Thilo Westermann is a contemporary artist who works in drawing, reverse glass painting, print, and photomontage. The main foci of his artistic oeuvre are the exploration of the elemental nature of objects, a critical examination of socio-political narratives, and the process of image creation itself.
The genre of still-life painting serves as a basis for Westermann’s meditations on past and present cultural exchange and appropriation. Botanical recognition together with the pedigree of certain plants and the provenance of the selected vases are central to the cultural interplay and essence of Westermann’s images.
With microscopic precision, Westermann meticulously crafts his motifs in colored pencil drawings or reverse glass paintings. In his reverse glass paintings, Westermann first coats the glass pane with a thin layer of black paint. He then uses a needle to etch the image dot by dot. Finally, Westermann seals the image with a layer of white paint. Seen from the front through the glass pane, the etched dots merge into gray shades creating a three-dimensional motif. His high level of detail elevates the image to the hyperreal, breaking through the boundaries of mere representation.
After its completion, the reverse glass painting is scanned, enlarged several times, and printed. The large-scale printed image reveals the original motif to be a multitude of dots, and each dot becomes recognizable as the result of a unique action. Consequently, the original image becomes superimposed by the individual artistic strokes used in its creation. Enlarged, Westermann’s precisely crafted paintings unfold into monumental "landscapes". The small reverse glass painting and the large-format print offer two vastly different perspectives of one and the same motif.
The reciprocity of looking at a motif at once as a whole and as a concentration of individual dots is also thematically inherent to scholar rocks. These stones, extracted from rivers, lakes or mountains, were shaped over centuries by flowing water or wind erosion. Frequently displayed in the study or garden, the stones were used by scholars to reflect on the universe as an entity simultaneously large and small. Rather than depicting existing rocks, Westermann creates new compositions by balancing emptiness—the holes in the rock, or the untouched black background; and substance—rock as solid material, or the amalgamation of etched dots.
Similar to the way Westermann creates his reverse glass paintings from individual dots, he constructs his photomontages from fragments of photographic images. He first documents the atmosphere of certain real-life situations in hundreds of close up photographs. Image by image and detail by detail, he empathizes with the subject and becomes one with the genius loci. Although documentary, this process is strongly influenced by Westermann’s memories, previous experiences, and his state of mind while taking the photographs. Conversations with the owners or “curators” of the photographed locations provide further information about the objects found and photographed. Westermann frequently follows up his photographic sessions with extensive archival and academic research. Back in the studio, he synthesizes the close-ups and the gathered information to create a densely knitted image of what he has experienced, felt and investigated. The outcome thus contains far more information than any “single shot” would be able to convey, and reveals connections and narratives that would otherwise remain hidden.
Since 2018, Westermann has been writing letters to Stéphanie de Beauharnais (1798-1860), Napoleon's adopted daughter and former Grand Duchess of Baden, as if she were a living art collector. In his collection of letters, Correspondance avec Stéphanie, Westermann shares the results of his socio-political and cultural-historical research with the reader. Current events are also documented in the letters along with reflections on new and ongoing artworks.
Westermann's contemplations are continued in his artist's books and catalogs.