Located in New York, Thoka Maer illustrates and creates animated illustrations. With pencil, natural as it is or digitally colorized she has since created illustrations for print and screen. The scope of her work runs the gamut from the figurative/narrative to the abstract/surreal, though is held together by the consistent use of pencil and crayon…
Hello Thoka! Is Thoka Maer your real name or your illustrator pseudonym?
Thoka Maer is an artist name. My real name is Lisette Berndt, which I kept a secret until now pretty much. I started going by Thoka to liberate myself from all those artistic expectations I had towards my work when I worked with clients. Thoka Maer is way more compliant with clients’ needs and compromises more easily, whereas as Lisette, I have a vision and language that is more driven by personal interests. In August 2016 I became an artist in residence at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, New Jersey. Through this residency I had the opportunity to delve into art making as the GIF artist Thoka Maer which allowed me to blend both identities, giving up that strict separation. It’s fun.
You are originally from Berlin but now live in New York; what does the city bring you professionally and personally?
Originally, I’m from a small village, about 2 hours south of Berlin, but I spent my 20s in Berlin. It is a great city to find yourself since the economic pressure is comparatively low. Studying there was a blessing. Even though I constantly had jobs throughout my years as a student, I still had a fairly liberated time economically that allowed me to get completely lost in school projects. Clocks run much slower in Berlin, which enables experimenting and contemplating, which leads to innovation.
However, as a professional, I wanted to work and move forward in a faster-paced environment that also has more appreciation for the craft of illustration and generally newcomers as well. New York seemed like a great fit for both.
You create a lot of GIFs; when did you start bringing your illustrations to life?
I made my first GIF in 2009 and it was rabbit jumping along the tracks of an abandoned subway station.
You’d rather use white than black outlines; is this a way for you to allow your creations breath?
That style evolved pretty organically, starting with my GIF series “It’s No Biggie”. When I made my first GIF for it, I had to kind of figure out during the process how to animate frame by frame, which somehow brought about that style. I’ve since tried to develop it and use it for my illustration work as well.
Where would be the best place for you to draw and create?
I think a change of scenery every so often is most ideal. From New York City to a cabin in the woods. I’d feel inspired and able to work in almost any environment I think.
You have exhibited your work all over the world; how do you prepare for an exhibition? Do you show your GIFs?
Places have only very reluctantly accepted GIFs as an art form. Giphy, through Giphy Arts is working on changing that. But generally I think that the art world has yet to find the right medium to display GIF art, because the iPad is still kind of the go-to medium. Projection or TV screens aren’t any better. But GIF art is also developing into becoming a more fundamental part of media art. For example the residency program Mana BSMT has invited five GIF artists (Zolloc, Julian Glander, Sam Cannon and Traceloops) including me to create and take the GIF from the screen out into the three-dimensional world. We had a show at Mana Contemporary called Surface in January of 2017. And just now, in December, we re-created the show in Miami during Art Basel and were a part of an intensely amazing and diverse group of media artist. The show was called Flatland: A Journey Of Many Dimensions, curated by Grace Franck.
What is your biggest dream as an illustrator? And as a woman?
As an illustrator, I’m pretty happy if I can continue working as I am right now. I’ve got great clients I love to work with and I definitely enjoy a great deal of liberty in the projects that I take on.
As a professional and human, I feel like I want to contribute more than just images to the world; I’m trying to figure out right now what exactly that could be.
As a female illustrator, I wish that people wouldn’t think “cute” is the feedback that flatters me.
“As a woman, I want to have the confidence of a mediocre white man.” – Internet wisdom
More information on Thoka Maer on her website and her Instagram.