Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? How did your time in the Kunstakademie influence your work?
I grew up in a small village in the Black Forest, surrounded by fields and trees. There are many “Wirtschaften” (old taverns) to stop off. I still enjoy eating a “Wurstsalat” (special sausage salad), skiing in the winter and drinking schnapps with my father. My mother is a wonderful cook. She prefers to eat spaghetti very soft.
The Düsseldorf Art Academy is an old building. It is a place where many different people come together. Mondays have a completely different meal than Tuesdays. You will never get any fresh strawberries there.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?
I get up early in the morning and make a big breakfast with eggs, butter, cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, jam, curd cheese, cake, coffee and hot lemon. Then I ride my bike to my studio in Charlottenburg and work until evening. My studio is very nice. I work on paintings and sculptures. My lunch is uninteresting. Sometimes I go to sports and to the sauna to regenerate the muscles and get rid of the turpentine. After a long day of work, this can do wonders. Then I drink champagne or beer with Jannis.
You are currently showing a new series of work at Michael Werner Gallery. This is your first solo show in London, can you tell us a bit more about this exhibition? As we enter the gallery, we are faced with large canvases illustrating ordinary subjects, a bowl of blue spaghetti, a trashcan, a puffer jacket. Shown without context they become almost abstract... What is the selection process for the subject of your paintings?
I thought a lot about the Michael Werner Gallery, its Winter Garden, the two levels with stairs and its location in London, Mayfair. There are four businessmen in suits, two London policemen, a visitor who leads two Dalmatian dogs, a dogwalker with five dogs, and a kissing couple. They are all sculptures that arose from formal and content considerations and now look as they stand there.
The sculptures are created from the inside to the outside. First, I build a wooden frame. I already determine the posture, gestures, movements and weight distribution. Then I form the body with cotton wool over this structure: muscles, hands, bellies and head shapes. With human figures, the last layer is a fabric with a skin tone that can vary. Here I make lineaments, scars, and wrinkles. The necessary seams can be used in different ways.
I select fabrics for every detail and look for a way each part can be realized with this fabric. How hair, eyes, ties, clothes, shoes, glass, animal fur can be sewn.
My experience in painting helps me a lot with this translation. I paint objects that I can imagine well on the canvas and that I absolutely want to see on it. Sometimes it takes a long time to know how to get them there. They are objects that interest me and that are familiar to me. Sometimes I already have them around me or have wanted them for a long time. I have a relationship to the object that changes with painting it. Next I want to paint a “Wurstsalat”. A kind of declaration of love.
It is the same with the clothes of the sculptures. I am very interested in fashion, cuts and fabrics. Even if I admire tailoring and Haute Couture very much, what I do is something else and I am interested in this difference.
Visitors are forced to share the gallery space with life-size fabric sculptures of various characters, caught in different daily actions. How do these sculptures relate to the paintings?
The sculptures are very similar to the paintings: differently colored fabrics are brought into different shapes, sewn together and placed on top of each other. The paintings are structured very similarly. The sculptures are a continuation of my paintings. They can stand anywhere in the room and have a different effect on the viewer when they appear. They are closer to life because of their size and the replication of suits, bags, and bodies, which is more to scale. I had the need to use beautiful fabrics with which you can build something: Oil paint and fabrics are very malleable, soft, with different surfaces and can always be combined again. The sculptures help me get further in painting and the other way around. I tend to see things that I can’t imagine at first.
Your titles are in German, which brings to the table notions of identity and nostalgia - your work shifts from the autobiographical to the universal. What is the balance between the two?
The titles are German because it would feel arbitrary for me to choose a language other than my mother tongue. Without being nostalgic, I find it boring that so much has to take place in English today. It is true that I often long for the Black Forest to speak dialect there. I think the autobiographical is the universal and the other way around.