The Dialogue Between Artist and Canvas: Interview with Fabian Treiber

Not quite a still life, not quite abstract, the remarkable work of German artist Fabian Treiber seems to be in a genre all on its own. Treiber’s work is as absorbing as it is complex, as he often uses an assortment of materials to create incredibly dynamic compositions in his paintings. Interested in the relationship between the artist and medium, his creative process and experimentation with the materials he uses are an essential part of his practice and development. His paintings are multifaceted, as many of them appear to have a variety of different textures on their surfaces. This fascinating element of his work is influenced by assemblage, in particular that of artist Robert Rauschenberg.

In an Interview below, Treiber discusses the work on view at his recent exhibition in Zürich, Switzerland, his artistic development in Spain during an artist residency, and the importance of gaining a new perspective through feedback and critique. Join ua as the artist shares his unique approach in, “finding images rather than creating them,” which informs his exceptionally distinct and refreshing perspective in art making.

AMM: Let’s start at the beginning. When did you first start creating art? Were you always working with paint on canvas?

FT: Actually, I started mostly drawing, I never used to paint at all for many years, but painting in general was something that slightly interested me more and more. So I decided at first, in a very naïve way, to put those two techniques together on canvas.

My first approach in those days at the academy is something that probably still follows me in a way today.

AMM: You use an interesting mixture of mediums in your work, including acrylic, ink, and synthetic resin paint. Can you talk a bit about your process using these materials to achieve such remarkable textures and tones of color? What role does materiality have in your art making?

FT: It definitely plays a big role in my entire work, every try, even if it’s only a single shape or a compound within a composition, it has to be related in a special way to its own material or the materials around it. It’s a very personal belief, that this yields a direct impact on the beholder. I was just fascinated by a simple thought – what would happen, when you spot a surface which looks like ceramic, and the surface described in its own way is a vase or something, but at the same time, you realize that what you are looking at is a “pure” painting? It’s hard to describe, but it shouldn’t be a trick, rather it should look like something “effortless” and probably give you a sort of feel to it with maybe a positive disturbance.

This is also something which drove me for the last months – how to talk about this role. I was trying to figure out new ways of verbalizing my attitude, because I felt stuck somehow when I was only talking about separate elements on their own. What I wanted was to approach this as a “whole”.

Regarding this, I have to tell you probably more about my process of creating a piece of art. In my case, the whole range of materials I use are an essential part of this process. The process in general is somehow the main topic of my entire work. I define it often as a kind of dialogue between me and the painting, which first starts with a sketch on a raw canvas. From this point on, I am, you could say, circling around some terms or perceptions, which I try to transfer directly onto the canvas. In the course of this, I am questioning a large scale of different materials, like the ones you mentioned above.

There is also this very personal believe in the physique of paintings in general. This is really something which leads my way of thinking, and also when it comes to creating paintings. I like it when there’s something disturbing and then for example a shape oscillates around raw material and let’s say, its own meaning.

Obviously to me, this means that a good painting on the one hand, it has to tell you something directly and on the other hand it should also physically affect you. As I said before, it should be much more than just putting materials as “effects” together – so regarding this point the most challenging thing for me is to interlock them with their purpose being, to become something imperative on the canvas. Layer by layer, I am focused on losing my own pictorial vocabulary which gave me the first impetus and start to find those kind of imperative shapes, which slowly start to gain certain autonomy. For me it’s more finding images rather than creating them.

AMM: When working on your paintings, do you refer to any reference photos or real life objects, or do the images come purely from your imagination?

FT: No, I don’t use photos or stuff like this. It is a much more a personal way of recapturing “images” from my mind. You could say imagination of course, but I think it is more as I said before, finding pictures throughout imagination as a kind of tool. Honestly, I don’t know what will come out in the end when I start to work on a painting. For me, it is very important to keep this openness, to allow a possible change of course at any stage of the painting.

AMM: In your artist statement, you refer to your artwork as “repainted memories.” Can you elaborate on this? How does the content of your work connect to your own personal memories?

FT: ‘Repainted memories’ was also an attempt to verbalize something that has appeared over the years in my paintings. In some way, it was also the question of, let’s say, the “topic” of a single artwork. Besides formal questions, which also affect my decisions in painting of course, I did become more comfortable with this description. My memories and perceptions are always the first impetus to get into the work, but they also become something completely different, when documented on the canvas. They become more like a hunch to follow up, because simultaneously they are something personal at first, and must develop into something general in the painting. I’m quite fascinated by that.

AMM: Many of your compositions look similar to collages, as they often appear to have layers of different elements overlapping. Have you ever done any collage work or are you ever inspired by collage?

FT: I mean yes, I was fascinated and inspired by collage, but it was more the assemblage which interested me over the years, like Rauschenberg’s “Gluts” or some of Stella’s late work. Even if it’s still inspiring to me; I’m not convinced of the idea putting things together like you would do it in a “classical” collage anymore.

So, over the years it has become more of a “tool” for me to make some decisions while painting. Although, I do like the direct impact of the materials in many collages, and this is probably the reason why I tried to find my own way to “solve” it in painting.

AMM: Congratulations on your current solo exhibition at Mark Müller Gallery in Zürich, Switzerland titled Body Doesn’t Know. Tell us a about the work that is on display at this exhibition.

FT: The works which I display right now in Zürich are more “quiet” than other paintings, which I´ve done in the past couple of months. Quiet in a way not so much that you would probably see them as still life paintings, but for me they were more about the focus on form and content. I always try to find a solution or, let’s say, an answer regarding the space in which they’re going to be shown and in this case, I was showing alongside Judy Millar – so I wanted my works to be displayed in a manner in which it gave the impression of a “response”.

AMM: Are you represented by many galleries? How do you feel about this relationship between gallery and artist, or curator and artist?

FT: Actually I’m represented by a few galleries, but I was invited to many shows in the last year. I really think that a relationship between the gallery and the artist takes time, it’s like a marriage and probably I’m more “engaged” right now with a few (hehe). For example, my show in Zürich was a long journey – it must have been nearly 2 years since we first met. After several studio visits to get to know each other and, more importantly, to understand each other’s practice, we decided to do a show together. Call me romantic, but it’s also about confidence – I have experienced most of my relationships as very good, and also productive ones.

Furthermore, it can also be a unique way to observe your own practice through someone else’s eyes. When I had my residency in Madrid this summer, I had a very interesting conversation about my work with Bernardo Sopelana, a curator from Mexico – he had a very special view on my work, because of his own practice, history and origin. He asked me things that I didn’t expect at this time – so I was forced to leave my “comfort zone” throughout our conversation. But he won’t come down on me like a ton of bricks… it was constructive. This was definitely a mind-blowing experience for me, and it changed my view on my own work in many ways. I’m thankful for those kinds of relationships.

AMM: How is the art scene in Stuttgart, Germany? Have you always lived there?

FT: The art scene is very familial I think. There are some good institutions and galleries in the city and also in the surrounding areas, but of course it’s a small scene in a way. It’s nice you get to know each other and also I would say, it’s very collegial. I really think there’s a good mood to work in the city, I’ve always lived there and so it’s probably hard for me to be objective – but what I like is that you can travel so easily out of Stuttgart as well.

Sounds probably really weird, but you’re able to experience totally different people and city’s within a few hours by train – only 1 hour to Frankfurt, 2 and a half to Cologne, Basel and Munich, 3 and a half to Zürich or Paris… If you want to see something else, it’s quite easy and simple.

AMM: What would you say has been your biggest challenge as an artist? What has been you biggest achievement so far?

FT: I think my biggest challenge as an artist is to face my own practice every day and try to keep an openness throughout the work. At the end, you should be able to scrutinize yourself. Once, a former professor told me that working on a piece doesn’t have to be a pleasure to yourself. I think I understand it even better right know; you must go through it, otherwise it isn’t worth the hassle.

My biggest achievement is probably – regarding my paintings, and also what it means to work as an artist in general – that I made it so far after leaving the academy. That people are interested in my practice like you, and that I’m able to show my work. That’s great!

AMM: Is there an experience in your life that has changed the way you look at your art, or perhaps the way you look at yourself as an artist?

FT: I mean, not every single experience is an about-turn, but yes, there were many of course. I remember an experience I had before my studies, when I was visiting the Museum in Leipzig. I had a look at a big painting, could have been a Neo Rauch but I don’t know it exactly anymore. Besides the fact that it was not my cup of tea in general, I saw some stairs in the background of the painting and there were those funny raw color “sausages” meandering down… they came directly from the paint tube. I really enjoyed watching them and realized probably for the first time,what this transfer from the raw material to it’s meaning within a painting could be.

As I said, you should keep an openness and be able to change and scrutinize yourself at any stage. So, every single conversation or show may change the way you look at your practice a bit and then it’s up to you to verify your own attitude.

In particular, I do remember another experience last year, during my scholarship at the Weißenhof-Program of fine arts, I had several conversations with Christian Malycha – an art historian and director of an institution close to Stuttgart, who is a smart and very serious observer. He told me some things, which I wasn’t able to see in those days, yet they have stuck with me through last year and matured through my practice in the studio. We spoke a lot about clarity.

Find out more about the artist:

Interview by Christina Nafziger for ArtMaze Mag.