Aris Kalaizis

My Driving Force in my Impatience

An Inter­view between the philo­soph­er Max Loren­zen and Aris Kala­izis about work­ing abroad, loneli­ness, beau­ti­ful­ness and the unity of contrasts

New York (ISCP-scholarship 2007)
New York (ISCP-scholarship 2007)

Loren­zen: Mr. Kala­izis, you are asso­ci­ated with the New Leipzig School. Three years ago a large exhib­i­tion of your work entitled Ungewisse Jag­den (Pur­suits towards Uncer­tainty) was held at the Mar­burg Kun­sthalle from March 18th to May 5th, 2005. In 2006 the Maerz­galer­ie in Leipzig hos­ted “Rub­ba­cord” with works com­pleted or at least con­ceived in the USA in 2005 dur­ing the course of a work-abroad grant and which will also be on view in New York in 2007. And also in 2007 you will be tak­ing part in anoth­er work-abroad grant in New York. Let us first take a look at some of your work which was com­pleted in 2006 such as The Morn­ing After (2006) or At the End of Impa­tience (2006). In my opin­ion these works, which were painted back in Leipzig after you had returned from your stay in the USA, rep­res­ent both an form­al expan­sion and a com­pres­sion of the themes you deal with. Was 2006 a decis­ive year for you?

…I real­ized how clearly this new threshold-break­ing exper­i­ence would affect me

Kala­izis: I wouldn’t go that far. But my stay in the USA was def­in­itely a time that was rich in exper­i­ence. You have to take into account that I’m a rather settled per­son and that at the time when I was think­ing about the upcom­ing trip, I felt more wor­ried than excited. On the one hand it’s because I don’t like to be so far away from my fam­ily and friends. On the oth­er hand I was think­ing to myself – there’s still so much left to do here, so many unre­solved issues, and I can’t just shirk away from all of these prob-lems, because you take your prob­lems with you on a jour­ney, no mat­ter wheth­er you want to or not. But the main thing was that my stay in the USA was the very first time I had been alone in my entire life, and that was no small thing for me. If you have been liv­ing in a long-term rela­tion­ship for as many years as I have, then there are many small day-to-day tasks that are shared. Often this is a relief, some­times it’s a bur­den. It was only after I had arrived over­seas that I real­ized how clearly this new threshold-break­ing exper­i­ence would affect me. 

L: Could you please relate the most import­ant visu­al and emo­tion­al impres­sions you received dur­ing you stay in Amer­ica – you went to New York and where else did you go?

K: For the most part I was in Colum­bus, Ohio. I had received a work-abroad grant from the state Min­istry of Sci­ence and Art and had pre­pared myself to work over­seas – at least I thought I had. But then, imme­di­ately upon arriv­ing abroad, I felt it was impossible for me to work there. I also felt home­sick, but this ini­tial home­sick­ness, gradu­ally faded away once I had begun to work. And I def­in­itely did not feel like trans­form­ing the ideas which had begun for­mu­lat­ing in my head back in Leipzig into paint­ings by work­ing on them in Colum­bus. At that time I thought, just like I often say today: you have to give it your all, oth­er­wise you will degen­er­ate. For me ‘give it your all’ meant and still means tak­ing risks, being open to what is new and dif­fer­ent, diving into the forms and shapes of the new environment. 
So I rode around on my little bicycle through the Amer­ic­an land­scape, wandered about using my legs and espe­cially my open eyes, and dur­ing this time as well as shortly after­wards I felt rather frus­trated, because I felt I wasn’t able to find a gate­way into this place, into the envir­on­ment. But for­tu­nately this proved to be a mis­ap­pre­hen­sion, since in those first days I had appar­ently been extremely con­cen­trated dur­ing my travels through the area, because all of the paint­ings I cre­ated in Amer­ica are based solely upon the intense obser­va­tions of my ini­tial days there. At the time I noticed – and I was able to use this obser­va­tion later – that urb­an archi­tec­ture in Amer­ica incor­por­ates sig­ni­fic­antly more round forms, which inter­act with strict, straight lines and it seems to be more well thought out than European archi­tec­ture, which increas­ingly strikes be as being more angu­lar. In any case these exper­i­ences must have been so deep and so con­cen­trated that after com­plet­ing a first, small oil paint­ing, sev­er­al oth­ers soon fol­lowed, which, as I just men­tioned, were derived from my memor­ies of my first days there. 

L: If I may ven­ture to say so, your Amer­ic­an paint­ings appear to be in a rel­at­ively con­tinu­ous line with your pre­vi­ous work. But after that some­thing seems to have changed. What is it?

K: …Yes, I would cer­tainly hope so. Striv­ing for change or rather the inten­tion to improve your­self is an almost holy ideal for me. I strongly believe that people were cre­ated and put into this world as a rough draft, so to speak, and that we have to prove dur­ing the course of our lives wheth­er we do justice to the idea of this human exist­ence. In oth­er words we have to gain exper­i­ence so as to use up the wealth of idiocy which we pos­sess. I do this, for instance, by paint­ing. Thus, every paint­ing is anoth­er form of idiocy. But one form of idiocy should not be repeated, and paint­ing or any oth­er activ­ity should there­fore be a pro­cess of exhaust­ing the dif­fer­ent forms of idiocy one pos­sesses. After all we don’t have access to a wealth of intel­li­gence, but rather to a wealth of idiocy. I paint pic­tures in the hope that one day I will have such a dearth of idiocy, that it won’t even be suf­fi­cient for my own needs and that in the end I will have come one step closer to my idea of an ideal painting. 

…uncanny beauty

L: Your prin­ciples of com­pos­i­tion have mean­while become well known: You work accord­ing to pho­to­graphs of rooms or places (such as deser­ted fact­ory grounds in the Leipzig area, see The Great Hope into which you place human fig­ures – who actu­ally visu­al­ize what the room already con­tains. I quote ‘But in any case, this back­ground, which I have elab­or­ated in the paint­ing ‘The Great Hope’ must have acted as a det­on­at­or. (Inter­view with the soci­olo­gist Jan Siegt, 2003, pub­lished in ‘Rub­ba­cord’). And this det­on­a­tion reveals some­thing mys­ter­i­ous, which you call the ‘mani­fest­a­tion’: ‘when you notice that everything has fallen into place, and a moment of divine peace and quiet begins’ (Inter­view with Jan Siegt, cata­log ‘Von unvor­eili­gen Ver­söh­nun­gen’, (Of Gradu­al Recon­cili­ation, 1997). And this is the moment of inspir­a­tion. Thus, the ‘char­ac­ters receive their home’ (Inter­view, 2003). This home is appar­ently the oppos­ite of what one nor­mally calls home –

Aris Kalaizis | The Home | Oil on wood | 23 x 35 in | 2005
Aris Kalaizis | The Home | Oil on wood | 23 x 35 in | 2005

K: Yes, accord­ing to Car­ol Strickland’s recent writ­ings, it is a home which is fur­nished with an eer­ie beauty. But when you say I work accord­ing to pho­to­graphs, that is abso­lutely cor­rect. And I men­tion this because it often irrit­ates me, when people com­pre­hend that I work accord­ing to pho­tos, but then imme­di­ately label me as a photo-real­ist. I deeply mis­trust indi­vidu­al pho­to­graphs. I have nev­er painted a pic­ture that solely relies on one single pho­to­graph. The photo-real­ists work in this way. I admit a pho­to­graph can come very close to what we call real­ity, but that is not what interests me. On the con­trary, I con­tend that my work is a search, an etern­al mean­der­ing through areas I haven’t yet con­tem­plated or occu­pied. You must under­stand that in all of my paint­ings there are those shady areas of transition. 

…I deeply mis­trust indi­vidu­al photographs

Shady in the sense that they do not sup­port or com­ple­ment the cent­ral com­pos­i­tion I have painted, but rather lead away from it. You could say that this is anoth­er form of post­mod­ern ran­dom-ness which is so com­mon today. But believe me, this pro­cess of brood­ing over paint­ing com­pos­i­tions tor­tures me through sev­er­al nights; it tor­tures me until the only true solu­tion finally appears on the hori­zon. As a res­ult of this search it is also pos­sible that a seem­ingly irrel­ev­ant tri­vi­al­ity will be pro­duced, but even this has its jus­ti­fic­a­tion, no, you could even say it has its neces­sity, if it is placed next to a moment of cent­ral sig­ni­fic­ance in the pic­ture. Some­thing can gain sig­ni­fic­ance only if it is dif­fer­ent. And you have to util­ize these dif­fer­ences sparingly. 
But that is the most dif­fi­cult thing of all! Per­haps I should speak of the cor­rect extent, which is more urgent than ever, in paint­ing, in film, in all aspects of every­day life. A fath­er who raises his chil­dren only by using strict meth­ods is to be judged just as harshly as one who con­stantly gives in. The real­ity, in order to come back to your ques­tion, or that which seems to me to be real­ity, is not what I find inter­est­ing, since I will be formed by it regard-less of what I do – wheth­er I want to or not. Paint­ing offers me a won­der­ful oppor­tun­ity to redir­ect real­ity. Accord­ingly, I can only accept an art which offers me designs of anoth­er world. Of course, I am often dis­ap­poin­ted, espe­cially when I stroll through exhib­i­tions, which sug­gest a con­text of know­ledge and sci­ence. This makes me feel like I could puke, because I real­ize that my only cap­it­al, my eyes, won’t take me very far. Then I usu­ally feel sick, because I real­ize how dumb I actu­ally am. I have noth­ing to say either – maybe that’s why I paint.

Aris Kalaizis, Detail: Deafcon No. 1 (2006)
Aris Kalaizis, Detail: Deafcon No. 1 (2006)

L: The space which inspires you always con­tains some­thing ambigu­ous? Just look ‘The Night on Every Day’: Dark clouds gath­er on the left and the woman who has been divided into two creatures incarn­ates both areas.

K: Per­haps this is an essence of myself, so to speak. In my pre­par­a­tions for a new paint­ing I often jour­ney to and fro between the most diverse pos­sib­il­it­ies. Of course in the begin­ning there is always obser­va­tion, which is rarely suf­fi­cient. Some­thing sim­il­ar to reflect­ive think­ing res­ults from this pro­cess, which is often derived from a pos­sible dis­con­tent anchored with­in me, which drives me, and yet which is insuf­fi­cient to exist by itself, and which thus needs to be led into a third dimen­sion, which can exist on its own – and this is the actu­al dimen­sion of painting. 

L: Obvi­ously the intern­al ten­sion of your pic­tures res­ults from the visu­al­iz­a­tion of some­thing that is invis­ible, in oth­er words the mys­ter­i­ous­ness or dicho­tomy of our exist­ence. We can – we need to dis­cuss such conun­drums – they only become real when they are solved in a dia­log, but unlike cross­word puzzles they become intens­i­fied through this pro­cess. Do you feel you enter a danger zone when you con­ceive and work on your paintings? 

…at least two designs, which con­stantly call for anarchy with­in me by propagat­ing an unfathom­ab­il­ity, which neither exists in my paint­ings nor in my life

K: I don’t mind, I even like the idea that the obser­va­tion entails a cer­tain amount of work and effort, which might lead to danger. How­ever, my danger zone when work­ing on a new pic­ture is my doubt­ing. It is this doubt­ing, this con­stant oppos­i­tion that I feel in myself, which is the cause or per­haps the blame for the fact that my paint­ings are the product of at least two designs, which con­stantly call for anarchy with­in me by propagat­ing an unfathom­ab­il­ity, which neither exists in my paint­ings nor in my life. These paint­ings are ser­i­ous, they are funny, but often they con­tain a sense of irrit­a­tion. In them­selves they don’t demand any­thing in par­tic­u­lar, but if you want to under­stand them, you need to be will­ing to be at the mercy of their spec­trum of mean­ing, just like being on a swing, which you can only enjoy if you go along with the move­ment. Oth­er­wise you will become nauseated. 

L: In oth­er words, if you don’t sub­ject your­self to this danger, if you don’t step over these bor­ders, you won’t be able to enter the dimen­sion of true paint­ing, but will rather only brush on the sur­face of that which we call reality?

K: Isn’t all paint­ing real? And if this is true, then we have to ask ourselves: What turns a pic­ture into art and why is anoth­er pic­ture mired in etern­al insig­ni­fic­ance? How­ever, you might be quite right. Tak­ing a risk or enter­ing a danger zone as you men­tioned before, this only exists for a paint­er if he does not repeat him­self in his paint­ing, but rather risks everything by giv­ing it his all – even if this might res­ult in fail­ure! Thus, we come back to the top­ic of tak­ing “risks” and com­mit­ting acts of “idiocy”.
It’s true that I can ima­gine the pic­ture that I am going to paint three or four years from now. But that is just a vague impres­sion, which I can­not explain at this point. This is more of a con­jec­ture than a cer-tainty. A con­jec­ture of some­thing that does not exist, but which might come into being, has driv­en me from the begin­ning. My main drive is my rest­less­ness. I am also not pur­su­ing a goal. As a res­ult I still have the feel­ing at the age of forty that I’m at the begin­ning phases of my development. 

L: Let’s turn now to your most recent work. Let’s begin with some paint­ings which I found down­right shock­ing. ‘The Morn­ing After’ (2006) – the title which inev­it­ably evokes ‘The Day After’ (1885) by Edvard Munch – depicts a young girl only dressed in her under­clothes, who is seek­ing help but not receiv­ing it from a woman who might be her moth­er; to the right and a bit in front of them a man is kneel­ing who is look­ing at his hands, and whose facial expres­sion has some­thing diabol­ic­al about it. The view­ers are actu­ally forced to think of an incid­ent of incest – aren’t they?

K: Obvi­ously, in paint­ing this work, des­pite its shock­ing ele­ments, I did some­thing wrong. If the view­er is forced to think in only one dir­ec­tion, then this applies even more. Yes, the man is kneel­ing on the floor and is look­ing at his hands. I don’t think there is any­thing diabol­ic­al about him. When I painted him, I made an effort not to stig­mat­ize his facial expres­sion. The appar­ent har­mony of the moth­er-child rela­tion­ship on the left side of the paint­ing actu­ally screams for a pro­jec­ted counter mani­festa-tion, a polar­iz­a­tion which is based on this man. It is prob­ably this moth­er-child con­fig­ur­a­tion that makes us see some­thing diabol­ic­al in the man, because it is actu­ally us, who wish to inter­pret him in this way. 
And I admit that this sus­pi­cion might be rein­forced by the light­ing dramat­iz­a­tion that has been executed. But the hard light­ing does not hit the man from the left side, but rather comes from the right, and as a light source I painted that mon­strous refri­ger­at­or. But why is this damned refri­ger­at­or placed there, which for some strange reas­on you can’t look into and which moreover seems to sup­ply inspir­a­tion? A child is search­ing for pro­tec­tion, a man comes under sus­pi­cion and a woman almost seems to radi­ate even less energy than the refri­ger­at­or. In oth­er words this refri­ger­at­or is import­ant and without this mon­ster I prob­ably wouldn’t have painted the pic­ture! Of course, the refri­ger­at­or, which could also be labeled a pois­on cup­board, could have been opened up a bit more. But I didn’t want to do that, since I am almost fear­fully mis­trust­ful of any kind of push­i­ness, which I can­not tol­er­ate in oth­er pic­tures, of course, and which I can least tol­er­ate in my own work. That is why my paint­ings nev­er con­tain any blood, let alone a corpse, since I prefer to cre­ate a sug­gest­ive back­ground noise, a hov­er­ing insinua-tion. 

…this decision would not sim­pli­fy our lives at an exist­en­tial level

L: Anoth­er work ‘At the End of Impa­tience’ (2006): A young girl, wear­ing only under­pants is lying on a rumpled bed; promp­ted by the title of the work the view­er makes the asso­ci­ation of a first sexu­al con­tact – the same girl is stand­ing to the right, sep­ar­ated from her counter-image, almost like a soul sep­ar­ated from its body, which is brood­ing about what has happened to her: the embod­i­ment of mel-ancholy and per­haps of injury. The dop­pel­gänger motif espe­cially enhances the solitude of the scene. To ask you a dir­ect ques­tion: do you believe that our long­ing for togeth­er­ness only intens­i­fies our soli-tude?

K: I believe that is a fine obser­va­tion, that the dop­pel­gänger motif can cla­ri­fy our solitude. As you know, I have been pur­sued by this dop­pel­gänger concept for some time now – I would say for about ten years. It often appears and in this rather small pic­ture “Am Ende der Ungeduld”, it has almost been taken to the extreme, since everything seems to be doubled in this work. And des­pite this, I think a het­ero­gen­eous pic­ture has been cre­ated. But to come back to your ques­tion: I’m not sure if I as a paint­er can sat­is­fact­or­ily answer your ques­tion, which might also be seen as a thesis. 
In any case solitude is a well-known state for me, since it char­ac­ter­izes my life as a paint­er. The only thing that is import­ant for a human life is that solitude is a desired state and that it doesn’t become your undo­ing. The stu­dio is my retreat, my reser­voir, my private church if you will, since I would oth­er­wise find everything to be just too much and life could over­whelm me. That is simply neces­sary for my existence. 
As a philo­soph­er, Mr. Loren­zen, you will have sim­il­ar feel­ings. I don’t think that a per­son becomes a philo­soph­er, for instance, or a paint­er because one con­tinu­ally tries to pop­u­late the solitude that is inher­ent in all people. On the oth­er hand paint­ings, writ­ings and so on, are ways to com­mu­nic­ate which allow you to enter into a rela­tion­ship with oth­er people. Jean Paul has said this very well: ‘Books, nov­els are thick let­ters to friends’. One might com­plete this sen­tence by say­ing: …friends that you haven’t met yet.
Mr. Loren­zen, you were drawn to philo­sophy as I was to art. Both of us made this decision in the know­ledge that this decision would not sim­pli­fy our lives at an exist­en­tial level, but would have the oppos­ite effect of mak­ing it more com­plic­ated. That was com­pletely clear. We made a con­scious deci-sion to live a life burdened with more anxi­et­ies. Or do you believe that when I first star­ted to study art back in 1992 in Leipzig there was any­body left who was inter­ested in paint­ing? Fur­ther­more: decid­ing to become a paint­er in the time dir­ectly after the East Ger­man wall fell was con­sidered to be insane in the eyes of many people. If you walk through this same academy today, you will quickly real­ize that anoth­er wind is blow­ing. And yet I am still happy that I entered the Leipzig Academy at that time and not today. Gran­ted, that time was full of humi­li­ations because nobody was inter­ested in my paint­ings. How­ever, on the oth­er hand this situ­ation was import­ant since it toughened me up by for­cing me to drive my own pro­jects for­ward. That’s why present-day Leipzig would not be a good place for me to study painting.

L: The ambi­val­ence of our exist­ence is expressed in all of your pic­tures. There is a ‘great bes­ti­al­ity which rules inside all of us’ (Inter­view, 1997), the long­ing for the oppos­ite – and for you espe­cially, the long­ing for the ‘inner joy’ which art imparts to the view­er and surely most strongly to the paint­er through the pro­cess of paint­ing itself: ‘Art is always joy, wheth­er I rep­res­ent some­thing joy­ful or some­thing tra­gic’ (Inter­view, 2003). Do we come closer to the ambi­val­ence of life if we com­pre­hend and feel that it sim­ul­tan­eously con­sists of joy and sad­ness, neither exist­ing without the oth­er, that each even requires its opposite?

K: Recently, and this almost goes back to the ques­tion of solitude, I was walk­ing around in the woods without a par­tic­u­lar des­tin­a­tion in mind. Sud­denly I came across an older man, whom I though was just wan­der­ing around as I was. When we came closer to each oth­er I could see that he had these strange earphones in his ears and was listen­ing to music or whatever. It seemed that he wasn’t able to hear the rust­ling of the leaves or the chirp­ing of the birds. Either con­sciously or uncon­sciously he had denied him­self the chance to enjoy the peace­ful­ness, not to speak of the silence, of the sur­round­ings. I thought to myself that this state of grace­ful peace might be some­thing intol­er­able for him. You can’t just turn on the lights when you go to the movies. And yet, appar­ently for this man, as it prob­ably is for more and more people, the know­ledge of the mutu­ally arising dual­it­ies which touch the founda-tions of the world are con­tem­plated less and less or not at all. Incid­ent­ally, I have also noticed that there are cer­tain films which have become old-fash­ioned because they are slower and more dif­fi­cult to view, more dif­fi­cult to con­sume. This comes to my atten­tion espe­cially when I lend films by Angelo-poulos say or Wenders or Jar­musch to friends or acquaint­ances for them to watch and they can only appre­ci­ate these films in the rarest of cases. And if they are watched, then not with the neces­sary con­cen­tra­tion. Per­haps our view­ing habits are chan­ging due to the inter­net and tele­vi­sion – I don’t have any idea. On the oth­er hand a dis­crep­ancy opens up for me because I feel more clearly than ever how import­ant a slow­ing down of pace is for my life and for my work. 

L: Real (or now: post­mod­ern) philo­sophy invest­ig­ates this con­nec­tion as does paint­ing, this sim­ul­tan­eous exist­ence of bes­ti­al­ity and joy and attempts to bring both before the inner eye in an intel­lec­tu­al out­look, as one used to call it. And now, if you will allow me to make a sug­ges­tion, why don’t you and I take a look at your ‘Nike’ pic­tures (2006). The first one looks like a vari­ation of ‘At the End of Impa­tience’. The young, prac­tic­ally unclothed girl appears exhausted and is lying on an arm­chair in a pose which almost forces the view­er to become a voyeur. ‘Nike II’ might be a rep­res­ent­a­tion of her dop­pel­gänger. She is cud­dling against the arm­rest almost as if it were a human being; and yet, there is no con­nec­tion between this child-woman and the piece of fur­niture: she rejects it in exactly the same way as she does her moth­er (only upon closer exam­in­a­tion do you real­ize that the body, head and arms of the girl make no impres­sions upon the leath­er mater­i­al of the arm­chair). If you view the pic­tures again, a feel­ing of eer­ie­ness arises. And it is just for that reas­on that you feel, at least I do, some­thing like emo­tion in view of the self-aban­don­ment of this body.
What a mix­ture: In this aban­don­ment, this uncon­cern with respect to cold­ness and strange­ness, a strange beauty arises, which is not abol­ished due to the admix­ture of las­ci­vi­ous­ness, almost of ob-scen­ity. – I feel inspired look­ing at these pic­tures and believe I can per­ceive some­thing of the joy you spoke of; but I am – almost – for­get­ting my ques­tion, which is: Doesn’t the cre­ation of such a prox­im­ity between beauty and cold­ness (which do not off­set each oth­er in an ostens­ibly high­er syn­thes­is!) cre­ate the basis for a cur­rent, post-mod­ern aes­thet­ic? And moreover: What would you con­sider beauty to be today, in our post-mod­ern age?

K: I’m pleased to hear whenev­er a view­er senses some­thing of the joy that I feel when I painted a pic­ture. And I’m even more pleased that your joy did not appear imme­di­ately, but rather upon a second view-ing. Yes, my daugh­ter Nike, whom I painted in the two pic­tures pos­sesses a sac­rosanct beauty. But you can’t pro­duce great paint­ings with such inno­cent pur­ity alone. We then return to my inher­ent doubt­ing, which finds expres­sion either con­sciously or uncon­sciously. Just as it gen­er­ally gives me trouble, Mr. Loren­zen, to render an account after the event of what I once painted, because first of all each pic­ture cre­ated is often too com­plex to be able to explain it exactly, to be able to rep­res­ent the motiv­at­ing forces plaus­ibly. On the oth­er hand this would also mean ren­der­ing an account of a largely non-ration­al pro­cess, which is what paint­ing is after all.

L: Let me ask you again: What does beauty mean to you today?

K: The Zeit­geist has got­ten used to the idea of view­ing beauty as an abso­lute value in an isol­ated way. There won’t be many people who recog­nize a motif of beauty in the sim­ul­tan­eous prox­im­ity of warmth and cold­ness in the two Nike pic­tures, which you have just described. If, for instance, cold­ness is claimed to exist in a pic­ture, the concept of beauty is often filtered out, so to speak. On the oth­er hand if you look at a pic­ture by Cor­inth, let’s say the work ‘Cain’ (1917) or Ribera’s ‘Ixion’ (1632), you can eas­ily grasp that these two works stand out due to a cer­tain aggress­ive­ness. They are tre­mend­ous in the truest sense of the word and impress the view­er with an appar­ent ugli­ness. Neither of these paint­ers found their place by con­sciously paint­ing some­thing ugly. They painted these works since both the state of ugli­ness as well as beauty speak from with­in them. Fol­low­ing this impulse, these paint­ers were able to cre­ate great art. 
Con­sequently, ugli­ness is some­thing which abso­lutely needs to be added to the idea of beauty. If this cor­res­pond­ence between these polar­it­ies is entirely miss­ing, the res­ult would be kitsch – con­sist­ing of beauty alone or of ugli­ness alone. The decis­ive point is basic­ally an intel­lec­tu­al require­ment. Of course paint­ing will always be meas­ured accord­ing to the sound­ness of craft. That has always been the case and will always remain the case. But crafts­man­ship alone won’t do it, because, as we already know, art does not arise from skill alone. 
On the oth­er hand if you con­trast Corinth’s and Ribera’s work, for instance, with the work of two cel-ebrated con­tem­por­ary paint­ers such as Alex Katz or Norbert Bisky, whose dazzling works are in great demand among quite a few col­lect­ors who pay enorm­ous sums for them, you sud­denly get the feel­ing that you are look­ing at car­ni­val paint­ings, because these mediocre paint­ers cre­ate works in which any res­ult­ing inter­ac­tion involving the nature of beauty is either under­ex­posed or entirely miss­ing. This is true for both the com­pos­i­tion as well as the exe­cu­tion. All art strives for beauty. Of course, these two con­tem­por­ary paint­ers strive toward beauty as well, even though it must be estab­lished here that noth­ing can arise out of noth­ing. I would think that real beauty sel­dom comes alone, it abso­lutely requires an opposite. 

L: Could that be a great goal of paint­ing today, to search for the con­di­tions and pos­sib­il­it­ies of a new beauty and to depict them?

K: I’m afraid I won’t be able to answer that. Every pic­ture by a paint­ing artist is always an expres­sion of its spe­cif­ic beauty. Your ques­tion can only be answered in time, since while an artist may have access to a frame­work of com­pos­i­tion, the con­di­tions for this are presen­ted by soci­ety on the one hand and by art his­tory on the oth­er. There­fore, we are not as free as we believe. But dur­ing the course of our lives we have at least the chance to lib­er­ate ourselves. And that is something!

Aris Kalaizis | At the End of Impatience | Oil on wood | 14 x 22 in| 2006
Aris Kalaizis | At the End of Impatience | Oil on wood | 14 x 22 in| 2006

L: Per­haps we both work, if I may ven­ture to say, on the same issues, each in his own way. The old (mod­ern!) fear that paint­ers and writers had of speak­ing about their work is out­dated. That is why we are talk­ing with each oth­er. And we are not prac­ti­cing art his­tory here and are not plan­ning to dis­sect con­cepts but rather are attempt­ing to com­mu­nic­ate on the new con­di­tions for inspir­a­tion, because the-se have a dir­ect effect on us. In ‘Deaf­con No. 1’ you por­tray your­self at work. But you are not stand­ing in front of an easel, but are rather stand­ing dir­ectly in front of an indoor wall and are hold­ing a – what in your hand? In any case you are look­ing at the empty, strangely glow­ing sur­face in front of you with extremely rapt atten­tion. What are you look­ing for?

K: I’m just hold­ing a lamp in my hand. 

L: The new atti­tude to life, which you help to artic­u­late in your paint­ings, is based neither on the mere ‘aver­sion to exist­ence’ nor on an ‘unlim­ited affirm­a­tion of exist­ence’ (Inter­view, 1997); it con­tains both sim­ul­tan­eously. Is such a par­al­lel per­cep­tion the require­ment for per­ceiv­ing the intens­ity of real­ity and for allow­ing your­self to paint in such a way (‘Is it me who is paint­ing? Are there whis­pers in my paint­ings trough the trees, through the wind, of earth, of one’s sex, of his­tory?’ ibid.)? Does such a per­cep­tion require a par­tic­u­lar level of alert­ness? If yes, how does one reach such a state?

K: As far as I’m con­cerned alert­ness, as you describe it, is def­in­itely required, which brings us back to the required con­cen­tra­tion we spoke about in the begin­ning of our con­ver­sa­tion. The search for a spark-indu­cing begin­ning can some­times be dis­cour­aging and some­times encour­aging. There are days, such as those in Ohio, when one begin­ning trig­gers the next and the next almost like a chain reac­tion. Then there are days when noth­ing hap­pens, when I have trouble find­ing some­thing like an inner peace. Then I usu­ally run around like a mor­on and try to amuse myself, do pro­jects at home, run around with an elec­tric drill in my hand or pound nails into the wall. But these are just excuses for activ­ity more or less. Basic­ally, it is just anoth­er, rather inel­eg­ant form of wait­ing. You can pic­ture it as wait­ing in a dentist’s wait­ing room, except that I’m both the patient and the doctor. 

…my wait­ing con­sists of an absorbed paus­ing which has the goal of find­ing intransi-gent precision

On the oth­er hand some­thing is chan­ging with­in me regard­ing my find­ing sub­jects to paint, because as you know I used to have to observe my imme­di­ate sur­round­ings first. Today I some­times have entire pic­tures dan­cing around in my ima­gin­a­tion, without my ever hav­ing laid eyes on any part of this image or to describe it bet­ter: vis­ion. This makes the exe­cu­tion more dif­fi­cult, as you can ima­gine. In any case I can say that my wait­ing con­sists of an absorbed paus­ing which has the goal of find­ing intransi-gent pre­ci­sion, until you see the sup­posedly right way to pro­ceed. But even if we believe we have found the right way, it is only one side of the coin. the oth­er side is then decided on the canvas. 

L: Let me ask you anoth­er dir­ect ques­tion: Where do you find your mod­els, and why is it that your wife and daugh­ter appear so often in your work?

K: That is more a ques­tion of con­veni­ence. I know their physiognomy and they know my psy­cho­logy to some degree. It is a kind of unspoken agree­ment, which I also fall back upon when paint­ing the oth­er fig­ures, who are all, as you know, friends and acquaint­ances of mine. I appre­ci­ate this cir­cum­stance, since it sim­pli­fies many things. 

L: Let me ask you a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ques­tion now that we’re com­ing to an end. You could be ascribed to the Leipzig School, which has been receiv­ing great atten­tion on the art mar­ket for some years. Does this state of being “in” sig­ni­fy a chal­lenge for you, a motiv­a­tion­al push, so to speak, which enables you to push the envel­ope? Or are there oth­er reas­ons for the fact that your paint­ings have in-creased yet again in risk­i­ness, not only them­at­ic­ally but also formally. 

K: On the one hand of course it’s very pleas­ant for a paint­er to be able to live from his work. How­ever, just because my life before was more wor­ri­some than it is today, it doesn’t mean that it was less worth liv­ing, because I felt and still feel that there is noth­ing more won­der­ful than the act of liv­ing a human life. I’ve always felt this way!
On the oth­er hand it is import­ant, espe­cially when things appear to be work­ing out more eas­ily, to work with at least as much and per­haps even more con­cen­tra­tion, because suc­cess, if you choose to call it that, can quickly make you care­less. My yearly pro­duc­tion of paint­ings amounts to around ten to twelve pic­tures. The trend is fall­ing – to the chag­rin of my gal­ler­ist. That means, you have to find your rhythm, oth­er­wise the art mar­ket will devour you at an exist­en­tial level. In any case, I believe that a painter’s exist­ence should include a moment of intern­al res­ist­ance, which should be strong enough to counter what is mar­ket­able. Even start­ing from a state of well-being, a paint­er must devel­op res­ist­ance and, of course, he must over­come this in the end – only then can he have the feel­ing that he exists. 
How­ever, if you look at the con­tem­por­ary art mar­ket in the last few years, for instance, you will have a hard time over­look­ing the fact that the major­ity of the cre­at­ors of art learn about the demands of the mar­ket to a cer­tain extent. Of course there is more paint­ing going on today. But that alone does not suf­fice to jus­ti­fy the asser­tion that this is being executed at a high­er level. In this I am try­ing to cas­tig­ate the basic con­nect­ing cor­res­pond­ence between cul­ture and commerce. 
This rather con­cerns the ques­tion of pri­or­ity. Is a paint­ing determ­ined by its con­tex­tu­al, i.e. form­al con­tent? – Does the ques­tion of demand there­fore take a back­seat or do sales fig­ures determ­ine what is being painted? You don’t have to take a look at mass media alone, the cul­tur­al milieu is suf­fi­cient, in order to obtain a clear pic­ture of the incred­ible com­mer­cial­iz­a­tion and even­ing out that is tak­ing place. Thus, the mul­ti­tude of paint­ings has not pro­duced vari­ety, but rather an increas­ing uni­form­ity. A mael-strom of the agree­able, of the enter­tain­ing is spread­ing out every­where. How­ever, I would like to add that there is noth­ing to be said against enter­tain­ing ele­ments, because there should be a moment of joy or fun in every work, since it this which makes the activ­ity inter­est­ing to us, after all. It only becomes crit­ic­al when you attempt to sub­sume your entire doings solely under ele­ments of fun. When too much is omit­ted, some­thing cum­ber­some is undertaken. 

L: Would you ascribe your­self to the Leipzig School?

K: No, I’m not a rep­res­ent­at­ive of any kind of school or label. I’m my own representative. 

L: You admire Rib­era. Which paint­ers of the past – and the present – are of par­tic­u­lar import­ance to you? What kind of lit­er­at­ure, which authors, do you read, which music do you listen to, which films do you like to watch?

K: Bacon, Ham­mer­shøi, Rauschen­berg are great! I only listen to music in my stu­dio. This is of a harder vari­ety and full of ten­sion, because it best reflects my stress ratio while I’m paint­ing. I’ve already men­tioned a few film dir­ect­ors. But there is one, Chris­toph­er Nolan, I’d like to par­tic­u­larly men­tion. His films are my favor­ites, from the first (Fol­low­ing, 1998) to the most recent (Prestige, 2006). Even his earli­er, low-budget films are thought out in an intel­li­gent and enga­ging way. He executes enorm­ous twists in his movies, demands much from his observ­ers or view­ers and can real­ize intel­lec­tu­al leaps in a form­al way, which is even more import­ant in film making. 
At the moment I’ve been read­ing much too little, unfor­tu­nately. My read­ing mat­ter is also not very diverse – I tend to reread mater­i­al. I mostly do this in the even­ings, before I go to sleep, so that I can soon drift off, inspired. At the moment I’ve primar­ily been read­ing, ‘Rameau’s Neph­ew’ by Denis Diderot again and again, because it is a book with many stum­bling blocks.

©2007 Max Loren­zen | Aris Kalaizis

Max Loren­zen, born in 1950, was a philo­soph­er and a writer, as well the founder of the Mar­bur­ger For­um. His pub­lic­a­tions include "Das Schwar­ze: Eine The­or­ie des Bösen in der Nachmo­d­erne. Eine Idee der Aufklärung" and "Krankheit. Kälte. Unster­b­lich­keit: Drei nachmo­d­erne Erzählun­gen". His most recent work is on a "philo­sophy of post­mod­ern­ism". Max Loren­zen died in Mar­burg 2008.

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