Interview with David Schiesser

Talking Tuesday – Between the canvas and the skin

First of all, could you tell us a bit about your practice, please?

All of my works usually start on small sheets of paper. Often with a few previous ideas or topics in mind, I draw in sessions for a few hours. The result is principally the base, which I might transfer onto different medias. It ́s a sketch – a visual possibility of what we could call a story – framed on a piece of paper. My pictorial content deals with the human, its body and its environment (technical and natural). As I draw mostly using pure lines I suggest that my work can be read as an investigation of limitations and potentials of what the practice of line-drawings brings into the tradition of figurative art. By using different image-carriers such as canvas, wall or skin, I observe the transmission into three dimensional concepts or a change within their permanence that is linked to different tools of documentation.
It always feels important to me to elaborate the specifics of each medium and to rethink the role
of the viewer. Being captured in this human apparatus also means being limited in regards to the perspective towards the environment. Further, I also include multiple devices humans use to extend their perspectives. To bring in a specific example: In the exhibition at Salon Kennedy, Frankfurt, the immersive impact of the fresco correlates with the flatness of canvases and the convex surface of human skin by realizing stories which deal with these topics mentioned.

Do you see yourself as a painter or rather as an illustrator?

Although I try to deny classifications I tend to say: I draw (which in my opinion is neither painting
nor illustrating). I follow Vasari‘s approach of the sketch: the realization of an idea into simple quick contour lines. The difference for me is that the „disegno“ is usually the finished work in order to transfer it on another surface rather than working it out on the same surface. My approach is defined by the use of an economic and efficient line-drawing, which allows me to create a whole range of motifs, scenarios and stories. It gives me the possibilities to work in very different scales and to create a certain recognizable personal imagery.

Although your lines and hence works are very clean, the image carrier reads differently. Be it a complete room, ceiling, the traditional canvas, skin, paper, stone or whatever there is, the underground suggests a certain spontaneity. How planned and carefully thought through are your works?

It really depends on the situation: I always work very spontaneously on small scale paper, which serves me to develop my imagery and keeps me trained. It‘s a daily practice to achieve new content and discover new perspectives or compositions. Moreover, it allows me to produce a lot in a short amount of time, whereof half is usually garbage, though. I might reuse the good ones either as a tattoo on someone‘s skin or as an element in a canvas or on the wall.

This leads me to the point that I actually put way more planning into to the larger scale works nowadays. Even if I draw spontaneously on a medium, I consider it a „learned“ or „trained“ gesture
– something I‘ve drawn several times before on paper. I also use different tools such as meters or projectors to be able to reproduce exactly the same drawing without loosing any of the spontaneous vibes it has on paper. On the other hand I always try to keep space for intuitive interventions and impulsive add-ons. The best results seem to ground on a sensible balance between reinterpretation and new quick inventions.

Your graduation work at the HFG Offenbach, where you painted the entire chapel of the Isenburger Schloss can be interpreted as contemporary frescoes, which quite closely follow the renaissance thought of story telling and architectural ornament. What relation do these shifts in technique, time and surface mean to you?

In order to create some sort of timeless language within my drawings I seek to evoke the feeling of
a certain essential presence trough the reduction on contours. I also see a certain „universality“ in other line-drawings, be it on a wall of religious monuments or modern vector graphics, or pictograms. I guess it‘s on one hand the readability and clearness of simple lines which makes it so evident and on the other the responsibly acting human, which became a typical topic in the renaissance. The drawings I did in the „Isenburger Schloss“ which is a Renaissance Castle itself, aimed to embed topics from different epochs towards future fictions in order to appear timeless. The broader I went with marking time specifics trough remarkable examples the more timeless the whole impression became.

Talking about time in the sense of the relation and story within, one of course also needs to discuss the element of time in terms of the permanence within a drawing. What role does the notion of time / permanence play for you? Or is this irrelevant and only the architectural size matters?

The lack of permanence in my work became more of a factor I face with a certain acceptance. Hence, I wouldn`t say it is irrelevant. Apart from my archived drawings and the canvases I draw, most of my work is somehow volatile. Working on human skin strikes you every time with the fact that none of the tattoos are going to last very long (compared to other surfaces they alter very quick, plus they decease with the person who owns it). Most of the times you don‘t even see the tattoo twice. When I draw on the walls in exhibition spaces it is quite similar: The drawings remain the same yet they get covered by a new layer of white paint to receive the following artists in a neutral condition. At this point, it makes it even more interesting to reflect the „natural“ ephemerality of each medium and the role the documentation starts playing in this context. I actually don‘t loose the work after it‘s over-painted or just walked out of my studio door – I transfer it on to another medium and remains visible trough our flat bright screens. This in turn, offers a new potential to the works…it‘s definitely hyper-mobile and somehow „immortal“ as data.

Being tattooed yourself and being widely known as a tattoo artist – how can we elaborate further on permanence but also the surface in regards to the previous question?

By taking pictures of tattoos we already overcome the question of permanence, mobility and visibility. By transforming every artwork in a code, we archived it, we flattened it, we make the documentation of almost every exhibition visible for everybody connected to the internet – I suppose the internet is a permanent invention. I don ́t think the documentation is able to replace the original „auratic“ artwork, but we should face the fact that we consume a lot of art through screens – and we ́re getting used to it.

It ́s important to underline that some of my work ought to be experienced in real scale, on real skin or canvas. In order to make it available to more recipients though, the picture solves the issue of permanence. It makes it editable and projectable/printable to any surface in order to create something new out of it. In contrast to other photography it already has passed certain steps of time, efforts, scale changes, maybe pain, decisions, etc. – so it is usually material charged with meaning. )

From a historical point of view the canvas/the board got invented to carry a painting from A to B, instead of just having it permanently hung on a wall. This ethos in mind what role would you argue for a tattoo and in what relation does it stand to a paper or canvas work by you?

Both, tattoos and canvas/paper are connoted as mobile – the difference is that one can move from one wall to another while the tattoo itself is not mobile, it is the owner her/himself. Another significant difference in my opinion is that the canvas/paper is flat. And doing tattoos nowadays still means to be confronted with a three-dimensional living individual surface which ages and might not agree with my ideas. As there is usually an accompanying drawing on paper there is something of a partnership between paper and skin. The paper drawing gets chosen by its new owner and from then on, travels further with her/him as a tattoo.

And then we have the photography. Through the internet it travels to screens all over the world (even when the tattoo itself does not exist anymore.) The photography incorporates the flat drawing on paper, and the adaptation on someone ́s body. The irritation of the skin indicates the pain a person had go trough. It has a certain power as an image. Yet also, it has no monetary value, as it is so fluid. it became anonymous data.

Your works, regardless of the surface, obviously the bigger, the denser, play with different fragments and perspectives both from a painterly demand, but also from a literary aspect. Do the scenes you draw stem from fantasy? Or rather personal stories or constructed realisms?

When I compose large scale works I construct a scenario. It arises from my fantasy indeed, but it always has strong links to real conditions. I never really invent the new. I push myself more or less to refer the ordinary, the common to a different environment or eventually to visualize a different perspective. I gather. I collect. I archive ideas and sketches. And as soon as I start drawing a complex piece I arrange the collected. It ́s also by episodes I work out certain topics, specific animals or objects or perspectives to learn about it or to find out different facets. The result is an on-going personal iconography, which is fluid and changes from time to time.

Coming back to an earlier question about spontaneity and the surface, we find it remarkable within your practice, that the drawings evolve on the desk, but also while you are paragliding, during exhibitions in galleries and museums, in a painted tent on the streets of Tel Aviv. Does this mean that your art has no boundary in terms of its time, location and situation?

It ́s sounds a bit pretentious but yes. To be honest, most of my drawings happen far away from my desk. My preferable desk for small scale drawings is the train. One of the reasons why the practice of drawing always impressed me so much is that it is a skill. It does not require special material. It ́s understandable throughout each and every layer of society. It ́s not necessarily always understood as „art“ – but at least as a tool of communication. It opens doors.

Currently you are exhibiting at Salon Kennedy in Frankfurt, where you again painted the entire space correlating with paintings on canvas in the gallery. This layering both physically, but also conceptually is very fascinating. Do you want to elaborate a little on your relation of perspective both in the drawing but also in the story?

My work at Salon Kennedy reflects the interpersonal marking of our bodies, the practice of tattooing trough different scenarios. By rearranging sketches I did throughout a tattooing road trip in 2018 and combining them with new drawings, I created different scenes where the questions of the three dimensional surface of our body is always opposed to our tendency to flatten the „world“ or to surround us with flat artefacts, such as maps or screens. This whole environment pairs with elements of a generation of energy, the pleasure of traveling, flora and fauna. At the end it aims to realize a universal role-play, which reflects a few contemporary phenomena I see in tattoo- and travel-culture, but also appears very renaissance-ish as it tries to bring all elements of life together.

On top of your personal story drawn in multiple views in this exhibition, you are incorporating local elements, like the Salon dinner table, the number plate of the car, the digital map of the space, the flowers in the entrance etc… How does layer or perspective relate to the work described in the previous question?

I guess it ́s a serious need of me to contextualize my drawings or tattoos towards the location where it is shown or applied. It creates an essential bond between me, the location and the viewer. It gives the drawings a reason to be there. It sets marks where the location and it recipients become part of what they see.

I filled the walls of Salon Kennedy with people tattooing each other. Tattooing in this space while I created the wall drawings in a way legitimized the whole process of tattooing and drawing. The drawings start to fade between documentation and a constructed reality. It is a strategy to link the invented and in some sort absurd drawings with elements from our own reality.