London, Sept. 2009 - Tilo Baumgärtel presents a series of paintings, conceived and produced over the last two years, which hang as emblems of why this medium shall live on forever. Displaying them for the first time in Wilkinson gallery’s newly renovated space (on view from 3 September - 4 October 2009), Baumgärtel utilizes the width of each wall to magnify his thoughts. His work narrates a series of independent unrealities that describe both his impeccable use of imagery as a language as well as his imagination. Yet, behind the curtain of each scene is a bedrock of stories, a veil that only questions could pull back.
Benjamin Ferguson: Your paintings are wonderful descriptions of your imagination. Are there parts of your mind that you visit for inspiration or is your work more automatic than that?
Tilo Baumgärtel:The start is mostly a sketch in my drawing book. I seek inspiration from a dream, a text, a movie, the theatre or just from a thing during the normal course of life. Then I build the painting step by step with a basic composition and the adequate atmosphere.
BF: Preliminary drawings and initial sketches are presented in a book that accompanies the exhibition. Do you think it’s important to show the route taken to reach the finished piece?
TB: I like to show the intermediate steps like sketches and idea drawings. There are no secrets and I wish to see it (preliminary work) from other artists as well.
Tilo Baumgärtel, The News from Yesterday, 2009, Oil on canvas, 210 x 300 cm; Courtesy the artist and Wilkinson Gallery
BF: Comparing work from your first solo exhibition in 1998 to the display today, are there less fears for you to draw inspiration from as you get older or do you think life always presents new things to be scared of?
TB: Yes. I constantly try to become more open and more direct in my work. It’s just the attempt to find the best way to move from my subconscious to my conscious imagination. I find permanent reasons to be scared and then work hard to break free of these fears more and more.
Tilo Baumgärtel, The Black Man, 2009, Oil on canvas; Courtesy the artist and Wilkinson Gallery
BF: You studied animation for a while because you felt that your painting might have reached a dead end. What did you feel was lacking from your work at that time? Are you satisfied now?
TB: That’s difficult to explain. Sometimes in the past I wanted too much from my own paintings, or just the wrong things. I noticed that painting often needs more energy, sometimes more commitment and more patience. It’s an all-or-nothing game and I have to invest a lot of time when I want to use it like a language.
BF: The Leipzig School became renowned for traditional methods of painting and printmaking, a resistance to the expressionist habits of the West. Do you think Germany’s East/West divide is relevant to your work today?
TB: I am, of course, aware of the fact that we have an entirely different upbringing and education system in the east. Although the education was not really imprecise, many aspects, such as intellectualism, pop-culture and the contemporary west-art at that time were left out. At the core was often a type of search for meaning in terms of socialism. Not uncommonly, somehow rigid but also touching in a way, somebody said that while artists in the west in terms of pop-culture flew through the front-shield a long time ago, in the east many are still trying to interpret the dying Icarus.
BF: Dionysus is referenced in one painting. What is this a call for?
TB: Dionysus stands for chaos, intoxication, anarchy, the unconsciously uncontrolled, and so on. In his text, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, Nietzsche used the conceptual duality apollinic-dionysic. Thereby, apollinic stands, for example, for the text of an opera and dionysic for the music, the melody. One can use the conceptual duality for a variety of things. Thereby Apollo always represents the control, the structure, the culture and its rules. At least in terms of contemporary art I personally wish often for more Dionysus.
Tilo Baumgärtel, Dionysos, 40 x 30 cm, 2008, Charcoal on paper, 127.5 x 205.5 cm; Courtesy the artist and Wilkinson Gallery
BF: But maybe you need to acquire a certain amount of authority before you can indulge completely in your area of study...Does it bother you to know that drawing is a skill that’s being overlooked in art school syllabuses nowadays?
TB: I know as a fact that in many art universities in Germany the technical basics of traditional fine arts are taught neglectfully and are not compulsory. That is a shame, because in particular the drawing of these ancient principles is, due to the directness from the thought to the piece of paper, so poetic and so true, more than almost any other medium. Hence, there should be an appreciation in the foundations of this study.
Tilo Baumgärtel, Nyx, 2008, Charcoal on paper, 127.5 x 205.5 cm.; Courtesy the artist and Wilkinson Gallery
Artslant would like to thank Tilo Baumgärtel and Wilkinson Gallery for their assistance in making this interview possible.