Nowhere else in the art world is it so unusual for people to work together than in the world of painting. Actors work together, musicians work together. With painters, often noted for narcissism, it’s a seldom occurrence, though there are artistic duos such as Gilbert and George, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, most of whom work in concept art.
Whilst gathering material for my article on Treptow-Köpenick — appearing 24 August in #lettersfromberlin; see ThePigeonhole.com — I met two Berlin artists who work together extensively on the same paintings: Matthias Moseke and Mathias Pelda (two Mat(t)hiases, only distinguished by one or two T’s in their names). Sadly, I met them too late to include them in the article. (On the other hand I had already collected far too much material to include it all anyway, but some of it will appear here, piece for piece).
One of their works — a large format picture that they painted together with the street artist FIO — can be seen at the Landscape Metropolis exhibition in Berlin-Schöneweide until the 8th of August.
I imagine it must be difficult to cooperate with someone else on the same canvas, so I spent some time talking to the artists about this whilst I was visiting the Landscape Metropolis exhibition. During the conversation, it was fascinating to hear them speak so unequivocally. Even when they disagreed, they just laughed it off and I got the impression that they thrive on disagreement — that the conflict of ideals, rather than perfect cooperation, is the thing that takes them on to new horizons.
First off they tell me that the picture was curator John Power’s choice, not just because of the large format, but also to have the idea of street art included within the Landscape Metropolis exhibition: “something playful, chaotic – unashamedly defiant.”
Mathias with one T explains that working together can help artists avoid getting caught up in their own form of expression. Why hold constant monologues with yourself in a mirror, when you can work together and answer each other’s questions using the language of image. The two Mat(t)hiases have been working together for so long now, they feel like “one painter with two bodies”.
But the two artists do not only collaborate as a duo; rather, they also welcome other artists to cooperate with them. “When a third comes along, they expand our spectrum, our horizons. The third brings questions to the painting, questions that you would not think of asking.” For example, FIO, the graffiti artist with whom the artists worked on the piece featured in the video, brought a street art emphasis into the work.
The Mat(h)iases obviously enjoyed working with FIO, someone used to crossing borders. “That’s also the case with us” – you need to have the guts to go where colleagues don’t want to go.”
But isn’t it difficult for most artists to make that step?
They nod. For many it’s just unimaginable to work over another artist’s work or to allow someone else to work over what they’ve done.
So is it a bit like hip-hop featuring?
“In a way, yes”, explains two-T Matthias. That was the case here, but that’s not what they always do. The important thing when they bring other artists into a joint process is to build a relationship of trust.
“They have to be prepared to work over the painting.” Says two-T Matthias.
“And be on the same level”, chips in one-T Mathias, “Eye to eye.”
Both of the artists find music extremely important for their work. I got to know two-T Matthias at a jazz concert at Novillo (Jazz club in Schöneweide). That makes sense: Jazz is about people coming together, jamming, maybe without knowing each other – one begins, the other chips in. Each of them has their own repertoire. And when you take other people in, the whole thing expands. “If three of you are working together on a painting, you see something on the canvas, and you think, that’s where I want to be, but one of the others has already put something there, so you always have to react, you always have to be aware of what the other does – it’s always dynamic.”
So who starts the picture?
The sprayer started this one. But by the time FIO and the two Mat(t)hiases were finished with it twelve hours later, there was nothing left of the initial work.
So this was done in one sitting?
“We don’t always work in a single sitting, but sometimes it’s helpful not to interrupt the flow.”
Looking at the canvas, the first thing that occurs to me is the vibrancy of the colours and the general feeling of joy in chaos. Far from the pretentiousness of much of the art scene, these guys seem to be having a damned good time and you can see it on the canvas. Of course art is a serious matter, but do we have to be serious all the time? At the same time, I have to ask myself whether this degree of cooperation and reaction during the artistic process shifts the actual “art” away from the product and more towards the subjective moment of the “happening”, so I’m left wondering what’s left for the observer.
I ask, “How are you supposed to interpret a picture like this?”
“This is a free jazz painting”, explains one-T Mathias.
The round object in the top right-hand corner looks like the sun, I suggest.
“Someone else thought it was a helicopter”, says Mathias.
And Matthias answers, “It reminds me of an amoeba, something unicellular.”
And Mathias says, “But that’s one of the great things about this kind of painting: it’s totally open for every observer.”
I can’t get my head around the connection between the obvious buzz they get from cooperating (dare I call it joy?), their productive drive, and the interpretative freedom of the observer. I see more logical contradictions than connections there. Is it perhaps the inability of a (my) single mind to fully understand the strength of the discourse of two, or in this case three minds?
Certainly the comparison to free jazz is a good one: constant positioning and juxta- and repositioning. The sublimity of such action is somehow unfathomable, but perceptible. Whereas Jazz remains sublime only a moment, the moment is recorded here in paint — the material is intrinsic to the process and the process to the sublimity.
If you want to know more about the artists (do I see you nodding?), I suggest:
- John Power’s Landscape Metropolis exhibition, running until 8 August: http://berlin.g11-art.de/home.htm
- The Ma(t)thias’s website: www.moseke-pelda.de
And if you want to know more about Schöneweide, register with Pigeonhole here:
and check out the tag #lettersfromberlin