Interview by Frédéric Caillard, November 2017
I would like to start this interview by discussing your latest body of work, that is made of concrete and metal rebars. How and when did you start these works?
I am actually a painter, I studied painting in Munich. I got a difficult hand surgery about 4 years ago, and I could not move my hands nor paint. So I started to think about painting in a different way. I tried out lots of materials, and in the end I found that concrete and metal were perfect for me. At the beginning I did not realize all the possibilities offered by these materials, but I discovered little by little that I could structure them and deal with them in many different ways. The first year I made a lot of prototypes, and then I started producing some actual concrete and metal works. It has been about 3 years.
I also tried out wood, clay and a lot of modeling materials, and I made a series out of burned canvases and wood. I actually started this series by painting pictures of bigger size, about 2 or 3 meters. It was easier for me to work with bigger brushes, but in the end I was not satisfied, something was missing and I was unable to close the gap with my older work. Then I introduced physical objects such as found wood to complete the works. In some way, I destroyed these works, loosening their structure and making them dirty. In some aspects I liked those paintings, but the possibilities weren’t so interesting so I stopped working on them and focused on the concrete and metal works.
Was there any reference to the loose canvases of Angela de la Cruz? She also suffered from an accident which impeded her ability to produce art.
I don’t think I specifically referenced her work. I have always been interested in artist biographies, I like to understand what they are dealing with, how they transfer their problems into their work, but I don’t identify myself to a single artist or a single story.
What is striking with your concrete and metal works is that they are very varied in aspect. Can you tell us about the way you use color? You seem to be steering away from flashy gradient colors towards more solid colors and recently also towards no color at all, leaving the material raw?
I am very touched by the things I see, I am always exchanging with my direct surroundings. I had a period where I was moving a lot, seeing lots of different towns, so I got a lot of new impressions, especially with lights and dark cities. I tried to use those impressions in my work. The new works are without colors because I am more interested now by the shape and the surface of the work. I am working on a form that is reduced, that is more material. It is a new level in my work, you can do a lot with the material itself, the concrete, you can influence its consistency, with more water, less stone, more cement, less cement. It is like color mixing with the material itself. I do not need any color to make it colorful, to put a dynamic into it, because the material itself can make it.
The gradient and flashy colors are reminiscent of sci-fi environments.
Sure there are. I am always interested in the structure of societies, how they are developing, about the fact that societies are stable and unstable at the same time. On one hand you have this heavy material – the concrete – that you can see anywhere you go, in every city around the world, and on the other hand you have this totally colorful surface that is just like a cosmos. The existence of both of these aspects at the same time is very interesting for me. At the same time it is there and it is not there, it is closed and it is opened. It is about dualism.
Do you mean that those works are grounded in our times with the concrete and open into the future with the sci-fi colors?
Yes, and the gaps where you can see the walls is another dimension. I wanted to create a dynamic that reflects that every time you state a fact or try to be accurate, you end up discovering that there is an anti-fact, nothing is absolute.
Where do your titles come from?
I am always inspired by figures and character from myths and mangas. Anything I read that has dualism. It is a topic that is very inspiring for me. Characters that are in some ways split inside.
Are the names of your works driven by their colors, their shapes?
Most of the time it develops while I am working. I am thinking about a specific story or a figure, it comes from the feeling I have when I am working.
The other noticeable variable in this series is the amount of concrete used in each pieces. You have pieces fully covered with concrete, others with big openings, and recently you even have a group of very refined and minimalist pieces with no concrete at all.
One of the work I am impressed about is the mercury fountain of Alexander Calder. It is a closed fountain behind glass. Mercury is running through it, it is very toxic. I am impressed by the beauty combined to the non-touchable aspect of the work. With my concrete works, I want to convey the same impression. Sometimes it is important for the works to have a lot of cement, to look heavy and dangerous, it is their “non-touchable” aspect. And then on some works I make holes to make them look more “touchable”. […] With the steel works, I discovered that they can work without cement. They have the same strength and at the same time some fragility.
For your works with holes, you start to pour concrete over the full surface and you then make your holes in a second step. Is artistic creation as much about substraction as it is about addition of material?
It is like in painting, there is always a fight between adding or deleting something. In my very early works I did not remove the cement, but something was missing. And then I started to take some material off, to see what was happening with the wall behind it, it created a new dimension. But I still see myself as a painter, and not as somebody who is making objects, and this process is just a method for me.
Most artists who use concrete or metal rebars have works that look like construction material or found abstraction. On the contrary, your work is extremely organic. It is born within the visual art sphere, it is not imported from the real world. Was this your intent or is it just a way to view it?
I am making my works all by myself, from the first step to the last step. It is very important for me. I need a connection with my material. When I was a painter, it was quite the same, I never bought canvases, I made them myself, I primed them myself. I was never interested in getting material from an outer or industrial world and to paint on it. I am always trying to have the closest contact that I can with my material. I made a lot of mistakes because I could not handle concrete all by myself, I did not know enough about it, I made a lot of errors. It is very important for me to be able to develop an individual way of working. I take a material and ignore its usual meaning, what people are doing with it in the outer world. I try to deal with it in the most naïve way possible, to give it a new function.
Can you share with us some of the mistakes you made with concrete and that helped you make progress?
First of all I was building forms, I was putting cement in them, and every object was breaking when taken out of the form. It was very frustrating because it was a lot of work, a lot of heavy work! Anything thinner than 7 cm was just breaking. So I did some research and saw that metal was needed to hold the form because cement cannot hold anything. It can only hold pressure from above but it cannot lift something. It was a lot of frustration for me.
How did you get into art, how did you decide to go to art school?
I grew up on a farm, with nothing around in a circle of 5 km, nothing else than woods and fields. In my childhood I had so many possibilities to play around. I was always inventing, building things up. Improvisation was very important at the farm: if something was broken, you could not drive away and buy some parts to repair it. You needed to fix it without buying anything. As a child it was very interesting to solve your problems with nothing, not like other people do. I am very thankful for this. I had my own space, my little room to make pictures, to build little models. It was very important for me to finish school but it had always been clear for me that I would do some art. There was no specific point where I decided to do art, I was not interested in any other job, there was no other option.
Is your work currently taking any new direction?
The new direction I will take in the next months is to go towards drawing. I want to make the cement thinner and have it look like a paper sheet. I am interested in the lines of the drawing, but I don’t know if it is going to work out. I would like to make lines with cement and steel, but I am just starting to work on it.
Illustration images (from top to bottom): 1. Merlin, Cement Steel Laquer, 150cm x 90 cm & Enel, Cement Steel Laquer, 150cm x 90 cm 2. -no Title-, Canvas Wood Neonbelt, 150cm x 80 cm 3. Nine, Cement Steel Laquer, 88cm x 64 cm & Rem, Cement Steel Laquer, 68cm x 52 cm 4. Merlin, Cement Steel Laquer, 150cm x 90 cm 5. Nyx, Steel Laquer, 120cm x 80 cm & Dark Knight (8), Steel Laquer, 120m x 80 cm 6. Amaterasu, Cement Steel Laquer, 120cm x 80 cm All images courtesy of Christine Liebich.