Artwork’s Title: I Don’t Know
Material Used: Acrylic on canvas
Studio Based: Berlin, Germany
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
Yes, of course. Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about my art. The first thing I try to do is to become aware of how I feel. Then I think about how I can express that. Most of the time I express myself with the help of representations of penises. I then try to find a way to simultaneously express my feelings and reflect the sociopolitical context of me being a straight white man. Also, of course, the painting should look cool and, in the best case, be funny. My actual process of painting is quite unspectacular. Most of the time I finish the paintings within a day. Actually some paintings are not so well thought through, but rather explode out of me in some kind of rage. That also happens. But these are usually the ones with big penises.
How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?
It’s pretty straightforward.
Speaking about your new artworks, is there any particular story behind the “I don’t know” (2020) that you could share with us?
Back then I didn’t know what I wanted at all. Neither in my relationship at the time, nor professionally or generally what I wanted to do with my life. “I don’t know” was a phrase I said a lot during that time. That also affected my self-image as a man, because everyone likes a man who knows exactly what he wants. So on the one hand I was trying to express that feeling. I was also wondering what I, as a straight white man, could contribute that was relevant to the current discourse.
Actually, at the moment, it’s more about giving space to other groups. I also didn’t see myself in a position to make authentic art about racism or sexism. I would have seen that as mansplaining or cultural appropriation. I thought I had to focus very strictly on myself and look at these issues, if at all, from my point of view. Toxic masculinity, for example, is a topic that concerns me and that I can also say something about authentically.
So basically I came to the conclusion that I need to deal with my own penis. I also found it important to do this in a vulnerable or humorous way. I thought it could be a meaningful contribution from a white man to debates about gender and racism, etc. My goal was to address those issues in a de-escalating way. I hope to get all that across with the “I don’t know” painting.
In your artist statement you highlight the fact that you are an artist who paints “penises to express your feelings while reflecting on your role as a straight white man”; what does the penis-motif mean to you as a painter?
After painting more and more penises, I realized that with the help of this motif I can express just about any feeling or state of mind. At the same time, my role as a straight white man is constantly addressed by it. The penis is also a reaction to debates about gender and questions about whether these are all just social constructs. My point being that my penis is a reality and that it has to go somewhere.
In addition to my feelings and political issues, I am of course also dealing with the art world. In my opinion, it is all far too boring, humorless and above all elitist and wannabe intellectual. The penis motif allows me to provide a more straightforward counter design.
Could your body of work be seen as a contemporary critique on male sexuality and identity?
In fact, I deal self-critically with myself as a man in many works. However, that is only half the truth. I paint not only small funny penises, but also aggressive big dicks. I would say that my work as a whole is more of an attempt to reconcile these things. On the one hand, I feel the need to look at myself critically and ask myself to what extent I am privileged or toxic or taking up too much space, and so on. On the other hand, I want to be the best artist ever and fuck everyone. This “toxic” aggression or competitiveness is also part of me. I’m somehow looking for a way to let that out in a productive way without feeling guilty.
You recently had your first exhibition, “Eye of the Tiger“, at ORi Berlin; how was that experience there and what kind of paintings did you present at that show?
The exhibition was a great experience. Ori Berlin is a bar run by a collective that hosts art exhibitions. The place especially gives a platform to artists who haven’t done any exhibitions yet. For me as a career changer, this was exactly the right thing and I am very grateful, because otherwise it is rather difficult to find a way into the art scene.
Since I painted for quite a while without doing exhibitions, I had a lot of paintings to choose from. In the end, I decided to approach the matter chronologically and to show my older paintings. These are from a time when I was still very much struggling with myself, I was still developing the whole penis theme and also the decision to become a professional artist was not yet finalized. Because of the not so commercial and very casual atmosphere, I have dared to exhibit these very intimate paintings, where you can also sometimes see that they were painted rather amateurish.
At the opening, I was completely overwhelmed and happy. Before that, I had only painted at home and dreamed of becoming a real artist. It felt like it all became a reality then. It was just incredible to see my paintings outside my apartment for the first time and to have so many people there who all came especially to look at my art. And they also seemed to somehow get it and the vibes where good. I was so happy and it felt so good to have this feedback with other people.
In your artist statement, you also mention that you used to be a lawyer; have you quitted the idea of practicing this profession or are you happy to work both as an artist as well as a lawyer?
I don’t want to have anything to do with law anymore. I’ve already wasted 10 years of my life going to law school, even though I hated it. I only made it through by smoking weed, which was not good for me at all. I really regret that chapter of my life but I also think this is the reason I am so driven now. I don’t have any more time to waste.
In your imagery, do you approach soft or hard penises differently in regards to their cheekiness, short logos or statements in general?
Whether I paint a soft or hard penis really just depends on what I want to express. Generally, I think that a large and hard penis is much more aggressive. On the one hand, you can use this to create a certain amount of drama, but you also have to be a bit careful not to offend anyone. The small cute penis comes along relatively stylish and modern. My hope is that I can create paintings with it that have more of a subtle vibe and that people would actually hang on their walls.
Do specific artworks have been created by random experiments in your studio or do you usually come up with a particular concept or narrative in the very beginning of your artistic process?
Sometimes I have no idea and still want to paint. I just paint and try to develop something then. The first penis paintings also happened that way. The very first one was “Good Morning.” I painted around for ages and at some point a penis came out. Then I thought it would be funny to write “Good Morning” under it.
What would be the best way to exhibit your work?
I’m happy about every exhibition opportunity. What I would find exciting would be a group exhibition with artists who have a different ethnic background, gender identity or sexual orientation than I do, but who look at similar topics from their perspective.
Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?
For example, I like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Etel Adnan, Piet Mondrian, Georgia O’Keeffe, Amedeo Modigliani, René Magritte or Edward Hopper.
Contemporary artists I enjoy following on Instagram are Richie Culver or “art.cherry.pie”. Maurizio Cattelan’s banana sculpture was also pretty dope.
What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?
I just paint at home in my 2-room apartment in Berlin. It’ s not that spectacular. I have an easel and paints and then just paint in my living room. My whole apartment is full of paintings though.
What do your mum and dad think about your art?
I think they’re happy that I found something I enjoy. Generally, they are very supportive and believe in me as a person. But whether they are convinced by these penis paintings, I can not say for sure. Partly I think they find it funny but partly also a bit prepubescent. I also think that especially my father low key thinks that artists are narcissistic in general.
Which are your plans for the near future?
I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. I will probably travel more though or possibly even move. I’m kind of annoyed with Germany.
All images courtesy of the artist