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Media Mash-up: Manfred Naescher’s Film-inspired Watercolors

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 · 3 Comments

I’m thrilled to present the work and interview of Berlin designer, Manfred Naescher. Manfred is originally from Liechtenstein and attended art school at Emily Carr and RISD before settling in Berlin. He has a host of amazing personal projects, including the zines below: The Endless Summer, Fighting and Conte de Printemps, inspired by the eponymous films. What I admire most about Manfred’s work is that his watercolors are peppered with modern themes such as ambiguity, ugliness, rage and joy, all while depicted in such a traditional medium. Naescher’s zines are available here. Contact the artist for inquiries about originals.

How did you get into art? Did you always know you wanted to be an artist/illustrator?

I started art school at the ripe age of 29. Before that I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life because I had a serious interest in many things, like music, writing, linguistics, literature, comics… So I took a lot of time to acquire an odd variety of skills and knowlegde, without mastering anything really, except how not to enter a traditional career path. I was a radio and TV show host in Liechtenstein, worked at a newspaper, played in bands…

I did draw a lot as a child, and I never really stopped drawing, so in that respect I got into art in a somewhat conventional way. I made multi-page comics and wrote stories as a preteen in the 80s that I stapled together (zines, really, but I didn’t know that then). I made posters, flyers and other kinds of design for punk bands as a teenager and in my twenties. I later was a university newspaper cartoonist, and, to make a long story short, that job lead me to the Emily Carr Institue of Art and Design (now Emily Carr University), from which I graduated as a designer. I also did an exchange semester at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Your zines are inspired by movie stills. Why movies? Are you a film buff?

I’m interested in film as a visual language and as a vehicle for storytelling, and some filmmakers have simply created evocative imagery that I’m drawn to, or situations or moments that speak to me. If I’d be forced to decide on a favorite art form, it would probably have to be film. My film knowledge is pretty fragmented, so I’m certainly not a well-rounded film buff, if I’m one at all.

I do have some favorite directors, periods and genres, but preferences are always shifting, and I don’t want to fetishize films, I just want to be engaged and inspired by them. Having said that, current favorites would be early French New Wave films (especially Truffaut), Film Noir, Hitchcock, Lang, Jacques Tourneur, Vittorio de Seta (not to be confused with Vittorio de Sica, who’s also great!), Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, Eric Rohmer, just kind of the regular cinephile canon, mostly films from around 1920 to around 1960. As for new films, I totally enjoy big popcorn movies like “2012” on their own terms, or films by Gus van Sant or the Coen Brothers, and I thought “My Winnipeg” by Guy Maddin was one of the best films of the past few years. I’ve recently discovered the work of Owen Land, and particularly his film “Dialogues” (2007-9) made an impression on me. I also like the social aspect of watching movies together. I’ve run film clubs in the past, and right now I run a private bi-weekly film club that only shows french noirs, mostly from the 50s.

What, besides film, inspires your art?

A lot of things, and it’s changing all the time. I’m inspired by artists who experiment with the publication form (not so much catalogs or monographs, but books that are conceived of as works of art in their own right, like artist books or zines): Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations from the 60s would be a famous example, or, more recently, Hans-Peter Feldmann’s photo books, or zines by Nieves or Used Future. Other influences are Raymond Pettibon, Max Ernst, Alexander Calder’s mechanical circus, the beautiful conceptual photography of Jessica Eaton, the textile art of Heather Goodchild, Dana Dart-McLean’s sense of composition, color and texture, Rodney Graham’s sense of humor, Louis by Amanda’s pattern designs.

You use watercolor, a traditional medium, in fresh and unexpected ways. Tell me about your approach.

My use of the medium is definitely indebted to the work of Emil Nolde. Especially his mountain landscapes, and some of his portraits. Louise Bourgeoise has made some great expressive watercolor work. I also took some obvious clues from Francis Bacon or Paul Klee, and Daniel Richter is an important influence, although he works mostly in oil.

Watercolor often seems to be used in a very controlled, sometimes even timid kind of way. On a conceptual level I approach my work very carefully, but when it comes to the execution, the actual painting, I like to relinquish control, I just kind of give up and see what happens. Accordingly, the planning of my work takes much longer than the actual image-making. I find if I control the hands-on part of the process too much, the outcome tends to be stiff and dull. So I don’t even try.

For the Screenshots series, I extract imagery from films by tracing projected outlines, in other words by tracing an illusion of artifice (like tracing the shadows in Plato’s cave). I then let the watercolor do its thing on top of the pencil drawing, and in this process of adding a new layer, a fragment of an illusion is reimagined. I repeat the process to create a sequence, and as a result, the zine becomes a memory of the movie, a fragmented, distorted and personal interpretation.

What’s the art scene like in Berlin?

Major international artists like Olafur Eliasson or Douglas Gordon live here, as do thousands of young artists from North America and all over the world. Rent and studio space are still really affordable, and the city has an enormous and diverse artistic community. Berlin has been experiencing this constant influx of emerging artists for many years now, and it doesn’t seem be stopping anytime soon.

What else are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a collaborative zine with the Canadian artist Matt James. It’s called Cheap Shots. I started work on a series of short films. I’m part of a curated zine fair. The sixth issue of Screenshots will be out by late February. I’m doing my usual graphic design work, right now mostly on two feature documentary films. And there are upcoming music collaborations, one of them with the sound artist Depatterning.

What do you hope to be doing in 12 months time?

The same. But different.

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