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Petra Börner

Petra Börner is an artist and illustrator from Skåne, Sweden. She has now lived in London for many years, where she studied fashion design at Central St Martins. Her practice centres on illustration but she also works in sculpture, particularly in clay. For Winter 23, we asked her to explore the myth of Holda, an ancient goddess of winter, through hand-cut paper.

Season:Winter 23
Date Created:2022-09-20
Medium:Cut paper
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Photography by Roo Lewis.

The film for Winter 23, The Frau Holda Myth, takes inspiration from a Brothers Grimm story - which in turn comes from a much older tradition. Holda is an ancient figure in Germanic and Norse mythology. She is sometimes young and beautiful, and sometimes an old woman; the cycle of death and rebirth is a strong theme in the stories surrounding her, and she is also associated with fertility, womanhood - and winter.

Often depicted spinning, Holda rewards hard workers and chides lazy ones - as seen in the Brothers Grimm fairytale. In this story, a girl falls through a well to encounter an older version of Holda, who treats her kindly and gifts her with gold for her good service. The most re-created image of this story is one of the girl shaking out Holda’s eiderdown, the feathers drifting down to form the first snowflakes of winter.

In our film, we imagine our artist for Winter 23, Petra Börner, seeing the story’s characters take shape in her mind’s eye, even as they resist her attempts to commit them to paper…

How would you describe your work?

I work in a range of media, including mixed media work on paper and in clay, but at heart I have a passion for drawing. Growing up in a rural village in the south of Sweden, I turned my attention to making things when I was very young. In the search to connect, to explain that which resides beyond words, the natural/supernatural world often resurfaces in my own narrative.

First thoughts when Ffern approached you about responding to a fragrance?

I don’t recall working with scent as a starting point previously, so this was a novel prospect. I feel that I’ve been forgetful of how enriching and impactful our sense of smell can be to our everyday lives. Ffern Winter 23 made me remember ‘another time’ and it feels so familiar to me, a precious feeling leading to kind memories.

I was excited to learn about the myth of Frau Holda, which inspired me to start sketching new magical beings. As with most projects, I’ve explored my Holda artwork through various media, intuitive sketches (on holiday), drawing from references back in my studio and finally creating artwork cut in paper.

The feathers featured in my artwork sit somewhere close to snowflakes - as in the myth of Frau Holda the shaking of the down created snowfall.

How did you approach the piece?

It seems I’m often working on wintry things in the summer and vice versa. The good thing about drawing is that it doesn’t matter where I am or when, drawing makes anything possible.

Back in the studio, I approached the project in quite a few different ways - wanting to explore the scent and myth combined and find the right expression for Winter 23.

Through revised sketches I settled on a final composition, which I then cut by hand in layers of paper and placed in two mirrored compositions.

You create work in several different media - how does the medium affect your process?

I love to work in different media and methods - depending on the project, a particular approach might work better. Drawings are instant, direct expressions on the page without hesitation - sketching feels freeing.

Other mediums involve more of a process, which changes the feel of the work. The cut paper process I’ve used for Ffern Winter 23 is my most precise way of working. Cut components can be mirrored and placed into new constellations, creating repeats and new narratives.

You studied fashion design at Central St Martins - how does this background impact your work today?

Many of my methods have been picked up through experience, even troubleshooting, throughout my career - and all techniques influence how I work to date. I’ve always bridged work cross-industry, creating work in new contexts, not quite fitting into just the one.

Initially, I started to explore my cut paper method to find a way to lay out and design prints for fashion. My artwork came to feature in collections by fashion houses like Cacharel and Louis Vuitton and developed further in collaboration with many other clients within interior, publishing and beyond.

The lines cut by scalpel are so sharp and precise, but the layering of the paper creates warmth and texture.

You often make portraits - what is it about faces that you find so fascinating?

I’m drawn to the face and eyes in particular as they express feelings without words being spoken. It’s so interesting how we respond differently to faces and expressions depending on our experiences. The eyes suffice to sum up a mood, we read so much into them.

Can you describe a favourite winter memory?

One of my favourite winter memories would be making candles. I used to make them with my mother using up all the old stumps, a very slow process dipping the wick into the hot bath and gradually seeing the light pinkish candles grow.

Where else do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration seeps in like an old boat. I suppose my main inspiration is the creative tools I’ve been given by my parents and my aunts through the years, often through time spent in nature.

What is the best advice you could pass on?

I find that meeting people and connecting with others is always exciting - this is what we will remember.

Petra is the twelfth artist to work with us on the Ffern Artists series. You can read about the others here.

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