Interview by Frédéric Caillard – February 2020
How did your black and white paintings originate?
I am glad you are asking this question because I like to remind people that I come from painting. Some people only know my installations, but my work is rooted in painting and it is very important for me. I started to think about “the real character of painting” during my art studies. It was a fascinating topic but it was hard to reach strong conclusions. There is definitely something about the transitions between forms and the expression of the brushstroke… Anyway, I started to make the grid paintings in 1997. On some of the older paintings I worked with oil which gives them a different aspect, I think they are more accessible. I was not actually very much attracted to the grid, but it was an interesting element because I wanted to describe things that were anarchic or disordered. I wished to do it in a very precise way so the grid pattern was very useful, I could show forms that were missing or falling out of a rigid system. I was also interested in dividing the canvas into sequences, into little units. One of the key question I tackled with the grid was how I could drive perception in a democratic, non-hierarchical way. I thought we were guided too much when looking at paintings, we were taught to look at things in a certain way and wanted to react to that…
Why did you choose to work in black and white?
I am interested in relations and forms. You could call it the “geometry of existence”: how people and objects stand in a room and the space between them. From an existential point of view, this space is all we have, it is the perception and the measurement of the closeness or the distance to others. My main interest is to shape those forms, and in the end forms are not so much concerned with colors. Color can get in the way, it is so strong and it does not really speak to relations. I did try to use colors but I lose clarity. I did some paintings in yellow and black, because yellow was my favorite color in my childhood, but it didn’t work out. I also tried different colors on small paintings. It is a very interesting subject but it is not my subject. My deviant anarchic forms are easier to show in black and white, it is fascinating to build them up and make them ambivalent with simple black lines.
The patterns that you use in your paintings are by essence infinite patterns, but the paintings can be grasped all at once by the viewer, which makes them finite pieces. With your architectural and installation work, you cannot see the entire room in one gaze, you need to turn around and a part of the work will always remain out of view at one given time. It gives a better sense of the scale of your work…
Yes, I think that canvas painting in general is limited. It is a great invention but it is not logical that paintings stop at the edges. Our mental images always continue, and it is a bit frustrating to have to end the image when you make a painting. But strangely, sometimes it is easier to “enter” and “wander” in a painting than in an installation, because installations are embedded into reality and it is harder to escape reality: the walls are not fully covered, you have door handles, power outlets…
Are your architectural works a way to get out of the illusionistic nature of painting? Your installation are not only made of painted or taped lines and geometrical patterns (which are by essence illusionistic), but also of concrete three-dimensional extensions that invade the actual space with their physical presence.
Yes, that’s a big difference, the lines become alive in the space. It is hard to compare installations and paintings, they work differently. Paintings are mental fictions and spaces are more haptic. I like it when people see up-close that it is cardboard or tape – a commonplace, banal object – and then when they step two meters away it becomes something else, also a type of fictional space, with a futuristic appearance.
Your work is also evocative of computerized 3D modeling with glitches and imperfections. When you apply your lines and patterns on a wall, it is like if the real space and its modeling were superposed. The message is quite contradictory: it says that everything can be modeled but it also says that things can never be completely grasped, there are always glitches, things that escape from cold mathematical modeling…
Yes, the forms are revolting themselves! I like the scientific side of human kind, the analytical research, but I truly believe that we cannot control everything. I am also very interested in existential thoughts, in abstraction, in human experience. I try to combine these different ways of thinking, to show the limits of the “perfect systems” that we create. I am convinced that we need to escape those strict systems to be someone and to develop the essential parts of our individualities.
Can you tell us about your work Unlimited Space (2013 in the Czech Republic), which I find to be one of your most emblematic work?
It was challenging because of the form of the space, an art space which used to be a horse stable. It is a long space with a round arch and round windows. It is very different from the geometry of the grid. I started by making a drawing of the space and of the light in the space. I followed quite strictly the drawing to make the installation. Some lines come off the wall and some are directly on the wall. It is always a balance between ignoring the existing architecture and communicating with it. If I communicate too much, I just follow the lines of the space and it becomes too banal, it loses its liveliness. I need both approaches.
Around 2013, you added a third type of work to your palette: sculptures made of crumbled paper with geometrical patterns. With this series you continue to explore the fertile relationship between curves and straight lines, like in Unlimited Space. How did these sculptures originate?
I have always tried to show order and disorder at the same time in my work. I was working on this idea, building collages and models of spaces. I was looking at how the rigid structure of the space interacted with anarchic or free open forms. I was struggling with it, I wanted to look at it from a completely new angle but was not satisfied with the results so I threw away some material and – as it is often the case – the crumbled piece that I threw in the garbage looked better than the model I had made! These sculptures come from the expression of my frustration, my anger, my despair, my revolt. There is beauty in the spare and in the destruction. […] Anyway, now I am somehow planning out my sculptures, but the nice thing is that I can actually never completely control the outcome. I can only assume it is going to look like what I have in mind. It is one of this case in art where we create situations that are at the same time precise and uncontrolled.
Can you tell us about the use of paper as the main material for these sculptures?
I love this material, it is a very old carrier of many great ideas, in old civilizations. Paper is at the same time a very basic and simple material used in the everyday life and a complex and historically significant material, and I very much like that fact.
Those works are very interesting, because unlike in your paintings, the patterns are actually perfect patterns when they are printed, and they are deformed in a second stage by the creasing.
I recently tried to experiment with patterns that are not completely regular, but I think there is a stronger effect when the pattern is consistent. The statement is different when you have a full contrast between the rigidity of the pattern and the crumbled shapes. I also think there is something about reduction in those sculptures. Abstraction has always been about reduction, and here the crumbling brings a reduction of size.
I find the installations of your sculptures very interesting (like the one at your current show at Alberta Pane in Paris). The sculptures are placed on the floor, but also on the walls – sometimes at unconventional heights – and some of them are even attached to the ceiling. It generates a global environment. It is another way for you to do space installations, substituting your lines and your geometrical forms with your own sculptures. Your sculptures become your individual pattern.
Gravity is very limiting sometimes. But I believe our minds are not like that, they are not so limited by gravity. I try to see spaces and paintings the way I think, without this limitation. […] Maybe I also have some desire for discomfort. Comfort is ok, but if I had only comfort I would die mentally. Discomfort allows to see other possibilities. Looking at a sculpture on the wall or on the ceiling is not so comfortable at first, but then it creates an idea of freedom.
Are you in your own sphere when you create or do you take ideas and influence from the outside?
When I create I am in my own world, but when I develop ideas I am inspired by everything. I am so interested in forms that I can find inspiring forms everywhere!
Who are the artists you find interesting in 2020?
I have always been a fan of Dóra Maurer. Vera Molnar too, for her work about structures. I also love the work of Anna-Maria Bogner, a colleague of mine, and Daniela Comani, Philippe Decrauzat, Lars Breuer, Gladys Nistor… just such great and inspiring artists.
Illustration pictures (from top to bottom): Esther Stocker, sculptures, 2019, Photo Markus Gradwohl. Courtesy Galerie Alberta Pane. Esther Stocker, Sans titre, 2010, acrylique sur toile, 200x300cm. Courtesy Galerie Alberta Pane. Esther Stocker, Sans titre, 2011, Centre culturel autrichien, New York. Courtesy Galerie Alberta Pane. Esther Stocker, Unlimited Space, 2013, Roudnice, République tchèque. Courtesy Galerie Alberta Pane. Esther Stocker, 2019, sculpture. Photo Markus Gradwohl. Courtesy Galerie Alberta Pane. Esther Stocker, sculptures, 2019, Photo Markus Gradwohl. Courtesy Galerie Alberta Pane.