Interview with Dorothea Breick by Dr. Madder Brown // September 2017
MB: In 1987 you started the investigation of how illusion occurs on a tv screen. At that time you were using a video camera and started copying video stills in a photo-realistic manner in oil on canvas. You imitated this electronic way of generating images, right?
DB.: Yes, I was overwhelmed by the rapid change of my field of vision and needed skilful means to record it. I also needed to slow it down or put it on hold. It was imperative to revive the experience in my studio, because my painting skills were too slow to keep up with the momentary change of what I was experiencing. It was a very frustrating time.
MB.: Many painters use photography…
DB.: I did not want to use photography, as this was just a cut through reality, a too frozen version. I wanted to record the sequence of vanishing moments, the constant change of what I perceived, the flow of it.
MB.: You say in a statement related to your tv paintings, that this was a way of discarding self deception, what does this mean?
DB.: Well, looking back at my activity as an artist, I realize I have always been contemplating reality, trying to understand how my perception works and making this process open for others – like being aware of what and how I see and then sharing it, by expressing it.
We are constantly deceiving ourselves, because we think that what we see it is.
Yet painting is a process for arriving at a transconceptual way of perceiving, destroying the labelling. Then mere seeing can happen without judging, so it becomes a pure experience.
MB.: And this paradigm has not changed since?
DB.: yes, that ́s right. In that sense I am so grateful to my first art teacher, Norbert Tadeusz. It was he, who really opened my eyes to the beauty within everything: a straw on the floor, a cornfield, even cables on a red carpet, and of course the naked body. For twenty-four hours a day he was merely seeing, very aware and awake, a great artist. I owe him a lot.
MB: So what would you say has changed since?
DB: In 1992 I had finished the huge garden paintings based on a series of video stills and I felt disconnected to direct experience and direct perceiving, because of always being behind a camera. It got lifeless and boring to not
witness the field of vision directly.
This is when I started sitting in the grass next to the highway between Düsseldorf and Cologne, making drawings and watercolours, which then became a series of landscape paintings. Later in 1991 I made a series of large s water colours of a building site in Düsseldorf, Kölnerstrasse 170, and then of the Rhine Ferry.
MB: Which you then translated into huge blow ups in oil on canvas. You used the photorealistic method of your second teacher Gerhard Richter, by copying your sketches one to one.
DB: Yes, it was a trick and it worked for a while. But the exciting part was more and more the direct notation in front of the scene.
The work in the studio was like a copy of the original.
MB: Was it a testimony of failure?
DB: Yes, as Dr. Raimund Stecker put it in his text in the catalogue of Kunstverein Rheinland und Westfalen 1998, ‚…the willingness to fail…‘
MB: Though beautiful testimonies occurred, like the huge painting, ‚Berg‘ in 1999 and ‚Ali‘ in 2000.
DB: Yes. At the same time I was noting down inwardly seeing moments in pencil drawings. These were more related to emotional states and deep feelings like love, desire, aggression, jealousy, despair, excitement, fear…
MB: Like the Penthiselea cycle and the drawings that were exhibited for the first time 1999 in Folkwang museum, right?
DB: Yes. I could focus only for three minutes undistracted, being aware of an inner state and express that image in a rapid sketch. I had to hide the results and protect them from my judgemental mind, as I felt ashamed and never wanted to publish them. They were so personal and intimate. Only because an artist friend valued them highly and encouraged me to share them, they were seen for the first time in Paris in Galerie Nelson together with a wonderful piece by Reinhard Mucha, called ‚Bochum‘.
MB: They were based on theatre plays like Penthesilea by Heinrich von Kleist and Woyczeck, Leonce and Lena by Georg Büchner?
DB: Yes, I was reading a lot to process my feelings, mainly Greek classical drama like Antigone, Phaedra, any beautiful and deep writing, like A gentle Spirit by Dostoyevski…
But then more and more I started to note down my ordinary everyday experiences, like housecleaning, social activity and other very personal stuff (laughing) – almost like a diary…
MB: When did you start painting directly with oil on canvas in front of the object?
DB.: In 1984 during my first year in the Akademie der Bildendenden Künste, Düsseldorf. I painted four small garden scenes by directly observing the light and shadow of a tiny corner courtyard garden in Düsseldorf Lindemannstrasse.
In 1997 I started giving painting classes in my studio, mainly to non- professionals and young people who wanted to apply for art school and needed to prepare a portfolio. Their innocence was remarkable and they picked up very quickly what I conveyed about direct seeing.
A young artist called Aga made a self portait under my guidance and it was so stunning. I realised that I asked her to do what I would love to do myself but was afraid of doing it. Then this talented young artist passed away unexpectedly. Completely untimely. That shock urged me to do it myself and I humbly started joining my students in painting directly what I see.
MB: In 2003 you were still using a prepared canvas so you could use oil colour almost like a drawing, right?
DB: Yes, that was another trick to escape the empty canvas and to overcome the urge to fill the white canvas completely with colour. It was only satisfying for a while. Some nice results occurred though.
MB: So you started your project ‚Eins zu eins, eine Dialogpartnerschaft‘, right?
DB: Yes, I wanted to paint people, faces, human beings, not always still life. And I needed money to survive. I could not afford a model and I still was very slow and could not finish a painting in one session, so what to do?
I needed to transform this limitation into an advantage. First I mainly asked friends and family to commission a painting and sit for me and pay in stages. That was the solution: back to the seventeenth century, Velazquez painting ‚las Meninas‘ for the Spanish court. I just needed to invent the court (laughing).
MB: You were quite successful with that approach –
portraits like ‚Charlotte‘ and ‚Caspar‘ manifested. Wonderful.
DB.: Yes, I was very happy. Eventually I did what I always wanted to do. I started to paint faster and my attention span expanded to one and a half hours of not conceptualising, but mere seeing.
MB: This was when the first flower paintings emerged?
DB: Yes, mainly flowers, views from my window, and faces…all very unpopular, ordinary objects. Hardly anyone except non-professionals worked like me. I did find out later that David Hockney used a similar approach to mine.
MB: No landscape at that stage?
DB: No. I needed the static atmosphere and constant neon lights of my studio. I still needed a few sessions to finish a painting. I was not yet ready to confront momentary change outdoors.
MB: This only happened in France then after 2011, documented in this booklet.
DB: Yes, during the Three Year Retreat, between 2006 and 2009 I could only use watercolour and pencil on paper. Then after 2011, I had all my tools for oil on canvas and a wheelbarrow to transport my equipement to the envisioned spot. So I sat in the fields, where I felt like the most happy being on earth – one with the elements, the vast space and impermanence…
MB: Later you also used a car as a mobile studio?
DB: Yes, because on the Plateau du Larzac the winds are strong and things fly away the moment you have installed yourself with all your equipement. There are paintings for which I would have needed four arms: to hold the painting, the parasol, the brush and the palette.
MB: So in the car you are more protected?
DB: Yes, but what is most enjoyable is to be directly out there under the sky with the humming insects – biting you (laughing).