'Narration is an important element of my work. I tell a story.' An interview with David Mild

David Mildner in his studio at UdK Berlin

David Mildner recently finished his Meisterschüler at UdK Berlin with Professor Michael Müller. He works in painting, drawing and etching. David was interviewed in Berlin in August 2017 by Art Springboard's Wolfram Schnelle.

Wolfram Schnelle: How did it start for you? How did art come into your life?

David Mildner: I never had another option. The only reason I wanted to do my A levels was to be able to study art. There was never a question of whether there would be anything else. As I child I was always drawing instead of listening in school.

WS: If we look at the works you showed in your degree show, can you describe the work and explain why you’re doing what you are doing?

DM: To ask why I’m doing something is – in my opinion – one of the most difficult questions and one that an artist can’t answer in the right way. It’s this inner urge to create your own right to exist. In my degree show presentation, I’m now at a point where I can combine my own stylistic devices and create a language that is becoming clearer and that enables people to have access to it rather than just being something that works in my head. That’s the point where I start using people around me, society and what I perceive in the world to create a universal language, although I don’t think that’s the right phrase, but maybe a language that is comprehensible

WS: You’re talking about your own language. How would you describe this language?

DM: On one hand, it’s the colour pallet that develops through breaking points and opposite poles in my decisions about how I build up harmony and disharmony. On the other hand, it’s how I use figuration and abstraction to create relevance for the various elements, for example I create a contrasting point by reducing the background and putting the figuration in the foreground. The viewer also plays an important role in my work. He becomes a part of the composition.

David Mildner, Lost and Found, 2017, oil on canvas, 200x300cm

WS: Tell me more about the role of the viewer.

DM: I try to reflect society and myself and I include the viewer because I want to enable him to become part of the work and reflect something of himself as well. I do this, for example, by creating a viewpoint that is very close to my figures. Because the figures are almost life-size it also adds to this feeling of being part of the composition. By playing a role within the work, the viewer has a more personal relationship with the work.

WS: When would you say a work is successful?

DM: When there is some grappling with the work, when you start to look at it for longer than 10 seconds and when it raises questions. Even when the viewer is confused and disturbed I think it’s a successful painting because it’s not just decorative. That’s one of the main tasks I’ve given myself: to not make decorative paintings. It’s idiotic because decorative works sell better! But if I manage to create a work that doesn’t just go well with the sofa then I’ve achieved something, even if it means that the work will have to be in my storage. That’s ok for me.

WS: What about size in your work? The size was one thing that struck me in comparison to most other works that I saw in the UdK degree show.

DM: For me those paintings are small. I would love to go much bigger. That’s because I used to paint ceiling frescoes where I was using a format of about 100m2 [1,076 ft2]. That’s why I got used to this format. I see it as a big playing field. But the format is also dictated by what I want to achieve with the work. Some works only work on a small scale.

David Mildner - Hinterland, 2017, oil on canvas, 129x185cm

WS: You work with painting, drawing and etchings. Tell me about the relationship between these media. Are there things that you can only express with a certain medium? Do you see them as equally important for your practice?

DM: Those are the three classic mediums for making art and they’re all equally important for me. I like to turn things on their head in that I use very painterly, often abstracted elements in my etchings but always with similar elements as in my painting when it comes to figuration and abstraction. In my drawings, I generally create a bigger distance for the viewer. And with my paintings I rope in the viewer. But I like to use painterly elements in my drawings and vice versa.

WS: Tell me about your time studying at UdK. How was your experience? What did you learn?

DM: It’s a difficult university. It’s quite anonymous and fellow students and professors are often disinterested and in their own bubbles. In terms of my development, it was a long fight with the university that had less to do with my work and more with how I think. It had to do with the fact that I had 7 years of previous work experience and I didn’t do my foundation course at UdK. Younger students often want to party, I wanted to work.

But in the end I found a great professor with Michael Müller. He has respect for people who work and he enabled me to evolve – not in regards to my technique but in regards to my thinking. How I use the tools that I have learned, how I compose my images. That’s really what I learned at UdK. To think properly and not just to work.

WS: Was there a specific eureka moment with Michael Müller that you recall?

DM: Yes, it was a discussion with Michael where he gave me a little speech in desperation, telling me that everything has already happened, that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but that his role was to enable us to develop our own voices, not just in terms of technique but in the way we think. That’s the point where – for example in the last image, the pink one that isn’t yet 100% finished – we worked on developing the essence of what the message was and realising that the message might be clearer if one arm is a bit thicker or the hair is red instead of blue. I learned to pay attention to those details and to not just think as a painter.

David Mildner, unfinished work in studio, oil on canvas, 200x300cm

WS: What are your influences? What informs your work?

DM: My friends. Life as such, the ups and downs. If I think about art historical influences there are a lot of influences from classical painting but I’m trying to distance myself from that. I admire painters who were able to reflect the zeitgeist of their time and themselves in their work.

WS: Tell me something about your choice of motives.

DM: I use landscape as a position point. I also liked when I painted landscapes in the past that I didn’t need to have a specific idea but that landscape and nature was providing this realm where you could get lost or that you could idealise. Now, in combination with the figures I use in my work, landscape is a positioning point that creates relevance – for example by dictating whether something happens inside or outside, which is important for the overall message of my work.

I use a lot of women in my work, not just because I like them but also because they have traditionally been seen as the beginning of all evil. Women give birth and stand at the beginning of life. The circle of life and transience are elements I like to play with in my work. I use the female figure as a synthetic element. Not as a sexual object but as an object in the literal sense, which also shows through the abstracted choice of colours, pink and rose, which are symbolically multi-layered colours. I create an area for projection through this physicality that is quite accessible.

Narration is also an important element of my work. I tell a story. And that’s an important element.

WS: What role do titles play for you?

DM: Titles play a very important role. I usually treat them ironically. They usually reference the depicted scene and point out one element of the composition that allows the viewer something to hold on to – but there is no closure. It’s not dictating how the work should be read but open. Sometimes it’s just a colour. It should give another access point but not define what I want to say with the work. The viewer needs the space to project himself into it.

WS: If you were to spend a week in one museum, where would you go?

DM: I like the Musée D’Orsay and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid.

WS: So, what’s next for you?

DM: Hopefully a nice exhibition. And completing my series of ten 2x3 meter works. Basically just continuing with my work.

To see all works by David Mildner click here

To read more about the artist click here

David Mildner - view of artist studio with paintings and etchings

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