Petra Förster is the artist who creates life size statues from clay.
We visited her in the Buddhafabrik in Braunschwieg.
You have a huge experience behind. Do you remember how it all began? How the sculptureappeared in your life?
Actually I started with Fine Arts. I studied at the university of Art in Braunschweig, Germany and Nimes, France. First drawing, printing, painting and then sculpturing in clay. I worked directly in clay and sometimes I made a negative form and put in concret, wax or porcelane. My favorit subjects were the human body and portrait. It was 1991 when I started sculptering in university.
I was very sucessful with my work, got good jobs in university and won some grants. 2003 I moved with my workshop in the Buddhist center Braunschweig. The Buddhist Community (Sangha) asked me to make contact with the Thangka (Buddhist painting on scroll) painter Norbu from Rumtek. We wanted to order a Mahakala Statue for our Buddhist Center. I met Norbu in Cologne, we spoke and I showed some pictures of my works. He said, that I should learn buddhist statuebuilding and we would work together. He invited me to Rumtek in Sikkim, India. I went there but the statuebuilding master didn t come. FortunateIy I saw the first clay statues in a retreat center. The form, colour and surface on life-size statues: I was very impressed.
Have you achieved what you were thinking in the very beginning?
I thought that all people should know about this art, which is connected with the tibetan buddhism. And everybody should know about the technique which is so unique. Clay is the most philosophic material. People know about buddhist metall statues and they are always fascinated when they see and hear about clay statues. Last october Lama Ole Nydahl was in Braunschweig and said: Clay statues are directly connected with tibetain buddhism, they are typical tibetan. I was so happy to hear this after almost 10 years work with this subject. But this was only the beginning, we will keep it up.
How the idea or project is born?
2006 the Braunschweig Sangha asked Lama Ole and his wife Hannah if we could start a workshop for statuebuilding and thangkapainting in Braunschweig. Kris (my friend and also artist from Poland) and me showed some pictures of statues we had made, and Hannah said, we can do but long term we need a teacher and transmission. We started the same year with a french sculpture, Richard Granado, who learned from buthanese masters.
How much time passed from the idea to the finished sculpture?
You start only with a form you already learned from the master. We are working in exchange with Lama Ole. He determines when the statue is ready. It depends on the Buddha-Aspect and the state of the artists mind. You never know, sometimes it can be very fast, like 3 month for one Mahakalastatue 2 1/2 feet, and sometimes it takes 2 years.
Creativity and business. Where one ends and another begins?
In buddhist sculptering you are following the transmission of the master. But if the Lama as a patron wants something which is not in the transmission of the master, you should follow his advice. The whole process is creative in the way that you are always concious in what you are doing. We make forms from Buddha-Aspects for people to meditate on, to get an idea from space and bliss.
Buisiness should be outside as far as possible, but we have to live and so we have to find a good way for all.
What difficulties arise, how you deal with them?
The most difficult is to get unpatienced. I try to take out all pressure if possible. If I don t care I will have bad results in the work. Meditation, good relationship and a joyful life and surrounding is very important.
What is “form” for you?
Everything what is visible, also in mind.
What is success for you?
When I put energy in something and get a good result in the end, which makes many people happy.
You have a family, a lot of different projects. Share, please, how you have time for all of these?
I had a good partner when the children were young. Now they are 27 and 24. Their father supported my work by taking care of them more then many man are usually do. My second husband is also artist, he knows about the work and that there is no normal weekend or 8 hours day. I try to live in the moment, try to think of others, be happy, to work concentrated. I am meditating every day, I need sports to have a good mood. I like some disciipline in my life, I like to be active.
Tell me about Buddha-workshop (BINTA), please.Whose idea was that?
The workshop was the idea of Kris and me. We read an interview with Norbu, the thangkapainter from Rumtek in one buddhist journal. He said that it would be good to have a place for buddhist art in the western world. The Braunschweig Sangha decided that there is enough space to have a workshop in Braunschweig Buddhafabrik. We asked Lama Ole and he admitted. Kris and me started with the first workshop 2006. Richard Granado guided us and 5 other buddhist artist and we built a Buddha -Statue in one week, day and night. Since 2010 our teacher is Chhemet Rigzin from Ladakh. He was already 5 times in Braunschweig and together with him Kris and me we started the BINTA, Buddhist Institute for Tibetan Art. We are organizing workshops for interested buddhists. They can learn to build statues.
How many people are working on one statue?
That depends. We made four statues with a group of 4 till 7 people. Then we changed the system: everybody should make one statue by himself, to know everything.It depends on the knowledge of the people, if and what you work together. I like both: sometimes it is more easy to make it alone and sometimes it is very nice to work together, espeacially when a big master, like Chhemet Rigzin is the director.
How difficult is it for you to create a Buddha statue?
Petra: In the beginning it was very difficult, because it is so different from Fine Arts. The surface should be smoth and the forms should be nice, no straight lines, and everything is fixed. I had and have a lot to learn. Now it is little bit more easy. One needs 10.000 hours to master something, says Daniel Levitin.
What are you working on today in the Buddha-workshop?
I am working on a 5 feet hight 16 th Karmapastatue for Buddhist center in Moscow.
You create statues just for Buddhist centers or any Buddhist can order statue for his/her personal altar?
Mainly I am modelling statues for the Diamondway centers. In between I am working on private statues, that is good to experience new forms and actually I am working on a small 16th Karmapa statue, which I would like to make in bronze.
Photos and interviews – Iana Godenko