conversations – Interview by Nora Partl – 20.04.2023
ALBRECHT/WILKE: IRONY MEETS ROMANTIC LONGING
BAD PAINTING AND SURREALISM
Interview by Nora Partl
Artist duo Albrecht/Wilke are inseparable since they met in art school in 2017. Since then they have studied under Anselm Reyle, developed a unique visual language that ironically captures the Zeitgeist of contemporary society, and exhibited across Europe, showing their surreal visual worlds. In conversation with Nora Partl, Head of Content & Communication, Albrecht/Wilke speak about their process of painting as a duo, their idea of "good painting", and their obsession with currywurst.
In their works, Albrecht/Wilke address the clichés of the German middle class with irony and a dash of glamour. Combining figurative elements in an associative way and interlacing them with abstraction, they create captivatingly contemporary imagery and a highly subjective mood between naivety and unease. They draw from all sources, like the Internet, pop culture, art, or cultural history. Whatever comes their way—be it a garden gnome, a mini golf course, or a roll of mops—by humorously reflecting on the reality of their own lives, they create surreal visual worlds that ignore the seemingly strict aesthetic rules of painting.
Nora Partl: Albrecht/Wilke, you are an artist duo creating together since 2017. How did you get to work with each other?
Albrecht/Wilke: We met in college and have been best friends since then. It was a logical step for us after we already shared the wooden spoon for our catering company in college. Now to share the paintbrush and break up the single painting genius behind the canvas.
NP: What are the benefits of being an artist duo? What are the challenges?
AW: We can share everything. If there are problems, we don't have to deal with them alone, and if there's something to celebrate, it's more fun as a couple.
NP: What does painting on a team look like? Can you describe your artistic process?
AW: Each picture is a new challenge for us. We always take turns, creating a dialogue between us and the canvas. We try to challenge ourselves again and again, so that new problems arise for which we then need new solutions. For example, we have now begun to play with the application of paint and its media and means. What was previously our motif has now become our painting tool, with a very impasto application of paint. The sausage becomes a brush.
NP: You studied under Anselm Reyle at HfbK Hamburg. As his art students, how did being in his class influence your art?
AW: Don't be afraid to try something new that you think you're not allowed to do in art.
NP: What are the most important lessons you learnt at art school?
AW: Cooking yourself tastes better than food at the cafeteria.
NP: Has your perception of being an artist changed after leaving art school?
AW: What you really have to learn after art school is effective time management. That was never an issue in school.
NP: Your paintings refer to cultural history, pop art, and the Internet. What impact does art history have on your practice?
AW: We draw inspiration from everywhere. All that we’re interested in—what we find good and bad—can be painted. Thus, everything takes place simultaneously and equally on the canvas. We like the moment when something very meaningful meets something ordinary and they become one: Mondrian and a Dachshund, or Casper David Friedrich and a currywurst.
NP: In reference to the "Bad Painting" movement of the 1980s, you have written a manifesto that is as self-confident as it is ironic and in which you state what "Good Painting" is. What is the idea behind the manifesto?
AW: The basic question we asked ourselves with this manifesto was "What is good painting?" and "What is art?". These questions are not easily answered, so we wrote a text and elaborated on them. When reading the text, you want to agree with every sentence but also directly disagree. The manifesto should create the same humour and tipping moment as in our paintings. If these elementary questions could be answered easily, our job as painters would be obsolete. Art needs a secret.
NP: And what is a good painting for you? When do you know a piece you work on together is finished?
AW: Good painting must always be better in real life than in the photo that you take of it. Only when we are both happy with the painting will it be finished.
NP: At first glance, your paintings are fun and playful, humorous and ironic. How about the second glance?
AW: The funniest joke is when you laugh at yourself. We like the moment when people feel caught in their own behavior; that's how we sometimes feel ourselves in the studio. Some things you would like to keep a secret, for example, that we want to bite into a juicy currywurst every day. Our work is intended to break down conservative patterns of behavior.
NP: You humorously reflect on the reality of your own lives and thereby create surreal visual worlds. What stories do these surreal worlds tell?
AW: Our pictures tell the stories of refuges from everyday life and their tipping moments. An allotment can be very beautiful and very terrible at the same time.
NP: A larger-than-life garden gnome floating on the Spree through Berlin while eating toast Hawaii and a curry wurst in front of a skylight on fire: You play on the clichés of the German middle class with irony and create a subjective mood between naivete and unease. How did you develop your style?
AW: In our painting process, a certain interest has crystallized over time. We try to break that up again and approach the subject from new angles. Artistically, we find it more exciting to work on it in different ways.
It's always more interesting when a tipping point arises in the picture. A romantic longing meets irony. These two opposites need each other and reinforce each other. Irony or romance doesn't work for us alone.
NP: What are your findings about German middle class?
AW: We love them. We hate them.
NP: A new meaning of the term cute is being developed, with some arguing that the unpleasant or even ugly aspect of something makes it cute. Do you agree?
AW: We would agree with that. For example, the bear sausage can have something sweet but at the same time it is very absurd. Or a garden gnome can be very cute and at the same time it is the symbolic figure for a stuffy, conservative Germany.
NP: Can you imagine ever not working together and pursue separate careers?
AW: No, we’re BFFs forever.
The artist duo Albrecht/Wilke has been working together since 2017. Having studied under Anselm Reyle, they have established their own creative dialogue, in which they make use of various techniques, from classical oil painting to airbrushing and embroidery on canvas, or watercolors.
Albrecht/Wilke’s work has been exhibited at the Weserhalle Berlin, Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, Baumwollspinnerei Leipzig, and Sprink Düsseldorf, amongst others.