Thursday, October 25, 2007

Interview: Adrain Schiess

[image courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art]

[UPDATE: During the rush last week to get the interview up before I left, I failed to catch some important edits and correction. I have since gone back and made a few corrections that were pointed out to me and will most likely be making a few more minor edits in the next couple days. I have also learned my lesson concerning the use of untested digital recording equipment. Also, be sure to check out the IMA's audio tour/podcast of Adrian's work.]

I had been looking forward to meeting with Adrian Schiess for a several months, and the closer it got the moment the more nervous I seem to have become. Not for some star struck sense, rather knowing I was going to be interviewing him for this blog and not wanting to fumble that opportunity. Over lunch one afternoon at the IMA, I was able to sit down with artist Adrian Schiess and Rebecca Uchill,the Curator who is responsible for bring Adrian to Indy. My initial goal was to upload an audio interview for everyone to listen to. As it turns out, recording an interview on a cheap handheld digital recorder in the middle of a bustling restaurant was a severely unwise move. Never the less. I proceeded to transcribe the dialogue we had that day, attempting to keep the feel and tone of the conversation. While there is some slight abridged editing, I would say that 95% of the interview is here for all to read. Forgive any and all punctuation. My rule: when transcribing dialogue, all punctuation rules go out the window. For some really wonderful interviews with Adrian Schiess, check out this one on the IMA's web site and there are two wonderful interviews on his galleries web site.

Scott Grow- O.K., I have been a fan of your work for about 10 years now. Rebecca asked me, about a month or two ago, how I first came across your work, and I remembered reading reviews of your work in Flash Art...

Adrian Schiess- Yeah probably...

SG- So I was quite pleased and thrilled to see what you were going to do here. I was hoping you could describe your studio practice to some degree.

AS- Yeah, you know I am always working on many things at the same time, so I am working on the panels still and I am doing maquettes and collecting colors if I see something and I am doing notes for this colors and going to the lacquer place and realizing the space itself. At the same time I'm doing photography of my own paintings and from the nature, of flowers and working also on smaller paintings on a smaller scale, yeah, and so it goes from one to another.

SG-This has been a reoccurring theme in your career, you have yet to be pinned down to one type of work you are constantly working with multiple medias... Throughout your career you have always worked with photography and painting and...

AS- Yeah, yeah it goes back and forth, it goes back and forth because photography also for me gives me the possibility to collect, you know, to collect the details of images, you know, and then with this photography I have the possibility to print them on these directly on these plates, so yeah it goes back and forth.

SG- Do you use assistants at all or have you used assistants in the past?

AS- No, no... No in my studio I am alone. But, when I am realizing the panels, then I am going to a company, and that is still the same guy I am working with during the last 20 years. So, uh, he became like an assistant but he has his own company.

SG- So how is it to work with somebody who is not normally working with artists but probably more the industrial side, is that correct?

AS- Yeah, that's right, that's right. Normally he works with designers or...

SG- When you first started working with him was there a growing period there where like, you know 'this is what I want'?

AS- Yeah I think, uh that first time... you know I didn't ask him but the first time I called there, and asked, if possible I would like to spray a piece that is 1 meter by 3 meters, and there were two pieces. There was a green one and a red one it was in 1990. And he said yeah of course. And I asked the price and I went there with the maquette of the colors and he did it. And it was a success. So we started this work.

SG- I was reading in one of your previous interviews, you were talking about how the work constantly shifts depending on where it is and it can become somewhat of a collaborative effort with the curator after you have gone, if say they moved the work to another location, giving them more freedom. Would you then consider the installation process, in general, is still an active part of the painting process for you?

AS- Absolutely. Yeah, and most of the time, I mean what I am doing when I am installing, the panels, the paintings, is just a proposition. One proposition, of an endless possibilities to do that. And I am always curious about, with myself, does it work in the way I was thinking in the beginning. But, a very important part of the concept of the work, that is somebody else, the curator or... everybody could become a part of the work as a relationship, you know. Like in a theater or in the movies, something like that.

SG- How do you feel that your prints, books and editions, that you have done over the years, fit into your practice? Are they dealing with the same issues or are they dealing with separate issues as your other works?

AS- You are talking about which prints?

SG- Um, I know you did a book with Ink Tree and...

AS- Yeah. (laughs) Where you have seen this?

SG- I actually tried to purchase one.

AS- Really? (laughs)

SG- And never received a response and I guess that they were sold out.

AS- No that can't be sold out.

SG- Not sold out?

AS- No, it is impossible. It can't be sold out.

SG- That is good to know (laugh) perhaps I can still get one then. You also did two edition with Edition 5.

AS- Yeah that is right.

SG- I attempted purchase one of those at one time as well, but they were sold.

AS- Yeah, you are right.

SG- They told me that they were in talks with you about possibly doing another edition with them at one point.

AS- Yeah they did, they did talk to me about, but I never did hear back from him. But you are right these editions were sold out, since they are only editions of 5.

SG- I also saw some of your lithographs you had done, I can not remember who published those... And a photo process...

AS- Yeah, I have done a few of them over the years. The first one I did was an edition with bromoil prints, yeah. I did it at a studio in Vienna. And after that I did a few editions with heliogravure, etchings. And there was a pornographic series I did with my gallery, this Galerie nächst St. Stephan/Rosemarie Schwarzwälder, this edition is still available. It is an edition of 10. I want first I have to explain, [I couldn't translate the name referred to here, in short he was originally invited by a organization to do this edition with them] I was invited to do this edition. For them I proposed this pornographic edition. And I asked them, and they said yeah it should not be a problem, we did something like that with other artists. With this edition I cut from the pornographic magazines by the chance, because I was interested in, to see if there was, if I could learn some more values from this kind of images, this kind of photography which is very, very, um... focused on sexuality, yeah, especially male sexuality. And I did this edition and then they say they had some problem because in their own system with the mailing... and I say listen, I don't want to cause problems and I did another one. But then I did this edition with the gallery because I like a lot this edition, it was an attempt for me to show that it is impossible to show these kind of desires you know it is impossible but on the other side also the death, the hopelessness, all the horrible things and how we are fascinated at the same time but also shocked, we are also shocked at the same time. Yeah, and what interests me also that this kind of images you can't talk about, there is no story about it, you can't talk about it. And so I did this edition and then did one called 'goodbye' or 'over'. This edition I did by chance, filming the brilliance of the lake. And by chance, a little ship goes through with two persons inside, and on the first image is just the shimmer, the brilliance of the light on the water surface, on the second one, on the left side the ship comes in. In the third the ship is in the middle with one figure sitting and the other one standing and then the fourth and the fifth the ship goes out of the image on the right and on the last one again just the brilliance of the water surface. For me this edition is much more brutal than the first one I proposed with the pornographic images. This one for me is really brutal because it looks like something, as if something would really happen, or if the thing that is happening is important, and it passes so quickly and so quickly its over. Yeah, I did this edition and then I did an edition for me only with etchings. And this year I did an edition with a German editor called Full Moon and Roses. I like a lot this combination of photo or heliogravure edition with five prints, different prints and the combination between photography from me from my studio floor or with flowers I did myself and then in combination with a drawing also which is combined with this heliography.

SG- What do you perceive is the biggest challenge for you personally in creating your work?

AS- For me? The biggest challenge is to find possibilities for painting. For a kind of painting which is unfinished and not fixed. For a kind of painting that can go on and on. And a kind of painting that does not stop with myself. I think that is the big challenge for me.

SG- Since Rebecca (Uchill) has just come to joined us, could you discuss the process that came into play for this specific installation of work? You two have been working together for about a year, is that right? How do you approach that especially with going over seas and getting familiar with the space? Do you have an idea of these works in your head before you go in?

AS- Yeah, we were talking for the first time in Miami.

Rebecca Uchill- In person.

AS- Yeah.

RU- But we had spoken before.

AS- Before, yeah, yeah, when you invited me, but it was a long process I think. Right?

RU- Yeah I think, it is actually a great question because, we were talking about this a little bit the other day too, with Adrian's work he really needs to be in the space to do the process that he refers to as painting, which is the activity of arranging these works as you see it. And Adrian doesn't do email, he only communicates by fax, telephone and postal mail. And often we found that we couldn't call each other too, because my cell phone, we both discovered that we both have really poor international service.

AS- Yeah, and I couldn't call the museum with my touch phone, I would get stuck in the loop here.

RU- So correspondence really became a performative act with us, wouldn't you agree? I think this might be true of your work often because for Adrian, the site of a conversation, or the enactment of a conversation, as an in person, direct connection with an artwork, or with another person, or whatever, is actually kind of a part of the work."

AS- Yeah, the dialogue.

RU- So when we first started corresponding, as Adrian pointed out, it really wasn't until Miami, that we met in person and that is when, for Adrian, that the project started, but I had already been mailing and faxing and calling with all types of information beforehand to anticipate some of the conversation that we would later talk about in person. Adrian's response generally would be, wait till be get to Miami, so we could talk in person.

AS- Yeah, yeah,

RU- When we finally did meet in Miami, to speak in person, he quoted Roland Barthes, it was from the 'Empire of Signs,' collection of essays, where Roland Barthes talks about the rendezvous or the in person meeting, and he talks about that the only words you need to translate, are those that get the time and the location.

AS- The most important things in the dictionary, would be the meeting point and the time.

RU- And after that you can get there and probably any communication can happen non verbally

AS- So he says normally, these guides for tourists are full of things you can use with cabs and waiters, things like this, and so he says the most important things are the meeting point and the time.

RU- So Adrian said this when we met in Miami, and I realized that, of course we couldn't have really talked about his work until we were together and I was really interested in the way he thinks about his work as those sites, for these kinds of encounters. So that was some months after many spoiled attempts to talk on the phone...

AS- And the next step in the situation was, then how many pieces we could show and this was also a question about money.

RU- Of course, of course. But I just wanted to say about the correspondence in particular and about the dialogue, that at one point I almost killed his fax machine, he came back to his studio and it was smoking, because I tried to fax some images that were printing out all black.

AS- All black, yeah (laughs)

RU- And despite all of these concerns about long distance correspondence when he came here, I said to him just the other day, if I really had been thinking about it I would have brought you here to show you the museum many months ago and then we thought twice about that and then we realized that we only had money in the budget for one long distance travel, before this travel out and we decided that it would be for me to come and see Adrian at his studio because that was really important for both of us, to see the location of the place that he works in, the way he executes the work, and to see the house, and the garden, to have that contact. And it is true, in the way that Adrian works, it really could only have happened when he came with the panels. And I guess that is really all I wanted to say about that, this sort of spoiled communication story which really has everything to do with actually what your work stands for, to activate these in person encounters.

AS- So after this meeting then in Miami, I choose my paintings, my paintings like a painter would choose the paints on a palette, you know. And we shipped them here and then, I come here and we started to install or to finish, or...

RU- We did a tour of the galleries first before we brought any of the art works out into the space.

SG- So you would say that the act of installing is very much a part of the painting process

AS- Yes,

RU- For Sure

SG- So concerning the works all around the museum, including the Lilly House, for the audience that is not familiar with your work, do you feel that this may be the best way to get involved, so they can see different forms of your work in different environments and perhaps as they go from one to the other they will get a better understanding of your work as a whole?

AS- Yeah I hope so, and I am very happy that we had this possibility to show the work under such different conditions, such as in the European gallery but also the contemporary gallery, and here in the entrance and in this Off the Wall gallery on the third floor and also this one in the Lilly house. But yeah, I think this is very nice...

SG- I think it is nice to see your work in connection to some of the more historical works, and I know in the past you had contributed your work to Gaylen Gerber.

RU- (laughs) You know he is coming tomorrow?

SG- Really?

AS- Yeah, that is Gaylen's project. (laughs) so you will have to ask him.

SG- So how did you feel as an artist when another artist came to you and asked, 'I would like to incorporate your work'?

RU- That is and excellent question. You see he is talking to you about how your work is reflecting the historic works in the European galleries and yet you were the reflection on Gaylen's platform.

AS- Probably (laughs) ask him.

SG- (laughs) fair enough.

AS- The thing about that though is the motivations are so different.

SG- Oh, I totally agree. I just think that the parallels were somewhat interesting.

AS_ We [Gaylen and Adrian] have known each other a long time.

SG- I know I am paraphrasing here, but yesterday when we were walking around you mentioned something along the lines of you were interested in creating these moments that would engage the audience in the act of seeing. Could you elaborate on that.

AS- Yeah, we were talking before about, about this different installations in different places here but I mean, every art work is always connected to all this tradition, no, but for me it's very important that you have, active to the work by seeing by your eyes and not by knowing or something like that, because I think it should be for everybody and I know that art is a system and it is a system built and controlled by the most powerful part of the society. And that is the system, we can not change it.

RU- That is a very particular view of art.

AS- No, no, no no no. We can't change the system. After the French Revolution, in 1789, the whole society changed and then during the 19th century, the whole art system, before the kings the royal society was ordering works from artists or the artists was working at the clerks, you know. After that, the situation for the artist was completely different because there was no order. And then slowly, this society of citizens, getting lost. And so art is always connected, it is always a part of our civilization, our society, and so yeas this system is always connected.

[slightly abridged]

AS- But let me finish, because you asked me about my main focus, and my main focus is in the seeing and this is the reason, maybe its naive, too but this is the reason why, or one of the reason why I prefer the access by viewing, you know, and not by knowing, because I think under these conditions, under these circumstances, so everybody can find his own access with his own eyes and he can see what he wants to see or he can give up what he wants to give up. O.k., with an art work, a conceptual one or a book it is the same, it is giving you the possibility to find your own personal way to get into the work. But I prefer the way is to view.

RU- And that is something we talked about from the very out set when I talked to Adrian about why I was drawn to his work. I think these different opportunities for these different points of experience and the way that the work really pushes you to, the fact of the matter is that most people engage the work when they encounter the work and find it really hard not to stop and take a look at it, I'm finding watching people in our galleries, its really changing the way people interact with our space, people are walking into areas of the museum, like that little corner in the oval entry, that you've never seen a person standing in before. I think over the course of encountering the works everyones experience will be completely different. But the works do change according to your view, to use your word.

SG- Do you have any personal favorites, when it comes to exhibiting- in collectors homes, institutions, etc.?

AS- No, no I try, to not have, because I like a lot the chance, and if somebody invites me for a project I try to do my best. But as a painter, especially with these panels, I need inside conditions. I did projects outside but there, I work in a different way. So I like a lot, public spaces and institutions, where everybody could have the access, of course that is wonderful, but on the other hand, I like also a lot that someone has a piece at home for their own pleasure, and I like the idea, maybe, that with a lot of time and slowly he really became a kind of painter, you know, and he could find his own way with this painting. And that's hard to get this possibility in a public situation or in an institution.

RU- So when we were planning the show in December when we met down in Miami, we talked a little bit about the fact that the museum was about to become entirely free admission and realizing that this really opened up some opportunities for people to come back over and over again to traverse in the spaces. This actually raised a question for me too, have you ever turned down an opportunity to exhibit your work because the situation was not correct for you?

AS- Yeah. (laughs) Early in the beginning, I mean as a young artist, you are feeling more fragile. I was invited to a huge show in Lyon, the title was 'The Color Alone', because in 88', they invite me to show with my panels and I ask, carefully in the beginning, I say 'O.k., but please have them on the floor and if there is no windows there should be at least one wall without a painting on it. On the rest you can hang the other works but there should be at least one empty wall.' And also, I wanted to show a little bit this aspect, to show painting on the floor and not on the wall. And then I install my paintings, and came back the next day, the day before the opening, and they were hanging works around you know, all around...


RU- They waited for you to install your work then. (laughs)

AS- Yeah! You know I felt so, so angry. It wasn't correct. It really wasn't correct. And then I ask, listen, we talked before and you promise me that one wall would be empty. They said yeah, but you know we have so many, but if you want to take up your work... And I say o.k., I will do that.

RU- Is that the only time?

AS- Yeah. (Laughs) the work was only up for a few... So for the first few hours of the opening this work was visible. (laughs) But I was waiting until the work was out.

SG- When do you feel the moment came in your career where you thought to yourself, 'this is it', or you may have succeeded?

AS- 'This is it?' No. I never, no, I never had this. Because there is maybe a really fast moment of a kind of happiness because maybe there is something but I never could say, 'now I got it' really. Maybe there are some days where you feeling, oh, maybe... I think Jackson Pollock say this somewhere, I come alone, I guess. I don't know. Maybe, I could only say that somedays I am feeling better and I am a bit less sad
or maybe after a show like this, I am feeling a bit more sure because, I think yeah it works. It works. But you know, there are more possibilities for more projects, other projects all the time. Two days later you may do it better, more precise, or you can show more or in a more open way. You know?

SG- I agree, I believe in my own practice it is always the most current body of work, the next body of work that you are most interested in.

AS- Yeah, it is never ending.

SG- Most of our readers are artists, do you have any advise for the younger artists of today?

AS- Art is not this thing that you can think, ahh now I've got it. You never got it. You are following a track or something like that, and sometimes you are getting lost or you are thinking you are getting lost and then a year later, you remember, oh no, it wasn't a fault. It's like you are walking in circles in the forest, you know. It just goes like this.

SG- Is there a particular question you just get tired of answering, tired of people asking you?

AS- I don't like so much answering, a question about the materials. And often, especially in galleries or in art fairs, people always ask me about the materials and how it is done. They don't, they don't see the brilliance of the work, they don't even see the color. You know? They are so fixed on the materials. And this, yeah is a little bit old.

RU- Do you think people are asking this question as some false sense of the alchemical magic of painting or something? Or...

AS- No, no. No, no. That's rarely. no, no. It's the fact that if it is oil on canvas, nobody asks. You know. Becasue, oil on canvas is "art". You know. But if it is not, oil on canvas, then a lot of people are asking how you do this? Where do you go for this materials?

RU- You know, Scott is also, an artist in his own right. I bet you probably get this question about your materials all the time?

SG- All the time. People are always stuck on the materials.

AS- Imagine I read your interview, or your article and ask you what computer did you use, or which program you use?


AS- And do you have a wireless? You know what I mean? (laughs) I mean it is really frustrating.

SG- Well I want to thank you very much. I truely enjoyed meeting you.

AS- I will see you tomorrow night...

1 Responses to “Interview: Adrain Schiess”

Anonymous said...
November 13, 2007 at 11:12 AM

No comments says alot

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