Interview with Maximilian Arnold

Young Painters

Born in 1987, Maximilian Arnold studied Fine Art and Painting at the Art Academy Karlsruhe with Prof. Toon Verhoef before switching to the class of Willem de Rooij at the Staedel Academy in Frankfurt. Arnold`s paintings are set up as collages of materials such as polyester or plastic foil, denying a localisation of the individual layers and the depiction respectively. This effect of the surface reflects our perception which is more and more influenced by the digital image: the process-like gesture, informed by chance is reproduced by the artist through analogue and digital printing procedures whereby he creates a serial reference among those actual autonomous images.

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You are classifying yourself as a painter, yet you are most of the time not touching any brushes or paint. How are you justifying your definition?

I think my task as a painter is to analyse the medium of painting and what it can be today in the age of digitalism. Thereby I definitely consider myself a painter, yet what is the definition of a painter today? Perhaps I can define it as follows: I am painting without painting and at the same time I am deliberately not giving up the frame in order to position my work within this long and loaded tradition. It is thus always about what painting (for me personally) still can be today and what ways and unknown realms it offers for themes I am intested in.

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Painting has long been seen as dead, how are you seeing the probably most traditional medium in the visual arts nowadays?

I think one should know exactly why to begin painting nowadays. I am trying to integrate my work within all the critique on the medium and in fact to exercise it at the medium itself. This is impossible without reflection and confrontation with its own history, yet at the same time I am not interested in typical phrases such as ‚painting is dead‘. I am convinced that especially ‚abstract‘ painting that is aware of its own history and at the same time opens to innovative and contemporary practices and technologies such as collages, prints etc. as well as influences from digital media is capable of dealing with today’s surplus of images and the question what an image can be. Hence, painting is in fact a very contemporary medium that as its bests opens up new ways to explore all this. It is important to me that my artistic medium has a high level of own reality and material presence, with painting this is given. Besides, painting has the habit that the viewer needs to fully, and often re-indulge in it. Often  I have the feeling that people like to categorize. Thereby, they often close their eyes sometimes to quickly and start to generalize without truly confronting the work. If a work is of quality to me, whatever that may be, I don’t care whether it is painting, a conceptual approach or a video work.

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Coming back to your own definition of painting and the current medium discussion, could one say, that there is only room for a conceptualization of the terminology „painting“?

As I said, I try to ignore categorizations or labels and can only speak for myself. I have an idea and realize it through the medium that is most suitable for me, painting. In this regard ‚abstract‘ painting is not the goal, it rather is a mean for its ends. I am not practicing painting just for the sake of painting. The content is in my case linked to a question of form, it is always also about visual ideas. Best case scenario is that content and visual idea converge to create a new reality within the painting, demonstrating connections and exploring the perception in the painting itself, leaving room for the unknown. I do’t want that it ends in an over- thought anti- painting. But as I said, an exact idea is very important to me and almost always starting point for my works. I don’t develop my works out of progress. The progress rather begins before the ‚painting‘. I have a very clear vision of what the painting should look like, it is finally only being executed. If you wanted to call that conceptual, then I am a conceptual painter.

You have recently exhibited a spectrum of your work in London during Frieze Art Week. Of course it is silly at your age of talking about a retrospective, yet if we consider your professional practice, there were canvases ranging from the initial stripe painting via the first layer collage painting to your newest body of work and the pixel prints. How have you received this selection?

It is of course definitely exaggerated to speak of a retrospective. The  selection rather reflected the different angles of my work.

For me it is essential to follow different concepts and directions in order to search before sticking to the one and only true position that you then only repeat in a varied manner. I think that happens way to often to especially young artists like me, I would even say predominately nowadays. Perhaps because they are too much influenced by others or under too much pressure to reach a certain position. I am trying to counteract such a development by working in different directions simultaneously. They are contracting each other and have nothing to do with indecisiveness, to the contrary, they are actually referring to each other. I think it is an advantage of painting that you have to work off yourself at it. Painting is very patient. With a lot of new media you reach very quickly very good result, maybe be even too quick…..

What difference occurs, except visually, between the stripes and lets say the pixel prints?

Actually both, the stripes and the pixel prints develop out of the same field of interest. Both are about the discrepancy between chance and a determined decision, which always plays a big role in painting. With the stripes, I am trying to find out what kind of importance, intuition it has for painting. Therefore, I cover the different layers of glued stripes, that are applied through several repetition with spray lacquer whereby traces, mistakes and erosions evolve of not yet dried paint after removing of the tape. The question arises whether chance is still chance after deliberately initiating it hundreds of times. With the pixel prints, the ‚white noise‘ paintings, It is basically the same principal. A still from the original image interference , the famous ‚white noise‘ is taken and resized on the computer to fit into the frame. Through the recalculation to a 1:1 scale, the pixel vary, each time presenting something new. Hence, it never results in the same image when printed digitally. The only difference between the two is of course that the stripe paintings are about color.

The pixels are based on the every day use of modern technology and are also thus generated. What role do these medium play for your artistic production, both technically and conceptually?

An important topic of my paintings is the analysis  of influence digital media has on my, or our perception. Through a constant flow of information and images through internet, film, commercials, television and photography the question of the credibility of an image and how we perceive arises. Furthermore, the way in which we see, ( re-) produce and develop images is in my opinion significantly influenced by these new media. It is thus only the next logical step for me to include media such as computer and the technology of digital printing in abstract painting. Thereby, painting is not only longer focused on itself or its history, but again confronted with contemporary problems and questions of visual and cultural nature. Technically speaking it is not seldom a huge  challenge to combine different media such as digital – or silk print and materials such as polyester until the image is right and finished. And yet, when is a painting ever completely finished? I don’t believe there are actually finished paintings.

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Compared to other artist studios we have visited, even far beyond academy times, you have quite some luxury at your hand. This also allows you to work on formats that go beyond the 10m2 of surface. What relevance does the size of your painting play? The bigger the better?

The format alway plays an important role, especially if you don’t loose the frame as a painter. This is always one of the first concerns when beginning a new work. I actually work on large scale, which is first of all due to the physical impression of the image and the room. I believe it is also something completely different to deal with a large scale painting compared to a smaller work. Logistically as well as referred to the material you are confronted with other challenges that you have to tackle. That influences the work – positively or negatively.

Coming back to the beginning of our conversation, you are not using standard acrylic or oil paint, instead you are experimenting with enamel and spray paint. What is the reasoning behind using such toxic materials? 

In all my works, I use polyester fabric and industrial lacquer to achieve an absolutely smooth surface of the image on which the paint  is rather printed  into than painted onto the material with a squeegee and solvent; the paint thus doesn’t stay on the surface but is completely absorbed by the material. The artificial, sterile and smooth surface of the polyester, its light effects as well as the disappearance of that actual surface align closest to my perception of images I see on screen. The same happens with The polyester- collages, likewise glued with special lacquer. What happens in the image is never taking place on the surface. All the technical an formal questions of material and paint arise purely out of contextual thoughts. I am aiming for a very precise look for what I imagine, hence have to find means to express exactly that. Unfortunately these are often not as good for the health as others but a direct contact with the material is part of the working process.

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To round it up. Whats next?

Work as much as possible and keep on painting! Soon there will be my homepage online with new work and projects!“

 all images © Maximilian Arnold