"Dialogue Earth" Profiles Local Artist’s Love and Use of the Landscape She Paints

Aug 16, 2019

For more than four decades, Ulrike Arnold has traveled the world, painting abstract landscapes that look like topographical maps. She uses the soil and rocks she finds while in nature as her medium.

Sunday at 2:00, the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff will screen the documentary "Dialogue Earth," which profiles Arnold and follows her to places that inspire her, like her home near Flagstaff, the canyons of southern Utah and the U-S/Mexico border. The film will be followed by an artist Q and A.

She spoke with KNAU’s Zac Ziegler

Ulrike Arnold paints while in Bryce Canyon in 2000.
Credit Wiki Commons

Zac Ziegler:  Tell me about these paintings and how you make them.

Ulrike Arnold: I studied art and music, and I was not interested to paint with color until there came this moment where I had like an impact that I only wanted to paint with earth. In Europe, you have very interesting cave paintings. And I say to the professor ‘I want to write how everything started. The people who created these huge paintings in the cave.’ So I went to France. I saw it, and that was one of the biggest impacts. It was so beautiful, and all done with earth.

ZZ: You're from Dusseldorf Germany. How did you find your way to the Colorado Plateau and the Flagstaff area.

UA: In the 80s, I saw the film from Godfrey Reggio that film is called “Koyaanisquatsi.” It's about the beauty here in the southwest, and they flew over the canyons and I saw this amazing pictures and film and I said, ‘My God. This is America. I have to go there.’ But then I was thinking from whom can I get some information? There was this magazine Stern in Germany, and there was a writer who wrote a book about his experience here in the southwest. So I wrote to him, Friedrich Abel, and I said, ‘Can you give me some good advice where it's good to go for my work? I got to meet him and he said immediately, ‘You know, I have here a hogan east of Flagstaff. I have to work in Hamburg at that time. You can stay there.

ZZ: Your work has also expanded to using Moon and meteor fragments. Most of us are never going to get to touch materials like that. How do they feel different from Earthly materials?

UA: In 2003, there was here at the USGS a special celebration for the last Moon flight. So we went into Meteor Crater, which is normally not allowed, and there I met this interesting man. And when he heard what I'm doing, only painting with the earth, he said, ‘You know what, I have some very special material it's meteorite dust. I cut meteorites, and what is falling off these cuttings, I have collected.’ It feels very sharp, the cuttings, this is iron, nickel and metal. If you touch it you just have this unbelievable feeling, and I always get goosebumps when I touch it. It's so special.

ZZ: In the documentary we see people touching your work including some who are visually impaired. Is the idea of giving paintings texture and making them tactile and important element of your work?

UA: I think not [all] artists would like that someone touched their painting, but I always try to tell, ‘Please, touch to experience not only with the eye. I had this show in the German embassy in Santiago de Chile. I painted in Atacama Desert, and then we invited blind kids from blind school and I wanted that these kids can experience painting, but they also had these other things. They could smell, they were (sniffs) smelling the painting. So all these things for the viewer are important.