David Schiesser → Interview

First of all, could you tell us a bit about your practice, please?

All of my work usually starts on small sheets of paper. Often with a few previous idea or topic I have in mind I draw in sessions of a few hours. The result is principally the base which I might transfer into different medias. It´s a sketch - a visual possibility of what we could call a story - framed on a piece of paper. My pictorial content deals with the human, its body and its environment (technical and natural). As i draw mostly using pure lines I suggest that my work can be read as an investigation of limitations and potentials of what the practice of line drawings brings into the tradition of figurative art. By using different imagecarriers such as canvas, wall or skin I observe the transfer into threedimensional concepts or a change within their permanence linked to different tools of documentation. It feels always important for me to work out the specifics of each medium and to rethink the role of the viewer. Being captured in this human apparatus also means being limited concerning the perspective towards the environment. I also count in the multiple devices humans use to extend their perspectives. To bring in a specific example: In the exhibition i do in Salon Kennedy the immersive impact of the fresco correlates with the flatness of canvases and the convex surface of human skin by realizing stories which deal with these topics I named.

Do you see yourself as a painter or rather as an illustrator?

Although I try to deny classifications I tend to say: I draw (which in my opinion is not painting neither illustrating). I follow Vasari‘s approach of the sketch: the realization of an idea into simple quick contour lines. The difference is that for me the „disegno“ is usually the finished work in order to transfer it on another surface rather than working it out on the same surface. My approach is defined by the use of an economic and efficient linedrawing which allows me to create a whole range of motifs, scenarios and stories. It gives me the possibilities to work in very different scales and to create a certain recognizable personal imaginery.

Although your lines and hence works are very clean, the image carrier reads differently. Be it a complete room, ceiling, the traditional canvas, skin, paper, stone or whatever there is, the underground suggests a certain spontaneity. How planned and carefully thought through are your works?

That really depends on the situation: I work always very spontanoues on small scale paper, which serves me to develop my imaginery and keeps me trainend. It‘s a daily practice to achieve new content. I can discover new perspectives or compositions. And also It gives the possibility to produce a lot in a short amount of time. Half is garbage though. I might reuse the good ones either as a tattoo on someone‘s skin or as an element in a canvas or on the wall. Which leads me to the point that on larger scale I plan way more nowadays. Even if I draw spontanouesly on a medium it would be a „learned“ or „trained“ gesture - something i‘ve drawn serveral times before on paper. I also use different tools such as meters or projectors to be able to reproduce exactly the same drawing with all the spontaneous vibe it has on paper. On the other hand i always try to keep space for intuitive interventions and spontanoues addings. The best results seems to ground on a sensible balance between reinterpretation and new quick inventions.

Your graduation work at the HFG Offenbach, where you painted the entire chapel of the Isenburger Schloss can be interpreted as contemporary frescoes, which quite closely follow the renaissance thought of story telling and architectural ornament. What relation do these shifts in technique, time and surface mean to you?

In order to create some sort of timeless language within my drawings I seek to evoque the feeling of a certain essential presence trough the reduction on contours. I also see a certain „universiality“ other linedrawings, in be it on wall of religious monoments or modern vectorgrafics, or pictogramms. I guess it‘s on one hand the readability and clearness of simple lines which makes it so evident but also the responsible acting human which became a typical topic in the renaissance. The drawings I did in the „Isenburger Schloss“ which is a Renaissance Castle itself, aimed to embed topics from different epochs towards fictions a couple of decades ahead of us in order to appear timeless. I guess the broader I went with marking time specifics trough remarkable examples the more timeless the whole impression became.

Talking about time in the sense of the relation and story within, one of course also needs to discuss the element of time in terms of the permanence within a painting. What role does the notion of time / permanence play for you? Or this irrelevant and only the architectural size matters?

I would not say it’s irrelevant - the lack of permanence in my work became more of a factor I face with a certain acceptance. Apart from my archived drawings and the canvas I draw, most of my work is somehow volatile. Working on human skin strikes you every time with the fact that none of the tattoos gonna last very long (compared with other surfaces they alter very quick, plus they die with the person who owns it). Most time you don‘t even see the tattoo twice. And when I draw on the walls in exhibition spaces it’s similar: The drawings stay the same but they get covered under a new layer of white paint to receive the following artists in a neutral condition. On this point it makes it even more interesting to reflect the „natural“ ephemerity of each medium and the role the documentary starts playing in this context. I actually don‘t loose the work after it‘s overpainted or just walked out of my studio door - I transfer it on another media and it keeps being visible trough our flat bright screens. Which offers new potential to the works…it‘s definitely hyper-mobile and somehow „immortal“ as data.

Being tattooed yourself and being widely known as a tattoo artist – how can we elaborate further on permanence but also the surface in regards to the previous question?

By taking pictures of tattoos we already overcome the question of permanence, mobility and visibility. By transforming every artwork in a code, we archived it, we flattened it, we make the documentation of almost every exhibition visible for everybody connected to the internet. And i guess the internet is a permanent invention.
I don´t think the documentation is able replace the original „auratic“ artwork, but we should face the fact that we consume a lot of art through screens – and we´re getting used to it. It´s important to underline for some of my work it´s necessary to experience it in real scale, on real skin or canvas. But in order to make it available for more recipients the picture solves the question of permanence and make it editable for me and it´s projectable/printable on every new surface in order to create something new out of it. In difference to other photography it already has passed certain steps of time, efforts, scale changements, maybe pain, decisions, etc - so it‘s usually material charged with meaning.

From a historical point of view the canvas/the board got invented to carry a painting from A to B, instead of just having it permanently hung on a wall. This ethos in mind what role would you argue for a tattoo and in what relation does it stand to a paper or canvas work by you?

Both, tattoos and canvas/paper are connoted as mobile - the difference is that one can move from one wall to another while the tattoo itself is not mobile, it‘s the owner itself. Another significant difference in my opinion is that the canvas/paper is flat. And doing tattoos nowadays still means to be confronted with a three-dimensional living individual surface which ages and might not agree with my ideas. As there is usually an accompanying drawing on paper there‘s something of a partnership between paper and skin. The paper drawing gets picked by its new owner and travels from now on with it as a tattoo. And then we have the photography. Through internet it travels to screens all over the world (even when the tattoo itself does not exist anymore.) The photography incorporates the flat drawing on paper, and the adaptation on someone´s body. The irritation of the skin indicates the pain a person had go trough. it has a certain power as an image. Yet also, it has no monetary value, as it is so fluid. it became anonymous data.

Your works, regardless of the surface, obviously the bigger, the denser, play with different fragments and perspectives both from a painterly demand, but also from a literary aspect. Do the scenes you draw stem from fantasy? Or rather personal stories or constructed realisms?

When i compose large scale works i construct a scenario. It arises from my fantasy indeed, but it always has strong links to real conditions. I never really invent the new. I push myself more or less to refer the ordinary, the common to a different environment or eventually to visualize a different perspective. I gather. I collect. I archive ideas and sketches. And as soon as i start drawing a complex piece i arrange the collected. It´s also by episodes I work out certain topics, specific animals or objects or perspectives to learn about it or to find out different facettes. The result is an ongoing personal iconography which is fluid and changes from time to time.

Coming back to an earlier question about spontaneity and the surface, we find it remarkable within your practice, that the drawings evolve on the desk, but also while you are paragliding, during exhibitions in galleries and museums, but also in a painted tent on the streets of Tel Aviv. Does this mean that your art has no boundary in terms of its time, location and situation?

It´s sounds a bit pretentious but yes. To be honest, most of my drawings happen far away from my desk. My preferable desk for small scale drawings is the train. I would say it´s one of the reasons why the practice of drawing always impressed me so muchis that it is a skill. It does not require special material. It´s understandable through every layer of society. It´s not necessarily always understanded as „art“ – but at least as a tool of communication. It opens doors.

Currently you are exhibiting at Salon Kennedy in Frankfurt, where you again painted the entire space correlating with paintings on canvas in the gallery. This layering both physically, but also conceptually is very fascinating. Do you want to elaborate a little on your relation of perspective both in the drawing but also in the story?

My work in Salon kennedy reflects the interpersonal marking of our bodies, the practice of tattooing trough different scenarios. By rearranging sketches i did trough a tattoo road trip in 2018 and combining them with new drawings i created different scenes where the questions of the three dimensional surface of our body is always opposed to our tendency to flatten the „world“ or to surround us with flat artifacts, such as maps, screens. This whole environment pairs with elements of generation of energy, the pleasure of traveling, flora and fauna. At the end it aims to realize a universal role-play which reflects a few contemporary phenomenas i see in tattoo- and travel-culture, but also appears very renaissance-ish as it tries to bring all elements of life together.

On top of your personal story drawn in multiple views in this exhibition, you are incorporating local elements, like the Salon dinnertable, the number plate of the car, the digital map of the space, the flowers in the entrance etc… How does layer or perspective relate to the work described in the previous question?

I guess it´s a serious need of me to contextualize my drawings or tattoos towards the location where it is shown or applied. It creates a essential bond between me, the location and the viewer. It gives the drawings a reason to be there. It sets marks where the location and it recipients become part of what the see.
I filled the walls of Salon Kennedy with people tattooing each other. Tattoing in this space while I created the wall drawings charged the whole process of tattooing and drawings which legitimation. The drawings start fading between a documentation and a constructed reality. It´s a strategy to link the invented and in some sort absurd drawings with elements from our own reality.

Whats next?


David Schiesser
01 / 06