Matthias Esch is currently pursuing a Masters at the Glasgow School of Art, and chats with me about how his work has transitioned styles since his move there from Berlin. More at the links below!
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I was born 1988 in Andernach, Germany (the origin of Charles Bukowski), but grew up in a small village 150km away from Cologne. For three years I made wine as an apprentice, before I moved to Berlin, where I started to paint and decided to study art. After time in Kassel and Antwerp, I finished my Masters in Berlin in 2016. Recently I started a postgraduate program at the Glasgow School of Art, a “Master of Letters”. I enjoy being here and work is progressing.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
That is a tricky question, just recently I had to thought about it for another interview (Horst & Edeltraut Magazine): It took a while until I got in contact with what you usually consider art. I always loved literature, but I only started looking and searching consciously for art after arriving in Berlin. After seeing the first exhibitions of contemporary art, I was surprised and happy about the endless possibilities you have in creative praxis, and it certainly helped visiting a friend at an art university, realizing the freedom the students had. Then after I actually started painting there was no turning back — this must have been 11 years ago now!
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
Basically I am concerned with the human condition of “distance”, or “the gap.”
I feel it is present everywhere, there is a gap in apperception, in the mirror stage by Lacan, between the it and the self, and even if you are absolutely in love, you can never merge with that other person.
Words are an easy cover-up for this, they slip between us and the world, we use them to organize everything and it helps to filter our perception.
So I am try to create free floating signifiers for this condition. Actually, it started from an interest about the relation between images and words, how they cannot merge or how a title can change our perception, and therefore basically changing the image. If you see language as a system in which we are, and from which we cannot escape, it is not far to think about systems in general. Structures in which we move, patterns in our surroundings, and in our behaviour.
Then there is painting as a visual language, which might be a positive manifestation of the gap: it is solid but fluid, always open for different interpretations.
While I am interested in theoretical aspects like semantics, I am also very keen to the idea that by looking at my art you can look inside me as well. There is always a personal aspect to the work; through gesture, colour and the choice and development of the motive in general I inscribe my emotional subject into the art.
What is your process like?
Ideas can come from anywhere, lately I am highly interested in geometrical floor patterns in Italian churches, but there are so many lovely things, books, movies, and other art that can spark a starting point.
I walk around and absorb things, sometimes I make small scribblings in my notebook, forget them and at some point, they might be something for a painting.
Between painting sessions I prepare my stretchers by planing the edges, making them more sharp. And I use oil-primed linen, a material I am absolutely in love with!
Once a year I have a period where I make many small watercolour paintings, but besides them or the small scribblings, I draw and paint directly on the painting surface so there are not that many preparations necessary.
Then one thing leads to another, there are mistakes, repetition and failure. Sometimes I leave paintings alone for a while, or they have to be destroyed or modified. Thats a big part of my process I guess, repetition, continuation and destruction.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
Someone said to me: “Stick to your friends. Help each other.”
That seems to be a useful advice in the foggy contemporary art world and in capitalism in general.
What is your studio like?
Right now I’d rather call it a little box. But it is alright, I can deal with it.
Though lately I realized how I miss my old studio in Berlin, where I had another room to withdraw, with a small mattress, a small library, and cooking facilities. In that studio I also could work on large scale paintings, several at a time. I’d love to do two sizes again, overwhelmingly big images, and the intimate work I am doing now… But I´ll go back there in September, so we will see.
But I also have to apply for a funded studio in which you can work and live at the same time. The studio and housing situation in Berlin got way worse the last few years, and the funded ones are the last good opportunities that are out there.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
Of course, there are times when creating is more difficult, but actually I don’t bother with that too much. I go to the studio every day anyway, and something will come out of it at some point.
Right now I am privileged to receive financial support, so I don’t have to worry about food and rent every day, and can concentrate fully on my work. Because money is usually a big issue of course.
Maybe it is fitting to change a Luc Tuymans quote slightly and say, “Art is not difficult, life is.”
Besides the existential angst you can have, it is incredible how much time is needed in being social, talking to people, or writing against the endless amount of negative notifications for awards and scholarships. This is challenging indeed.
What are three words you would use to describe your work?
Signifying object-based abstraction. (Haha ok four words then.)
What are you working on right now?
A while ago I limited my paintings to two different scales, 40×30 and 140x80cm.
This semi-industrial style helps to realize a broad “family” of paintings that can interact with each other. There are several sub groups, “surrounding structure,” “system structure,” “empty symbols,” “signifiers” and “symbol structures.”
This way I hope to avoid a more linear sequence, one after the other, but instead create combinations and open but powerful interaction. Maybe I can pair paintings into loose duos even though there are several different formalistic methods.
Right now my paintings are much pattern based, so I want to introduce more monochrome works, and I am still fighting with a direct approach on emptied mandala symbols, they are really difficult to make somehow. The Master Degree show at the Glasgow School of Art will be around August, and in September I will participate in two group shows in Germany. And strangely enough I was asked by two parties to work as a tutor for two short time painting workshops, a new and unexpected but certainly interesting task!