"I see my paintings like songs. They give commentaries. My lines are imbedded in a composition of sounds which reinforce them."
Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did it all begin?
The very few first years as a child I drew a lot. There were the first drawings of reclusive places. Houses underground and rain outside. I was a quiet kid and did mostly things on my own after kindergarten and school. It was not what I wanted, but friends were just missing. So that encouraged me to learn to get along by myself.
My parents wanted to see me in a ‘good’ job that brings money and that society respects. I never wanted that and never understood why doing a job just for the money should be a reason to be accepted by others.
Around 12 I started graffiti and discovered music as an escape from the daily grind. That kept me awake and at arm's length from those that felt like dull sheep. At 17 I moved out and had a social worker from time to time that looked after at me. From there on I changed flats every year, and broke school to start an apprenticeship as an insurance salesman. But I quit that after 1-2 months. That couldn´t be the life I had to live, it was such a terrible idea. Thank god my father saw that and supported me to keep finding my way by showing his sympathy.
In these years, since I started school, there wasn't any art in my life. Graffiti was just the valve to show my fury, incomprehension and sadness. That was never art. Silver-Black, here I am.
Once I got arrested and they put me into a programme in a workshop. They offered me an alternative punishment: to work in their painting studio. I did my first canvas there with brushes and colour.
One year later I started upper school, had fast changing flats and girlfriends etc. That kept going on until the end of academic studies. My last art teacher in school told me that there's the possibility to study art. I didn’t know that because there was never any knowledge in my family and circle of friends about the arts.
Then I started my studies with my big advantage: I had no idea about what art is or not. From there on I put all my power, time and life into my paintings. I called them Wütende Bilder (Raging Pictures). They were huge, aggressive, loud and extremely colourful. Two years later that changed into just black for the best possible expression of what I have to say. Words and symbols.
Most of your subject matter seems to be celebrity/pop culture and some paintings have text. Could you talk about the images and slogans in your work and what your intentions are?
There was a clear reason to flip into just black. To show most effectively any feelings, black and white seemed to be the best solution. My paintings were always a straight critique of systems and society. And it still is. I called it BLACK POP. For me it´s the complete flipside of pop-art. Classical Pop Art broaches the issue of daily products: consumer goods, mass music, etc. and just uses them as themselves in the artwork. Black Pop broaches the issue of feelings, problems, reasons and circumstances behind social and economic concerns. I think the only decent and sustainable way to criticise something is to plant bombs right in the heart of it.
That´s the reason why I started to make my paintings look like big posters, like advertising. To be at eye level with those flat things that represent what I want to criticize.
The reason there seems to be a focus on celebrity is maybe this: to get more attention. It´s helpful to show things that people already know. For me it doesn’t matter whether it´s Kate Moss when I use her as a symbolic part of a painting. It´s helpful to get more attention, but it wouldn’t work if she wasn’t used in the right context within the painting.
I see my paintings like songs. They give commentaries. My lines are imbedded in a composition of sounds which reinforce them. That's it.
I prefer using English in my work, so more people are able to understand the text. And, again, to use the language of that you want to criticize. And English is the leading language in that business.
Some of your works depict nude/semi nude women in various poses and backgrounds. These remind me of over sexualised advertising/fashion scenes and/or film posters, are you heavily influenced by advertising?
No. I am not really influenced by advertising. I started to deal with that subject as the necessity of my step into Black Pop. To bring the best result, you need to research.
The nude women thing…well, in the beginning it was a strong part of my life. Changing girlfriends and these things, but I saw it more as a way to critique the impossibility of cooperation in society. I just used my private life as an example for this. Using contrary elements to make the point gives it much more intensity. Somewhere between sarcasm and irony.
The nude women in recent paintings symbolise the wish for beauty, hope and something that you have lost and wish to get back in life. But you are right, as in advertising, I also use these elements to create a perfect world.
The essential difference is that advertising arouses a false desire and covetousness. And it gives the answer and the promise. So, you think you need that product. My paintings do the opposite. They neither give any promise nor any solution or answer. They aim at your feelings, the pure ego with its base thoughts.
The obviously critical works appeal to the unconscious, unpleasant knowledge about yourself. The more appealing paintings show a pure, true paradise and tease you into thinking everything is gonna be alright, but…
So, it´s all about the beholder himself.
You have a raw technique to your painting, monochrome and stripped down to one colour, would you say German Expressionism is an influence? Could you also talk about your process, how do you start a new painting?
No. Expressionism and German Expressionism haven't influenced my work. Expressionism is still not a favourite art direction for me. My work is Symbolism. I deal with reasons, and question what circumstances lead to a situation, and why. I am not a fan of having fun on the canvas with nice colour passages, testing all those nice brushes, testing materials etc.
The painting just gives the formulated thought a voice and the possibility to catch that thought. It's the last step of that specific idea. Words wouldn't be able to do that. That´s also the process. It´s based on philosophy. I'm always trying to find a better or different way to grab a thought. There is an ongoing process of discussions, talks with friends, and research via the internet, film etc. I make sketches, notes, drawings, collage, photographs or whatever to take the next steps. It takes a lot of time to get an idea fixed. Sketches for the works take months upon months. Usually a few works arise in parallel. As soon as the sketch is ready and size of the work determined I go into the studio and paint.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine, what is your studio like?
Hehe, easy life I’d say. Living famous dreams. Daily things like bills and stuff. But the rest is…getting up. Taking my dog for a walk. Mostly in the woods or fields on the verge of the city. That means a relaxed start to the day. Quiet, peaceful. Breakfast around midday with my wife. At home or in a nearby café. First talks about current affairs. Politics, economy, society, terror shit (actually that´s been an ongoing topic over the last years as we know). Homewards and to my Mac. Listening to music and trying to finish sketches. In the best case, I go to my studio in the afternoon until evening. Dinner and back into the studio until late night.
My studio is in the attic of our house. It looks like Carl Spitzweg’s painting ‘Der arme Poet’ (The Poor Poet). In the winter it´s really cold. You need a cap and a warm coat. In the summer, it´s extremely hot there. Swimming trunks situation. I like that raw idea of a poor poet’s studio. Its the place where time really sleeps.
What do you hope the viewer gains/reacts from looking at your work?
As I mentioned before, it´s all about the unconscious, unappealing knowledge about yourself. I hope I can give mind to an impulse and can give some peace to those that see themselves in the paintings.
How do you go about naming your work?
Idea. Painting. Title.
Usually it´s that way. I try to use the title as another level, as an expansion for the meaning of the picture. Sometimes it works, sometimes…well…
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
To be honest, I´m not that much into the fine arts scene these last years. I love music and film. I´m a fan of Neo Rauch, the sculptures of Jonathan Meese, Monet´s waterlily pieces, Raymond Pettibon. Generally, for my taste, most artworks are missing intensity, because they are ill-conceived and not sophisticated.
I miss the earnestness, but that doesn’t mean that works can´t be funny and guileless.
But there are some new and great works out there, and that’s fantastic and very inspiring. Thank you guys for this.
What does the future hold for you as an artist? Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
I love books and I also love to make books. I made my first one, the Black Bible, after the first 5 years of my black paintings. The second is in the pipeline at the moment. I guess it will be finished and published at the end of this year or beginning of next. Dunno yet. So, the book will be presented with an exclusive small exhibition in Frankfurt I think. I’m thinking about a series of portraits. I’ve started already in secrecy and time will tell. I’m deep into a lot of work for my first London solo show at CHARLIE SMITH LONDON in September, and art fairs.
There are many ongoing projects with my galleries CHARLIE SMITH LONDON and my hometown Galerie Heike Strelow. Both are very close, it´s a gorgeous team. A good feeling, entering war with strong partners besides.
There is one other really great project in the pipeline, but I can't say more at this point. Another artist is involved and it´s not only in my hands. But the magic word is music. X fingers that we can make that.
Heinke's Solo show at CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is titled: ALLES WIRD GUT. Exhibition dates: Friday 09 September – Saturday 08 October 2016. PV: Thursday 08 September 6.30-8.30pm
Publishing date of this interview: 12/08/16