“Good, true, beautiful”: in conversation with Janes Haid-Schmallenberg

In today’s hyper-connected digital world where everything conceivable counts as content, what’s left for the artist to paint? For Berlin-based artist Janes Haid-Schmallenberg, all subject matter is equal. His paintings, watercolours and etchings are carried out in sketchy and wilfully incomplete, attention-deficit visual language, where motifs are begun but fizzle out before completion. His compositions reflect the jumble and free-flow of unmediated thoughts, where a set of truncated legs, two cats and a dismembered head make sense together for an instant.

Janes’ irreverent visual style is a reaction to the over saturation of content and the amalgamation of high and low culture, but also his own earlier work – first abstract and then metaphorical figurative compositions. Janes’ technique prioritises immediacy and an unfiltered line between thoughts and images. We caught up with Janes to find out more about his fragmented compositions, his side projects, and what (doesn’t) keep him awake at night.

AMM: Hi Janes! To begin, let’s go back to the start of your artistic journey: What was the first artwork that you made that you felt represented you as an artist.

JH-S: I don’t remember the artwork exactly. But growing up in the remote countryside, I was urgently searching for something to identify with when I started to paint and to be interested in all of the old masters. I felt like being an artist at a very young age.

AMM: How has your practice changed since then? What have been some of the influences that have steered you artistically?

JH-S: Back then I was interested in only a few artists, who deeply influenced me and there was nothing else for me. Today, I tend to be interested in everything all the time, but it doesn’t affect me as deeply.

AMM: Your work from a few years ago was vivid and colourful and seemed to focus on allegorical narratives or fairytales. What subject matter are you exploring in your current work?

JH-S: Actually, the fairytales themselves have never been a real interest. I used them rather as a statement against the minimalistic abstract paintings which I made before. I felt that those paintings were mainly speaking to professional painting experts while my colourful and vivid paintings were a kind of a counterproposal.

In my recent paintings, I allow many things to become a subject matter. In a way, this is an exploration of the saturation of content in contemporary life. Yet, there is the wish of giving everything a dignity. That’s why, for example, I often add the phrase ‘good, true, beautiful’ to my paintings.

AMM: Stylistically, your visual language has been pared back and simplified to loose and sketchy mark-making. Please tell us about this seemingly naïve aesthetic direction and what is driving it.

JH-S: In a way, I lost the interest in bringing certain ideas to completion. I became bored of delivering what it needs to finish a character or motif. So I was looking for a language that would allow me to paint what I was thinking about more immediately. I wanted the paintings to be like a print of my mind onto the canvas instead of a proof that I know how to paint.

‘Tekashi69’, oil, acrylic on canvas, 190 x 150 cm

AMM: Are there motifs or characters that recur in your work? What might these represent?

JH-S: The figures represent a cocktail of aversion, desire, ignorance, domination, submission, fear or joy. Other things like weapons, animals, dinosaurs, cars, airplanes, as well as the words or sentences emphasize these human tendencies. Showing these archetypical conditions is a strategy to give the viewer entry points into my paintings.

AMM: Are you influenced artistically by popular culture and media? In what ways might this be apparent in your work?

JH-S: I am not particularly interested in any pop culture artist or media, but I am intrigued by the phenomena itself. Although pop culture is firmly anchored in every part of our lives, its materials are so ephemeral and exchangeable. It seems to me that we are surrounded by fragments and I think that my paintings do deal with this by juxtaposing only fragmented figures.

AMM: What are some of the influences that inform your work?

JH-S: I feel more like I just use stuff. When I repeatedly use the sentence “life finds a way” from the Jurassic Park movie, I’m not influenced by the actual movie. In fact, I was not even interested in watching it. But the film poster with this deep sentence, a huge dinosaur on top of it and a Burger King below simply represents something very profane about how we live today. And that was just something I wanted to paint.

AMM: What are the hardest things for you to get ‘right’ in your art?

JH-S: Not to be afraid of doing something wrong.

AMM: What is your process of working? Do you plan your compositions or follow a more intuitive approach?

JH-S: It is all very intuitive but the methods must be very clear. It took me a while to explore the technique which allows me to paint like I do now. I need one day, more or less, for the first layers of the background, one day for the main composition and one or two weeks for little corrections and to acclimatise to what I did.

AMM: Pleases tell us about the different mediums you work in and what appeals to you about them. What is your experience working in ceramics?

JH-S: As a painter I don’t feel like using my colours only in an affirmative way. A painting is more like a challenge that asks for new solutions. For me, this is the most interesting thing about painting: you learn what it means to see and to judge what you see. At the same time, there is the danger of only cruising around self-made problems. I use drawings, graphics and ceramics in order to avoid this. So in the past, I primarily used these mediums for an add-on to my main profession but they are slowly liberating themselves and start to stand out in their own right.

AMM: What is the Berlin art scene like? Where do you fit in (or not)?

JH-S: Puh, I don’t know. Sometimes I fit in, sometimes not.

AMM: What keeps you awake at night and why?

JH-S: Thanks for you compassion but most of the time I sleep very well.

AMM: Any exciting projects coming up? What’s next for you?

JH-S: Besides working in my studio, I will record a Greatest Hits album with my band, the Seragon Business Band. Also, I am renovating an old big house with some friends in the countryside near Berlin where we build workshops and will be able to offer studio spaces.

Find out more about the artist: www.j-hs.de

Interview by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Magazine.

‘Life finds a way’, oil, acrylic on canvas, 180 x 150 cm