Reflections – An Artist Father’s Daughter

In a way, I lost part of my emerging artist grant cycle because of two “interrupting” trips to Germany (adding up to 6 weeks) to help my ailing father, Günter Westphal, sort through and pack up his studio and organize a rushed retrospective art exhibit “Taste den Mond” at Galerie Kammer in Hamburg. But on the other hand, this experience enriched my artist grant cycle beyond measure.

On my own website (on the day I left Germany), I published an extensive blog post about working with my father while he faces ALS, about the successful exhibit, about his social art theory and practice, about our family, and about being the daughter of an artist. And there are lots of photos from the exhibit and of his visual artworks: A Reflection of Papa

Since publishing that blog post two weeks ago, I intended to share an abbreviated version here as an “artist story” – but instead, here are some fresher thoughts. Call them, reflections of reflections if you will.

16 photos by Guenter Westphal

Günter Westphal is probably the biggest influence and inspiration to me as an artist – especially as a photographer and now as a social artist. He’s taught me so much. My passion for biophilic art may be inspired by both my parents as much as my experience of feeling whole, or at least healing, when in nature.

During this intense time together I had another realization. What is so natural at the core of my creative drive that I had figured I had this in common with most artists, is something I actually just absorbed by being my father’s daughter: that art needs to not only be a commentary on the world’s status quo, but also serve people directly – ideally help make the world a better place, or at least be a positive force.

It was such a gift to spend this time with my father and submerge myself in his work and help him unearth older artworks and realize the arc his work has created throughout his life… and how it carries into mine. I could thank my Papi for setting an example by dedicating his life to art that enlightens people and changes things for the better.

Rahel Puffert speech during art opening for Guenter Westphal

And after his exhibit had opened, we had time for a thoughtful and inspiring conversation about the work I’m envisioning for the Creative Pinellas exhibit opening on May 7th. I surprised myself with how many parallels there are to his work and yet how it is completely different. More about that in a future post.

How helpful it is to look and really get to know our parents and examine our connections and influences – no matter if they appear to be positive or negative. I’ve always felt lucky to be one of the people who have a parent (or two!) who truly get us, who speak the same language, understand our drives and hang-ups. But maybe most of us do, we just have to get really close to them and find out.

Of course, I’m not that unique. A lot of people follow their parents in their profession. And that can have its own challenges, like the need to outperform them or remain in their shadow – or having seen their struggles and disappointments. Maybe there are reasons why I focused on filmmaking for decades and only recently returned to photography and then dipped my toes into social art. I grew up going to art openings, but I never saw myself as the one exhibiting… until very recently.

Guenter Westphal, friends, family, artist studio, Hamburg, Germany

I returned from this trip exhausted and more than a little heartbroken – but also encouraged, inspired, and with a very strong sense of my roots and who I am as a creator.

My work may never be as groundbreaking, meaningful, or directly helpful as his. But I’m relieved to have realized that I’m okay with that. I may also never feel my work is as meaningful, helpful or as good as I wish it was or as others think it should be. None of it shall paralyze me as I continue to create and aim for being better and doing better for others. Again I’ve been reminded why my driving force isn’t the desire for commercial success. I embrace his idea of creating and interacting “at eye-level” with nothing and nobody above or below. No matter what my creative work looks like, I will see my father’s influence in it, and I will always be proud to be Günter Westphal’s daughter.

Thoughts by Günter Westphal

In a recent article in the German newspaper taz entitled Artist on Aesthetics as Empowerment: “Meeting at Eye-Level” Günter Westphal said:

“For every person, awareness of their own self, but participatorily also awareness of the other, only arises through sensuous experiencing, and through direct perception of the other – which is what I consider the “work field” of art.”

Guenter Westphal, Taste den Mond, invitation, rose

The English translation of the two paragraphs my father included in the above invitation for the art opening reception.

“My artistic work spans two fields. They are both autonomous in themselves and yet they depend on each other. On the one hand, photography and on the other, aesthetic work in social, political and public spaces. One field feeds on the other and vice versa. At the same time, both act as a corrective to each other. A dynamic togetherness whose aesthetic grammar I ground/justify ethically.

The act of photography itself is the place where I lose myself. Here, there is neither a before nor an after. What exists here is the mere intoxicating now. An addiction that can never be satisfied of using the camera to immerse oneself in the energetic interactions of living bodies and material things with one another, across and with one another. It is hearing with your eyes, seeing with your ears, smelling with your fingertips.”




snow-covered trail and trees, Luci Westphal

And what is next?

Today, thanks to my father’s efforts two streets in his Hamburg neighborhood are being renamed after two teachers who died in concentration camps and used to teach in the building, where my father launched a day center for unhoused adolescents.

The exhibit “Taste den Mond” has been extended until the end of the month.

Next my father and I will work on a book about his photography and aesthetic work in social, political and public spaces.

And I have finally begun the deep dive into creating my piece for the Creative Pinellas Emerging Artist group exhibit!

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