INTERVIEWED BY ARTIST ELLA McCARTNEY
TRANSLATOR PHILIPP EBELING
Ella McCartney: Peter Doig selected your work for your latest exhibition in London. Does seeing your work in this way make you think about it differently?
ML: I never would have chosen the same works. This is what makes it interesting to see your work through other people’s eyes. One of the biggest respects paid can be from one artist to another artist. I knew Peter as an artist and I called him in to be a visiting professor at the Dusseldorf Academy whilst I was the director. There emerged a mutual like for each other personally but also for each other’s work.
EM: I am interested in how you incorporate classical forms, motifs and subjects into your work.
ML: Classicism was an art form that produced a certain type of picture with a strong technical aspect. The artists shared a lot of common problems between them. How much this refers to today remains to be seen. I have a hope that we, as artists, can develop a type of painting that can compete with each other.
EM: Can you expand on what you mean by shared problems?
ML: We are about to move painting back into the consciousness, after the avant-garde destruction of painting. We have to re-invent painting now. Anyone who practises painting today as an artist is constantly aware of the history of painting. A painting is always a conversation with the history of painting.
Classicism has moved contemporary topics into antiquity and found a way to deal with contemporary topics through the transition into antiquity. Classicism took contemporary issues and transferred them into the antique Style, not to copy antiquity but to find a new way to talk which makes the painting current, to think about this process again in a fresh way.
EM: What questions do you think this poses within contemporary art?
ML: The question it poses is whether you want to paint in the first place and you no longer regard the surface as damaged but a surface that asks questions and that can construct. It is no longer about questioning form or injuring the canvas or questioning paint, but it is about painting. It is about finding new contents. Avant-garde art destroyed the culture of the new picture and now we have restarted replenishing that culture.
EM: Can we speak about your time at Dusseldorf Academy? You first encountered it as a student in the early 1960s and then returned in 1988 as the Director.
ML: As a student I was thrown out after one semester. Why? Problems!
EM: Who taught you whilst you were a student?
ML: They didn’t teach me, they threw me out.
EM: Whilst working as Director, did the environment of the Academy influence your work?
ML: I always saw the Academy as a big platform to communicate with other artists. It opened a door to correspond with important artists which I always took advantage of.
The Academy is not about the students. It is about great artists talking to each other which creates an atmosphere which students can then profit from. The Academy is only as big as the artists that teach there. Whilst I was the director I always tried to get important artists to teach at the academy. If there was an influence it was to do with the discussions I had with my friends and colleagues. The Academy is not about doing work, the Academy is about intellectual stimulation. If you are the professor you shaped the academy, not the other way around.
EM: I have read previously that your work is commonly misunderstood.
ML: This is the destiny of every great artist. We just have to look at the history of art. It is part of art. The time that you live in you have to be misunderstood because you are part of the future. Your contemporaries can only love you; understanding you will happen in a hundred years. This is the risk of the contemporary. This is why there is so much misunderstanding.
The people whose opinion I respect understand me. If the general public don’t then so be it but this may also change, it can change every day. To be terribly forgotten or famous – that can change from one day to the next. To be well regarded is a hope that makes your existence easier but that’s it. It also puts you in a position to fight to do your work.
EM: What is your working process in the studio? DO you paint from photographs, images or work directly from objects in front of you?
ML: A large mixture, from a stuffed animal to a found photograph, I work from everything.
I never work on just one painting at a time. It’s normally ten to twelve at the same time, sometimes very fast, sometimes very slow. It is no way prescribed. Technical aspects can take tiem sometimes: what works together, what attacks each other, paint, brushes. I have no routine, it is passion.
EM: When you work simultaneously on a number of pieces, how do they influence each other?
ML: There is a problem in all pictures that I have to find a solution for. Despite this, the pictures have an individual path.
EM: Do you feel as though your sculptural works offer a different sense of reality?
ML: No, because I am a painter / sculptor. There is a sculptor / sculptor and I am clearly a painter / sculptor. I paint horizons and with my sculptures I fill these horizons.
They are dreams, they are rooms. There are some paintings that have real horizons, in those paintings there are no figures but the sculptures become the population of those dream-worlds.
EM: I am interested by sculpture having physical reality
ML: Yes this is right, it is an extension of my utopia through a physical reality.
EM: Can we focus for a moment on the idea that all pictures have problems?
ML: That is difficult. I feel as though I can only speak about the result. The method or how I arrive at the result is a secret. I have to be in a certain frame of mind or a certain trance and this will develop into a picture. The only thing professional about painting is that I have always done it and there must be a certainty that something will come out of it at the end. The process is a big secret, for myself too.
EM: Do you feel as though it is your role to solve these problems or to highlight them?
ML: The desire is to solve the problem, but my hope it that I never get there. You always fail a little bit with every picture and this is the reason to continue painting.
Markus Lüpertz is included in Germany Divided on view at the British Museum, London, until August 31. It features over 90 drawings and prints by Georg Baselitz, Blinky Palermo, A.R .Penck, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter.