This time the entire floor is covered with cut-up illustrated journals, a new tic and trick of mine (eight days now): I cut out photos from illustrated journals and dissolve them with a chemical solution and swipe and smear them. That is fabulous fun. I have always loved illustrated magazines, perhaps because of their documentary actuality. I have also already made a few attempts to paint something like that in a larger format. Curious to see how it will continue. I am pursuing something which in a certain way resembles the most recent movement: Pop art (from popular), probably came up in America and is now heating up the minds here.
I am primarily painting from photographs these days (from illustrated magazines but also from family photos), in a sense this is a stylistic problem, the form is naturalistic, even though the photograph is not nature at all but a prefabricated product (the “second-hand world” in which we live), I do not have to intervene artistically with style, since the stylization (deformation in form and color) contributes only under very particular circumstances toward clarifying and intensifying an object or a subject (generally stylization becomes the central problem which obscures everything else (object, subject), it leads to an unmotivated artificiality, an untouchable formalist taboo.
When I paint from a photograph, conscious thinking is eliminated. I don't know what I am doing. My work is far closer to the Informel than to any kind of 'realism'. The photograph has an abstraction of its own, which is not easy to see through.
As far as the surface is concerned – oil on canvas, conventionally applied – my pictures have little to do with the original photograph. They are totally painting (whatever that may mean). On the other hand, they are so like the photograph that the thing that distinguished the photograph from all other pictures remains intact.
You work from photographic originals. How do you find your subjects?
Perhaps the choice is a negative one, in that I was trying to avoid everything that touched on well-known issues – or any issues at all, whether painterly, social or aesthetic. I tried to find nothing too explicit, hence all the banal subjects; and then, again, I tried to avoid letting the banal turn into my issue and my trademark. So it's all evasive action, in a way.
Why do most of your paintings look like blurry photographs?
I've never found anything to be lacking in a blurry canvas. Quite the contrary: you can see many more things in it than in a sharply focused image. A landscape painted with exactness forces you to see a determined number of clearly differentiated trees, while in a blurry canvas you can perceive as many trees as you want. The painting is more open.
Did your earlier black-and-white paintings have a different quality for you, a different meaning than the colour ones? For example, was black and white a way of distancing yourself more, or was it a means for you to try to illustrate objectivity?
Basically it was just more unusual, back then, to create black-and-white oil paintings, and more real, because all the newspapers, the daily diet of photographic material, including television, was black and white, and the photo albums and photography itself – all of it was black and white, which is difficult to imagine these days. That's why it imbued a sense of reality into painting that represented something completely new. Looking at them now, the likeness to photography, the documentary quality, aren't as evident, because the paintings just seem like paintings. But black-and-white photography has managed to retain a unique quality; the F.A.Z. [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung] still uses black-and-white photographs, even if the majority would probably prefer them to be in colour.
Yet today you would follow these interpretations of the meaning of your work with interest, and say that the motifs were chosen arbitrarily?
Everything has a reason, including the selection of the photos, which was not arbitrary but appropriate to the period, its highs and lows and my sense of them.
In 1963, you wrote to Helmut Heinze that you found the “emblematic images” of the time in the tabloids, that as an artist it was snobbish to reject such popular pictures. Did you want to make pictures people liked?
The desire to please is maligned, unfairly. There are many sides to it. First of all, pictures have to arouse interest before people will even look at them, and then they have to show something that holds that interest – and naturally they have to be presentable, just as a song has to be sung well, otherwise people run away. One mustn't underrate this quality, and I have always been delighted when my pieces have also appealed to the museum guards, the laymen.
What are you trying to achieve with these realistic images?
I'm trying to paint a picture of what I have seen and what moved me, as well as I can. That's all.