Fascination With The Uncanny
Interview with Coates and Scary from October 2011
Q: You are currently based in Hamburg, Germany. Can you tell us what you like most about the city?
While Hamburg is not exactly small at a population of 1.8 million, often enough it feels like a small town. That strikes me particularly when I return home from a trip to a bigger city. It’s probably because Hamburg isn’t that busy. What’s more, there’s a lot of green, two rivers and a harbour. When it comes to culture, there’s certainly not as much going on in Hamburg as in Berlin, but that’s probably just fine as it is. If I lived in Berlin, I’d probably never get a rest.
Q: Did you go to Art School and how did you find the experience?
Yes, I graduated in illustration. I do have to say that the degree left me rather confused and at first I couldn’t decide where to go from there. I quit painting for seven years and focussed on my work as a designer instead. The break turned out to be a good idea; after that I could finally paint without worrying all the time where my pictures would fit in.
Q: You have a solo show coming up in San Francisco, USA and possibly another one in Barcelona, Spain – how will you choose which work will go where?
That’s simple. The Barcelona gallery is very small and focuses on drawings. The San Francisco exhibition will show paintings.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m still working on the San Francisco paintings. I want to show 25 pieces and have only finished half of them so far. As soon as I’m done with that, I’ll start with the Barcelona pictures right away.
Q: Your work has a very strong narrative theme about the hidden side of Nature, what was the influence that took you down this path?
That’s a hard question to answer. Of course I have a vague idea what nudged me in that direction. It has to do with love of animals, love of nature, a fascination with the uncanny, horror movies, heavy metal music, comics and all kinds of childhood memories, but to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t like to analyse it too closely. When I’m on the lookout for subjects, I prefer to let myself drift und trust my instincts. If I knew exactly where my ideas are coming from, I’d probably find them less interesting.
Q: There is a duality in your work between colour paintings and black and white illustrations, which do you, prefer to work on?
I do prefer working in colour. Normally, I only use black and white when I’m not sure where the subject will take me. It makes it easier to improvise while developing the concept. When I use colour, I’m most of time exactly sure where to go before I make the first brush stroke.
Q: Which mediums do enjoy working with the most and why?
I enjoy working with pencils, coloured pencils, acrylic and oil. If I had to decide on one medium alone though, I’d choose oil paint. The smell and consistency alone would be reason enough. It’s excellent for painting transitions and the colours have a much more natural effect than acrylic paint. That said, it’s always very important to use high quality colours.
Q: If not art, then what career would you have most likely followed?
Before art school I applied for a printing apprenticeship. The employer wasn’t interested though, saying he felt that I’d immediately move on once I’d completed the training. That’s what I call a judge of character.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration and source material from?
I use a lot of photos that I make when I travel or take a trip to the zoo or the deer park. On top of that, I have an enormous collection of pictures that I stumbled across on Flickr or elsewhere on the internet. Most of the time my pictures are based on two or three more or less altered photos plus some creatures from my imagination.
Q: Apart from Nature, what other themes do you explore in your work?
Actually there have been few exceptions in the last years. Most of my pictures are about nature in the widest sense: about landscapes, animals and about what threatens them. Sometimes the tide turns and nature strikes back, like in my favourite movie “The Birds”, sometimes I explore the cycles of nature. Now and then I paint the occasional portrait without thinking how it may fit into my general themes.
Q: What type of person would you like to own a piece of your work?
A good picture can have an impact on a room’s mood, just like light shining through a window. I’m always happy when someone purchases one of my pieces with exactly that in mind. When someone explicitly wants to buy one of my picture as an investment or a product I might tell a lie and say that it’s already sold. And I can’t say I feel too bad about it.
Q: Who are your main influences in your work?
When I was younger, I focussed quite a bit on the Surrealists but also on the Old Masters. During my art school days my interest waned and I favoured Cy Twombly and Mike Kelley. My friends Till Gerhard and Henning Kles definitely belong on this list as well. I was able to use Till’s studio for a year. He would paint during the day while I came to work in the evening. We didn’t meet too often, but I was able to see his pictures taking shape and that has been very influential. Every couple of years, Henning, Till and I do a group show. That has become a tradition with us.
Q: You are currently teaching as an associate professor of art at the same place where you studied, how does it feel to be on the other side?
It’s absolutely baffling. Being able to give young people some stimulation and encouragement, I feel more energetic than I ever did when I was a student myself. Actually I tend to be quite exhausted after class and have to take a nap.
Q: When you are not creating new artwork, what do you do to relax?
I read quite a lot and recently discovered that meditation has quite a favourable effect on me. I’m meditating on a daily basis now.
Q: What words of wisdom would you pass on to your children?
Boys, stay away from people who build their life on hatred.
Q: What is the most amazing experience you have had to date?
Certainly the birth of my two sons, but also the way they surprise me almost every day: what they say, what they think, how they make connections and so on. Those surprises grow into a wonderful collection of memories that’s making life immeasurably richer.