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

The Way He Thinks

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Installation view of George Condo: The Way I Think. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

German artist George Condo has attracted international attention for decades. A man who befriended Basquiat, worked for Warhol, and collaborated with Kim and Kanye was in DC for the opening of his show The Way I Think here at the Phillips. When speaking with friends about what may be my favorite DC show, mention of the name George Condo usually invites a response along the lines of, “Oh yeah, the Kanye guy.” Condo received a flood of media attention in 2010 when his design for Kanye West’s album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was deemed “explicit” by providers like Wal-Mart and iTunes. “The superimposition of people’s perceptions on a cartoon is shocking,” Condo responded at the time. This would not be the last attack on Condo’s art, as his painting on a handbag for Kim Kardashian in 2013 met similarly skeptical reviews on social media.

Through instances like these, Condo’s work raises the issue of censorship. For Condo in particular, censorship is stifling, and it’s easy to see why in The Way I Think, an array of over 200 works arranged and installed with Condo’s guidance. The exhibit reads like Condo’s own train of thought, complete with piles of diligently kept notebooks and sketchbooks. The sheer volume of work in the exhibition is breathtaking, and the alarming nature of Condo’s figures are captivating. The exhibit is laid out just as it sounds; the way the artist thinks. The exhibition revives the age old question of whether art—any art—should be censored. Can we censor thought? What about thought on paper? Condo’s reliance on his own memory and psychology as sources of artistic inspiration make it difficult to imagine a “parental advisory” sticker plastered across one of his pieces.

It is probable that The Way I Think will elicit a range of emotional responses as wide as Condo’s artistic styles. Without question, George Condo’s intersections with music, celebrity, and popular culture make his art irresistibly interesting to any viewer. I think, however, it is the personal depth and furious imagination of the artist which will make this particular exhibit magnetic and intimate for each and every visitor.

Elizabeth Federici, Marketing & Communications Intern

The Changing Painting: Interview with Dove Bradshaw, Part 2

In anticipation of her installation of her work Contingency on Wall at the Phillips, artist Dove Bradshaw sat down with Phillips blog manager Amy Wike to discuss her artistic process. Read Part 1 here.

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Dove Bradshaw installing Contingency on Wall (2016) at the Phillips. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Amy Wike: It’s interesting that you’re talking about how your different forms of media relate to each other, but also you’ve talked about how your work relates back to your work from much earlier on.

Dove Bradshaw: Decades. For the first time this year, I am using materials that could not have been used for thousands of years. Everything else I used was salt, silver, linen, canvas—materials that had been around since antiquity. But 3D-printing, resin—no . . . . The show I have on now called Unintended Consequences . . . includes bullets that are 3D-printed from the same .38 caliber bullets that I collected about 35 to 36 years earlier (I had made them into earrings). I had not done anything with bullets since, and once 3D-printing became viable, I blew them up to 25–30 inches and surfaced them with white gold, aluminum, bronze, lemon gold, black rubber, and so on. They are shown with these paintings that are silver leaf with organic matter and in some cases, the marriage between the paintings and the sculpture is very close because it looks like some of this abstract imagery that’s on the paintings.

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Dove Bradshaw installing Contingency on Wall (2016) at the Phillips. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

AW: Back to what is being shown here: Contingency on Wall is part of a larger series, the Contingency series. Could you talk a bit about the series and how this work that’s on view at the Phillips fits into it?

DB: The word “contingency” came from the activity of silver; as I said, it’s contingent on light, air, and humidity, and [I use] this chemical which speeds it up and alters it irrevocably; it won’t look that way with just light and air and humidity, it makes marks and distinguishes the foreground and the background.

I got the title from John Cage’s 15 ingredients for a composition presented as part of his Norton lectures, which would relate very much to any artistic practice. Some of the words Cage used were contingency, indeterminacy, notation, discipline, performance . . . so I had gone through this list and used as titles about half the words he used as titles, and “contingency” worked very well for the paintings. Then I’ll give identifiers: Contingency [Snowmelt], for instance, just identifies that this particular painting was out in the snow for a while.

AW: My last question: you mentioned Piet Mondrian, John Cage; are there any other artists who inform your work?

DB: Dalí was a huge early influence, still love him—amazing creativity, completely unfettered, even met him—flirted with me! Though he must have done that with a lot of young girls. But I wouldn’t say that he’s an influence anymore. I would say Duchamp was a major influence, the permission that he gave.

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Dove Bradshaw installing Contingency on Wall (2016) at the Phillips. Photo: Rhiannon Newman