In my final year at secondary school, we were given the task of writing an essay on a topic of our choice. Of course, I chose art, and from that, decided to look into what exactly makes art 'art'. I found an artist who I thought would be really interesting to look into. André Butzer. To me, André Butzer's work basically looks like a mix between Walt Disney, Edvard Munch and Ralph Steadman in a blender. His work is crazy, it takes expressionism to a new level. All the demonic faces, the tauntingly smiley cartoon characters, all staring straight at the viewer, surrounded by smears of paint, when I first looked at his work, I honestly just went 'are you serious?' The thing I couldn't figure out was; André Butzer was a rising name in the contemporary art scene, receiving worldwide acclaim and exhibiting internationally, selling his works for thousands, but all I could see was blotches of paint and badly drawn nightmares. It was only when I looked into the work, the meanings behind it, as I was doing my research, that I really began to understand his work, actually get something from it.
Amazingly, after I had settled on doing my essay on André Butzer, I found that he was in fact having an exhibition just a month later in Dubai where I was living at the time! I rang up the gallery and asked if I could have an interview, of course expecting them to say no, and amazingly they said they'd be happy to spare some time for me! It was mad to meet a world-renowned artist, and below is the interview I had with him. He's such an interesting person. I've heard a lot of negative feedback for his work, and I was a skeptic at first also, but since looking into his work and the artist, I'm a huge fan now, and I honestly don't believe that anyone could just do that. Believe me, you don't get into the Saatchi Gallery for throwing paint at a canvas.
Interview with André Butzer by Killian Fallon
Killian Fallon: Upon first viewing your work, my initial reaction to it was that the work was done by a child and that anyone could do it by splashing paint on a canvas. How does that make you feel? What’s your reaction or response to that?
André Butzer: I think it’s totally alright if you react like that. Maybe in a second moment, you start being irritated about yourself reacting like that. But in general I have nothing against it.
KF: When did you first realise that you wanted to be an artist?
AB: When I left school. I was, like, nineteen years old, and I worked as a civil servant, you know what that is? But not military. When there was still the law that everybody has to go to the military after school and instead you can do something working in a hospital so I worked in a hospital in Hamburg and went to the museum and saw the Peggy Guggenheim collection and then I thought ‘that’s my job, to continue with this thing’.
KF: And so how did you begin creating art?
AB: I saw some painters that I liked and I tried to copy them. Not copy them, but imitate. That’s how I started by. But immediately I thought; perhaps the most interesting part for me would be combining things that weren’t done before, like the history of painting and the history of mass-media and mass-murder. So I started doing it this.
KF: So you have your gallery opening today. How are you feeling? What are your thoughts coming up to something like that?
AB: Well, I’m a bit used to these kind of things, you know? I do a lot of shows every year so I’m happy, I’m always looking forward to seeing people come and look at it. But in the end, it doesn’t change anything. And then I go home again.
KF: And then is it just like normal again?
AB: And then I go on, feeding my family and painting on and on.
KF: So when you create art, what do you want it to say, or what do you want are you trying to evoke in a person? What’s the message you’re trying to present?
AB: There’s no message in a way you could speak it out or write it down. Art is not a translation of a message, it’s not a communicative form. Art is, in most cases, about non-communication. It’s about itself, about it’s history and about it’s past and future. So, in general, I would love to see people react as if they have just been to a cemetary (laughs). You know, there’s a famous quote from someone who came back from a Paul Cezanne show in France in 1905 and he said he looked at the works, he went back out into civilization again, he went home and he thought it was like being in a cemetery and looking at someone’s grave. Which is not anything negative.
KF: When you decide ‘I want to create a painting’, what are you thinking as your creating it? I know there’s a lot of artists who go into a sort of autopilot where they aren’t thinking, they’re just in a mindset. But are you thinking through ‘now I’m going to colour this orange and now I’m going to colour this’
AB: Yes. I am thinking about a lot of things but also about the actual things I have to do in the same time. But the most, obviously the most interesting moments during actually making art are those where you don’t think or don’t understand anything. It has to be something else than just something that is practically possible. Because Art is something that you can’t do. You cannot do art. This is the principle of art. Art is not something you are able to do. If you would be able to make it, it’s not art, you know? Anything you can do is what you see outside and whatever. But, so, thinking about art is something that can be very different and it has the same problems like speaking about it. I’m more interested in these monolithic aspects, you know? I’m trying to be as monolithic as possible … for the future.
KF: So what do you mean by that? Monolithic?
AB: When you’re young and you start doing it, you do a lot of things so when you have your first ten years behind you, you develop things and you go abstract which is a very normal tendency, because all art is about abstraction. Even if you see something or whatever it doesn’t mean anything, it’s abstract in itself. So I think my goal is to become as monolithic as possible which is the opposite principle of pluralist. You know? I hate pluralism.
KF: How do you choose what to paint about? Or the subject of your paintings or your pieces?
AB: You know, I don’t choose anymore at all. It has to do with this monolithic tendency. But when I was young I symbolically chose topics to paint. But, in the same time, knowing that there is no choice because the motive or subject or painting is painting itself, the rest is not interesting, the rest is illustration, you know? So, I started and I chose topics that I thought are, in a good way, mis-usable for painting purposes. So I painted topics from national socialism and history of the United States and the history of Industrialization. Substantial topics that were mis-used, I think.
KF: In your opinion, what is good art?
AB: I would say that all art is good, and art is not made for criticism. Art is not critical at all, by itself. So, bad art would be critical art.
KF: Ok so who’s your favourite artist?
AB: My favourite artist is Titian.
KF: This exhibition. Do you have a name for it?
AB: No, most of my exhibitions in galleries, in commercial gallery spaces are, most of the time, untitled. Only if I need to say something beyond, I try. I had more titles when I was younger, but you’re running out of titles. So I ran out of title and I’m happy to see only my name connected with it and not something poetically added to stuff, you don’t want to say anything to it.
KF: Were you always interested in art, even from a small child were you interested in art or was it something that grew on you?
AB: No, when I was in my teens, maybe I started doing funny things with friends. Like happenings or music, experimental music, things like that, in Germany. So, this was a bit like a starting atmosphere for it but I didn’t know this was something that would make me follow Titian later. It was just what it was and it was good and we made a lot of trouble and in time, I went on with that kind of stuff and then it became my profession and I made a lot of money.
KF: So when did someone first say to you; wow, you’re a really good artist or I really like your work. When did someone say to you will you exhibit in our gallery or…
AB: I think this was like in the mid- or late-nineties, when I was, like 24, 25. This was the moment and also I knew a famous painter in Germany who was my first collector. He’s an abstract painter called Albert Oehlen. He’s quite famous, not here, but he said to me ‘everything you touch will be gold’. So I trusted him, and he was right. (laughs) But, it was good. I was happy to have him. It’s good to have someone in the very beginning who says ‘hey go on, there’s something going on here with this and that and I’ll pay you some money’. This helped me. I will never forget.
KF: Behind this exhibition, what were your influences or what were your inspirations?
AB: This exhibition, you know, it came when the gallerists came to Europe and asked my Dieline Berlin if I could show here, so there was an offer coming from here towards me and I said yes, let’s do it, why not. So, if you go to a region or a country for the first time you want to introduce yourself in a very polite way so I tried, we tried, combining some works that are worth showing for people to see for the first time. In the first moment, I thought I’d make a new complex, a new body of work for the show. A very complex set of new pieces, but this would have helped, maybe, no one. So now we tried to make a open, like a very little retrospective if you want so that you can understand what happened in the last years so that was the thing. But most of the works are still quite new, at the same time. The figurative ones that stand more for my earlier works, they are very late figures of those figures, you know, very late, one of the latest. And then there are some others that go well together.
KF: How did your style evolve? Your style of painting?
AB: I wouldn’t say that I have a style because people think in their first moment ‘this looks like a style’.
KF: I think it’s just it seems that, when you first look at the paintings, you can see the characters and you can see the colours and the brushstrokes and things but if you look at these, they’re done with a plain background with very thick colouring and I’m just wondering what prompts you to make those decisions.
AB: The thing was that I started with those, more or less, very apocalyptic, cartoonish things like, we called it sci-fi expressionism. A totally fucked up declining humans cartoon. And from this, I morphed more into bright, futuristic, see-reality abstraction. This took me a lot of time, you can’t do things by decision, it evolves out of the stuff itself. It’s not done with ideas, or with concepts, it’s a stuff thing, that means colour is a stuff itself, evolves slowly and tries to deliberate itself within the medium. So the consequence is the latest work. You don’t see any cartoonish figures anymore but you can feel that they were inside before, you see? Because those pieces would be stupid and informalist and boring and comparable if they wouldn’t have evolved from something much more complex. This is something I believe in, I mean, I try.
KF: Well, that’s all the questions I have, is there anything you would like me to know? Because I’m going to be writing an essay about you and your art, I’m just wondering…
AB: You must send it to me to publish. I’m publishing a magazine together with friends. We have like an art magazine.
AB: No, this was earlier, the new thing is called Maise (clarify). Like, it’s a bird name, a singing bird name. And ever year we’re publishing a very good, a very cool, and I’m willing to print whatever you write, there’s no censorship.
KF: Well I will, and I’ll send it to you if I get your email. Is there anything that you want us to know or anything you want to say, I mean, because, people are going to hear what you believe in. Is there anything you’d like to say?
AB: Anything I’d like to say? Ok. What I want to say for the future is, maybe, although I’m obviously a painter, my art is not always optical and visible, you know? There’s something beyond the optical event, so my future is trying to focus more on the invisible part of it. This might be a nice ending to your text that you can announce something that will go beyond, which is, I mean, visual is art is, obviously, about seeing, so I’m trying not to escape this aspect, but seeing is not enough. This would be something that I’m just thinking of every day.