frank piasta
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Frank Piasta – "Actually, it is always the contradictions that fascinate me"

November, 2002 / May, 2003

PETER LODERMEYER: Your teachers at the art academy were Gotthard Graubner and Kuno Gonschior. The significance of Graubner on the subject of your art seems, in my opinion, more obvious than the importance of Gonschior's theoretical studies on color. For both artists, a preoccupation with color is central to their work. What was the most important thing that you learned from them?

FRANK PIASTA: You hit the nail on the head. I am not an artist who found his art through a radical break with his teachers. I consider myself one of those who create from a certain tradition and who carry on working on issues that have existed in painting from its very beginnings. Perhaps I should briefly state my position. There is a short quote from John Nixon that applies to me perfectly: "Radical modernism is a never-ending project representing a desire for experiment and the history of this experiment. My interest is not so much in returning to history as developing that history. I see my work as a continuation of the radical modern project."

P.L.: Graubner calls his works "Farbraumkörper" (bodies of spatial color). But, even with the three-dimensional character of his pillow-like objects, he always seems to want to change the embodiment to something immaterial such as light and color in space. In your work, the concrete nature of the object plays a far bigger role, having first and foremost to do with the way the materials work that you use.

F.P.: Of course, Graubner is important to me. I particularly value the contradiction between the material and the immaterial, of color space and body. That is, in effect, the essence of his work. This doesn't mean that the carrier is simply dissolved into something immaterial. It is also the case that the immaterial color space is given a body. This way the immaterial is drawn back into the physi­cal domain and therefore, into the domain of the observer as well. And that, too, is what is important to me as I do the same thing. But I would say, that in my work the embodiment is emphasized more also because the body emerges from the color itself, of course. That is different in Graubner's work. He builds his objects. I was never too interested in doing that, that is, to build. My objects are thus, purely materialized, immaterial colors. And this is where Gonschior, too, plays a substantial role, because, unlike Graubner, he treats color as a material. This becomes clear once you have seen his most recent works, those paintings with transparent pastes. It's about further developing painting. It is like a sentence that is carried on by different artists within a discussion. And of course, this is also "radical painting". That is how it is characterized when this is thematized, the condition of painting. The problem with the whole thing was that these paintings were completely flat. It was after a lecture by Frank Stella at the art academy of Dusseldorf when I realized that the detachment from the dogma of the flatness could be a way out of the crisis of painting. But the practical realization didn't come to me until years later.

P.L.: How, when and what questions were you asking which caused you to use silicone as a material to work with?

F.P.: It began in the spring of 1999. At the time, my basic assumption was as follows: how do I find a suitable material that will transport my ideas about color, transparency and volume? What kind of ma­terial is that? Then there was this experiment with acrylics and acrylic pastes from various producers. These are great things, though expensive as well, but they were not very suitable for my purpose simply because they are cloudy. But then I found silicone after a while and decided to use this for my paintings. Of course, there was a process of preparation because one can't just use this for painting. Instead this required treatment first to become useable. Later the object-like character became stronger and stronger. It turned out this way because the works became thicker over time, partially because of improved technical possibilities. What was always of interest to me, was to make complete use of the tension between the covering and the transparency of the color, between light and heavy, between immaterial and material. Really the idea that there is something as light as a watercolor, but which is tremendously heavy. I wanted to bring these complete opposites together. But I didn't want to do this by building a construction. I wanted to achieve this through the process of painting itself, through the volume that the color received.

P.L.: Silicone is material that, similar to wax, connects very different characteristics. It makes a clear division impossible between fluid and non-fluid, organic and artistic, transparency and surface, creating in this manner an ambivalent, sometimes even slightly uncomfortable, feeling. One could attribute its characteristics an aesthetics of "stickiness" following Sartres' phenomenology. How do you view the emotional value of silicone material and how do you make use of this in your work?

F.P.: Well, I am aware that some people have this feeling of aversion, of disgust. Others simply have to touch the pictures and that is not surprising because there is a pretty strong attraction coming from these works. I realize that this also polarizes partially. But I really don't care too much about that. I am of the opinion that painting is open to interpretation. And really that is the most beautiful and the greatest thing that abstract painting can accomplish: to demand such a range of responses. So, that's ok. As you may notice, I am more interested in the formal things. I don't try to work with the emotional value of silicone. A lot of people also see an association with landscapes in my paintings. They think, for example, of Monet although I haven't included this in my concept at all. On the other hand, I don't defend myself and hence, my painting is open. Something else is these pe­culiar contradictions that are typical for the material: solid and fluid, soft and hard. I am forced to work with this, starting with my physical strength as I have to apply the color, this tough substance. That in itself is a lot. Actually, it is always the contradictions that fascinate me and with those come a certain insecurity.

P.L.: Your work does not appear to be determined by any kind of picture logic, but by a logic of painting as a procedure, as a physical, almost mechanical, activity of spreading and structuring the paint. The "picture" (if the term still applies in this case) is shaped through this process and not through a sketch or plan devised in advance. I would like to know what importance the activity of painting as a creative act has for you. Can you call this painting? Do you see yourself as a painter?

F.P.: Quite frankly, I don't give terms such as "painting" etc. a particularly great importance anymore. As we said before, my works are pictures in a dialectic kind of meaning where the emphasis is on color. They also are objects whereby the emphasis is on material and volume. I am more interested in processes. My way of working is such that I follow a certain concept such as putting silicone on the canvas, sometimes in two or perhaps three layers. Or to produce a "color situation", color research of a particular issue or question. And then I don't care which way around people hang the paintings on the wall, where the top or the bottom is. That will emerge from the concept of creation through the even application and the spreading of the silicone across the carrier. Then, this idea of "picture" no longer applies. But I think your question may also be aimed at the concept of control. The way I work is more of a controlled chance when it comes to how the color spreads itself across the carrier. Another question that becomes interesting here is: when is a painting finished; is another layer necessary or not? In such decisions, I obviously exert control.

P.L.: Your special technique of applying several layers of colored silicone one over the other creates an effect that often makes the exact determination of color impossible. Especially with your larger format works it seems to me there is a certain illusionary spatial vagueness at play, such as you mentioned already, which viewers often see as a landscape. What role does this effect have in your aesthetic ideas and is there a conscious reference to the tradition of painting?

F.P.: Well, no question about it, concerning color, I find myself within a great European tradition. Mostly the Venetian painters and then come the French landscape artists. Of course, my own interpretation of color, material and space is one of this time and age and of course, I am a European. I established this during my stay in the US when I did my DAAD scholarship in New York: I have a completely different background and hence, a very different approach to painting than the American artists because the Europeans create from their tradition and continue to work on its development. The Americans are not bothered by tradition and that is a refreshing experience. But that is the point where it all becomes very exciting – when it comes to such a confrontation where one attempts to find common ground and opportunities for oneself to develop, to deal with and to carry on working at it and create something new. I am thinking of American artists such as Robert Ryman, Joseph Marioni and naturally, also Donald Judd. To meet new people who work in the US is a very exciting thing. I need only think, for example, of Frederic Matys Thursz and Lynda Benglis, Kirk McCarthy and Linda Stark. At first, I was a bit confused by this American idea of painting. It took me some time to make use of the American way of denying tradition. I benefited from this inasmuch I feel more free now. I can try more things and am ready to take greater artistic risks, even though I know I may fail. What your question also hints at is the effect of illusion. It is a problem for me to work with illusion because the realm of illusion has a history too. I always perceive painting as illusion but don't really want to take it in that direction. Through the color and the transparency, a virtual space comes into being. A virtual space is, of course, also an expansion of space as it does not only exist within the square of the picture carrier. It also lives outside them. In that sense they are open paintings too. But I respond to this in my new works by leaving the four-sided carriers behind and working directly on the wall or making shapes that perhaps no longer have edges at all, but that simply allow the material to flow.

P.L.: The almost mechanical process of spreading the color mass produces a vague, undefined blurring of transitions. Blur in the broadest sense, above and beyond the photographic sense, seems to be gaining special significance for contemporary art. What exactly interests you in the aesthetics of the blurred?

F.P.: Of course the blur is part of my work, part of my concept. This blur – and now for the more formal matters – is created by the material, the choice of color, the way it is applied, the virtual space, etc. The eye cannot focus exactly on what it sees. It is confused and by means of the color, afterimages may occur. That, in turn, leads to the observer not being able to place it, which subsequently leads to confusion. It also means that viewers are no longer so sure about their point of view. All of this, an uncertain viewpoint, the search for a new viewpoint, has a lot to do with the self-reflection of the viewers. This should not be taken in a pedagogic manner that I would want to say that my paintings show the observer their inner selves. A lot is being written with regards to abstract painting. However, it has to be said, the blur is a means to provoke, to stimulate. It is about viewpoints and about the questions they raise.

Published in: Peter Lodermeyer: Personal Structures. Works and Dialogues, New York 2003, p. 100-101