Let’s be honest, it’s hard not to smile at Malwine Stauss’ playful and child-like illustrations. Far from just being aesthetically pleasing though, her work is underpinned by a more serious message of empowerment and inclusion as well.
“Female characters are very important for my work,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I think a lot about characters that are self-determined and have built a role for themselves away from roles they are supposed to fill in society.” With people often the focus of her work, she is also trying her best to depict diversity too: “Lately I care about showing a diversity of people in my work a lot more. This is important to me having grown up in small-town east Germany in a very homogenous environment.”
It’s not just her immediate surroundings that have informed Malwine’s practice, travel has also played a big part having lived in Denmark, Germany and Albania. This has ultimately contributed to a rounded view of the world that can be seen in the diversity of her work.
When asked to describe her style, she explains to us that her friend once referred to it as “reduced forms with explosions of patterns, ornaments and friendly, strong figures” – which seems to hit the nail on the head. Malwine goes on to expand on this too: “I think my images are at the same time soft and strong. I’m trying to connect abstraction and figurative painting and drawing, using a lot of ornaments and decorative elements and a lot of colours,” she says. “I use soft pink in almost every painting. I like to combine soft and strong colours and soft and strong forms.”
With much of her latest work focused on female empowerment, she often references personal experience. Within this, her representation of hair is one thing that particularly stands out. Instead of a literal depiction, she uses circular balls joined in a similar manner to cartoon sausages, resulting in a playful chain that she weaves across her work. “I do identify a lot with the people in my paintings, showing moments that I experienced or that I imagine,” she says. “I also enjoy dressing the people in my paintings, giving them nice hairstyles and beautiful surroundings – it feels a lot like playing!”
Malwine studied at the Art Academy of Leipzig, and has gone on to teach the pre-course there now, which is something she is really embracing: “Teaching is so much fun for me and also a big challenge, so I’m learning a lot. I hope to be able to do a lot more teaching in the future.”
Much of her work during her time here focused on the spirituality of witchcraft, and the struggle of females depicting it down the years. She also managed to meet a lot of like-minded individuals who share her outlook on the world and creativity, forming the Squash collective with some of her peers. She continues to work with them today, and consults with them throughout her creative process.
“When I don’t know what to do or have a question, I post it into the Squash chat, and they help me to figure out the best way,” says Malwine. “All four of us use that chat as a place of art critique and it’s very helpful. I really couldn’t imagine not talking to anyone about what I’m doing whilst working.” Her process also involves much trial and error, as well as a range of emotions and self-doubt, “I’m sometimes anxious that nothing will come up and I will be unhappy and unproductive, but luckily that hasn‘t happened so far. So, in general, I would say my creative process is a roller-coaster ride between intuition, joy, fear and surprises.”
Her approach has clearly not let her down yet, recently releasing her first book The Trip, published by Colorama. There’s more to follow too, with a continuation of her diploma book Hexen (Witches in German) to be published later on this year by Rotopol. This move into the publishing world has long been a motivation of Malwine’s, describing it as “a dream”.
Not resting on her laurels, she also has plans for large scale paintings and illustrations, as well as an exhibition and book on love and sex, in collaboration with her friend Lina Ehrentraut. “We have explored in the past, that our works are very well together, and we want to expand that collaboration,” says Malwine. “So, if there are any exhibitions spaces that are interested in that project, we would be very happy to hear from them!”
About the Author
Charlie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in December 2019. He has previously worked at Monocle 24, and The Times following an MA in International Journalism at City University. If you have any ideas for stories and work to be featured then get in touch.