Interview with surreal artist Aleta Welling

Dec. 2011 interview with Aleta Welling delves into her surreal artwork of the time, heavily influenced by the work of H.R. Giger and by science fiction and horror themes

Aleta Welling is a Leipzig, Germany based abstract artist. Her newer style can be considered “dark abstract”. Prints and originals can be found at her official website. Aleta is also known for her guest vocals on several songs by German EBM/industrial artist :wumpscut: (Rudy Ratzinger), including “Fear In Motion”, “She’s Dead” and “Dr. Thodt”, among many others. Perhaps most memorably, Aleta is also credited with writing the lyrics for one of the biggest :wumpscut: hits, “Wreath of Barbs”.

The following interview was conducted in Dec. of 2011 when Aleta was based in Phoenix, Arizona. All artwork and videos are from that earlier period of her career. I hope to conduct a new interview with Aleta as time allows.

How long have you been doing your artwork and what was your inspiration to begin along this path?

Aleta Welling image.

Artist Aleta Welling.

I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid. I started painting in high school, which is about 20 years ago now. Music has always been my main inspiration to create art, but I had a great art teacher in high school, Mr. Akimoto, who really encouraged me to do my own thing. He allowed me to take two courses in one semester so that I could spend one of those classes working on original paintings of mine. He also made sure I got an art scholarship when I graduated. It was not much, but paid for college books. The one thing I mainly remember him saying to me was, “It doesn’t matter how good of an artist you are. No one will notice you unless you create your own style.” This sounded like a good challenge to me. From then on, I started painting in all the free time I had.

Can you give a summary of your art career and where it has taken you over the years? How long have you been based in Phoenix?

My art career has been frustratingly slow, but moving upward all the time. I think this is how it is with most independent artists. Unfortunately, having your own style does not gain you instant notoriety. You’ve also got to have the right connections. I’ve only been seriously trying to get into galleries for the past 10 years, though. I started showing in galleries in Germany, where I lived for about 18 years, off and on. I then moved to the mid-Atlantic area for a few years with my husband, where I also had many shows in Washington, DC and Baltimore. Then we moved here.

I’ve been in the Phoenix area for about six years now. The past year I have been a member of the local gallery Galeria de los Muertos, who have done a lot for the local artists here. They are closing at the end of the year though and moving to California and becoming an online store as well. It’s sad to see it go, but it’s also a great thing for the gallery. [The final gallery show for Galeria de los Muertos was on Dec. 16, 2011 and was entitled ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’, also featuring artwork from Aleta].

The one thing I’ve noticed, is that the less you move around, which I’ve always been doing, it’s much easier to get your foot in the local art community door. Which is pretty important to start with. Most recently, I’ve begun to have my work printed on canvas (giclee), and selling those at local art festivals. This seems to be the way to go these days. It’s much more affordable for people.

'Barracuda' by Aleta Welling.

Aleta Welling, Barracuda.

What formats and mediums do you mostly use for your paintings? Is there a particular size range you prefer to work with? What type of paint do you normally use? Do you have any other insights on some of the technical details of your work?

I started out using acrylic, but I moved on to oil in the past five years. I like the more realistic look that oil provides. I prefer working on large canvas or wood. The larger the better! I have worked with papier-mâché a lot as well, creating small sculptures, but I haven’t done anything with that in awhile. They are not easy to transport and take up much of my time that I would rather spend painting. I’m kind of obsessed with shading and contrasting colors, which is why you will find many spherical, metallic items and deep shadows in my work. The most important thing, though, is juxtaposition. I was taught that a painting needs to make the eye continue to travel in a circle, so that one does not get bored when looking at it. This is a problem I have with most modern art. I tend to almost instantly look away, because the artist has not grasped that concept, or they just don’t care enough to try. It bores me to think right away that not much effort was put into a piece of art.

For someone who hasn’t seen your work before, how would you describe it? Are there particular emotions that you try to evoke in the viewer?

'Purple Noir' by Aleta Welling.

Aleta Welling, Purple Noir, acrylic.

This is always tough for me. I’m not really a verbal person usually. Which is why I paint. I suppose you can describe my art as a biomechanical surreal style. Dark fantasy is also a good description. One very interesting thing I hear from many people is that the pieces all seem to be both masculine and feminine at the same time. Which is great to me. I want people to be a little confused and have to think about my art. Otherwise, they’ll just look away. The emotions I am trying to evoke are very deep. I have a mind that is stuck in the past and the future. I try to tie them both together in my art. I think that is why I like the biomechanical look so much. I also have my head in the clouds with music a lot, and these are some of the images that music invokes for me. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

You mention combining the past and the future in your artwork, sort of a timeless quality. It seems like “Steampunk” art and music shares those some of those aesthetics. Do you have any interest or ties to that scene?

I never heard of the name Steampunk until about two years ago, but I get invited to display my art at those shows all the time out here. As a matter of fact, I am currently in one Steampunk theme group show at the Firehouse Gallery in Phoenix until January 8th, 2012. I don’t consider my work fully Steampunk, but it goes together in a strange way. I think I’ve always been into that style and it has influenced my work a lot; I just didn’t know it had a name or that so many people were so hardcore into it. We have a very large Steampunk community out here in Phoenix, anyway. People really get dressed up for these events!

Is painting a full-time job for you, or do you have a day job to help supplement your income?

I wish it were my full time job. It’s my part time unpaid job. I am a store artist for Whole Foods Market full time. If I could ever be paid full time for painting, I would think I was getting away with something. It’s just too fun! Ha!

Aleta Welling with H.R. Giger, circa 2000.

Aleta Welling with H.R. Giger, circa 2000.

Are there particular artists who have influenced your style and subject matter? Who have been your biggest inspirations?

H.R. Giger, Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol are the top three. Giger is the best. He is just really inspiring. I can stare at his art for days and keep seeing different things. Salvador Dalí I respect so much because he really was way ahead of this time. And Andy Warhol, while I’m not really a huge fan of his artwork, it’s his concepts that interest me. He was extremely intelligent and cool. I’m also a huge fan of classical Renaissance art. Even art in churches. I am just amazed by how realistic it all is.

Have you visited the H.R. Giger Museum in Gruyères, Switzerland?

I have visited that museum. It is really fantastic. I would love to go back though, because I was there before the bar was built. I have also been to the Giger bar in Chur, his birth town.

What is your favorite artwork to date? Is there one particular piece that stands out for you?

'Absynthe Asylum' by Aleta Welling.

Aleta Welling, Absynthe Asylum.

Do you mean my art? Or someone else? If you mean mine, I am particular to The Devil in HeavenClear Now Is The Snow and Absynthe Asylum. But to name your favorite piece is like trying to name your favorite child.

Do you enjoy horror and science fiction films, and do they ever have influence on your artwork? What are your favorite films?

I enjoy science fiction way more than horror. Though, The Shining is probably my favorite horror flick. Dune and Bladerunner are the top sci-fi films for me. I read a lot of sci-fi and science books too. But I also love Stephen King, Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft! All of them are big influences on my work as well.

You are currently based in Phoenix. I lived in Scottsdale for five or six years. I have to ask, isn’t it hard to be Gothic when the temperature gets up to 115 degrees in the summer?

Ha! Everyone asks that! It’s rough in the summer, for sure. There are those days that I just want to crawl out of my skin. I don’t dress up as much as I used to though, and Phoenix is very casual. So it’s no problem. I know, it’s weird, but I actually really like heat. I lived on a beach when I was a kid, and I loved it. I’m a warm weather person. But NOT a humidity person. Yuck!

How would you describe the Phoenix art scene?

The art scene here is thriving! I am really amazed. I’ve met so many talented artists here, and there are many that create dark spooky stuff. Many people here have remarked that it feels like an art renaissance seems to be going on here. Believe it or not, Phoenix’s First Fridays Artwalk is one of the largest in the country. Thousands of people show up every month.

'Zero' by Aleta Welling.

Aleta Welling, Zero.

This column is geared toward Seattle-related Horror (Arts & Exhibits). Do you have any artwork on display in Seattle? Do you otherwise have any connections to the Seattle art scene?

Unfortunately not. I would love to show my art there some day.

Many people in the Gothic/Industrial music scene know you for your vocals on several :wumpscut: albums, including the songs “Fear In Motion” and “She’s Dead” from 1991’s Music For A Slaughtering Tribe and a number of songs from Wreath Of Barbs. How did you happen to work with Rudy Ratzinger (:Wumpscut:)? Are you proud of your vocals, or do you view it more just for fun? Have you ever thought of making your own music project?

Yes. I moved to Germany with my family in 1987. I was going to high school in Munich, and on the weekends I was attending goth/industrial clubs in the area. Rudy was a dj at one of them. He was starting to make music back then and asked me to sing for him. I said no at first, not sure why. I was never a singer before, so maybe I was just nervous about doing it. My family and I moved back to the U.S. shortly after that, in ’91, but then I moved back to Germany less than a year later, with culture shock from the U.S. Ha! So, Rudy asked me again, and I said why not. Yes, for sure I view it as fun. I am also proud of what I did. Rudy is a great friend and I was just doing a favor. I never thought it would grow into the awesome thing that it has. I’m really happy for him. I’ve often thought of doing my own music, but haven’t been surrounded by the right people or been able to tell if I am even able to create it. I envy the people who can do it. But I think that I am mainly here to just enjoy it a lot and paint.

How did you come to do vocals on 2010’s Schrekk & Grauss after all these years (nine years after your last collaboration with Rudy, on 2001’s Wreath Of Barbs)? Is it the same working with Rudy as it was in the past?

I did vocals on Schrekk & Grauss simply because I was visiting Germany and Rudy asked me to do some vocals. The only difference is that this time I did not write anything, and it’s very hard to even tell it is me. Ha! Working with Rudy is always the same. Quite easy. He’s like a big brother to me and is one of the sweetest people I know. He’s easy going but also has a powerful presence in his friend’s lives. He likes to teach people how to do things. He also makes creating music look easy, like I could probably do it if I stuck to it. He’s inspiring, to put it simply.

':wumpscut: Tribute' by Aleta Welling.

Aleta Welling, :Wumpscut:. This piece, which features motifs from most of the :wumpscut: albums released at the time, was created for the ‘:WumpscART: Festival & Post-Apocalyptic Art Show!’. The show took place on Sunday, May 29th, 2011 at the Galeria de los Muertos in Phoenix, Arizona. The event served two purposes: as a release party for the :wumpscut: album Schrekk & Grauss and also as a showcase for local artists.

If people like your artwork and want to see more, or purchase prints or originals, what is the best website for them to check out? 

My website is the best place to visit: You can buy all kinds of sizes of giclee prints of each painting too. I also have shops online at Etsy and ArtPal. You can also find my art page on Facebook.

Finally, below is a is a music video featuring elements of Aleta’s artwork, created by Leon Welling and released on Nov. 19, 2011. The song used for the video is :wumpscut:’s “Wreath of Barbs”, which Aleta wrote the lyrics for. Leon Welling is a Colorado Springs-based filmmaker. His production company is Terror Horror Films and he is currently working on a featured film entitled Costigan Bloch [Note: Costigan Bloch was later released in 2018]. For more about Leon’s work, please see his IMDB profile.

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