I communicate with the image while painting. A successful conversation is always enriching for both.
Bernhard Adams graduated from Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in January 2018. He studied painting with Katharina Grosse. He answered Art Springboard’s questions in writing.
Wolfram Schnelle: You have moved from photography to abstract painting. Can you describe how and why this happened?
Bernhard Adams: At the beginning of my studies, I realized that photography as a medium couldn’t cover all of my interests in images. I missed the directness of painting. It was impossible for me to create an image with the camera in my hand, without detours via image angles, lens groups, the translation into pixels or grain, the digital or analogue darkroom, proofs, paper types up to the framed print or lightbox. Photos were torn and collaged, my prints went towards large-format paintings. At some point I picked up a brush and didn't want to put it down afterwards. During my studies I continued to take photographs, but painting became a central interest of my artistic practice.
W.S.: You seem to use both brushes and spray cans in your work. Can you describe when and why you use one or the other and what the main differences are for you?
B.A.: Painting takes place on the surface of objects. From the many possibilities to apply paint to a surface, brushes and spray guns are the most interesting to me, because they can store information on a surface in opposing ways. The brush presses into the existing paint, reshapes it, and colour tones mix and create visual depth. Elements of my movement remain visible: pressure, speed, the resistance from the background. With the spray gun I completely disregard these aspects. The texture of the canvas becomes unimportant, the paint mist covers everything previously painted without me having to touch the surface.
How I chose my working conditions, including my tools, depends on my thoughts about what an image is and can be. With the brush I can express something direct and archaic; it means something very old and familiar to me. The sprayed paint, on the other hand, is a contemporary element that I use to refer to mass-produced images, which have no tactile quality, appear on screens, and are without a fixed size ratio in relation to my body.
This contrary nature of pictures, of classical photography and classical painting, of brush and spray paint, of image space and image surface, fascinates me and accompanies me in painting.
W.S.: When do you think a work is successful?
B.A.: The artistic work is more than just a picture. For me ‘work’ means the sum of my thoughts, observations, experience, desires, inspiration and actions. All this is constantly changing, but is reflected in my pictures, is frozen in the current configuration, almost like a photo. A work is finished for me when it depicts and simultaneously forms this ‘cognitive plasma’. I communicate with the image while painting. A successful conversation is always enriching for both sides.
W.S.: Where do you get your ideas and inspiration from?
B.A.: You can't resist inspiration. Everything can be inspiration, sometimes simple, everyday actions.
However, my interest in astrophysics has turned out to be a pretty reliable source of new ideas. The night sky was a picture before we knew pictures. The ‘Tent of Heaven’ is an inaccessible surface for the projection of divine legends, infinitely deep, covered with luminous dots. If you compare this archaic observation using the naked eye, with today’s state of knowledge of astronomy, you can only marvel and admire what thinking, seeing beings are able to do and how exciting our mere existence is.
This subject has been with me all my life. As a child I looked through telescopes with my father and today I spend hours listening to and reading lectures on astrophysics.
This is a kind of battery, a source of energy that I can tap into for painting and my visual thinking. I translate this inspiration or energy into pictures. And even though I don't influence astronomy in reverse, my images release this energy and can inspire those who look at them.
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