Protagonists is a series of interviews about life, identity, and pursuing passions…
Marina Bruckmann (née Penz) is an Austrian artist, illustrator and follower of the Bahá’í faith. She’s currently based in Innsbruck, Tirol.
Where in Austria did you grow up?
Hall in Tirol, a small town close to Innsbruck in the middle of the alps. I think I had a very simple childhood, with all the joys and pains it brings with it.
I have two brothers ‒ an older and a younger one. Both shaped my life a lot. Because my older one was kind of my role model, I wanted to do all the things he was doing. I wanted to read when he started reading, I wanted to swim, to climb trees, to wear pants and so on.
Later on, of course, I wanted to drink alcohol and hang out with his friends. I think he always made me curious to try things way earlier than I would have normally done, if at all.
And my younger one was my heart and soul. I carried him around everywhere and loved him very much. Too much almost. Unfortunately I left the house when he was in his most forming years, so sometimes I feel like I don’t really know him anymore. But hopefully that will change again one day.
How did you decide that to pursue art? Did you have any ‘back-up’ careers in mind?
It was a very rational decision actually. In Austria we have schools that offer a five-year program that includes a high school graduation and a vocational training.
They take a year longer than normal high schools and have more specific subjects, but you have the option to study or start working straight away after.
I liked working creatively and thought it’s a smart decision to have both ways open after graduation, so I went to a school for graphic design and communication. The back-up plan was that in case I didn’t want to work as a graphic designer, I still have a normal degree which allows me to study anything I like.
After that school I was sure I didn’t want to work solely as a graphic designer because it’s very commercial a lot of the time ‒ that was my impression at least. When I heard about Illustration I knew that was the perfect combination.
How does an idea start for you?
I think I’m mostly interested in social themes. In people, groups of people, cultures and social behaviour. This seems to come through conceptually in a lot of my work.
Visually I’m very interested in light and shadow dynamics. At the moment I love to play with repetition or aggregations. I don’t really know from where my ideas come from. Maybe I should think about that more.
How did you find the Bahá’í faith? What changes has it brought?
Oh gosh, it’s such a big topic. I came to it through my parents who met Bahá’ís in their work. In the beginning I was super sceptical but also very impressed by the people I met.
They had such an inspiring vision for humanity and a very deep and honest belief in the capacity of every human being to contribute to the betterment of the world. I was very attracted to such a positive and proactive understanding of the nature of humanity.
The changes it brought to my life are countless. I don’t even think I can grasp them. Every decision I make in my life is influenced and inspired by the writings of the Bahá’í Faith.
I think the biggest change for me was a new understanding of the purpose of life and my role in it. That new understanding lead to many different things, like me leaving Austria and spending over one year at the Baha’í Gardens in Israel.
It influenced the way I see work, namely as another way to contribute to the beauty and wellbeing of others, rather than just to sustain my life. Really it gave higher purpose to everything and felt like an eye opener.
I started to think more deeply about why we are here, what our true nature is and how we should act towards one another. I started to question all aspects of life. What makes us happy, how do we make others happy. Obviously I was 17 and a lot of us feel like we have been very naive when thinking about our past selves.
But really what the faith inspired most and continues to inspire me is to not be mediocre. Not in my character, not as a friend, not in my profession, not as a human being. Consequently I keep falling short in all of these aspects haha.
But I have wonderful friends inside and outside of the Bahá’í Community and that might be the second biggest change ‒ the people I met and became friends with. People that keep inspiring me, challenge me, encourage me, and help me not to give up on these very big, very idealistic, yet necessary high goals.
Many people still don’t know much about Bahá’í. How does it fit within the global spectrum of beliefs?
So the Bahá’í Faith was founded 1844 in Iran, former Persia. The key point of the religion is oneness. Oneness of God, oneness of religion, oneness of humanity.
The Bahá’í Faith sees itself as only one in a series of divine teachings, all with the purpose of guiding humanity to its ultimate goal of universal peace.
A few major principles of the faith are:
- The search for truth: it’s the duty of everyone to think for himself without blindly following others in order to find truth.
- The unity of mankind
- Religion should be the cause of love and affection
- The equality of men and women
- The harmony of science and religion
- The abolition of racial, religious and all other forms of prejudice.
As mentioned, it doesn’t see itself as a religion that tries to outshine the others. It’s founded on the fundamental belief that all religions come from the same source and have the same ultimate purpose, which is making God’s Will known to mankind.
It believes in a loving but transcendent God, the reality of which we can never understand. Yet we are guided through His teaching throughout the history of mankind.
That’s why we find the same core principles in all major religions. The reason for differences is based on the different times and needs in which the religions were formed, and the constant human accumulation of knowledge.
The Bahá’ís believe Bahá’u’lláh to be the most recent of these Divine Messengers, who helps us understand our true nature as individuals but also as humanity as a whole.
What was your impression of Australia when you lived here?
I loved Australia even though I had my challenges with it as well. I moved there for an exchange semester, but really I was looking for a reason to travel and spend some time with my Australian friends I met in Israel.
Whenever I travel I realise how German I really am (that coming from an Austrian haha). I love when things are organised and when people stick to the rules. It’s terrible. I overthink everything, and everything has to be thought-out and efficient.
You can imagine how that often clashes with the very spontaneous, easy lifestyle of many Australians. I don’t want to dig too much into stereotypes, but let’s just say there is a lot to learn from both cultures.
Of course, overall I loved Australians and my time there, and I came back with a very spoiled attitude towards good coffee.
You’re married now. Is it much different to your life before? What made you sure he was the right person?
That’s a really hard question. The biggest is probably the sense of security and wholeness. Not that a person by themselves can’t be, but I feel more whole. Like a bird with two wings instead of one. Also, we were together so long before we got married but 80 percent of it was long distance so I Skype way less than I used to.
I’m still not sure if there is THE right person. But with him I knew for a very long time that he’s good for me in very different ways but, above all, because he keeps my ego on a very short leash haha.
Of course the main reason is trust. Over the years we developed a very beautiful and strong bond. And with trust I don’t mean that I know that he won’t hurt me or do something wrong ever…With trust I mean that we both try to do and be our best, and that we want the best for each other. And obviously because he is the best, strongest, most handsome and intelligent man on this planet.
Is he Baha’i? How do you reconcile spiritual differences with people?
Jonas is Bahá’í, yes, which makes some things easier I guess. But I think in general we all try to learn about life. And everyone is entitled to their opinion and beliefs. I don’t claim the truth for myself just because I’m a Bahá’í.
I do believe that within the Bahá’í Writings we find truth and new insights, like all the former religions brought us new understanding about the spiritual and social dimensions of life but it requires a learning attitude and willingness to learn progressively about the Teachings, and also about Science and reflect on my actions to understand more of those realities. So I am very open to learn with and from others.
Describe your connection to God. Do you feel a direct link or is it more ambiguous?
I didn’t believe in a god for a long time. It took me a while to be comfortable talking about believing in God again because, really, when we say God what do we mean? It’s such a loaded word.
I definitely don’t believe in a man sitting on a cloud. I do believe that the world was created by something I would call God but it’s not something we can ever fully understand. Like a painting can never understand its painter ‒ it’s just a completely different sphere. Regardless of how beautiful, perfect and complex a painting may be, it doesn’t compare to a painter. I see us in that relation.
For me, even though it’s a very limited understanding, I think of God as an essence of perfection. Everything that’s good comes from that unknown place. And when I turn to that I feel like there’s a higher self in me ‒ one that’s resonating with the thought of striving for these high ideals.
We want to love, and to achieve something worthwhile and be beautiful and happy and inspiring. I pray for these attributes and try to be better each day. I leave it up to you to say if that’s personal and direct or ambiguous.
Are you working on any particular projects at the moment?
Yes and no. I don’t know. I feel a bit lost to be honest since my bachelor degree and I had to work through a rough time the past year with a lot of self pity and insecurity.
I’m trying different things at the moment to figure out where it will lead me in the end. I’m working on different paintings to see where they could be applied. Ideally, I would love to see them in different magazines or newspapers. I think they have the necessary vagueness and depth to go great with articles about different social issues.
I’m also working on small movie projects as there seems to be a great need for high quality kids’ content.
We just launched a website where people can order my paintings as prints. And I’m doing some work for a new big project that will be launched this year. I can’t say too much about it, but my part is to find illustrative solutions to loosen up scientific content. I just really want to find time to paint more though.
Can you earn a living through your art now or do you supplement it with other work?
I’m definitely determined to increase my income to a point where I can live from it. At the moment, though, I’m relying on my wonderful husband and the few paid projects I have.
Which artists do you particularly admire?
I LOVE the impressionists. I’m just a secret romantic. Also Van Gogh and Matisse. I recently came across Arthur Zelger, an amazing graphic designer, also from Tirol. I can’t help but be proud and admire him for his very beautiful work.
Of the more contemporary ones, I like Mamma Anderson as a painter and Alessandro Gottardo as one of the many, many talented Illustrators.