Thilo Westermann is known for his reverse glass paintings, unique prints, and photomontages. To create his reverse glass paintings, he first covers the reverse of a glass plate with a thin layer of black paint and then uses a needle to etch the image, dot by dot, from the black surface. When the motif is finished, Westermann covers it with white paint, which makes the countless dots visible on the front of the glass plate. Varying dot density creates the illusion of space, depth, and shading, as well as gives Westermann’s flowers, still lifes, and scholar’s rocks the semblance of real objects sealed under glass.
Westermann has his reverse glass paintings scanned, enlarged six times the original size, and printed only once as unique prints. In the enlarged version, the dots constituting the image become apparent, revealing the artist’s characteristic style. His unique prints are as unique as his reverse glass paintings—and offer another, more close-up view of one and the same motif.
The motif of scholar’s rocks represents this reciprocal exploration particularly well. Formed by flowing water or wind erosion over millions of years, these stones are found in nature and, in Chinese and Japanese aesthetics, became integral to scholarly deliberations on the large and the small. Rather than depicting existing rocks, Westermann creates new compositions by balancing emptiness (the holes in the rock/the untouched black background) and substance (rock as solid material/amalgamation of etched dots).
His floral still lifes depict cultivars whose history reveals (historical) trade relations, colonization processes, or other meaningful narratives. The peony cultivar Paeonia lactiflora Sarah Bernhardt, for example, originates in East Asia but was bred and transformed in accordance with Western aesthetics over the centuries. Named in 1906 after the famous belle époque actress, this cultivar was incorporated into the Western cultural canon and became one of the most popular plants among garden enthusiasts.
Certain real-life situations attract Westermann’s attention and form the basis of his photomontages. He first documents the atmosphere found in hundreds of close-up photographs. Image by image and detail by detail, he empathizes with the encountered and becomes one with the genius loci. Although documentary, this process is determined by the artist’s memories, previous experiences, and his state of mind while taking the photographs. Moreover, conversations with the owners or “curators” of the photographed places can provide further information about the objects found and photographed. Westermann often follows up his photographic sessions with extensive archival and library research.
Back in the studio, he condenses the close-ups and the gathered information. He creates 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.