An initiative of Christiane zu Salm: A conversation between Christiane Rekade and
Christian Awe, May 2009

Your work is currently being shown with Sam Francis’ in a two-person exhibition, “Abstract Worlds”, at the gallery Berlin Art Projects in Berlin. This contextualization casts a new light on both your work and Sam Francis’. What is it about his work that you find particularly relevant right now?
Sam Francis’ paintings are dynamic worlds of luminous color. For me, the relevance of his work lies in his individual style of painting, the abstract expressive gesture and especially his great desire for experimentation.

How important are the abstract and expressive aspects of your works?
Even in my figurative work, I was abstract when it came to detail. The thing I am always most interested in investigating in painting is the field of tension between the figurative and the abstract. Expressivity for me is a reflection of my own individual handwriting and whatever I am feeling at the time.

The exhibition also includes works from your “Underground Painting” series. Where does the title of this series come from?
For one, I started with Graffiti and Street Art at age 11, so I come from the creative “Underground” of the art scene. And secondly, my new works are painted on PVC, a kind of flooring or underground material as the support for my artistic work. The connection between these two things gave way to what is for me a fitting title for the series. One of the advantages of working on PVC is that the paint stays on the surface; it becomes brighter – like Graffiti. Also the material allows me to do certain things that I couldn’t do otherwise, like cutting it with a wood cutting knife or creating slightly angled or bowed shapes that extend into space.

Your work is a result of a layering process with materials and color. These layers are then scratched and scraped away to reveal the series of layers underneath. So does your work have something to do with the act of covering and uncovering?
My paintings consist of up to 15 layers of various colors of paint. Sometimes the paint I’ve applied is so fluid that the drying time can take several days. With my special scratching-out/washing-out technique, I am able to bring deeply buried layers back into the daylight, allowing the finest color mixtures, new shapes and color combinations to emerge. I encourage anyone at least once to stand in front of my paintings and take a long close look. Like staring into the clouds, the brain begins to make associations with objects, shapes and figures.

That reminds me of Street Art – where tags and graffiti but also posters and stickers are constantly being glued on top of one another. It also makes me think of work by Klara Liden, who takes the layered street posters from the walls and puts them in the exhibition. What does layering mean to you?
Sometimes it feels as if I am my own artistic archeologist. I forage in atmospheric color landscapes, runlets and material mounds to neatly lay bare what has been lost and present it to the public.

You – like many artists of your and my generation – came to art through Street Art and Graffiti and have to some degree taken techniques from Street Art onto the canvas. What kind of significance do these different materials and techniques have for your work?
It is a constant experiment and an enhancement of my artistic abilities. The combination of somewhat unusual materials such as homemade acrylic paint, India ink, different spray paints, stencils, markers, colored pencils, oil wax pastels etc. allows me to have a more differentiated working process. I create a kind of learning arena that allows me to work with the highest possible degree of luminosity, one in which rich contrasts, subtle nuances and differentiated surfaces can develop.

Your “Underground Paintings” are first painted on PVC and then transferred to canvas. Despite the variety of materials the base remains classic. How do you see the relationship between the situation on the street and the exhibition space?
Removing the boundary between street and exhibition space is something that I would welcome. But as long as we have a “white cube” situation in the majority of galleries and exhibition spaces, the street will stay in front of the exhibition space. Street Art works better in the urban sphere, especially as an artistic intervention and moment of surprise.

With their extreme colorfulness and moving surface structures, your paintings have a strong presence; they literally jump out at the eye. What’s more, titles such as “Brennen für Deutschland (Burning for Germany)” or “Culture Deportation” clearly point to a political dimension in the work. The message is very important to you, yet it can’t be read at first glance – you have to look through the layers of your images to come to it. Are the titles something like an added layer?
Yes, I would say so. I think it is always more interesting when the artist shies away from making things too obvious and keeps a little secret. All of my paintings are of an autobiographical nature and many of my more figurative works have hidden socio-critical content. Titles like “Treibgut (Drifting Goods)”, “verschwende Deine Zeit (waste your time)”, “Ways of Life”, “Being”, “Meeting Freedom” and “Das gute Leben (The good Life)” are only there to provide the viewer with food for thought. I’m always happy to talk and answer questions in person.

You studied sports and art. Sports and movement play an important role in your images, in the “Springer (Jumper)” series, for example, and in the installation “Struggle”. At the same time, the amount of effort and physical exertion in the painting process can be intensely felt. How important is the physical aspect to your work?
For me, physical movement is an important counterweight to an artistic existence, both physically and psychologically. The worlds of art and sports hardly ever overlap. In my paintings, I try to depict a certain rhythm, a balanced combination of swinging lines, forms and colors. I always hope that my intensity can be felt in the painting itself when it’s on its own.

You are one of the few artist born in Berlin who also live here. How has the city influenced you, and how does it continue to influence you?
Berlin is a city of constant change. It offers a gateway to a wide variety of lifestyles, very similar to your collage methodfor the About Change, Collection. Besides the many exhibitions, Berlin is also the world capital of contemporary art production. The city is very ambivalent; here anyone can find his or her own brand of happiness. Here, the rich live next to the poor, no one minds the sexual orientation of the other and there is still creative freedom to preserve!

Besides your two professors, Georg Baselitz and Daniel Richter, who were your biggest influences?
I have been inspired and influenced by my surroundings, friends and family, many travels, contemporary art, Graffiti, basketball, hip-hop music, social injustice, open and creative people and lateral thinkers. The streets of Berlin were and are my creative teacher.

Christiane zu Salm is an art collector. Starting in 2007, she made the About Change, Collection open to the public in her space at Kupfergraben in Berlin. Christiane Rekade is the curator of the collection.

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