chicago, Seattle).
Favourites? New York!!! Preferably on my own just drifting through the city talking to locals.
Followed by Provence, Southern France. It is very “sensual” in France - everything smells nice, looks nice, feels nice, and tastes nicer than in Germany. When I think of Southern France, I think of: lavender scent, ripe apricots, strong cheeses and garlic, super blue sky, the wonderful French language, sitting in street cafes eating olives and drinking wine.
What are some books you’d recommend?
Trying to think of internationally known authors….my favourite is Lily Bret, the book is called “Chuzpe,” where her old dad aged 85 opens a Polish meat-balls restaurant in New York.
Other than that, I actually have a range of books with advice on relationships.
German Title translated: 5 Things couples should know by Ursula Nuber. This book was actually recommended to me by my aunt who is an 81 year old psychologist (still working). And it is very hands-on, realistic and helpful.
Do you have a quote or mantra that has influenced your life?
“Trust and Fear Not” – I saw this mantra written on the porch of an old church in London and it sort of sums it all up to me. I often struggle with this “trusting” part, not in the sense of not trusting your partner to betray you, more in the sense of trusting in life as such. That things will work out ok. And that some higher force might be guiding us after all.
How do you stay healthy & balanced? Any tricks?
Well, sometimes I do not maintain such a healthy lifestyle. But I am trying to stay sane doing yoga – sometimes in classes, sometimes at home with my favourite yoga podcasts and apps.
I am not such an “extremist” as in following the latest trends on superfoods etc. as I think most of it is just ….marketing strategy.
I am trying to avoid white flour and sugar and am not eating too much meat, escpecially not that horrible processed meat stuff (ok, the occasional Bratwurst is still allowed).
My mum always says to me “everything in moderation” and this is what I have kind of taken in.
Fruit and vegetables are very important and I actually have a smoothie maker which I use for green smoothies or just lovely shakes (redcurrants, blood orange juice, yoghurt is my latest favourite).
Finally, who in your life do you feel is an Agenda Worthy Woman?
Martina Weihrauch, my best friend and cousin. She has brought up three kids more or less on her own, is a nurse and now an equal opportunity officer at a big university hospital. She is also active in politics marching the streets for womens rights. She is also doing a course as a healer (bit of witchcraft involved here). Plus, she is the funniest, kindest and most tolerant person I know (same as my mum).
Where to find Silke!
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Silke! Friends, be sure to check out Silke’s art. How do you say “AMAZING” in German? Click on the links below or follow Silke on Instagram to find out!
Silke’s Instagram: silkeforrester_art