What motivated my question was your break of media (so to say, not judged) in your process. You start off with a reproductive step; you make a projection and changes than to an almost diametric opposite technique, classic painting. This step is of my interest. I would like to interpret as a reflexive step, an examination with painting under new condition of the reproductive media. Would you agree in than?
Yes. But it is rather a practical examination than a piece of a concept, it just fit to the stuff I wanted to do. It does work in the 21. Century because of the pre-condition, you mentioned: knowledge about old techniques and the possibility to know and to be able to use modern techniques, well, to use an overhead projector in 2006 is not very fancy. But since you focus on that topic, I do see the dimension which leads into a position. But this position has something “automatic” in the sense of unconscious. I’m busy with an idea and think about how to manage it technically, with a conscious of quality. Maybe this has something to do with craftsmanship and tradition. But without the romantic touch, which comes with it often.
That confirms my theory for better interpretation of your pictures. We even have a certain propinquity to the paintings of Gerhard Richter from the 1960s – the “over-paintings”. He enlarged photos and painted them on canvas, but he alienated the paintings and showed this way the own-value of painting and worked out the own character of painting related to photography. For me this is a denomination/commitment to painting during a time where everybody adjured the end of painting. Would this be evident to you or would you refuse it?
Well, really this question is not very important to me. First because I don’t ascribe to the rivalry of photography and painting and secondly I don’t think I have to defend, renew or re-establish painting. I don’t agree with the contradiction of photography and painting. To me there should be another contradiction, which is – and it’s very brave of me to say something like this – between decoration or content. We don’t say a chair made out of wood is better than a chair made out of metal, so to say woodwork is more fundamental than metalwork, because it was earlier possible to work with wood than with metal. And on top of it photography and painting had always a fruitful relationship. By the way that’s what I thought about Richter’s paintings; rather a dialog than a re-construction of painting.
Well, I wouldn’t like to talk about a rivalry between painting and photography, rather a process of consciousness, a reflection of the own medial possibilities. But let’s have a break here and change the focus a bit. As a résumé I would like to keep, that I, even if it is not as important for you, understand your paintings first of all as a reflective argument of painting with its conditions and traditions. Let us get to another topic: During our conversation you point out that it is very important for you to relate to the reality outside of the painting. Would you please explain that a little?
This reference has different levels. Very practically I use relicts, that’s what we called them last time. They really exist and had a meaning as such. Meaning they were not meant to be models for paintings, but were real tickets or entry stamps. The fact that they had a real function at a time means also that they bear an event, for what they stand. It has also a narrative character and as mentioned before, this event is my motivation to do such a lot of work. On the other side these relicts are a reference link that more people had done something before, designed a stamp, noted something, issued a permission to pass, what ever. This is for me a reference to an existing world, and it exits as a society/sociability/social framework and I’m a piece of it. Of course this is a reference to a position in art, which is not common ground, but I didn’t invent it either.
I like to compose a picture: I understand your painting act as a artistic process which starts long before the picture is created, even long before you get to it, your are picking up that process and lift it over the production process of the painting. Is this picture to far ahead? And does the process keep on going in the viewer?
Yes, in a way it is a division of work. But the people who were first can not participate. But that is the same with producers of cars.
During our previous conversation you said, that your models have a reverence to a concrete event, so for you there is a referential basis to that event. Do I get it right, that this reference is constitutional for your artistic understanding or in other words, a model without such a reference, to be more precise without a “history” you don’t know would be out of question?
No, there are a few papers if found in the street. I don’t know the background of these papers, but they are interesting enough to find my own stories, which are more or less realistic. In general I don’t find it so important to know the validity of stories people tell each other, more important is the “sense of reality” (touch of reality). Some of the viewers offered me papers, but I always refused them except once, I was carrying that thing for a little while and finally used the backside.
That means also that you allow the viewers the freedom to create their own stories, far from the real stories behind. That means further that the story behind the picture is not constitutional, more important is the “narrative incentive”, which is created through the picture for the viewer. Is that correct?
Yes of course, the stories are gone when the picture is done! The point than is that the picture tells stories, is able to tell stories and creates and impulses. At one exhibition one said, that the shopping list (yes, they don’t have titles, but I need to name it here) reminds her to her own crossing. But with different feelings the satisfying feeling to cross something off the to-do list and also on the displeasing feeling to cross out passages of texts, because they didn’t work out. That’s great, she did not only point out that she had seen something like that, she also realized that this is something one does in everyday life. Maybe that could be a step into the direction of art as prosaicness? If the stories would be so much in the front, I wouldn’t paint, but put the paper on the wall. If the original story would be the essence, I wouldn’t put up a paper, I would write down the story or even better tell it. With some of the painting you can barely guess what it originally was. The story became the victim of painting.
I would like to put it that way: simple objects of everyday life, which we normally allow to have practical value, become self-referential through the artistic transformation: art does not become prosaicness, but helps us to realize prosaicness, a position like pop-art.
That’s correct. But it is the question of perspective: What is your starting point everyday life or art.
I’m coming back to your definition of “narration”, which doesn’t need to be true but should be bound to a principle of reality. In that context I recall the difference of sense of reality and sense of possibility by Robert Musil in his book “Man without qualities”. I quote:
“But if there is a sense of reality, and no one will doubt that it has it’s justification for existing then there must also be something, we can call a sense of possibility. Whoever has it does not say, for instance: Here this or that has happened, will happen, must happen: but he invents: Here this or that might, could or ought to happen. If he is told that something is the way it is, he will think: Well it could probably just as well be otherwise. So the sense of possibility could be defined outright as the ability to conceive of everything there might be just as well, and to attach no more importance to what is than what is not.”
What do you think about the distinction?
Well, yes. But I haven’t read Musil. I am more familiar with Zora Neale Hurston. She was notorious for not telling the truth. Well, she was using oral history in a time when this term wasn’t even born. She collected stories of former slaves from the Bahamas and the South of the USA. And she also wrote novels, and the novels were belittled by some of the (male) representatives of the Harlem Renaissance. I don’t want to rehabilitate her, she became pretty conservative later on, but she died as poor as she was born. For me the difference is quite easy: If I am honest and depend on my memory to tell a story, it is quiet easy to miss a point or to tell it inaccurately. So it is better to realize that the story could have happened in that or another way, slightly different. I think the interest of the one who tells the story is much more important.
Thomas Hammacher in conversation with Andrea Blumör, Essen, Germany, 2006 – Translated by Andrea Blumör