Interview with Paul Pretzer in elemmental
Paul Pretzer – Danielle Cruz
September 30, 2020
The original article in Spanish:
DC: When we look at your paintings we often feel we’re in a fairy tale. There’s always a narrative we try to figure out. Is literature an influence to your work?
PP: The influence can come from many places but literature can be certainly one of them. Nikolai Gogol’s absurd short story “The Nose” always fascinated me. There Gogol tells the most absurd things in a very ordinary way and whenever I put a nose in one of my paintings I have this story in the back of my mind. The great thing in this story is that there’s no explanation for the absurdity.
I have the same intention: The viewer should never be able to fully figure things out. There’s never any kind of conclusion. I like to keep things vague. In my case it’s much more about creating an interpretation space rather than telling a linear story.
DC: You often play with humour and absurdity in order to make these playful paintings; even your still lives are full of irony, and somehow are a bit dark. What leads you to that?
PP: The absurdity of my works is often related to formal/abstract necessities of each painting. In order to make a composition work the painting asks for a certain amount of a certain colour in a certain place. That’s the first step. The second step is choosing a particular thing/object to match these requirements. That’s how I get these weird arrangements:
I think form and colour first and content second…
But I also believe that in general evoking an emotion in the viewer is fundamental requirement of any artistic practise. It makes me satisfied if someone is amused or confused by my paintings.
DC: What other emotions do you want to evoke with your work?
PP: Any kind of emotion is welcome really… Once a collector couple bought a painting and took it home. A week later they came back to the gallery and said that they love the painting but had to give it back because their children were afraid of it. That’s a good reaction too I think. Generally I like it when people are not really sure how to feel about my works. The more ambiguous the paintings are the better – like when it is alternating between two contrary points, for example funny and sad.
DC: What are your sources of inspiration?
PP: I have this pond in my head that is constantly fed by different streams. The biggest stream is definitely art history. I like to go to museums to look at things and see if I can find any pieces that work for my purposes. A bit like a DJ looking for samples. Then there is also pop culture and the Internet flowing in there as well. I recently found a lot of interesting stuff on Instagram actually. So all these bits and pieces mix in this pond and float around until there’s a connection between certain things that seem to be worth painting.
DC: What are your favourite materials and techniques? Is there something you haven’t experimented yet but are looking forward to try?
PP: I like to paint small format paintings in oil on MDF. The way the paint sits on these hard surfaces is very appealing. Also you can get the panels in every format in the hardware store and they are quite cheap. When the composition doesn’t feel right you can easily cut off a piece.
When I don’t paint I like to dedicate myself to printmaking. I make some etchings and linocuts at San Lluc centre which is next door from where I live in Barcelona.
At some point I would like to make a movie. But that’s very vague for now… An arrangement of weird situations loosely put together with very strict compositions. A bit like the Swedish director Roy Andersson. I am a big fan of his work.
DC: How do you decide that a composition is a good one? Tell us a bit about your creative process.
PP: As Maurice Denis said: ”A painting is a surface covered in paint in a certain order”. So as a painter one has to find the right position for the different elements that one has decided to work with and choose the right colour for them. As a figurative painter it feels a bit like juggling with three balls at a time: 1.) Composition 2.) Colour 3.) Content. You have to always keep all three of them in mind and if you focus too much on one thing it will fall apart. The goal is to reach that point when the whole thing/construction is balanced out and holds together. There is a point when you step away and the three balls keep juggling by themselves – that is when the painting is done.
DC: Is there any artwork(s) that you can say it changed your life as an artist?
PP: When I was growing up my aunt had a book with works from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Painters like Ilya Repin, Iwan Schischkin, Wasilij Surikow and such… I was very impressed with these paintings and as I had no idea what was taught at German art academies, I thought I would get a classical education as a painter.
But then my first professor at art school confronted me with Joseph Beuys, Marina Abramović and Santiago Sierra. That was very important to me. I understood that art could actually be a very wide range of things.
Also the big Matthew Barney Show in Cologne where I saw the Cremaster Cycle was a big mind changer and disturbed me profoundly and kept me busy for a very long time.
DC: Who are your favourite artists?
PP: I like painters that have a very strict focus on colour and composition. Pierre Bonnard, Francis Bacon, Max Beckmann, Giorgio Morandi and Euan Uglow for example.
The sculptures of Mark Manders and videos of Julian Rosefeldt and Ragnar Kjartansson made quite an impression on me.
DC: Did the pandemic affect your life and work?
PP: I spend the whole time of the lockdown in our apartment in Barcelona. And as I work in one room of our flat I had a quite productive time. Although many shows and projects for the spring and summer got cancelled I also took it with a sense of relief to be honest. I tend to travel a lot (too much?) and being in one place for a couple of months felt quite good actually.
DC: You seem to be living in different countries, and you are living in Barcelona since 2015. How’s your time here? Which of these countries gave you the most important experiences when it comes to art?
PP: I was born in Estonia in 1981 which back then was part of the Soviet Union. I still have some quite vivid memories of that time and living in a communist country was actually an interesting and important experience. Our family then moved to West Germany in 1988 and I grew up in a small town close to Hannover.
In 2002 I started to study art in Kiel and then changed to the art academy in Dresden where I finished my studies in 2007. The change to Dresden was very important to me because they had a very strong painting tradition, good museums and a few good galleries there. Afterwards I moved to Berlin because it was still considered the epicentre of the European art scene and I met some great people there but at the point the city started to lose its main advantages: low rents and space.
I also spent 9 months in New York and worked for a show I had at Marc Straus Gallery. The energy in this city is incredible and every artist should visit New York at least once but I decided that it’s not a place for me. I found it far too exhausting. In 2015 I did an artist residency at the Espronceda Center of Art & Culture in Barcelona and fell in love with the city and a girl named Izabela. Since then I am going back and forth between Berlin and Barcelona and am quite happy with this set up.
DC: What are your impressions of the art scene in Barcelona?
PP: I moved to Barcelona for the quality of live in the first place. If you like the concept of living in a city it’s one of the best places in the world! And it has enough to offer art wise… But at the same time you don’t have the fear of missing out like in Berlin, where you can get overwhelmed with art. The shows at the Caixa Forum and in the Fundación MAPFRE are usually very good and now and then there is a good show in galleries. My personal impression is that there is a lot of conceptual stuff going on here and also street art related things. Not my cup of tea necessarily but I think that people working in these fields have a good forum here.
But it is nice to see that there are also locals like the painter Guim Tió for example who live and work in Barcelona, dedicate themselves to painting and get international recognition.
DC: You just opened your exhibition in Galería Uxval Gochez here in Barcelona. What’s coming next?
PP: My first solo show “I can see clearly now” at Galería Uxval Gochez is still running till the 16th of October. Due to the Covid situation things are quite vague right now… There are a few ideas up in the air but we will see what happens. Nobody wants to commit to big projects at the moment.
My professor Peter Nagel from Kiel turns 80 next year and invited some of his former students to show with him at Stadtgalerie Kiel next Spring. It will be nice to go back there after such a long time!