BETTINA WERNER is globally recognized as a pioneer and the inventor of the texturized, colored salt technique, our editor KATARINA DJORIC met with The Salt Queen in her stunning 2000sq foot art loft for this exclusive interview. The impressive loft is also a home to her showstopping creations, which inspired Katarina to talk with the artist about her beginnings as an artist, the challenges of working with salt as an art medium, but also some of her famous pieces.
When and how did you decide to become an artist?
As a 15 year’s old mature teenager, I fell in love with a young, handsome philosopher in Milan who became a major influence in my life. We shared a passion for books and art. We traveled across Europe and spent time in the most beautiful museums and galleries in Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, and more. He nurtured me with culture, and was the first person to discover and treasure my spirit, intellect, and imagination. He valued my artistic talents and inner passion, and encouraged me to become an artist. He was perhaps the most clairvoyant person I had ever come across, because it was he who foresaw that my future as an artist was going to be remarkable and have an impact on the world. He then became my first husband in Italy, before I came to the United States by myself to pursue my artistic calling.
How do you keep your creative spark? What keeps you fascinated?
Usually my creativity surfaces from my resourcefulness; I’m not “creative on command”! In order to spark my creative energy and challenge myself, I must always embrace alone time. I need to spend a lot of time by myself, and I actually adore keeping company with my inner self. My greatest strength is my art, and I value the precious time I get to spend with Bettina and her work. I am incredibly fascinated by the unique energy and soul I can conjure up simply by working creatively. The human condition is a minefield of mysterious and fantastic revelations.
What kind of impact do you want to make with your art? What is the message?
True art is impactful by itself. It carries on its message without having to explain anything; all is already in it! Art, by definition, is something that is beyond all that can be expressed with words or any other language. It is the expression of the human creative skill and imagination, formulating works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty and emotional power.
Can you tell me more about your technique for colorizing and texturizing salt crystals?
I’m always asked this question, and this is what I usually say. It’s an intense process of creation. It’s a mysterious and intimate affair, similar to making love. Each creation is like a child to me. When looking at a child, you do not question the parents about how the child was created,; but the focus is on the admiring the beauty and uniqueness of the creation at hand. This is how I see art. The intimacy of creation should be treasured by the creator secretly.
You’ve created different imaginative art collections. What was the inspiration behind some of them?
“The 102 Salt Dalmatians Art Collection” was inspired by my beloved companion Tibino. They capture memories of our life together beginning in 1991, when I first got him as a puppy. The “Tibino in the Pumpkin Patch” and “Tibino with the New Red Collar” are two particularly important examples in the series, along with all the others. In all of them I managed to stop time and preserve our treasured moments shared together. “Tibino in the Dunes” and “Tibino’s Joy” are also particular favorites. It’s incredible because through my artwork, people still feel his spirit alive.
I read that one of your famous “Kiss” paintings was donated at the exclusive international Contemporary Charity Art Auction, hosted in Monaco by Princess Stephanie.
Yes, that’s correct. That painting, along with others, helped raise an enormous amount of money for the charity. It started as a charity creation, and still continues to serve charities. That “Kiss” painting continues to attract new art lovers as an outreach to the world for peace, love and endearment.
What about your “NEVER MIND” and the “Millennium” Art Collections?
I created the “Millennium Collection” for the Trustees dinner at the Whitney Museum, in the year 2000. It consists of numerous paintings with vibrant gold, silver and copper colors. With the “Never Mind Art Collection”, I had reached a point of letting my feelings and emotions go, in order to gain new energy and new insight. Looking at the finished work over a period of time, the “Never Mind” paintings continue to strengthen me.
Can you also talk more about your “Ladybugs” Art Collection?
The idea came to me when a Ladybug appeared at the window of this loft. I was so amazed, I looked at her spots; then Tibino’s spots popped into my mind. That’s when I realized that Tibino had sent me a good luck message. Suddenly, my dearest Tibino – a Dalmatian – inspired the “Ladybug” series. The paintings in the series are 17 male, 17 female, and 17 baby paintings. Each work is in the colors orange, red, and yellow. In Italy, the Number 17 is an unlucky number: like the number 13. But I chose to create 17 of each because it is balanced by the good luck from the ladybugs. The female ladybug paintings are bigger than the male paintings because in nature the female is larger than the male. I also recently created a “Queen Ladybugs” series. These paintings are rounded and much bigger in diameter. Who knows how much more good luck the Queen Ladybug will bring!
Tell us more about salt being used as currency?
In ancient times salt was a symbol of prosperity. This is where the word Salarium (salary) comes from. In the past, I mean when the refrigerator was not even invented, salt was used to preserve meat and fish. Today, for example, there is still a warehouse of salt in Venice called “Magazzini del Sale”.
What is the mission of the Salt Queen Foundation?
Although The Salt Queen Foundation was created to protect and conserve my invention of the Texturized Colored Salt Technique, whilst also promoting the education of salt as it relates to history, the overall mission is to encourage other artists working with innovative art techniques and utilizing extraordinary materials and media.
Before your arrival in America, art critic Achille Bonito Oliva dedicated an entire chapter of his essay entitled “pittura con grano salis “ exclusively to your work, which was part of his historical book, “ Cosi’ lo stato dell’arte”. He used the bird as a metaphor in describing your driving creative force. Where do you fly next?
Like the Heron, my next flight will be to the magical land of my Italian roots, to fulfill my journey; surrounded by art, nature, horses and home, sweet home!
Keep up with Bettina @bettinawerner_saltqueen on Instagram.
Originally published in DESIGN SCENE Issue 025 – available now in print & digital