So there is always a reference to something outside of the picture?

Most certainly, this leftover is the actual reason to start with a painting, it is my motivation. Essentially I´m not interested in material. It is the stamp and the signature that drives me, it´s the event which is indicated by the little piece of paper.

Let us remain a little while at the starting point. The start is a labeled piece of paper or a little note with graphics, simple pieces of everyday life, which had been important to a certain person for a certain point in time. They had a meaning or a function, but this function now is gone, or to be precise, it is going to be forgotten and to be given over to its physical destruction.

Yes, most of the time these are pieces which had been very important for a certain moment, like entry documents or tickets.

Yes, there is this particular moment, the moment of transition and the function, which was important for certain person in a certain situation, but than the function fades…

and the memory lasts.

Right, and the disappearance and the oblivion gets right into the picture. Hence, it is a process, it is painting against the neglect.

Yes. I found it always horrible that i´m only be able to paint „backwards“, meaning the notes i use are already past. There is this time warp.

That reminds me on a little text by Walter Benjamin about a painting by Ernst Klee, ”Angelus Novus”. He understands the picture of the backwards flying angel, as the angel of history, which flies towards the future, but sees the fragments of reality as already past pieces, he can only remember them.

First, it is a simple observation. I only can refer to things which already have happened. I actually create a painting, but the note is already the story in history, a story which turned into material.

I noticed there is always a function and a person shown. You´ve chosen a motive that refers to a certain person and a particular situation. The note shows a personal hand script, which leads to a certain person and alludes to a subjective situation moment in point. On the other side there is a printed script and symbols they point to something abstract, something superior. Is there a difference for you on a semantic and graphic level?

There is no difference on the graphic level, i treat all signs similarly, the decision for tempera or oil paint or marker is about the impression of the painting (Bildwirkung) rather than the formal devision between signature and stamp. On a semantic level, there is of course the important disconnection you mentioned. Most certainly there is the hint of the difference beween a subject and its institutional better social situation. But it has several levels, philosophically this is a difficult question, the relationship between subject and social order. This is a little to big for this conversation.

What is obviously missing are the „scribbles“, these little automatic, undesigned finger exercises, little art-pour-l´arts, like people easily produce on the phone. Your model is always a „information carrier“, that had originally a communication function. Is this observation correct and intended?

Yes, to both. Why should i blow up beautiful, little scribbles on four square meters. It doesn´t make sense at all, they are already little art-pour-l´arts.

Exactly, you reproduce the little note in a mechanical way, that means you take yourself pretty much back. But you undermine this first mechanical process of reproduction by taking only parts of the model, so you make a decision, a choice. What criteria are crucial?

That´s hard to explain. In the copy shop I make an overhead foil of the model then I project it on the wall. That is the moment when I answer the most formal questions, what part do i take, how big will the painting be. That has to do with observing and maybe also with experience. Sometimes i reject a foil or put down the canvas again.

The process of the image conception (Bildfindung) is very complex and is devided in serveral segments. Would you please describe and evaluate these segments.

First I project and transfuse the content on the canvas. Than I put a layer of Bohemian Green Earth on the canvas to bring the white tempera and the dark grey canvas together. At this moment I do have a problem, because my canvas is dark grey (and green), but i probably need it in white, depending on the model.

If we go back to the terms „concrete“ and „abstract“ then this would be the moment of the shift from the abstract picture to the concrete. Am I right? Do I get that right?

Exactly. I start at a „abstract“ work, the projection, to go over to the „concrete“ painting, so to say from the ground of the stamp, or what ever. I work on the foundation of the stamp and this is just „concrete“ to get back to the „abstract“ part at the end of the process.

The reference to the content of the painting is never completely gone?

No. It is important, it is the content of the painting.

So the progression is the same in each work. First the grey ground, the white symbols and than the Bohemian Green Earth. This is a reference to classic priming technic. Is this a conscious reflexion of old technics?

Yes, of course. When I started with oil painting I learned the classic priming technic for still lives. If we talk about still lives, you start very formally with the objects in the backround. The objects get a layer of of white tempera and than you put a transparent glazes of oil paint over the whole canvas. After that you start with the next „level“ of objects, the oil paint again and so on until you finish the form. It has the unbelievable advantage that you have the composition and the form ready and you can go over to take care for the colors.

That means, you always use the same progression on colours?

No, that differs, it depends on the colour of the model.

You mean, the colour of the painting is co-determend by the colour of the model?


It is like the American flag by Jasper Johns. The motive sets the frame, the formal structure, in between the painting is developed as painting.


That means, the process of the conception of the image is not only a essential precondition, but also the process is a constitutive part of the picture?


The picture is so to say the document of the process?

Yes. In the beginning I don´t know how the painting will look at the end.

Is this process documented in the picture afterwards? Is there any form of scintilla traceable in the picture?

Well, for some certainly, I don´t care much about it. At the end of the process I often remove paint. But not with the thought of leaving tracks, but because of a certain way of observing the painiting, it is hard to describe.

There is a painting by Edvard Munch „The Sick Child“, where he leaves consciously cinch marks and cords to show the procedual work and the long tediousness of the conception of the image. That is not the same for you, isn´t it?

No, not at all! When I used these fine things like running paint, I had to remove it because it just didn´t fit. I try not to do beautiful things. In the beginning I painted paper bends and cracks, but i had to decide against it. Later I understood that I have to leave out everything that makes the painting beautiful.

To provoke: wouldn´t the technical reproduction be the consequence? Well, but then it would leave out the process and that is essential.

Yes. It just doesn´t work without the process…

The work at the painting, the classic mode with a brush and paint and a palett…


…the rag and the terpentine and all that. That is essential…


Thomas Hammacher in conversation with Andrea Blumör, Essen, Germany, 2006 – Translated by Andrea Blumör