Soltau’s early years were marked by adversity. She had a difficult relationship with her mother and never knew her father, who had died during World War II. Raised by her grandmother, she grew up in poverty on an isolated farm. These early life experiences were to shape her strength of character and her subsequent convictions as an artist. After finishing school, Soltau spent 1964 working as an au pair in England, where she began to paint seriously, attending evening art college classes. She then studied painting and graphics at the Academy of Fine Arts in Hamburg (1967-72), took master classes at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna (1972) and was awarded a scholarship to study in Milan (1973). 1975 brought about a turning point for the artist, as she broke away from traditional techniques and began working with her own body, making performances. She explains: ‘For me, the body became a kind of “battlefield,” and I gained a new freedom through it. Through this commitment to using my body, I was also able to include various life processes in my pictures, like pregnancy and ageing.’ From the mid-1970s onwards, Soltau committed her practice to experimental representations of the body, exploring both personal and social identity through performance, photography, video and collage.