Conversation between Kristian Laudrup, Moa Alskog and Cecilie Skov. The 19th of October on Skype in the lead-up to the fourth exhibition of five in the series 'Sig mig, at tingene taler'.
Kristian Laudrup graduated in 2013 from Städelschule in Frankfurt. Lives and works in New York. http://www.kristianlaudrup.com/
K: I made the paintings for the exhibition this spring. I was inspired by an internet phenomenon, a fashion thing. I've worked with surface, collage and then these eyelashes.
M: Can you tell us a little bit about your process?
K: Sometimes the inspiration comes suddenly and I have a period where I work intensively. Then there are long periods where I just think and collect impressions. The day before yesterday I went to see Jörg Immendorff. There is a show with him at Michael Werner (ed. New York) with his Café Deutschland paintings, they're from late 70s and 80s. That was quite inspiring. I never really liked Immendorff, but still it was good to see.
C: You work with painting, but at the same time you say that you can't paint.
K: I know how to paint and I work with paintings, but I don't have... it's a sore subject.
C: Has it to do with your technical skills?
K: Yes, I think so.
M: I've had experiences in studio-crits where people who paint don't want to be labeled as painters. I'm not sure why, but I think it has to do with the long history of painting - perhaps it's a way of avoiding the subject.
K: I like having that label. For me it is very motivating to work with all these references. It's not a hindering, there's still so much I don't know about.
C: You name references as Picabia, Pastel Goth and Japanese Shiro-nuri (ed. Japanese fashion subculture). Do you decide on a frame of references before starting a new series of paintings?
K: I think it works the other way around. I think I just begin on something. I don't have a project in that way. Things just happen based on the knowledge I have on painting and other things. It happens while working and afterwards. Often when I work I reflect on previous things I've done. The energy has to be charged... it's due to all kinds of practical matters too, if I have a studio and the materials, or I might be too lazy. Sometimes I also have a need to see a lot of shows to be inspired.
What I read and the interests I have I try to keep for myself. It's not important for the viewer to know my references but I still hope that it adds something to the paintings. I wouldn't like to point in a specific direction. I want the work to be open. For example if I have to write a text for a show I usually write something that's parallel or in relation to what's shown instead of explaining it. I don't like the formulation "this exhibition is about..."
M: So you want the objects to talk for themselves?
K: Yes, in a way. They have to have their own voice. They shouldn't be defined by the artist, they should stay open for those who view them. It might be a romantic idea though, maybe it doesn't work like this. I'm thinking that there's a lot of art and if everything was open, then there's a risk of the meaning disappearing - like some thing at a flea market.
C: I'm wondering about your position in relation to all these references you've chosen. Your interest with Pastel Goth and Shiro-nuri. It's an interest, but you're not part of it yourself. There is a distance between you and that?
K: It's nothing I feel for. I guess there is this idea, that you should "feel" for the references that you use, I don't do that. I'm passive. I'm just observing - it's a quick reference. For me it just works as a motivation to make these paintings. They're catalysts.
M: So, when you research you only look at images of the phenomena you're interested in?
K: Yes, I don't go into the depth. It's superficial and it's about myself; what can I use from all this?
C: So, it's more about style and attitude rather than content?
K: I don't necessarily care about the background, the important thing is that it motivates me.
M: Is there a risk of your projects becoming acts of cultural-appropriation or even exoticization?
I mean you use the aesthetics from a subculture you know nothing about, apart from it's exterior attributes, nor feel anything for. There has just been a discussion in social media in relation to Taylor Swift's video 'Shake it off', where she uses twerking black women as background dancers. She was accused of misappropriating african-american culture and fetishising the black female body. Do you run the same risk when using these young Japanese girls' culture as inspiration for your paintings? Have you any thoughts about that?
K: No, I haven't, but I think this is different, Pastel Goth and Shiro-nuri are very global aesthetics. They're not closed about a certain nationality, there're metropolitan things. Okay, it's exotic for me, coming from the West, to be interested in Japanese culture. But again, that can be a reference in itself to Whistler and a crowd from the late 1800 that also was interested in Japanese art.There are some references to Whistler in relation to the gestures I use but I don't allow it to be obvious in that way. I guess there may be some issues in relation to hierarchies, or different forms of theoretical reading of artworks in general. There certainly is, but I don't work in that way.
M: Your paintings and drawings are mainly portraits of women, which is part of a long tradition within painting.
K: I'm aware of the male artist, that uses the woman as a muse. It's certainly gonna be there in the exhibition, the male gaze, I mean, my gaze.
C: Is it the same woman?
K: No. I had a problem with what I should name them, I wanted to call them 'girl', but I think that's a bit flat. I see them as 'girls' with these false eyelashes, very feminine. It sounds a bit harsh: girl 1, girl 2, girl 3. I don't know if I wanna go that way. Possibly, but I don't think I'll give them numbers.
M: Why not giving them numbers?
K: I think that's too much.
C: What about names?
K: It's like giving dogs human's names. It doesn't always work.
C: So, there are names for humans, names for animals and names for portrait paintings!?
M: What about the title to the exhibition "Jeg voksede op med rabarber" ("I grew up with rhubarbs") You also had another one: "Your jokes hurt"?
K: The last one is a quote I found on a Pastel Goth tumblr blog. I felt it became too much a topic for the exhibition. It's too vulnerable, the black and the feminine, the pastels, the delicate textiles and the white make-up. It's coming from a teenage world. I don't want to thematize or point at it. "Jeg voksede op med rabarber" is the title of one of the paintings I exhibit. It has a snakeskin pattern, yellow and earth coloured, a man rests his head on a table in front of his hands.
C: What are you thinking about the abstract painting. David Geers refers to it in his essay "Neo-Modernism", that there seems to be a return of Modernist aesthetics today.
K: I think it's a wave. For me it started with Sergej Jensen, he opened up for a movement in Europe. He started making textile things. He was part of an exhibition in 2006 curated by Kasper König, it was titled New-Formalism (Formalismus, 2004, Kunstverein Hamburg).
C: Why did you find him interesting?
K: He opened up the possibility of working with the surface of the painting. Suddenly we were somehow allowed to work in that way. And now it's a wave, eg. Jacob Kassay that dips his paintings in silver. They do it and they are permitted to do it. It's popular. But it'll disappear, there is no background knowledge. It's empty, it's not grounded in anything reasonable.
M: Do you think it's the time that we're in? That we become retrospective in times of insecurity. Like in 1920s, when there also was an economic crisis and they looked back on antique aesthetics, do you think the political climate has had a similar effect on artists working today?
K: I think the market is quite dominating. We went to Frick Collection to see El Greco, the exhibition was two paintings. It was very strong. One of them was an El Greco painting, and the other was an Italian painting by Pulzone (ed. Scipione Pulzone). It was very exciting. It was about El Grecos method of becoming successful. What tricks he used to find patronage and to be part of the art marked.
C: We all fell in love with Pulzone.
K: There's also gonna be some drawings in the exhibition.
C: and a star painting?
K: That painting is a direct reference to Whistler.
K: That might be because I recently bought a book about his career seen from a market perspective. It's about his art, his success and what went wrong and also about the art market during the late 1800. He was a talented painter and engraver.
M: What was the market like back then?
K: Whistler planned a lot and was very cunning. He painted in specific ways to ensure he would be shown in specific places. And he tried making scandals in the Parisian art salons, to strengthen his image. Extremely calculating, a bit like El Greco in 1500. It's interesting seen from a professional perspective. It's so much about micro-politics and social relations, much more than you think... It's not because I look at him as an ideal. Not at all! It's just interesting. The guy who wrote the book (ed. Grischka Petri - Arrangements in Business: The Art Markets and the Career of James McNeil Whistler) is very inspired by Pierre Bourdieu, it is not only a reference to Whistler, it can be seen in a broader perspective.
M: Do you think about the market when you make your art?
K: I do. I'm not in a gallery nor really on the market. But I'm aware of its being there.