Paul Vogeler, Good Friday, 2012
Oil on panel, 150 x 150 cm
Image courtesy of the artist
New Berlin Painters is an exhibition that was facilitated by Nadja Sayej and first opened in Berlin earlier in 2012. The exhibition caused a bit of a stir, first for reason of its outspoken, flamboyant organizer and second, for the declaration that the show chose to make by title alone: New Berlin Painters. As many know Berlin has been on the rise as a new art capital for quite some time. There are a large number of both emergent and established artists based in the historic city. While the art economy still isn’t the best in the world, artists have congregated and formed a community that has appealed to many on a global level. My first contact with artist Paul Vogeler was via a Facebook interaction. He made a negative comment about the art scene and contemporary market in New York, and I responded in defense of the city and said that the comment probably came from someone unable to “make it” in the fast paced city. He replied by calling me Miss New York and making a snide remark about my graduate degree from New York University. Hmmmpf. Somehow, all of this has not only blown over but brought the two of us together in dialogue. Isn’t the art world great?
Katy Diamond Hamer: Hi Paul. So the last and only time we’ve seen each other in person was randomly on a street in Mitte, right after I went to see Mike Nelson, Space That Saw (Platform for performance in two parts) exhibition at Neugerriemschneider Galerie. It was nice to put a face to a name within the literal, non-virtual realm.
Paul Vogeler: Likewise. I love those little urban accidental meetings, especially on bicycle, it is so delightfully European, and Berlin. Das Fahrradlebens. Yes actually the space where we met was a space being run by the MMX collective. One of the artists from this collective, James Bullough, I know and respect very much. He and his crew do great things here for Berlin.
KDH: Since you are a non-German based in Germany, why don’t we start there, how did you end up making art in Berlin?
PV: To put it simply, after five long (but fulfilling) years in NYC, I decided to pack up and leave. I was supposed to only stay in Berlin for 2 months, but now it has been over 2 years! I love New York, and it was a learning experience and struggle that I do not need to do again. I got an education there in life and in art, but honestly, I felt I had hit a ceiling. I found the art scene tired and everyone too caught up in the celebrity and politics of the academics and art world, and clamoring at all costs to get to the top, or at least the middle. The art seemed to be at the sidelines of the social ladder. That is to say, I felt people were more worried about their careers than dedicating their lives to making great art. I had realized too soon what it would take to, as you say “make it” in New York. But the cost would be my integrity, my person and my soul, hence my art. I refuse to sacrifice personal values for “success”. I saw Berlin as an escape from all that, as well as a new start as an artist. There is great painting going on in this country, especially in Berlin and Leipzig. I feel my paintings fit better here than in New York.
KDH: Berlin is really a magical city. It carries such an extensive, heavy political history and yet is home to numerous artists from all over the world. Do you think the content of your paintings, which is very gray, visually melancholic and atmospheric, has been influenced by your time spent in Berlin?
PV: Berlin is human. It has a dark past and also a great one. Like a survivor of a terrible event, it emerges. Reminders of its past are everywhere, from the dejected citizens of a once DDR, to the Second World War shrapnel holes and cuts in the buildings, to memorials to mass murders and the Berlin Wall. I like that energy, albeit dark, because it is honest. I like a city that confronts its past and moves forward. I have a lot of respect for Berliners. I definitely don’t think I could make these paintings anywhere else on the globe. I am really influenced by the light here, a statement maybe only other artists and painters can understand. Sometimes I find myself out in the rainy parks with my French easel trying to capture the light and feeling of the space. I think it is impossible for a painter to not be influenced by his environment.
KDH: Your painting seems to be very surface based. Is this a conscious choice that you strive for (keeping the work within a certain visual plane) or do you struggle with the amount of depth that you want the viewer to experience?
PV: Yes the surfaces of my canvases are very flat. It has to do with the way I am using paint. I mix all my colors from about 3-4 colors. I use a tremendous amount of turpentine, which often annoys my studio neighbors; but the turpentine thins out this paint until it bleeds into and onto the canvas. Extremely thin layers are layered on top of each other. Things are painted in and out; wiped away, smoothed, blurred, and then sharpened and blurred again. It’s a dirty smelly process that I love! But a very challenging way to paint. I personally see a lot of depth in the space, but am also consciously playing with flatness and perceived depth and perspective. I have an idea where the painting should end up, but I never know until I am there. Is that old school? As far as scale goes, I want the viewer to feel they can be inside the painting and to relate 1 on 1 with the scale of the figures or trees.
|Paul Vogeler, Sommer in Tiergarten, 2011
Oil on panel, 200 x 200 cm
Image courtesy of the artist
KDH: What has your experience been like since being included in the New Berlin Painters first exhibition. Have you felt any pressure in falling under this title? Do you believe you are one of the new painters in Berlin for those out there to take note of?
PV: Moritz Hoffmann and I created New Berlin Painters to form a new group of painters with a common theoretical basis. Nadja has been our biggest supporter, always there helping us. Like our Gertrude Stein or Peggy Guggenheim. We received mixed reviews about the manifesto: a lot of anger and some support. One German Galleriest whose name I will not mention (she is pretty famous) wrote us a really nasty message and of course the endless comments from Jerry Saltz and crew. Being in this group is stressful, but fulfilling—it’s a good stress, keeps us on our toes, motivated, and making work for upcoming exhibitions. We want to have several exhibitions a year. However, we are still developing our ideas, deciding how to move forward. We meet almost weekly. I admit, New Berlin Painters is a big name, but what else should we have called it? I can’t think of anything else. We are New because we reject a tired paradigm of Art, and we are ready for a new theoretical approach to art and painting in the 21st Century. We felt we have addressed a problem. We are Berlin because we live in and love this city, and choose it as our new adopted home. We are New Berlin, because we are part of a group of new immigrants and creative people changing the very make up and energy of the city on a daily basis, helping to reestablish Berlin as the thriving creative metropolis it once was and should be. Remember, Berlin has only been reunited for 20 years; it was 2 countries. We are Painters because that it what we do and only what we do. Painters in the traditional sense: canvas, charcoal, oil, oil sticks, and turpentine. No stupid subversive questions of what a painting can be, just good old fashioned new school painting!
I don’t know if anyone should take note of us, or if we are good or terrible painters. That’s not for us to decide. In fact I think most people don’t like us. But, we are painters, our manifesto is the structure of our ideas, our statement, and if you want to join us, come on! We are reaching out to other painters globally who feel the same way, albeit the name, and will use the group as a platform to introduce new painters and paintings to Berlin. Moritz and I will always be the original New Berlin Painters, but I think there is room to grow. As far as a stylistic coherence within the group? I can’t see one yet, but maybe we’ll see it years from now.
|Paul Vogeler, Ash Wednesday II 2011
Oil on panel, 25 x 25 cm
Image courtesy of the artist
KDH: Who are other artists that you look at and admire, either contemporary or historic?
PV: To name quickly Peter Doig, Neo Rauch, Otto Dix, George Grosz and Neue Sachlichkeit, Ruprecht von Kaufmann, Brian Montourri, Dean Monogenis. Francis Bacon, G. Richter, Baselitz, Cezanne, I mean the list is endless really. Of course the American Abstract Expressionists as well. A couple of these contemporary painters have also been my mentors.
KDH: How did you meet Nadja Sayej? Have you enjoyed working with her?
PV: Craigslist, hahah. I was looking for a DJ for a bar I used to work at. I had seen her ArtStars* episodes and thought “Man, I need to meet this chick.” I love how she playfully harasses and interviews these rock star artists. Nadja has been a gift really and so supportive of the two of us.
KDH: What is the next step for your art? I feel like your work could also lend itself to 3-Dimensional experience, have you ever thought of building sculpture into your practice?
PV: Well the sculpture might come later in life when I feel I have said everything I need to say with painting. But for now I keep painting, and working on this new body of work about the element of human nature that continuously engages in conflict. I would like to pursue a Meisterschüler here in Germany, I just need to find the right professor-painter to study with. But before that, I want to see where this group goes; I want to see where my art goes.
KDH: Talking once again about Berlin, as a city, an entity, an individual, do you see the city as a gender? Some languages automatically assign gender to a city (in Italian all cities are feminine).
PV: Well the word for City in German “Die Stadt,” is feminine. I see Berlin as a person without gender. Sometimes it’s a friend and sometimes a monster. The winters are harsh but the Spring and Summer full of life and light, even when it rains. We are a nice community of artists here, there is an opening to go to every night of the week, I can promise that. We cycle around with our bike lights on, have beers on the sidewalk, see museums on the opening nights until 1 in the morning for free. There is a life here worth living really. There is space. There is opportunity for those of us not born with a trust fund. A union and health care system just for artists! There is something nice about a city where everyone gets a chance to show their work. There’s a lot of crap, but that is the same in NYC and London. Wir werden sehen, was in Berlin passierien wird!
KDH: Thanks for taking the time to chat! I look forward to seeing the evolution of your work and since I’m spending more time in Berlin lately and have a feeling we will cross paths again soon.
This interview was originally posted in the New Berlin Papers and distributed in Berlin. The second part of the New Berlin Painters exhibition, opens in Berlin, November 30th, 2012.