Profession as an artist I 2/4: Studies

When and what did you study?

I started studying art and social sciences for the teaching profession at the University of Siegen when I was 22. Means so much that in social sciences you study sociology, politics and economics. In the art in comparison one studies on the one hand practical art, art history, art science and art didactics. In addition, for a teaching degree, you also study philosophy, education, politics and didactics.

How did it go on for you after the Abitur/studies?

The application phase is a very interesting topic. After the Abitur I did about three months, a trip through Europe, as many do. Then I went into the civilian service and started drawing intensively. When it came to the exam in Aachen, I plowed and painted a lot. I was able to generate some of the material from what I already had. I drew a lot at a friend's house in Krefeld, and also during the ski vacation. Unfortunately I couldn't use much of the material from school, because it had too much to do with didactic learning. I also try to prepare a lot of interns for their portfolio collection and as far as being an artist is concerned. It has a lot to do with luck and talent. An acquaintance at the time ignored all the guidelines that were relevant to the portfolio. He sat down in a meadow for a weekend and drew cows. That got him accepted. If you're good, you can afford it.

At that time, Kodak announced a sponsorship award for photography, and I applied for the Kodak Young Talent Sponsorship Award with the topic of my state thesis. In fact, I got this prize. As a result, I had contact with the Professional Division of Kodak in Germany. Actually, I had reason enough to be happy about it, but my girlfriend at that time broke up with me after the trip to Germany. A good acquaintance at Kodak named Ulla called me shortly after and told me about the festival in Arles: The "Big Boss" of Kodak named Dr. Karl-Steinroth invited us to a dinner. I packed my stuff and drove to Arles. I already knew the city a little bit because of my excursion. I also got to know the boss of Kodak and their team. So, I made many of my first contacts there in Arles.

When did you leave home?

I left my mother's household when I was 18, unfortunately it didn't fit with growing up. My parents were already divorced at that time and my father lured me with a room and a thrilling life. However, that only went well until I graduated from high school. During the learning phase I moved out of my father's house. He and his wife were convinced that I could still play cab and house help while studying.  From then on I packed my suitcase and left. According to the motto: No people not like that!

After the end of the civil service I did an internship at the museum for graphic design. I moved into a shared apartment with my brother for two years. That was a cool time. I had to wait to go to college. My father didn't agree with that, though. He wanted me to either work or study.

How did you come to study?

How did I come to this? Well, actually I didn't want to become a teacher. I was aware of that from the very beginning. I had done my civilian service by my father. In the school for the blind in a department for the multiply handicapped. After two years, I really couldn't stand the constant screaming of the children. No matter whether they were crying, laughing, playing or in pain, at some point you could no longer distinguish the screaming.  This, of course, ruled out elementary school.  I definitely wanted to do something with art, but unfortunately had little idea which professions went into the artistic field. I first applied for graphic design and passed the entrance exam. But unfortunately I didn't get in because of the NC. Actually, I would have liked to train as a photographer. However, I didn't get any support from home. Both parents were teachers. My mother was an art and crafts teacher and my father was a music and biology teacher, and I was already taking an art class at school. At that time it was already clear to me that I wanted to go in this direction. A teacher told me that I was a very freedom-loving person and that I couldn't cope with structures that were too rigid. That is still the case today! If I can't live my measure of freedom, then I have a problem. After all, my father persuaded me to do it. And I emphasize persuaded to go into the teaching profession after all. Yes, and Siegen wasn't too far away and yet far enough away from my parents that they couldn't knock on the door in the evening. I would have liked to do Spanish, but the combination of art and Spanish was not offered in Siegen. I don't really know if I would have dared to take languages, to be honest. Spanish had also been my favorite subject, so I decided to take it. But after the second semester it was clear to me: I don't want to be a teacher! Nevertheless, I continued.

Would you have liked to study at another university?

I still would have liked to study at the academy in Duesseldorf. Unfortunately, that was very far away at the time, and no one had the confidence in me that I would eventually do liberal arts. It takes a lot of courage, and you also have to be good to keep up, otherwise you don't stand a chance. In the meantime, I think I would dare to do it. The practical work took place in Duesseldorf as well as in Siegen. I happened to be very lucky with the place of study in Siegen. But I always got support from my mother. I always got what I needed.

Because of my teaching degree, however, I still lack certain skills, something like an absolute awareness of the values that an artist creates. Master students have that much more than I do. But whether they are better coached by their professors, I don't even know. Expert support helped me a lot, especially when I first came to the United States.  On many routes that is still the case today.

How did your first exhibitions start?

My first group exhibition was before my first semester in 1987, very early. During college, I sent out applications and looked for contacts. I knew relatively early on that I had to build a second path while studying to be a teacher. Namely, that of the freelance artist. Of course, there were always visitors at exhibitions who asked, “Well, have you already turned your hobby into a profession?” A classic allusion. At a young age, however, it has no longer anything in common with a hobby, but with a fulfilled vocation. You know very early where you want to go on. But when you become a teacher, you do art as a kind of hobby. So your profession is teacher, not artist.

What were your first exhibitions about?

At my first group exhibition in my hometown Langerwehe I participated with portrait drawings. Later there was another exhibition with pinhole camera works in 1993. The father of a classmate used to be a role model of mine. He was an artist and always went to his studio during the vacations. He had advised me at that time that I should apply for an exhibition in Eschweiler. I am still in touch with the exhibition venue to this day. In 2019, I exhibited my Tango Metropolis exhibition there at the Eschweiler Kunstverein and met quite a few nice people.

How was your technique influenced?

At the beginning of my studies, we knew we had something very special in Siegen. Jürgen Königs, our professor of photography, rediscovered the pinhole camera. An early form of photography without a lens. Within this principle, you could approach the photographic image quite freely. That was a lot of fun. We were looking for contacts in Bielefeld to do a group exhibition. Gladly with a catalog. Jürgen Königs gave us seven names from all of them, and we got acceptances. In that phase, I learned how to conceive something and where to get the money for it. At that time, it was 56,000 DM. That's quite a large sum in the second semester. We were pretty brave back then. We had received a state grant and donations and produced a catalog that was even sold out. Of course, we had to look for press contacts for the exhibition. We went off to Cologne and looked around for magazines. With the end of my studies, I was left with the question: do you go into teaching, or do you become an artist? How do I finance myself anyway? I could have taken the second state exam, of course, but for me that would have meant not being able to make art for two years. I would be out of my own work and out of contacts for that long. But it worked out with the work and the art on the side. The time in Siegen was a happy coincidence at that time. With exactly the same techniques, which we learned in former times, nowadays exhibitions take place world-wide such as salt paper, Cyanotypie, Kalotypie, rubber pressure, platinum pressure, palladium pressure, oil pressure ek. And pigment printing.

Do you consider yourself well-known?

Well-knownness is only a snapshot. As soon as you're shown on TV for a second, you're known for that moment. But as soon as it's over, you're no longer. In any case, I'm satisfied. What I thought about back in my studies, I still do today. How can I become known as an artist at all? First of all, the place where I live plays a big role. In the surrounding region, too, of course, in Germany, Europe and worldwide.

Did your studies influence your art?

My studies certainly have influenced my art. Actually, everyone does. Especially the professors. For example, Walter Dohmen and the painting priest Herbert Falken, who lived in the neighboring town. In the study itself it was Wolfgang Nestler for a long time, with whom I did drawing, painting and sculpture. A very honest and sympathetic critic. Jürgen Königs, who has already been mentioned, accompanied me until the end of my studies. Herbert Wilmsmeyer, with whom I had a very intense time. Until then I actually wanted to become a painter. To this day I like some drawings and watercolors from that time very much. He conveyed something wonderful, fatherly. I had an unrestrained time at Wilmsmeyer, Jürgen Königs also gave everyone their freedom. He had eyes and ears for everything. He always came from the perspective of all media. But came painterly to an end point.

Gundolf Winter, my professor of art history had quite helpful questions and tips for my exhibition in 1993. Especially in dealing with space and the installation of artworks. Regarding the presentation, he sent me on a very contemporary path. With him I had a seminar on relief and sculpture. That plays an important role, because the seminar also dealt with the narrative in art. In the medieval picture, you don't have a perspective picture, you have a narrative picture. Everything is happening simultaneously. How does simultaneity work in the photographic image? Through a collage or through the pinhole camera?

Are you satisfied with your path? Did you have any doubts during your studies?

At the end of 1996, I had my exam. Due to illness I could not write an exam. I was already working at that time and had already considered my plans for art. I would have needed at least a B in sociology. I told myself I would take the six and pass with my 3.0. For the period 97/98 I had a job in a factory working the night shift. It was wonderful, I came home in the morning, went to bed by 1 p.m. and did all the other appointments after that. In 1998, I worked as a research assistant in the Collaborative Research Center and went to France and Spain in between.  In this phase, new pictures were created, the first contact sheets. I already had some contacts and went to Arles to the Rencontres de la Photographie, where the whole world met. There I learned about the festival in Houston. From then on I registered for it in Houston Texas, 2002, but you had to register a year in advance and expect a budget of about $3000. In between came the 11.09.2001, after which nobody bought my paintings. I had no money, left for Houston and tried to sell my last books for a little money. The five years were already over and my end time was almost over. But then came the rise.

How were you able to finance your studies?

To come back to that. I was aware very early on that studying art was more expensive than studying medicine. I worked a lot during my studies and collected receipts and submitted them to my tax return. That was the cost of studying. I started declaring the income and offsetting it. You have to deal with the costs in time. The professional association of freelance photo designers offered me a seminar for a basic knowledge photo designer, which helped me a lot to understand the analogues of a self-employment.

What inspired you to write your thesis?

When you took the first state exam in your teaching degree, you could complete both a practical and theoretical paper. I could have also written a thesis in art history. Even a theoretical paper in didactics. But most of them dealt with a practical paper.

One goes in search of a project. At that time, I was on the road with my pinhole camera, and had been dealing with the question of the panorama since 1993. Basically, it's about perception. This is composed of all levels. I started building cameras out of cardboard and set out to make a panorama of the German border in stations. I had studied politics and witnessed the fall of the Wall. I grabbed my old Golf and headed out. I drove 6,000 km around Germany in twelve days around Easter. Every 50 km I made a stop, I started at 07:00 in the morning and stopped in the evening, until the next point, to continue photographing there directly the next morning. I poked holes through the border with my pinhole camera, how it looks on the other side. What borders the land?

I had made all the pinhole cameras myself, simple brown cardboard boxes. I stopped at every border control to ask if I could take pictures here. A real artist. A photographer's training would have blocked any free artistic path. Some things I would be able to do better today. However, I can get everything I lack. That is a part that every artist has to learn. My studies at the University of Siegen really prepared me for a life as an artist.

Which project do you remember most? – Picture is not flat, but space

In the second semester I got the information from my professor of painting that Mercedes would build a new branch in Wiehl, and was looking for a wall design. I definitely felt like making art and earning a little money with it. At the same time I met my friend Jochen. With a lot of wine and food we sat down in the bistro until we had an idea. We thought a lot about the car dealership. Until it occurred to us that they most likely had a truck that could be used as a pinhole camera. Our only question was, where do we get film stock in square meters? Roll stock? Please 1.80 m film width if possible. How do I develop roll stock? How much does it cost?

 We built the necessary developer tubs ourselves, which were used by students for another 10 years. Fortunately, Jochen's parents had just moved. We were able to use their whole house as a lab and took pictures with the Mercedes van in Wiehl. The fascinating part was understanding photographic images, because the image is not flat, it is space. Once you've been in that camera and have a picture at every point, you gain a whole new horizon. That was the inspiring thing about this assignment. It was a great story that also bonded Jochen and me together.

Which excursions do you remember particularly well?

For an excursion to Venice in 1994, I had already built the first transport cameras for 35mm film. Also panorama cameras. That was an important series, which unfortunately is still not finished. Otherwise, the excursions to Eygalières in Provence were almost the most important part of the studies. There we went with 20 students and professors for artistic work in the sun.

In the end, I also had to take an exam in art history in the state examination. There I had leaned a paper, which I had already occupied before in the cubism with the topic Cezanne. I was very interested in Cezanne and the emergence of the cube. I found the beginning of cubism very fascinating. In the exam, I took a test on Robert Delaunay and his paintings of the city of Paris and the Eiffel Tower. Later, when I was invited to Paris by a friend, I made the first contact sheets.

How did your collections come about?  What ideas inspired you?

Folders are always created when you work with small works and series. At that time I sent many cameras on trips with friends. For example, a collection of travel photography was created with over 100 images from probably 40 countries. Among them Kenya, Hawaii, Greece, Italy and Germany. A funny collection. During our studies, we started to produce editions with works that we exchanged with each other and then took home.