Colours and Chaos: Studio visit with Katharina Grosse

Photography by Peter Kaaden.
Photo by Peter Kaaden

A gigantic concrete block plonked right by Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof, Katharina Grosse’s studio has won architecture awards for its innovative use of space, particularly for the gigantic, naturally-lit painting studio which sits at the top of two “wings” that comprise a living area for the artist as well as an office. Vast expanses of windows connect the painter with the outside. The effect is simple yet impressive.

Grosse has lived in Berlin on and off since 2000, but it’s been her real home since 2008. realising that development in her installation work was coming at the expense of her studio work, she decided to accept fewer shows and create a true base for her needs. She is best known for her spray-painted installations which cover gallery walls, furniture and hanging plastic orbs with a surface of lustrous, vivid colour that strongly alludes to the body used to create it.

For Grosse, these two modes of work are merely different ways of expressing the same things: “The canvas can be complex, over-layered, compressed action; whereas with installations it’s expansive, goes everywhere and slows down movements. It has a totally different relationship to architecture, to sculpture, to your body. I always need another person, or another medium: something to talk to. It gives me the ability to think through things in different conditions, and the two mediums don’t exclude each other at all.”

Photography by Peter Kaaden.
Photography by Peter Kaaden.

Those two modes of expression, however inseparable they appear to Grosse, have very different cultural contexts – especially through the prism of gender: “Painting is basically a male history, there is no role model for females. You don’t have figures like Marina Abramovic in painting.”

The question of women’s underrepresentation in the art world’s higher echelons preoccupies Grosse. She suggests that Germany needs to catch up with English-speaking countries in this regard, and cites the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where she is a professor, as an example of a seemingly forward-thinking institution that is still stuck in the past in this regard: “There are 29 chairs, and there are five women holding them. We are supposedly one of the leading art schools in the country and have seventy percent female students – how are they supposed to develop any role models?”

Meanwhile, Grosse seems almost presciently attracted to new technologies, ideas and concepts: for example, she spends 10 minutes enthusiastically showing Sleek conceptual clothes that her designer friends have made.

The same is true of her attitude to her work: “The first thing I did with my computer was to create a digitised archive. I had this sense that I needed to organise my work to communicate it better to people.” This is hardly a universal attitude among artists – to accept the changes that a newly digital world brings, and embrace its effects in one’s work. “What it made me aware of is the homogenous surface of the reproduced image, be it photography or the digital image. The special thing my work has, both in the studio and the installational situation, is that it is a very sculptural, bodily image. My images are very tactile. What I do with my body in front of the work very much generates what’s landing on the field.”

Photography by Peter Kaaden.
Photography by Peter Kaaden.

While Grosse admits herself the postmodern victim of attention deficit disorder in front of the computer screen (confessing she loves watching film trailers, instead of watching the whole film), she is concerned about the lack of cerebral journey that time on the internet produces. “You feel like you’ve travelled, even though you don’t really go into a process. I see that my students find it really hard to engage. They don’t tell you they find it difficult, but you can see it.”

Looking to the future, Grosse is already foreseeing her paintings being reproduced by 3D printing, and instead of balking at that she marvels at the reduction in shipping costs. What a remarkable way to adapt.

Text by Josie Thaddeus-Johns

Taken from Sleek Magazine 41: What & Why?

Check out more stories from our print issues

Me, Myself and Art #6: In a DD MOOD