Alexa Hennig von Lange: Your series L´invitation au voyage (1999–2001) is painted with great tenderness.
Antje Majewski: That’s because the paintings are all about love and friendship and relationships between people. More precisely they’re about three different types of love. In the first part people openly face each other, they start conversations, they look at each other and try and find out who the other person is. The second part consists of a single painting, Lovely (2000) of an attractive young man squatting squatting inside a cube made of mirrors, staring at you.
AhvL: Lovely is sort of disturbing.
AhvL: He’s somehow fake.
AM: His hair is a wig.
AhvL: No way!
AM: The third part of the series is even more fantastic. The Masks are very powerful and wild creations that freak out inside you, maybe take you on a ride. It has something to do with physical love, even though that isn’t visible because the figures are masked and clothed from head to toe.
AhvL: Do you have some kind of story in mind when you think up and paint your pictures?
AM: No. The moment shown is all there is.
AhvL: How do you arrive at your images?
AM: I had an image of Lovely in my head exactly as it now is. Luckily the perfect model came along – except for his hair. I raced out and bought a wig and built this mirror cube, and finally I was amazed how well the end result matched what I had imagined. The mask paintings were different. My original idea was much darker: blustering wind, black clothing, a wild storm, like Alfred Kubin’s illustration to Edgar Allen Poe’s King Pest (1911). At the same time I would want to paint really tenderly like Bonnard. That’s why I gave the masked figures colourful clothing. I wanted pattern and wildness as well as something of Watteau’s harlequins. Sometimes I carry an idea around in me for a long time.
AhvL: What’s so interesting about the themes of love and friendship for you?
AM: I find it interesting that everyone finds it interesting. What is the point if art can’t describe the most important things in life? It would be boring for me to make art that only describes art.
AhvL: So love and friendship are the unifying themes in L´invitation au voyage.
AM: Perhaps my paintings are more about love and desire.
AhvL: But in your paintings living out love and desire seems only possible in remote, detached places.
AM: Paintings are static. It’s an interesting question why I don’t make films even though my paintings are full of movement. But a painting is something else; it stands like a point in time. It has no extension on a linear time path. Whatever time you spend in front of it is time in which things happen inside your imagination, not in the actual painting.
AhvL: Your paintings and figures entrance the viewer, they keep coming back with a message. Is this something you’re conscious of, and intend?
AM: You mean how my figures affect others?
AhvL: That they are dreamlike beings. Even though they go picnicking and watch television like us.
AM: It’s not about creating a fantastic world; it’s about something very real, the description of something very known, which on the other hand is very difficult to grasp.
AhvL: Your paintings say: I’m not dependent on whether or not you look at me; I will also continue on when you aren’t there. Your figures have an independence that I find very impressive. What is the secret?
AM: The secret is simple – it’s because they’re painted.
AhvL: But that would be the same with any stick figure /scribbled figure: after it’s painted, the stick figure doesn’t care about me.
AM: No, no, that’s not what I mean. I mean that they’re painted in such a way that you identify them as real people; you develop a relationship with them. Despite this they’ll never be able to answer you or move even one centimetre closer to you, they can’t turn to you, they don’t really exist, it’s only paint on canvas. That’s the strange part of the story. It’s a bit like in dreams, don’t you think?
AhvL: Yes, absolutely!
AM: Yes? These figures, the paintings, exist independently of you, but despite this it’s as if you dreamed them up, it’s as if you produced them. Actually I did produce them and now they are here. And they don’t disappear again so easily. That’s the weird bit. You can leave them in an exhibition and someone else comes in and sees the paintings, and they come alive again in that other person’s head. When you look at the Titian painting of Bacchus and Ariadne (1522/23), your imagination is building up a dreamlike sequence that deals with the same elements that were alive inside the brain of someone looking at it some 500 years ago. As in a dream events don’t follow each other logically, and they might have double meanings.
The crazy part is that between then and now there have been so many people, and there are so very many people now. My paintings capture an odd kind of sadness that comes from the realisation that an individual is nothing, and at the same time everything.
AhvL: Should the viewer be reminded of something? An act of tenderness, originality? Life?
AM: It’s important to me that they don’t just depict love. I have to love my paintings too, and when everything works well that gets transferred to the viewer.
AhvL: How would you describe your places?
AM: With me there’s always a lot of ‘undergrowth’. I don’t know why. Twigs and brushwood. As a child I ran in the forest all the time. There’s always a lot of forest with me.
AhvL: And where are these places?
AM: In the interior.
AhvL: Go on a bit, it´s interesting.
AM: Haven’t you already enough?
AM: They’re places that I’m familiar with from childhood that are made up of many different experiences brought together. How one fought through branches, but also built caves from them – places where you could be alone with yourself. At the same time you’d be scared because you wouldn’t know what might come your way. Parents were a long way off, and so was home. I didn’t realise that I paint so much undergrowth. I only notice it later: Oh god, I’ve loaded myself up with a bundle of twigs again.
Translated by Dominic Eichler
In: Modern Painters, Winter 2002, p. 94-97