German embassy celebrates Winterlude with light art created by KEF!

This KEF! image is being displayed on a wall of the German embassy at 1 Waverley St. Courtesy of the Embassy of Germany

The artist known as KEF! is a major star on the German cultural scene for his intricate grafitti patterns. His street-based work has now crossed the Atlantic and can be seen in Ottawa during Winterlude at the Germany Embassy on Waverley Street near the Canal and in the Byward Market. 

KEF!’s light art version of the famous Berlin landmark, the Brandenburg Gate, can be seen daily from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. over the main entrance of the German Embassy at 1 Waverley St. until Feb. 12. His second work an be seen until Feb. 18 from dusk until 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and from dusk until 8 p.m. on Sundays. This work also marks WinterPride in the capital with an event supported by the German Embassy, along with the missions of  the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Sweden. 

KEF! has worked in London and in Berlin where he is currently based. The German Embassy said in a media release that his work has been described as abstract graffiti.

He has also said his work is influenced by Buddhism and nature. In 2018, KEF! was one of the winners at the 2018 Berlin Festival of Lights which is a major event held every October in the German capital. Landmarks across the city are illuminated by light projections. The embassy says it is one of the most popular light art festivals in the world. Some three million visitors took it in in 2018, the 14th year of the event.

This work is on view in the Byward Market. Photo courtesy of the Embassy of Germany

Artsfile sent a few questions to KEF! asking about his art and his career. Here is an edited version of his replies:

Q. Can you tell me a bit about you?

A: I am a German artist (born in Aachen in 1989).

Q. Why KEF! as a name? What does it signify?

A. It comes from the time when I used to do graffiti. I looked for a short name and I found this in a dictionary, unfortunately I don’t know any more which language it was, but it was translated as scar. I liked it because it reminded me how spray paint is like a scar on a wall. It’s hard to remove. Later I found out, that ‘kef’ also means ‘a state of dreamy tranquillity’ which I see as a beautiful description for my work.

KEF! at work. Photo courtesy Embassy of Germany.

Q. Can you tell me a bit about the art you make?

A. When I was 14 years old I got really interested in graffiti and painted a lot outside, after a few years I changed from letters to something where I could express myself better. A trippy and abstract style  emerged from deep inside myself. After murals, I started to paint more and more on canvas. When I was 19 years old, I wanted to flee into a world where I could find calmness. Then I got an invitation from a Bundesliga soccer player Christian Timm to exhibit at his pop up gallery Neeshkat. After those shows I wanted to invest more time in painting and moved to London for two years. Nowadays I spend a lot of time in my studio and travel the world to work on different projects.

Q. You are linked to street art. Why is such work important to you, to the world?

A. Street art is quite important to me as I can share my work with all people without discrimination. Everyone has access to a mural and can enjoy and contemplate the painting on it. It doesn’t exclude anyone and it’s not just for certain circles of people. Even while a work of art is progressing, it’s always impressive how many different people are curious and want to know more about what you are doing. Next to this I just love to paint on large surfaces, it gives me a lot freedom to express myself.

Q. Can you tell me about the two pieces that are on view here … one shows the Brandenburg Gate and the other celebrates our winter festival?

A. As this is a collaboration with the German Embassy I created the Brandenburger Gate in my style. Many non-Germans know it as well and can connect to it easily. The second piece is like an energy field which spreads calmness, I decided to add some winter/icy colours as this is the time of the year and slogan of the festival.

Q. Are you able to come here to see them here?

A. Unfortunately not, maybe one day I will come over to paint a mural? Who knows. 🙂

An example of KEF!’s work at the Berlin Festival of Lights. Photo: Frank Herrmann

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.