Under the Hood
A conversation with Klaus Ebbers, March 2007

 

Ebbers: At the moment the painter-literates are the 'painting heroes' in the museums and at auctions. Where do you picture yourself in this machinery?

Schur: I feel closer to a composer, or maybe a musician. Though it is the viewer who is the one that plays the music which gets 'heard' through the eyes, through the brain, through vibrations, through the body… these senses work very direct... and connect much closer to abstract painting than language or narrative painting does.

Ebbers: A painter like Otto Freundlich [Remark of the translator: pioneer of German Abstraction, 1878 - 1943] started from a similar position like yours some time ago, or does irony play a role there?

Schur: Irony? In the titles maybe… Sometimes I get the titles from the lyrics from English Rock and Pop. It's something we Germans have trouble fully understanding. There may be irony in there, but for me it's more something that the viewer can work out in an associative way.
And Otto Freundlich? Well… one of the first ones. And I am still doing the same thing, is that what you want to say? The core of abstract painting is not the formal language but what that language expresses. It is about more than just new sounds, it is about new songs!

Ebbers: Let's stay with the idea of a musician for a bit. What kind of music do you have in mind? You know, the subject of ninety percent of all songs is love and emotion, at all kinds of different levels, sure, with or without lines.

Schur: I like when complex things sound easy… Bowie or Beck (Hansen) did that very well at times. And some things, some feelings, are timely but also timeless; this makes them significant and it makes them interesting for art.

Ebbers: You once said you find it difficult to name a favourite painter. Is there nobody then who had an impact on you as a student and afterwards? And if someone did, what with?

Schur: When I was about fifteen years old, I copied Mondrian, as a wall-decoration. I liked his style. Of course, at the time, I had no understanding of what he was doing with 'space'. It was just a style thing. Later, still in high school, I discovered the Abstract Expressionists. I painted that way for a while: large drip paintings, quotes, 'Pollock meets de Kooning'. The German Expressionists were also important for me at the time, most of all Nolde. I enjoyed reading the book »Deutschstunde« from Siegfried Lenz, where he describes the development of Noldes' 'Unpainted Paintings'. At that time I knew for sure I wanted to be a painter too. At the Academy it went on in the same expressive direction. I always had this connection to the Americans, maybe because they were so present in the museums in Munich. I discovered Stella and Kelly for myself. And then there was, in 1996, this retrospective exhibition of Imi Knoebel at the »Haus der Kunst«. I saw it several times. It was then that I changed from expressionistic painting to hard edge painting… something about the purity, seeing space through colour. I also became intensely interested in Blinky Palermo, who I consider to be a true investigator, someone who expanded the possibility of painting. For me these were really freakyexperiences… seeing how he worked space. I mean he was a 'space freak'… and it would just blow my mind seeing how he could arrange that stuff.

Ebbers: And where are you now? What are some of the issues that surround your current work?

Schur: A pioneer of politically motivated Jazz, Sonny Rollins, once said in his later years that with time it became »most important for him to formulate a message, without naming things directly by its name«1. I like that… Rollins, a fastidious giant of Jazz, mad about his craft, comes up with a 'message without naming things'. Today, that strikes me as a completely valid position to take… And while painting's recent history has more in common with a Diaspora; always on the run, fast to get somewhere, fast to leave, I think it's interesting that my own work takes on this 'without naming things' in a more classical way, not tied absolutely to the historical, or strings attached. The commitment here is in that I just want better, deeper… How I get there is 'as long as I get there!' Systematic approaches develop through experience, and this becomes the craft. However this craft is always in a process of developing, systems dissolve with newer ones coming up: And these newer approaches give me the access into a deeper sense, which after a while produce, again, other systems. In the end it has to be about what's there. And what is there, what I look for, is an intense feeling that the painting is working inside as well as on the outside… at the sensuous edge… coming instead of running.

Ebbers: What role does materiality play in your work, and how do you get at your compositions? And how does scale play in your work? Karl Bohrmann once said to me, for him it was always more complicated to paint a larger painting, because it should not contain as much information as a smaller one. Is it the same for you, or are your concepts realizable at any size? To get to the point, how do you deal with the presence of materiality, which of course is stronger in the smaller paintings than in the larger ones?

Schur: Well, materiality surely belongs to the very nature of painting as a medium. The tension between 'image' and the surface of the painting is essential. When you look at my paintings, you see space. But you never grasp the precise or definite structure of that space; instead you become immersed in it. Suddenly the eye beams you back to the surface, caught by a drip of paint or something else. The spatial experience is destroyed by the material trace, but that again immediately takes you to a place, which starts up again this non-material dimension. This intangibleness vs. this painting specific, something in this direction, is that what you mean?
While these things are essential and fundamental to the way I work they take place under the hood. For me the real focus is elsewhere. It's somewhere nearer to the decisions. And these decisions shift depending on the material, how that reacts, and how I react off that: The process, the intention, playing off the material. I could likenit to a spiritual confrontation with the physical. It's a struggle that develops its own life; you know… this 'painting-process' painters are always talking about. That's what makes painting so complex. It's a system. And that's very important for me.
I paint a blue. I paint a grey. Some-thing happens I had not planned on. You could call it a mistake. But I decide to let it stay, and leaving it means I am reacting off that error, that surprise. The painting has changed its course and triggers a butterfly effect, and I look for the new course. I don't correct. I just make another decision. I get annoyed. There is despair. There is this struggle. And it can go on like this, in waves, for ten days. The painting finally looks to be finished. But it is not! The painting has its 'face', but there feels to be more, more to come. It's three a.m. Suddenly – it's there!
I paint very intuitively, hardly ever calculating. My painting is too complex for that, to be grasped intellectually, as an equation. There are too many unknowns: which colour in which tinge – there are millions of possibilities, in which position, in what quantity, in which form... It cannot be done rationally, something has to lead you through the labyrinth of painting: the ensnarement of material and most of all this intuition that leaps you through. I don't see the artist as chemist, one who mixes substances, but – on another level – as a catalyzer that lightens the comprehension of meaning, of the world.

Ebbers: Can we talk about your large-scale paintings?

Schur: In the mural "Havanna", I painted directly onto dry walls, which became the topic. The dialogue was then a thing of functionality, the room, the cavity, the organizing structure, and then the event, when the space became peopled. With the exhibition "Neueste Deutsche Abstraktion", the strategy was again context. A large autonomous painting was installed in dialogue with a sculpture installation by Valentin Goderbauer. The changing light during the day on the different aspects of the architecture inflected upon the space and the installation. The painting took up most of one wall so a viewer needed to navigate, depending on time of day, a suitable place that would reveal it. Sometimes there was this very intense colour coming up from the floor from the red carpet of Goderbauers's installation. The painting then presented many different moods interacting with the light, the floor, the structure, and a person's navigation. With other installations I tend to work simply: with scale, the hanging, the colour, and the mood. On a very subtle level, each aspect plays off the next. Again, the positioning of the audience shifts the reading.

Ebbers: One last question to colour: David Batchelor writes the following – alongside many other interesting thoughts – in his book »Chromo-phobia«: »Colour often is close to the human body, and never far from – hetero- or homosexual – sexuality. When sex comes up, often colour comes up too, and when colour comes up, sexuality is near most of the time« (2). This aspect of colour, this seductive, erotic and inescapable aspect, what role does it play for you and in your work?

Schur: Sure it is all about sensuousness. It's the leading role. Painters think of nothing else!

 

 

1 Interview with Sonny Rollins, in: Christian Broecking, Respekt!, Berlin 2004, p. 14

2 David Batchelor, Chromophobie, Angst vor der Farbe, Wien 2002, p. 61