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“When I’m lucky I find myself on the verge of invention”

With two solo exhibitions and one group show, you’ll be seeing a lot of Thomas Scheibitz in Berlin this fall. We asked Scheibitz about his process and his recent work.

Image for “When I’m lucky I find myself on the verge of invention”
Photo by Anna Achon

With two solo exhibitions and one group show, you’ll be seeing a lot of Thomas Scheibitz in Berlin this fall. Reviews of his work are filled with art-world catch phrases like “quirky abstractionism”, “post-cubist” and “high design”, seeking to pigeonhole the painter and sculptor’s unique style. We asked Scheibitz about his process, his recent work and what he thinks about such labels.

Do you recognise yourself in the word ‘abstractionist’ or ‘post-cubist’?

I don’t feel dedicated to any particular movement, post-modern ‘isms’ or particular classification. The lifespan of a trend is always very short, and to judge an artist takes 10 or 15 years.

That’s about the time you’ve been in the art business… It’s unusual for such a ‘young’ artist to have two exhibitions and take part in a group show in the same season.

I’ll say it like this: this is, of course, a great gift, an unforeseen one. The exhibition here at Jarla Partilager was planned for two years ago in Stockholm. I would have gladly done the exhibition there, but then everything moved to Berlin, and surprisingly I received the offer to be the opening artist. Parallel, but independent from this, Sprüth Magers was planning the double exhibition in Berlin with [John] Baldessari.

What are the differences?

With Jarla Partilager what surprised me was that my works are up to 15 years old. I’ve never done this before, chosen from such a large range. This is where the good kinds of problems start – one deliberates – should the exhibition be chronological? From most recent to oldest? Or a mix of everything? I started, as is usually the case, 1000 percent sure, according to my model, of where to place and hang the works, but then one sees that 30 or 40 percent is foolish. It doesn’t work, and you begin the process of repositioning the works.

And are you happy with the way it’s hung now?

Well, I’m never happy in the simple sense of the word ‘happiness’, but that doesn’t mean that I find it bad. I’ll wait until the Sprüth Magers exhibition opens at the end of the month to compare, and then I’ll let myself make a judgement.  

The image archive you’ve assembled over decades favours physical print. What is your relationship to digital images?

I’m not so involved with digital images, because I have the old opinion that everything that is printed is culture. I provide myself exclusively with print media: books, magazines, newspapers and popular things like flyers and fanzines. This is done irreverently. Everything is on the same level. To exaggerate a bit, I look at a Michelangelo catalogue exactly the same way I look at a flyer from a rock concert. What interests me is to dismissively scan and filter it, and afterwards it develops. What’s important is what I can extract pictorially.

What is your process? Do you simply flip through images?

No, I always used an example that I’ll admit is unstable: the greatest thing one could do is to create an invention, but you can’t invent something new. When I’m lucky I find myself on the verge of invention, just a little outside of it.

I’m not interested in the documented experience. I’m not interested in photography in the sense that I would transfer photographs into another medium. I’m interested in the step between having an imageless idea and seeing how this idea meets a common memory. It’s difficult to describe, but maybe that’s what makes it interesting.

What currently influences you?

It’s always what is facing me. I look at everything, but I’m interested in things that I am not in a position to make. In the past, art history didn’t interest me, but recently it’s really begun to – to be able to compare things, to compare causes, to recognise visual language and re-declare various ‘isms’. I take in everything I can absorb.

What’s easier, starting or finishing?

It’s always easiest to start a painting, and it becomes harder to determine when a painting is ready. In my studio, generally it might appear that some paintings are done, some still have a way to go and others are just sketches. But the important point is, as Cezanne said, “In every moment of the painting being worked on, it has to be ready.”

When do you know a work is finished then?

This is an instinctive process that can’t really be explained. Qualitatively, the works that are in my studio for a longer time are always better at the end. With the larger works, I’ll work for three, four or five years, but this doesn’t mean that I’m working on them every day. At the moment I’m lucky to have a large enough studio where I can develop many things in parallel. Working in parallel is my way of working; everything connects somehow.

If the paintings take years, do the sculptures take less time?

No, with them it’s a completely different process. With the sculptures I have assistants, and there are models of the sculptures. Based on these, the assistants build a sort of ‘blank object’ for me, out of all sorts of materials. This prototype, the ‘blank object’, will sit in the studio for years, until I’ve completed the process by painting it with colour.

How do you feel about order and disorder?

It’s an interesting question, because in the studio, I’ve placed everything where it is. [laughs] For every other person, it looks like disordered space, but it has a completely exact order. Where things are placed, or which paintings are behind others, I know exactly where each is. It has to be disciplined, or it’s chaos.

mk/ULTRA | Sprüth Magers Berlin. Through Oct 29

Halleluhwah! – Hommage à Can | Künstlerhaus Bethanien. Nov 24-Dec 18

Lineage ONE/Stilleben & Statistics | Jarla Partilager. Through Jun 2012