Online on Glass Magazine
Hart - N°90, December 2011
Timothée Chaillou: In your paintings, does the viewer come across grotesque and diogenes characters?
Daniel Richter: No.
TC: Even if some characters look grotesquely monstrous?
DR: Well, they are not meant to be grotesque or monstrous.
TC: Would you say your characters are leading a dramatic life?
DR: No. They are made out of paint. How could they lead a life? They are frozen images of ideas.
TC: A painting narrates a story evolving beyond the frame and the painting itself. Right?
DR: Reality percolates into the painting, true.
TC: Benjamin Buchloh argues that in a time of ‘return to order’, the multiplication of harlequins, clowns, puppets invading the works of art are ‘symptoms of a reinforced regression’. As you also use these kinds of figures, how would you respond to this point of view?
DR: Sentimentality and nostalgia are the oils on which the engine of a shitty present keeps on running.
TC: Crowd scenes are recurrent in your paintings, sometimes aggressive, sometimes devouring. About the relationship between the artist and the community, Folkert de Jong writes: ‘What interests me is the position of the artist in a community today. Is it the artist’s reasonability to reflect upon the human drama; to give hope to the unique ability of human nature, to make people believe in their own super-qualities that can make a human life worthwhile to live for others.’ Do you agree with his statement?
DR: It sounds very idealistic, I consider he is talking about teachers (or cooks, maybe).
TC: Are your characters in inflammation, in glow? Or are they human-looking characters, living in a Sci-Fi universe, saturated by colors because of another kind of light shining from another type of sun?
DR: No. They are seen through the lens of an infra-red surveillance camera.
TC: Are your characters "beyond" reason, or deprived of their personality? Are they possessed?
DR: They are possessed by reality.
TC: Marnie Weber said that clowns are ‘stuck in an existential quagmire of being cheerful. To be happy is a very dark journey.’ Is this statement relevant for your characters?
TC: In a way, your characters can be viewed as masked persons, disguised humans – like clowns. To what extent do you agree with Mark Schlüter when he writes that ‘clowns are screens onto which the enjoyment of the others’ suffering can be projected. This suffering can be staged either as a melancholic gesture, as an enigmatic irony or as a brash slapstick (...) Clowns take the stage as a strident transfer of a gaiety as fake as it is false’. Is this important in your work?
DR: When I hear of disguised humans I think of people in uniforms, not clowns.
TC: Do you think that art is per se a combination of attraction and repulsion? Would you say that an artwork only providing the viewer one of these two feelings fails to fully become a complete artwork?
TC: According to Susan Sontag, the Camp ‘is the love of what is not natural, of the device and exaggeration.’ It is ‘a style of excess, shrill contrast, ridiculous taking, dramatic quality of a poor deliberate taste which blurs clear boundaries of the nice and the ugliness, convenience and the malséance’. Is this blurring of boundaries important in your art?
DR: I am definitely not a Camp artist. Camp takes style more seriously than anything else. I don’t consider the style as a method, even though it does sympathize with the idea of attitude as a common denominator.
TC: Can your work be seen as ‘pretty ugly’?
TC: What is in crisis in your paintings?
DR: The painter.
TC: You said that you are ‘talking about propaganda’ in your work. Aren’t you afraid that this approach could backfire on you?
TC: In The Sense of an Ending, Frank Kermode writes that the infatuation with the apocalypse is ‘in consonance with our needs of naive fantasy’, as if to give meaning to existence, we needed ‘fictive harmonies with the origins and ends. The 'End' in the true sense, as we imagine, will reflect our irreducibly intermediary expectations, since we are born "in the middle of things." Chaos and decadence contain the hopes of renewal.’ What could make our existence more meaningful - facing the abyss of time - rather than making our own disappearance meeting the purificatory destruction of all things?
DR: I can’t really answer to religious questions.
TC: Do you use some characters because of their political references?
TC: Can you please give us some examples?
DR: I don’t like giving examples. It is unfair to the paintings to some extent.
TC: What does the white monkey in a wheel chair in Nerdon (2004) symbolize? Is it a symbol of the primitive animal, or a figure of the wise?
DR: The skeptical knowledge of history. He symbolizes melancholia (Dürer and Rodin) performed by the only captured white gorilla "nieves" (who died in the zoo of Madrid while I painted Nerdon) in the wheelchair of Paul Klee’s mother.
TC: Can you please talk about Dog Planet (2002)?
DR: It circles around images of power, fear and repression/revolt.
TC: You have said that Dog Planet (2002) is ‘about our relationship to power, and how omnipotence affects us’. Men in uniforms are sinister and frightening – a nightmare. With theirs uniforms, are they ridiculous characters? A caricature?
DR: I wish they were ridiculous.
TC: What is at stake then?
DR: I wish that we would consider uniforms a ridiculous symbolization of power.
TC: What do horses symbolize? Do they symbolize innocence (like the donkey in Bresson’s Balthazar), or virility and power?
DR: They are domesticated animals, symbolizing the thin layer of civilization.
TC: Hunts, riots, shipwrecks, fights, revolts… What are the causes, the reasons, of this imagery? What should we be worried about?
DR: Read the news.
TC: Do your paintings convey an idea of enjoyment? Would you qualify them as orgiastic paintings?
DR: Some of them are hopefully orgiastic, others are well organized. It depends on what I want.
TC: You have said that ‘the romantic notion of the artist as a crazy person doing crazy things has simply disappeared’. Does that disappoint you? Laudator temporis acti?
DR: Yes, it disappoints me.
TC: Even if this romantic notion implies a caricature of the artist-as-hero?
DR: I have never met anyone believing in that idea. It is a dead horse, kept flogged by those that seem to need that image of the artist as a sort of scapegoat. What for? I have no idea.
TC: Whether it involves robots in a futuristic world or whether it doesn’t, science fiction is an architecture allowing to explore other subjectivities. In Blade Runner for example, robots are a metaphor for the question ‘how do we know anything?’ or, ‘how do we know who we are?’ Are you interested in sci-fi?
DR: I liked Egan, Delaney and Banks a lot as writers but I think that sci-fi never influenced any of my paintings.
TC: You said that you are focussing on a ‘hysterical-paranoid view of the world’. Why? Why is it relevant to look at our world with this point of view, and to describe it in this way (like the caricature of American behavior)?
DR: No council or institution decides on what has to be relevant for an artist. He does it himself. It is the result of my observations, not the other way round.
TC: You have said that ‘the abstract painting - with just one or two exceptions - had become an extremely boring, "pure," yet by large arbitrary, exploration of esoteric, religious, philosophical, and linguistic phenomena. It was turned into a defenseless cadaver’. What about the figurative painting?
DR: I said this as a reason for me to actually enter "abstract" painting and shift to "figuration" later which seemed to offer more opportunities and misunderstandings. Like a shift from Ornette Coleman to The Beatles.
TC: Do you really think that there is only one typology of art which can be classified as political? Is art political in its essence?
DR: It depends on the definition of the term "political". Why should I think there is only one typology of political art?
TC: You have said that, ‘whether or not a picture turns out to be interesting depends very little on the extent to which the task itself can be objectified. Was this not the case, pictures would be nothing but doctoral dissertations translated into paint’. Could you please go further?
DR: It is not what you do; what matters is the way you actually do it.