Many of us are all too familiar with his attention-grabbing work. Some of us might even have a few of his colourful paintings on our walls, or perhaps some of his sculptures in the living room. Wherever you stand on art, Richard Winkler’s work is always fascinating to look at or, for some admirers, to feel. The compelling tubular form that is his signature makes you wonder about the diversity of human bodies that come in various forms and sizes. However beautiful or jarring for the viewer, Winkler’s creations are a reflection of his fascination with bodies. His work sends messages to us all about the beauty of the human body, and of nature. Prestige learned more about all this, as well as about his home life with his wife Regine, when we visited their home in Sanur.
Sanur has always been an artsy neighbourhood, a quaint area where many artists live and work. It was one of the first areas in Bali to draw in tourists and visitors, long before neighbourhoods like Seminyak and Canggu took over. It was back in 1997 when Winkler, who is Swedish, and Regine moved to Ubud. Some years later, they settled in Sanur. Winkler has held plenty of exhibitions of his work, both in Bali and outside. His passion for art came about in early childhood. He credits his grandfather, whom he admired deeply, recalling that they spent much time drawing together.
A rare physical disorder disturbed the growth of his bones when Winkler was young. He had to endure a lot of pain and undergo a number of surgeries. Those experiences shaped his art and gave birth to the bulbous, distorted figures he is known for. Usually set in a utopian Balinese landscape, Winkler’s images and forms have always been connected to the human body as well as nature. “I play around with these forms sometimes in more realistic ways, and sometimes in a more abstracted and playful way,” he says. “Then I put these forms in a context and play further with colours and light. I incorporate things or objects or situations I have seen, or simply that I have imagined or dreamed about.
“I’m interested in simple things, like going through a night market and watching everything that’s going on there. People working and carrying fruits and vegetables at night in a dim light. I observe the forms and colours of the fruits, the way they stack them on top of each other in baskets. I see tired women falling asleep over them, or the woman sitting at the front of a dark room which is filled up with fresh watermelons that has just arrived in a truck from the plantations. It looks like an ocean of watermelons! They seem to disappear in the darkness at the back of the room. The market is a crowded place full of life, yet some people seem a bit lonely in their business and hard work.”
Winkler has been working fulltime as an artist for the past 23 years. He has learned a lot from his experiences and life in Bali. On his website, he declares: “My world of painting and sculpture is a dream of colours, forms and beauty. It is a world where I can be free.” What motivates him to keep working on his art is the fact that it has become like another organ in his body: “It’s like your lungs, which have to breathe for you to live. If I don’t create something, I don’t feel as if I’m alive. To create is always a hard and tough struggle; sometimes it can be depressing when it doesn’t go the right way. It’s constantly testing and challenging you and your mental strength. But once in a while it makes you really satisfied and happy, and that satisfaction is beyond anything else known, even though it’s rare. So, I believe to create is to live and to chase that enormous satisfaction.”
Winkler’s work in sculpture began about 12 years ago, when he started making three-dimensional forms of figures in his paintings. A house adjacent to his home is now a workshop where he creates his sculptures. When he’s not working on paintings, he spends a lot of time forging sculptures that can grow as tall as three metres. Just imagine an empty house without any furniture, and that sculpture can fill the entire space in the room. He has assistance, obviously, but working day and night to perfect his art has been his routine for many years. He has seen a lot of changes within himself, and also in his practice and creative process.
“Artistically and creatively, I think I know myself way better,” Winkler says. “I have learned that there are better and worse days and moments, and also how to overcome fear. In time, you will learn and understand yourself and your own creative process. So, I think by the time you make peace with yourself and your creative fears, your confidence and patience grow.
I keep working all the time, but always trying not to interfere too much with my mind to create a concept of an idea to follow – rather, I let the creations become a spontaneous flow.” Finally, Winkler tells us about his dream project: “I have always been fascinated with gardens. A dream project would be to create a big sculpture garden with trees, plants and flowers. There would be many water features in the landscape and then I would fill the garden with sculptures. I would love to enjoy sculptures in a landscape rather than in a gallery.”