Interview with Philipp Artus, Part 2

Berlin-based artist Philipp Artus speaks at the Phillips on May 11, and his work will be featured at the 2017 Contemporaries Bash: Berlin Underground. We asked the artist a few questions about his process and his work at large.

Philipp Artus, Snail Trail

I read that you take inspiration from Miles Davis. How do you go about deciding how to incorporate sound in your work? Do you have a background in music?
I learned to play some instruments as a kid, but I was generally more interested in drawing and photography. However, when I started studying art, I was immediately fascinated by the creative possibilities that open up through time-based art forms, like playing with rhythm, repetition, and variation. My first experiments in animation were purely intuitive, but at some point I felt the need to really understand the underlying principles I was using. Therefore, I studied Newton’s laws of motion, and also got interested in music theory, since I found that many principles of music can be applied to animation.

You mentioned Miles Davis, so let’s take him as an example. While a lot of Jazz musicians of his time were into the Bebop style, which was characterized by fast tempo and complex chord progressions, Davis was going in the opposite direction: he slowed down the pacing and concentrated more on the horizontal flow of the melody, which eventually became known as Cool Jazz.

I found that most educational books about animation give the advice to concentrate on “poses.” You would start with a particular position of a figure, then think about the next positions some frames later and so on. This “vertical” thinking about time usually leads to quick successions of character poses—which is similar to the fast chord progressions in Bebop Jazz. Miles Davis inspired me to develop a form of animation that focuses more on the horizontal flow of the movement and also to trust in the beauty of simplicity.

This example is a bit technical, but it gives you an impression of how my interest for music inspires my work. Music is essentially the art of structuring movement, which is very similar to animation.

Your current work is primarily film and animation. Have you spent any time in other mediums? If so, how does this influence your work?
During the last two years I developed a new series of light drawings, which is the first time since the beginning of my art studies that I have worked on a “static” medium. In this series I take snapshots of the moving lines generated by the FLORA algorithm, and choose some images that become part of the light drawings series. To create these images I developed a unique printing method that combines analog photography and a laser projector. The resulting images show the traces of abstract movement frozen in time.

The photographic chemicals I am using are heavily influenced by the weather and the paper. So, in a way, this series of light drawings puts me back into the material world, which is beautiful.

Light drawings by Philipp Artus

Are there any artists, art historical or otherwise, who inform your work?
There are tons of artists who inspire my work, and it is always difficult for me to choose just a few.  Two important inspirations for the FLORA light drawings I just mentioned were the plants by Karl Blossfeldt as well as the lightning fields by Hiroshi Sugimoto. Both of these photographic works are an observation of nature that avoids any kind of self-expression. This approach to art is quite far away from the selfie-obsessed society we are living in and is therefore refreshing.

However, the initial inspiration for FLORA was not a particular artist, but rather the movement of my cat’s tale. It made me realize that a simple chain of rotating joints can create a fascinating and elegant motion.

Artus’s artistic process

Your works are heavily digital. As younger generations that grew up with technology enter into the art world, what do you think is the future of digital tools as medium?
I would not say that my works are heavily digital. If you take my FLORA light drawings as an example, the shapes are generated by an algorithm in a purely digital way. But to create these images I am using an analog laser projector in combination with the chemicals of analog photography. So it is rather the interplay between digital and analog technology that I am interested in.

I think that there are quite a few artists in my generation who are interested in this dialogue between old and new media. It seems that the more we are surrounded by digital images and sound, the more we value the materiality and “aura” in analog media.

Also, digital technology makes us rediscover old technologies in new ways: The photographic process that I am using in my light drawings is called Platinotype and was invented in the 1870s. Many artists of the Pictorialist movement used it at that time, but obviously back then they neither had computer algorithms nor laser projectors.

Philipp Artus, FLORA

Volunteer Spotlight: Stanley C. Foster

In this series, Education Specialist for Public Programs Emily Bray profiles volunteers within the museum. Phillips volunteers are an integral part of the museum and help in many ways: greeting and guiding guests through the museum, helping with Sunday Concerts, assisting patrons in the library, helping out with Phillips after 5 and special events, and so much more. Our volunteers offer a wealth of expertise and experience to the museum, and we are delighted to highlight several them.

Stanley C. Foster, Art Information Volunteer


Stanley C. Foster

What year did you start volunteering at The Phillips Collection?
Stanley Foster: 2015

What do you see as the most valuable aspect of your volunteering?
SF: Interacting with the public. Providing them with an overview of the museum and the artworks and Duncan Phillips’s vision. Also discovering interesting information about the visitors, including where they come from and what attracted them to the Phillips.

What do you do when you are not volunteering at The Philips Collection?
SF: I volunteer as a tour guide at the Kennedy Center. I also audit an undergraduate courses at Georgetown University with my wife.

What is your favorite room or painting at the Phillips?
SF: Difficult question since it depends on the day and the weather.

If you had to choose one word to describe Phillips, what would it be?
SF: Intimate.

Share a fun fact about you!
SF: I graduated from the same magnet high school in Philadelphia, Central High School, that John Sloan, William Glackens, Thomas Eakins, and Alfred Barnes attended. Sloan, Glackens, and Barnes were at Central High at the same time in the 1890s. Eakins had graduated earlier. Sloan and Glackens became a part of the Ashcan School, an artistic movement in New York City in the early 1900s depicting ordinary life. Barnes founded the Barnes Foundation, a private museum in Philadelphia, and was a collector competing with Duncan Phillips. As a senior at Central High, I wrote an article for the school magazine, The Mirror, about Sloan, Glackens, and the Ashcan School. It was nostalgic for me to see Sloan’s The Wake of the Ferry II and Glackens’s Bathers at Bellport recently hanging in adjoining rooms at The Phillips Collection.

Interview with Philipp Artus, Part 1

Berlin-based artist Philipp Artus speaks at the Phillips on May 11, and his work will be featured at the 2017 Contemporaries Bash: Berlin Underground. We asked the artist a few questions about his process and his work at large.

FLORA, Philipp Artus

Tell us a little about yourself. When did you first begin pursuing the arts?
I grew up in Bremen, a German city close to the North Sea. After school I moved to Nantes in France to study art and experimental film. I then spent one year in Portugal with a cat to learn about character animation and its relation to sound and music. Later I continued my studies of Media Art in Cologne/Germany, where I developed an interest in site-specific installations. After graduation I moved to Berlin, where I have lived and worked since 2013.

What is your creative process like?
I often start with an idea and let it develop its own life, so that I can follow it. Thus, when I am working on a project I never really know where the idea will take me. I need this sense of discovery to keep me excited throughout the project. This curiosity makes me get to know various different artistic fields and sometimes allows me to draw unusual connections between them.

One example for this working style is my most recent project FLORA. I started to learn text-based coding from scratch about two years ago. At first it felt like I was going nowhere, but after a while I learned how to combine my knowledge about animation with the principles of computer programming. The result was the installation FLORA, which is a combination of animation and algorithmic art. I think it is this mixture of different artistic fields that characterizes my work and makes it unique.

Installation view of Artus’s BerlinerListe exhibition

Do you have any recurring themes you like to play with in your work?
Life is a recurring theme in my work that I like to play with. The word animation originates from the Latin word “anima”, meaning “give life to.” In my work I am exploring animation, which is essentially the expression of life through movement. Due to this connection to life, even my most abstract works have a figurative spirit.

Also, I often like to create dialogues of oppositions: a fast-paced film can simultaneously feel slow and meditative. A serious topic might be mixed with whimsical and absurd ingredients. A timeless theme can be combined with playful quotations of popular culture… I like surprising myself and the viewer, and challenging our preconceived ideas and stereotypes.

Check back next week for Part 2 of this interview.