The G-Unit, 2011, oil on canvas, 200 x 300 cm. Photo: Andreas Wünschirs, Leipzig. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin.
An interview with Leipzig Germany-based artist Tobias Hild for Cheap & Plastique #11. See more of his work on the Emmanuel Post Gallery website here. Issue 11 also features interviews with the artists Admiral Grey, Tobias Faisst, Tonya Douraghy, Shane Lavalette, Ted McGrath, Emilia Olsen, Lisa Vanin, Hidde van Schie, & Mickey Z, all articles will be coming soon to this blog.
C & P: What first got you interested in illustration/painting?
Tobias: I think it actually was an art teacher in high school. I had serious problems with other lessons and was happy that someone told me, “It´s ok what you are doing here. Go ahead.”
C & P: Have there been key experiences in your life that have impacted you and your work?
Tobias: Four years ago I went to Solothurn in Switzerland for two months. My intention was to leave the studio, be outside, and make some drawings. Since then it has been really important for me to get part of my inspiration from everything I see. Just simple things like trees, lakes… It sounds old-fashioned but drawing outside is a great chance to surprise myself and find new ways of expression.
C & P: Many of your paintings depict unsettling narratives. Tell me a bit about the bizarre worlds you create in your drawings and paintings. How important is this narrative element in your work?
Tobias: It is an important aspect but I don´t have a special story in mind before I start working. The setting of the figures and landscapes constantly change and so does the story. It´s more like that at some moment the work is finished and I am surprised at what happened to the picture. If I see a figure developing on the surface I try to bring it in contact with the rest of the setting, but at that point it is not a decision for the final narration of the work.
Pilatus, 2010, oil on canvas, 290 x 400 cm. Photo: Andreas Wünschirs, Leipzig. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin.
C & P: Your images bring to mind fairytales (albeit slightly sad and/or upsetting ones) that one might remember reading in their youth. Do any of your works reference specific fables or fairy tales?
Tobias: No, there is no specific story or fairytale that has influenced any of my works, yet. I sometimes look at illustrations from the Middle Ages because I like the simple way figures and landscapes were painted during that time. But there is not a specific German writer that has influenced me. It’s more the music I’m listening to in my studio that comes into my work with a gloomy influence, but there is also light and humor in my paintings—it’s a little bit of both in almost all of my works.
C & P: Your subject matter consists of a mix of elements from both real and fantastical worlds and your painting style is also a mélange of the cartoonish, abstract, and representational. Many of your paintings depict natural settings, such as the woods or bodies of water, but these tend to be painted as dark, foreboding places, where aggressive animals such as wolves and bears lurk. These animals sometimes take on human qualities and exist alongside strange animal/human/robot hybrids as well as cartoonish human figures. Are these the scenes you imagine could be taking place deep in the woods after dark? Are they meant to be nightmarish versions of reality or surreal interpretations of impossible narratives? Or a bit of all these things?
Tobias: I feel comfortable with the idea that all this could be taking place in the dark woods or similar places. My first professor for painting in Leipzig, Sighard Gille, often told me that he thought that I was constantly working on a comic-nightmare-trip of my own life. I am not sure if that’s true, but I do like to use parts of my memory, for example, drawings I made as a child, or the interior of my parents house, as inspiration or a starting point for my work. Not all of those memories are totally happy but I am not trying to overcome something that happened to me in the past through my work. I’m not interested in confronting people with photos of my 9th birthday or something like that. Nobody wants to see these things. The most boring thing to use in a painting is a family album or found photos.
Tunker, 2011, oil on canvas, 220 x 280 cm. Photo: Andreas Wünschirs, Leipzig. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin.
C & P: Even though there are sinister undertones to some of your paintings they can also be very humorous. In the painting Tunker, for example, a giant green octopus has plucked a boat out of the sea and waves it angrily in the air. But because the octopus looks slightly cartoonish—being ridiculously oversized (larger than the mountains poking out of the landscape behind it), bright green, and possessing a robot brain—the scene does
not seem as dire for the tiny humans on board as it is ridiculous. How important is humor for you? Has humor always found its way into your work?
Tobias: That’s an interesting question because most of the people who look at my work for the first time think that a lot of what I’m doing is dark or even sad. My sense of humor is probably a little bit sarcastic. But, as I said, I never start with a special intention, like… today I will make a funny picture. I think it is important to use humor as a form because it helps not to take yourself too seriously as an artist. German artists like Werner Büttner or Albert Oehlen always have this humorous place in their work and are amazing painters as well. But if you are not a very famous artist it can be difficult to make a painting like Tunker. For some people it is hard to see it as a painting, because they think there is this guy just making a joke.
C & P: What is the inspiration behind your work? Are you influenced by German folklore? Any particular writers?
Tobias: When I gave up studying illustration I was a little bit fed up with the fact that I always had to read something before I was allowed to touch a brush or a pencil because we had to bring in some ideas for a story that was already there. But I am really interested in early German and European history. I mentioned the paintings of the Middle Ages. There are many ideas from stories and sagas that I’m trying to incorporate into my work. It is fascinating to see that this history is still present in chapels or shrines, for example in the Swiss Jura Mountains. I’m definitely influenced by such things. I like the dark aura in those works.
Der Letzte Versuch, 2012, oil on canvas, 190 x 240 cm. Photo: Andreas Wünschirs, Leipzig. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin.
C & P: What artists have been the biggest influences on you? Do you like Asger Jorn? Philip Guston? Do you feel a kinship with any artists commonly referred to as the New Leipzig School?
Tobias: I like Guston because he had many periods of experimentation before his work ended up in his famous, illustrative style. I saw a big retrospective show in London nine years ago. Just amazing. But I also like earlier painters like Corot or Courbet a lot…too many to mention. Of the so called “Leipzig School” I like the work of Christoph Ruckhäberle. He is working with painting but also in genres like drawing and printmaking. It’s always easy to recognize his work. I think that is a great thing to achieve for an artist and takes a lot of work to do so.
C & P: Does living in Leipzig influence your work? Are you influenced by the geography of Leipzig? What do you like most about living there? Least? Is it a city which is friendly to artists?
Tobias: When I came to Leipzig in early 2005 the huge hype over the Leipzig School painters was just occurring and everybody was talking about what a great opportunity to get a studio/place at the academy was. But it was difficult for the generation of painters who came after them. It was a fight amongst the students. Who gets the best studio and who is first to sell a work to famous collectors, who came to see the graduate shows. The situation was unreal. Fortunately that has changed a little bit but it took me some years to get used to all this because I had a different idea of working at an academy of visual arts. But the city itself is still a friendly place for artists. You’re able to afford a bright studio and you don’t have to go three hours by train to get your colors. I like that. That definitely has an impact on my work, because I simply get more time to be in the studio. Leipzig is the place to get focused on what you really want to do.
Bärenbahn, 2011, oil on canvas, 160 x 110 cm. Photo: Andreas Wünschirs, Leipzig. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin.
C & P: Describe your process of creating a picture. What are the different stages you go through before you feel a painting complete?
Tobias: It’s hard to define the moment when a picture is complete. There are many stages during the process of creating my work. I often start a painting by using only fingers or big brushes to create an uneven surface, which gives me the opportunity to react. I don’t like working with a plan. I try to let things happen by chance. Sometimes I also take a look in past sketchbooks to see if anything fits into the scene of the new picture.
C & P: Does most of your work grow out of observable reality or do you sometimes begin from an idea in the studio? Is the starting point for a composition or narrative usually taken from a sketch you’ve made of something or do you sometimes begin from other sources? For instance, do you ever begin a picture from a purely literary source or from researching or looking for inspiration online?
Tobias: No, I haven’t been using any material from the internet so far. It is still hard for me to work on one single topic but I am contemplating trying to do so in the future. Whatever this will be… I could definitely imagine getting some inspiration online, but on the other hand there is so much crap going on in the internet it sometimes is just a distraction. If you’d ask me now, I didn’t know what type of material I would pick. I think it’s an easy thing to do and a lot of artists like to deal with pictures they find online but at the moment I still find it more exciting to see a painting emerging from what I feel or what surrounds me.
Stiefel, 2013, pencil, crayon, and acrylic on paper, 23.0 x 33.1 cm. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin.
C & P: How do you choose which medium you will work in for a particular piece? How do you know one piece should be rendered with pencil and another oil? Is it a process of experimentation?
Tobias: I don’t feel a limit between those disciplines. At the moment I’m even trying to use pencils within the oil paintings.
C & P: I noticed that you often utilize crayon in your drawings. Have you always worked with crayon? Is there any particular reason that you use crayon? Do you like that this medium evokes memories of childhood?
Tobias: There is no particular reason for me to using crayon. It’s just a very pure form of working which I like very much. I understand that memories of childhood come to mind when you look at my work. But it’s not my ultimate intention to make my works look like drawings made by children.
Geweih, 2007, oil on canvas, 155 x 195 cm. Photo: Andreas Wünschirs, Leipzig. Collection of the Museum der Bildenden Künste Leipzig. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin.
C & P: Some of your works seem to be comprised of a build-up of scribbles, such as Geweih from 2007, also referencing a child-like technique. Is this scribbling somewhat controlled or do you hope for a happy accident and for certain forms to emerge with the accrual of marks on the paper?
Tobias: I think it is really a kind of searching for the happy accident. It is a special moment that is hard to describe. The paint on this particular painting is very heavy. I worked on it for six months, when I was preparing for my degree show in 2007. It was such a strange period in my life because I felt quite alone in Leipzig and had no idea how my work was going to look in the future. You can see this feeling of being insecure with almost everything. But in the end it happened to be a very good painting that I still like and that was sold to the Leipzig Museum of Fine Arts this year. At the moment I’m very much trying to get back to this way of painting because it gets a little bit away from this narrative style I have been working within over the last one or two years.
Untitled, 2008, oil on canvas, 50 x 60 cm. Private Collection, Weimar. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin
C & P: Your color palette is very diverse, some work is rendered in a brightly colored palette with pinks, greens, and yellows, while others are comprised solely of blacks, whites, and greys. How do you assign a palette to the scene or narrative you want to depict? Is it more dependent upon your own mood while working or on a built-in mood you want the picture to convey?
Tobias: I wouldn’t say that the pictures that come to surface have something to do with the mood I’m in when I paint them. I often carry an enthusiastic feeling into my work and it just ends up in a total mess with me being really doubtful whether I should go on with the picture I started in the morning. That might be the reason for most of my works looking a little bit dirty. When I don’t have any idea how to go on I just love to take a very big brush and destroy everything I worked on for days. This can be a relief or the birth of an idea for a completely new work, which I never could have imagined before. I think the mood changes more frequently during the working process than it does before entering the studio.
Burgund, 2011, oil on canvas, 190.5 x 242 cm. Photo: Andreas Wünschirs, Leipzig. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin
C & P: You went to undergraduate college for illustration and then switched to fine art later, what brought about this desire to change focus?
Tobias: I spent almost one year in London in 2004 with an exchange program between my school in Essen and a college in South London. The first day at this college was totally disappointing because they were just offering lessons like “broadcasting” or “fashion design”. I didn’t have a studio so I came up with the idea of creating a visual diary with one drawing a day. On most days I would hop on a random bus and get off the bus when I came across what looked like an interesting area to work. I happened to see some dark areas of London, but it was a fantastic time, because I ended up with 300 drawings in my bag, which I used to apply at the academy in Leipzig. I was quite nervous, when I first met the professor and hoped that I might get a chance to spent half a year in Leipzig, but after some minutes he wanted me to be in his class, which was just a beautiful ending of this diary I started in London. I’m still grateful, that he took this quick decision that gave me the chance to be here and learn so much about what it means to be a painter. From that point on he appeared once a week in my studio and told me things like: “Why do you always use black. Try to change it with a color, maybe green”! It’s simple, but that’s the support I needed.
Trommler, 2008, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emmanuel Post, Berlin
C & P: Have you shown your work in Germany or abroad?
Tobias: I haven’t been showing with any galleries in the United States. That’s something I’d like to do in the future. I had several exhibitions in Germany and the Netherlands and it would be good to go one step ahead. I think my work has changed a lot over the years and it is still evolving. I hope that more and more people become interested in what I’m doing now and what I will be working on in the near future.
C & P: What are you working on currently? Any future plans?
Tobias: I’m currently working on black and white drawings that nobody has seen yet. As I said, I want to go back to a form of abstract painting. But I’m not totally sure what this is going to be. I think I will keep on working on all this stuff for the next half year or so and start with new paintings based on the new drawings.