04.11.2009  •  Art NEWS


GoSee Tip: Myths, Incest and the Trouble With Titles - an interview with artist Cornelia Renz and exhibition at the Anita Beckers Gallery, Frankfurt

Until 24 November, the Frankfurt Gallery presents a cross section of work by our favourite reverse glass painter; Cornelia Renz, who creates visual worlds full of subtle humour in large formats, using acrylic paints on glass. She already shared several interesting details in an interview with us a while ago, which we are more than happy to share here.

We were so pleased that the artist, who liked the theme of the BOOKLET issue, designed an opener for us. It was her own personal interpretation of the issue’s theme of “Malice in Wonderland”. Today the piece takes pride of place with a happy collector in Japan.

From 1993 to 1998, the painter studied at the Leipzig Art College and received countless distinctions, including the “Förderpreis Bildende Kunst der Schering Stiftung” award and the Marion Ermer prize. Since 2001, her large format work, which uses acrylic paint on glass, has been exhibited in countless solo and group exhibitions all over Germany, as well as in Tel Aviv and China.

Why did you end up doing reverse glass painting?
I studied fine arts in Leipzig  and during the course, I worked with oil on canvas. I worked with a lot of intense colours and quite richly and then I realised that I wanted a different perfection and pernicketiness. I took the “stroke” from etching and then searched for a technique that would allow me to transform my finelined pieces into colour. Whilst I was on an “Art at a Construction” assignment, I happened to end up with Perspex and was impressed: the stroke only looks that wonderful on Perspex and so I ended up starting with reverse glass painting. The nice thing about it is that you can’t scratch off the stroke on the front side. That is how my technique was born, I have been working with is since 2003.

So that means, that your pictures are basically back to front?
There is a very small trick. The Perspex plates are delivered with a foil. I transfer my original sketched onto the foil and can then transfer the whole image the wrong way round, I wouldn’t be able to draw backwards.

And how do you get your sketches to reach such large sizes – with a projector?
I do often trace parts of the patterns in my sketches but I usually draw the smaller planned images onto Perspex freehand, only in a larger size. It is very important to me, as it is the only way that certain reductions and shortages are created in drawing, seeing as I do not wish to portray Photorealism.

Why chose painting as a medium rather than, for example, photography?
My first passion was painting, painting the figurative. I was downright obsessed with life drawing, depicting the naked body, not with photography, but with drawing. I also have to deal with my work for a long time, which is why photography wouldn’t never have been an option for me. My large pieces take about five or six weeks, which can be very tiring. Since I have no industrial pens, choosing instead to make my own, I have to hold the pens completely vertically as well as kneel down all the time and paint the finelined strokes.

Have you ever counted how many strokes make up one piece?
(laughs) Oh no, not yet. I should never try to do either. It would be awful if I knew “okay, just another 99,000 strokes until the picture is finished”.

When do you decide how big the figures on the Perspex should be or is that just a chance decision?
(laughs) No, no, that is all relatively clear. Coincidence is important, I would never want to go without it. However, my technique does not allow me to make a lot of changes. Which is why everything has to be decided on from the very beginning. I always start with small sketches and have certain image ideas in my head, for example if it is going to be a piece with lots of figures, or with a very large surface. When all sketches and figures are drawn and the size and colours are clear, then I go on to order my Perspex plates.

Is your choice of colours influenced by a predetermined colour palette?

No, I use colours very consciously and can mix my colours myself. I have highly pure pigment inks, which are delivered by the manufacturers, who mainly work in the restoration sector. Seeing as I draw a lot of human figures, I use a lot of red. Since it is such a high hatching, it looks like pink. All powerful kitsch colours like mint green and light blue are an important part of my work and often make the protagonist appear kitschy and over sugared.

And black as an extreme contrast?

Exactly, although I did mainly use black in my last pieces. The colours are usually a thematic decision. For example, if a short story goes off in my head in mainly dark colours, then the next exhibition will be very black.

So your pictures process short stories?
It is complicated, it never is simply just a story. Being a literature freak, I am greatly influenced by all literary things. But pictures are also very important to me, I collect them when leafing through old books. Besides pseudo scientific illustrations, I am also influenced by advertising and film.

Do you also look to classic role models?

My last piece was greatly inspired by Bronzino, a painter in the late Italian Renaissance. He painted a picture where even the title was never quite clear and hence it received a lot of names: “Allegory of Love” or “Venus kisses Amor”, “Venus, Cupid, Madness and Time”. It is a scene which depicts Venus kissing Cupid, who is the son of Amor and Venus. If you leave the art historical context out, one becomes the witness of a pure incest act between mother and son. I found it fascinating that one only realises this after a third look.

Incest and power games – your subject?

That is what everything is about for me – girls and puberty, identity, roleplays, subliminal violence and power games. It is only the person in the stronger position that can practise power. In my last exhibition, they were women, that looked at men and initiated sexual assaults – which usually happens the other way round. The idea was triggered by Bronzino as well as a whole other variety of other Renaissance pictures, that show Venus, the goddess of love clothed and Mars naked and asleep in front of her. It turns the classic portrayal around, as the woman is usually in the passive role.

Your contribution to emancipation?
To me, the gender roles of our Western world are the only opportunity to realise how such definitions function. As a woman, I am described more than I describe.

A comparison which one can probably expand further from the Western world.
Of course one can always go a step further and place European and Africans opposite each other. Here it is the Europeans that describe the dark continent. The tenor allows you to simply exchange them.

The relationship between genders is also a very interesting starting point.
That relationship is my direct and first point of entry to those power structures, who is describing whom and the results of those definitions. Do we even realise to what extent we are already pre-determined. Role behaviour starts at a very early age and that is also the reason my figures are often pubescent.

And how do you see the relationship between yourself and the observers?

Those are actually the moments in art that I like the most: when a piece of art creates more questions than it can provide answers. Most observers immediately get a general idea of which direction my pictures are heading for. The ideal situation is when the observer is not 100 percent sure of whether or not what they have taken in is the actual theme of the picture. The observer does have to join in the game, but I don’t want to leave them in the unknown, I want to encourage them to see things from at least two sides.

So you do aim to provoke with your work?

Yes, partly, but using provocation more as an element like fantastic painters Bosch or Breugel and of course Goya’s etchings, which are very important to me. Those are people that pick up on and emphasise certain problems posed, which always contain a moral. Less in the sense of “do this and not that”, but rather that as a human one should be aware of what certain behavioural patterns can cause. It also implicates the problem of recognition: it makes sense to ask one’s self questions and think about how much these have an effect on one’s own life. If I provoke, then only to question certain things.

What do you name your pictures after and more importantly, when? You just talked about a painting by Bronzino, which doesn’t have one title but several. Isn’t it difficult to go for one title and do you feel tied down, once you have decided? What do your titles such as “Heaven” express or are they also a part of the work?

That is my exact problem! My boyfriend often helps me in the naming process and I’m not always with my titles. Sometimes you end up giving away too much or commit to a certain subject. Usually I have a general idea of the theme for an exhibition. For example, with the “Paradise” subject it was probably questioning the innocence of the term, without me having to give it a completely finalised title. But I know all about the trouble with titles, I only ever know the name of the exhibition, always.

So how did you come up with the “Sub Rosa” exhibition title?

The title’s roots are laid in mythology. Once again, Cupid was the trigger. He brought roses to the God of Secrecy, as a sign for him to retain secrecy on the subject of Venus, his mother’s unfaithfulness. At the same time, “Sub Rosa” (Latin: “hidden beneath a rose”) also means that something is supposed to be kept a secret from other people. Once again we enter the area of incest. Hence, the title of the exhibition was found and I simply named the first piece after it. However, it was one of the few pieces I found easy to title.

And where does a title like “Wendy” come from?
The picture is named after a horse magazine and is an ironic allusion to girls and their passion for horses. A friend of mine was in Iceland once and wrote my daughter and I postcard that read “lots of love from Wendy, Mandy and Trendy”. The last two were horses on which they went riding. And so the name was born. I named another piece with horses “Mandy” – a girl that is riding on a naked boy, save for his wild west leggings. There isn’t a “Trendy” yet.

Is a “Renz” only real once it has achieved a certain minimum of atrocities?

In my work, it is important to me, that even the worst shocks are presented highly aesthetically. I present a pretty surface to the outside, which on the first glance, looks nice and kitschy and on the second gives way to little horrors.

What do the skeletons symbolise?

The skeleton nurse is a figure that keeps on cropping up in my work. She symbolises the person that is prompted to help, yet always fails in my pictures. And the other skeleton in “Heaven” is trying to pull a thorn out from his foot, which is of course on the whole rather idiotic.

That reminds me of Henry Darger’s dream worlds…
Of course, I didn’t want to embezzle him either, he is one of my great role models. In the meantime he has become quite famous, I discovered him over six years ago, during my studies. He was actually an impulse for me to change the style of my work. At that time, I worked with a lot of line drawing and etching and he demonstrated all the possibilities of those mediums. What I also really like about him is that he used a lot of collage and that is also a technique that I like to use too.

Do you collect art?

My boyfriend and I collect “Motivgaben”. These mainly come from Catholicism, they are small silver tins that are perforated into shapes. They are alms that are handed over after a certain healing by the Virgin Mary. For example, if you had trouble with your leg then you would donate a silver leg to the church. I find the Motivgaben really charming, as they are usually body parts. There are churches in Bavaria that are still full of Motivgaben and they look enchantingly beautiful in a row.

It sounds as if you’re religious?
No. Well let me put it this way, I come from Bavaria. But I find the subject of Religion exciting, especially that people believe in something that they have built up as a counter image themselves. Works of art that stem from a religious background, seem to be charged to a certain extent. Even when I enter an old church, I get the feeling that I am entering a holy place, one that has housed a lot of religious people. I find it very exciting, just as much as all other human passions.

Who actually writes the introductions to your exhibitions?
At my gallery Robert Goff does that. We talk to each other about the themes in the same way as we are now. I find it thrilling when I don’t read the text beforehand and observe in what direction the visitors’ thoughts are head for when they look at my work.

What does your mother say to your pubescent girls with boots and whips?
It was rather awkward for my mother and one day she took me to one side and asked me carefully if anything had happened in my childhood, which she didn’t know about. I calmed her down and the subject never came up again. Even though she can’t understand everything, she accepts it. But the art world in general is rather weird to her and the stuff that I do is even weirder…

Thanks a lot for the great interview. If you had to suggest a title for our interview, what would you pick?

Oh lord, now you’ve cornered my weakness. I already find it so difficult with my own work…but I must say that I thought the *Malice in Wonderland* title of your issue was fantastic. Alice In Wonderland, from the literary aspect, is another subject which fascinates me. Alice is never on top of things and she stumbles from one situation into the next. The whole Lewis Carroll issue with all its sexual components, is of course my kind of thing. But like I say, I like the title so much, that I hope to receive a subtitle which is at least as good…

24 November 2007 – 02 February 2008

Galerie Anita Beckers
Frankenallee 74
60327 Frankfurt a. M.

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