Q+A with Berlin-Based Multimedia Artist Peter Vahlefeld

Peter Vahlefeld is a Berlin-based multi-media artist. His work combines analog and digital painting on canvas and explores the currency of advertisements for galleries and international auction houses in magazines and catalogues as a medium. We speak with him about the ideas behind his practice and the sense of communication that pervades his works.

A: Your work is a multimedia blend that combines both analog and digital painting on canvas; could you talk about where this marriage of materials came from and how they cohere together within your pieces?
I use the magazine page as a ready-made and as my medium. Gallery advertisements and auction catalogue pages are thickly covered with oil paint. This over-painted printed matter will be digitalised and reworked on the computer, fusing analog and digital painting. I replace silkscreen printing with the relatively new process of inkjet printing with the Epson UltraChrome K3 ink technology by means of Mac OS X. Parts of it will be printed out and mounted on canvas with a special kind of transparent acrylic based medium, rendering the three-dimensional over-painting as a two-dimensional background for the new painting on canvas.

This operation (painting and the digitalisation of the painting) will be repeated a few more times. The result is a multi-layered composition in which figure and ground seem to continually shift between the analog painting with oil, and its digital counterpart of pigmented inkjet prints. This method is predicated upon the crossover of painting, printing and collage, and draws it actuality from the collision between the visual codes of mass media and the subjective traces of painterly expression.

A: It is interesting that there seems to be a dialogue between the surface of your works and the language they convey; how far do you think that your works intrinsically communicate through their semantics?
I explore the currency of media images and the language of advertising as a platform to deface them. By painting lushly on top of them, I am expropriating their surface, language, and semantics. Hijacking material from the public domain and obscuring them, I further complicate the everyday transaction of images by taking away the content they are supposed to advertise. Branding is part of the condition in which we live. It’s always a constellation of words, of names, of logos, and their relationship to each other, of lists and configurations.

The lists of artists’ and galleries’ names that end up in the pages of art magazines and auction catalogues as ads, are almost images themselves. The legibility, the aura, the design of the names, there’s a fetishistic quality to those words. They are presented so seductively, almost as if the branding is built in, so that they become their own advertising. It is like a game of deciphering influence, and then to wipe it out by painting over it. Without the language and their semantics, there would be no commercial purpose, thus the work would be completely different.

A: You create a certain depth in colour through the layering of paint, materials and brushstrokes; is there something particular you’re trying to create in this multi-levelled expression?
The artwork is juggling digital and analog modes of representation. What the digital actually lacks is “touch” itself. I like the coarseness of painterly gestures, they seem as affected as they are impetuous. The digital printout is flat – there is a sort of sameness, which I like to disrupt. I like to remind the viewer that no matter how modern and civilized we are, art can still be raw, primitive and talismanic. The work celebrates process – brushed, scraped, layered and smeared, the dynamic surfaces are supposed to radiate with energy. Unlike on the computer, where the functional logic is based on described rules, the material on canvas becomes the topic as a sequence of actions – taking on an almost sculptural character.

A: Is there a thematic consistency throughout your works, or does inspiration come from separate stimuli?
I try to create richly enigmatic narratives, inscribing my paintings with signifiers that obliquely reference the cultural industry of today, mining the vernacular of popular images. It’s a way of looking not only backward to look forward, but of transmitting my own fascination with the exegesis of “image”.

A: How is repetition important to your works other than the physical processes behind making them; could you talk about how this manifests itself in spurring creativity and new works?
I am interested in the endless recycling of signs and images, and the ways in which they are consumed. Re-appropriate or expropriate the system – to retake as a means against being relegated to just the pathetic role of a consumer.

A: There are barely visible aspects to work, hidden under thick impasto and re-defined layers – what attracts you to this sense of unseen depth? Is the meaning in the process or the viewing of the audience?
The starting point of each painting is based on a narrative, which informs the course of my painting. In the process of painting, it is not a question of making ever more references to the narrative, but a deliberate attempt to escape from it. The paintings are observed for what they are rather than what they should mean. They are an exploration of colour, texture, and mark making. They are a combination of chance and deliberation, functioning as a diagram of layers, which create gateways and absence, suggesting both a physical and emotional energy in the course of making the work. The paintings are never furtive documentations of reality but complex constructions that require lengthy de-codification on the part of the observer.

A: How far do you think that your works are ultimately trying to communicate? If not, is there a certain purpose above their aesthetics that you’d like to talk about?
The massive commercialisation of our living environment has led to a constant increase in the number of images circulating in the media. If you want to make a point about the meaninglessness of an image, I guess, you have to find a strong image to challenge. Advertisements by galleries, museums and their marketing strategies, are the object on which the act of painting takes place, and which makes painting its subject as well as its medium. The result is polarised between the sign and its removal, between affirmation and negation, statement and retraction, and is supposed to communicate contradiction.

1. Museum Shop Sunflowers Fridge Magnet. (2016). Courtesy of the artist.
2. Advertisement Picasso. (2016). Courtesy of the artist.
3. Advertisement Hermitage. (2016). Courtesy of the artist.