I am often asked how a doctor like me ended up being an artist. So, this is my story – from medicine to art …
I was born and grew up in Northern Germany, with my parents and two younger siblings. From being a teenager onwards, I have always absolutely loved art. The walls of my room were decorated with art posters and art postcards rather than pop bands. One of these postcards was a quote by, I believe, Joseph Beuys saying ‘Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler’ (‘everybody is an artist’).
My art heroes at the time (the 80s…) were the usual socially acceptable suspects: mainly Impressionists and Expressionists including Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Emil Nolde, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Käthe Kollwitz and Horst Janssen. I also had a teenage ‘art crush’ on sculptors Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin, and devoured Anne Delbée’s ‘Der Kuss’ (‘the kiss’, a biography of Camille Claudel). The book was a gift from my childhood friend Tanja, who was equally art obsessed. For our final year trip at school, we went to Paris. I pretty much spent the week wondering from gallery to gallery, asking for give-away art posters. I had quite the collection when returning home.
Anyway, going back slightly – when it came to choosing my A-level subjects at school, I was very much considered taking Art. My art teacher at the time, Frau Kaiser, encouraged me to do so. However, I was quite academic in school and strong in sciences, so my well-meaning parents convinced me to go for Chemistry and Biology instead (plus History and French for good measure), as they felt one wouldn’t be able to make a living as an artist. They were probably right.
One of my teenage drawings…
While keeping up art practice to some degree at university (mainly to process the many heartbreaks I seem to remember), making art went into complete hibernation when working as a doctor after finishing my medical degree. That was mainly because medicine (together with later looking after three children…) was all-encompassing and sucked up all energy that was available (and more). Having said that, I always maintained a passion for art exhibitions. I also wonder whether it may not be coincidence that I choose to specialise in Dermatology, which is the most visual medical specialty of all.
My passion for art also revealed itself in other curious ways, such as curating a crowd-sourced art competition, where international digital artists created works of art from a skin biopsy I had taken from my husband Jay’s leg (literally on the kitchen table, with surgical sutures and all…).
Decades later, maybe in 2017 or 2018, making art suddenly came out of hibernation for me. This happened completely out of nowhere. I simply decided on day that I will become an artist. I transformed the largest room at home into an art studio and started making. I also got obsessed with reading art books (I started with an A-level Art History book, followed by countless others) and watching artist talks and lectures on YouTube. However, at some point I started feeling I needed to get a more formal fine art education, so started a Master’s Degree in Fine Art, which I am doing part-time, while still working as a dermatologist. I am absolutely loving it and I strongly believe that keeping both practices makes me better in both areas.
My art is often informed by work as a doctor and a dermatologist. I like integrating medical objects and recontexturalise these in assemblages in order to inspire enquiry. These medical objects ultimately act as reminders of the finite nature of our physical body and compel us to look beyond the physical, where consciousness exists separate from our body. I am also interested in our the skin as the (perceived…) boundary between our self and the other, and how we emanate an electromagnetic energy field that extends our skin three feet in all directions. Other lines of enquiry explored in my artwork are non-sensory perception and the nature of reality. While when being with patients, a doctor has to take themselves back, I like being provocative in my art. Some people may like my work (hopefully…), while many will no doubt hate it. And that’s fine with me.
So, that’s it for today. Just one last word about my name. You may have noticed that my artist alias, Stef Will, is an abbreviation of my full name, Stefanie Williams. The reasons I use this shortened version is that for one, ‘Stef’ (or Steffi for my German friends…) is what everybody calls me anyway. And then together with Will, I like that it sounds like a kind of can-do mantra – as in: ‘Stef will do it!’