Interview of Stefan Hoenerloh by Jean-Luc Richard on November 6th, 2009
Jean-Luc Richard: Your new exhibition at the gallery is called "Collection of the artist". In contrast with Martin Parr's collection that consists of works by various photographers and a wide assortment of objects, your collection focuses on your own works. How would you explain this difference?
Stefan Hoenerloh: We both collect what inspires us. Martin Parr identifies himself as a photographer specializing in documentary photography. His collection shows different aspects of reality that inspire his work. I am not a realist painter. My paintings raise the question of representation through a personal universe in which I develop my own vocabulary. I paint concepts, light, cultural fact, civilization, time, history of the 20th and 21st centuries. I raise existential questions about the present time without asking them literally. That's why I don't feel the need to surround myself with collected objects or images. I don't collect concepts.
JLR: How do you build your collection? Are they works that you have always kept for yourself, works you have bought? What drives you to keep them?
SH: Sometimes after finishing a painting, I take a few weeks to decide whether to sell it or not, and sometimes the painting is just returned after a few exhibitions and I decide to keep it. It depends on whether I see in the painting something that will inspire me later - a specific pattern, different technical reasons. The subject of a painting in itself isn't a good enough reason to keep it, because I won't ever forget the idea that inspired it. But the technique sometimes is so different (in my opinion) that I try to keep the painting for a year or so. Almost all the paintings have been sold, especially from my early years. My first paintings in particular were the result of a great deal of struggle: most of them were repainted and corrected. Today; I know how to paint, but twenty years ago I depended on luck and chance. Half of those works weren't nearly as interesting as they are now. I had to throw out or destroy quite a few. So the "private" works are the result of more than 300 paintings that have been sold, and I instinctively kept them for museums. I can't lower the price for some of them because to me they're almost sacred!
JLR: Could you give us a little insight into your motivations when you decided to keep the ten paintings presented in the exhibition?
Miniatur zu: Das Auge des Schweigens
In this painting, it's the light and dark brushstrokes that interest me. They show that it's not just light reflections on objects that create contrast in a painting. Color can also be an important element in creating chiaroscuro. It's a first step towards post-structuralism, in a way.
This is the first piece in which I used a base layer of ink before using oil paint. I kept this one for its technical qualities.
Entwurf zu: Blvd Steinsog 34-36
I chose to keep this as inspiration for making a larger version, four times the size of the original.
Revenge of the Toran Building
This painting is now one of the masterpieces of my private collection because I bought it back from a collector who had purchased it. I'm thinking of putting an earlier version of the same piece called '97' up for sale.The technical aspect of the colors in this composition is fascinating - most of my new paintings don't have these shimmering blues and yellows, and I no longer remember how to create this luminosity. So, sometimes I hang it next to a painting I'm working on to control the blue and yellow spectrum.
Scotty Plaza (III)
The first sketch for Scotty Plaza was almost destroyed by an unfortunate arrangement of colors. This however, is exactly how I imagined it when I started and has a certain contrast in it that I try to achieve in all my paintings.
Winners of the Isabel Rawsthorne Competition: Das Gummipferd
The simplicity of this type of piece reminds me to use order to keep things simple. Francis Bacon's idea of dark backgrounds with solitary portraits was the initial inspiration for a window, which appears on a wall that is light and dark at the same time. Later, it turned into a whole row of windows, like Bacon's triptychs. Regarding the title: Isabel Rawsthorne was not only painted by Bacon, but also by Picasso and Giacometti. As for the competition, it's made up, because there's only one winner - that famous comic book hero of the seventies from the 'Der Stern' newspaper: Jimmy the rubber horse.
One way for me to start a painting was to use all sort of colors, except black. Like the Impressionists, I choose not to use black in certain paintings.
Via Metauro/ Vicolo del Cedro
The German museum Berlinische Galerie in Berlin wanted to buy this piece and I was stupid enough not to sell it. Their offer didn't impress me and so I missed that opportunity. Now I'm trying to keep it for another museum that might want one of my paintings.
Baluardo L.C. Etsagreviano
This painting is the one in which my brushstrokes are the most visible - I injured my hand and had to stop painting for 18 months. I couldn't move it at all. This painting marks a defining moment in my life. After this I adopted a new, simpler way of thinking about painting because the alternative was to stop painting, and that was too sad. I was confronted with two choices - to change my technique or stop painting.
Della Russia con Amore
This painting was also a preliminary version for a larger painting (186 x 256 cm). I am currently in the process of preparing my large studio, for large-format paintings, to begin working on this piece. The lighting has to be perfect because the smallest defect could lead to discord between the tones in the top and bottom of the painting.
JLR: I've seen people crying at the sight of your paintings, something that has never happened with any of the other artists represented by the gallery. Are you conscious of the deeply moving character of your paintings?
SH: As I said before, I'm not a realist painter. The problem in representation lies in the difficulty of finding other pictorial functions in order to capture reality. In my work, I'm searching for pictorial functions that are based on the idea that the painted picture knows itself to be metaphorical, rhetorical, transformational, fictional or poetic. The technical aspect of a work is not unimportant, but what gives meaning to it is the pictorial content. The critical discourse and the education of an artist are caught between two poles - a formalist and a conceptual one. In both cases, the problem of representation of the subject is evicted. The question of representation is essential and is the product of interdepedence between the formal and conceptual aspects. If by observing my paintings without the disruption of his or her perception by a didactic text, the spectator is reminded of some personal memory or major historic events, it only proves that I have been able to preserve the vitality of the painted image.
JLR: Which contemporary artists do you feel close to?
SH: At the moment I'm drawn to artists who write. I have arrived at a point in my career where I feel the necessity to write critical texts on my own work, on the concept of painting, Post-structuralism, even the concept of incoherence in paintings. It's necessary because most of the spectators misunderstand the works, refer to the "art of painting" and lack the underlying concepts. So I think it's essential to write, write and write some more like Christopher Wool, Lawrence Weiner, Jerry Holzer, Christoph Steinmayer or my favourite artist Mark Tansey do it. Mark Tansey represents postmodern painting (like Sigmar Polke) and I find we have a few things in common.