The last time we spoke to Johanna Walderdorff she had just moved to Leipzig to concentrate on her large-scale fantastical creations. Since then, the German illustrator has been working nonstop. “I got commissioned for the first time shortly after the last article and I haven’t stopped working since. Last year I found a lovely studio in Kreuzberg, Berlin that makes working long nights an absolute joy. I’m very happy that my illustrations appeal to so many different clients and that they can be used to illustrate a wide range of topics; from a comic about Puccini‘s La Boheme for the Bavarian State Opera in collaboration with Bureau Borsche to monthly posters for underground club Institut fuer Zukunft otherwise known as Leipzig’s Berghain,” Johanna tells It’s Nice That. Her striking creations may be versatile, yet Johanna remains faithful to her aesthetic. Each drawing is populated by some sort of absurd scenario, from surreal dismembered body parts snorting coke and drinking champagne to a horse-man hybrid.
The most important part of illustration for Johanna is that she enjoys it. Her delight is clearly translated through the various personal elements that materialise – often unintentionally – in her work. “I love drawing faces and people. I just do. I’m not always sure who the characters are but I could tell you endless stories about them, what they are like, how they feel and what they do. Having said that, I often find myself recognising friends’ facial features in my illustrated figures. I love when that happens! It‘s an unconscious thing,” the illustrator explains. Johanna’s play with faces and identities can also be perceived as an apt critique of a narcissistic culture obsessed with its digital cameras and self-centred representations; in one illustration, a neck is stretched to its limits just to make it into a camera frame while another drawing sees a man with multiple heads that chat to themselves while he is having a cigarette.
“I draw inspiration from anything and everything. I am currently listening to classical popsicles – that’s what I call them – like Johann Strauss’ Tritsch Tratsch Polka or Sinn Sissamouth’s Kung Prous Solanch. I am also into Pop Art graphics from the 1960s like Eduardo Paolozzi’s incredible work. I just discovered the fantastic Austrian photographer Peter Granser. I spent some time browsing through two books of him in El Alto that shows him standing next to buildings by the Bolivian architect Freddy Mamani Silvestre. They are amazing! Another recent influence Harmony Korine’s Gummo and the film’s characters. I finally managed to watch it some weeks ago,” Johanna says. These diverse artistic influences are evident in Johanna’s use of vibrant colours and playful compositions. Despite touching on larger social issues, Johanna’s art speaks through ridiculous and humorous situations with her strikingly unique visual language.
“I want my illustrations to tell stories. I often consider what these figures might have done before and after they were captured in my drawings. How did they end up here? That’s why I’m starting work on a picture book. Although I’m not sure if it will be for children or adults.”