Floor Conversation:
Interview with Peter Bömmels

 Peter Bömmels

Works of one specific artist from the Deutsche Bank Collection are installed on each floor of the Head Office in Franfurt. On the 12th floor of the Deutsche Bank Building, it's the work of Peter Bömmels. Recently, Peter Bömmels was invited to "his" floor to take part in one of a series of floor conversations in which the staff of the Deutsche Bank invite "their" artists in order to learn more about the art hanging in their workplace. In an interview, he describes his impressions of this conversation and tells us why he never wanted to become "Bömmels, the hair artist."

Mr. Bömmels, was the conversation interesting and meaningful for you personally, or did you have doubts afterwards as to whether "art in the workplace" can be explained in any real depth in a conversation of this kind?

I feel certain that the staff from the 12th floor will view and appreciate my works with less reserve and a more open eye as a result of our conversation. Some of the banking community might have thought, well, behind these strange images is just another person like you and me. Of course, there's always a certain risk that what I said about the images could be mistaken for the "one true point of view." But the lively opposing interpretations among the staff clearly confirmed that the pictures have a productive life of their own. For my part, I like it when I'm nothing more than an animator.

Were there surprising moments?

I was amazed by the "bankers'" "unorthodox" working hours and happy about their inquiring attitudes regarding the images and myself. The staff posed clear, informed questions on the narrative figurations in the pictures and compared them with their "own images" of the pictures. We shouldn't forget that the art hanging in the hallways and in front of the elevators (and especially there!) isn't necessarily the "art of their dreams," but a part of their everyday lives nonetheless.

Does it matter to you where your works are placed, whether they're in an art space or on a floor of an office building?

What's important is that the pictures can be viewed with the necessary quiet and concentration – not always, but from time to time… I think there are enough of these moments on the 12th floor, despite the hectic pace of the working day. I'd like to produce pictures that concentrate all too human (and, as a consequence, all too animal, all too vegetable, as well) emotional states into a figurative form in a highly individual way, making them memorable and productive. Some of the ingredients in the finding of images are love and humor.

 Ich verhangen (noch) zu, 1999

Your preferred medium is drawing. Why?

While drawing, I can combine automatic components (the line flows the way it does) with associative, reflective components (usually by means of erasure) in the most direct and economical manner. I can work in my drawing book anywhere, tap into every inspirational horizon that presents itself. Boredom can be a very productive composer.

Your pictures often seem as though they sprang from a nightmare; to a certain extent, they seem surreal and even symbolic. Where does the inspiration come from?

A great deal comes from the Rhenish and Catholic injuries and promises I've experienced, and a sensitivity for the injuries and longings of many others that have resulted out of this. How these images arise and why, however, is something I can't explain entirely. For one, they wouldn't need to be made then, and secondly they wouldn't provide the same stimulation of memory for our dear viewers. Surreal, symbolic??? What does that matter? I don't administer styles. Deep Soul is something that comes to mind, to switch over to another language.

 Eiermänner, 1998

Some of your drawings, especially those on canvas, have wall-sized formats. Do you make sketches and plans for them, or do you work directly on the canvas?

Many of the large-scale drawing images have pencil drawings as their point of departure. Depending on the requirements of the picture I'm aiming for, I then alter them, that is, make their form more precise. I often combine several drawings, as well. In this way, the narrative content, as one used to say, becomes intensified. In any case, the large-scale drawing picture becomes a completely new image. In addition, there are also some that have been made without a preliminary drawing, such as the picture Sporenklingler's Chance from my last exhibition in the Galerie Almut Gerber in April 2002 - for the simple reason that an enormous challenge lies in this kind of experiment.

In the eighties, you made a series of "hair drawings" that is remarkable because it was literally made with human hair. Why of all materials did you choose hair?

Before the Hair Drawings, I had already been working on large hair paintings (8 x 6') since 1982. I wanted to shake off the label of being a wild, adventurous painter. Through their graphic form, the hair lines, glued to a whitish oil ground, reinforced the actual narrative figuration. The fact that the thicker hair lines were composed of thousands of fine individual hairs and, where necessary, proliferated into thick tufts (partly with blond "shadows"), led to an unavoidably haptic overall picture.

 Herkömmliche Equilibristin ,1999

The symbolic charge of the material human hair should never be seen in direct connection with the pictorial narrative. This spectacular visual tool is merely meant to attract the viewer's attention to my pictorial statements. A prerequisite here, of course, was that the strength of my own pictorial inventions could take full advantage of the material's impact. The hair drawings stem from the final phase of an involvement with this material, in 1984/85 (by the way, I never wanted to become Bömmels, the "hair artist").

A group of 25 letter-sized sheets arose together under the title "In the Name of the Third Nature," with glued-on, reduced hair figurations each of which has been accorded a typewritten sentence. For example, "In the Name of the Third Nature: When the Hair Stops Growing, the Head Continues." Or: "Love Your Street, Treat It to a Tunnel!" There are illustrations of these works in the catalogue "Peter Bömmels - wie dich selbst," published by the Kunstverein and the Städtische Galerie Wolfsburg, 1995.

Are there artists that have served as role models for you?

When I began with fine arts in 1979, the examples that excited me most were actually the brilliant, dilettante bands such as Joy Division or Wire and the way they implemented their very own special potential step by step. In the art scene, I felt closer to them. In the beginning, what was certainly very important for me was the support of and involvement with the group "Mülheimer Freiheit" (more here). My entire process of learning and development always took place in front of an audience. In time, as my own world of imagery took on a more distinct form, I was able to detect a proximity to certain art historical positions, although they'd never been models for me. I'll let a few names drop to satisfy the journalistic urge for comparison: the master of the Romantic world of images, dark Goya, a few of the whacked-out Nordic symbolists of the late 19th century - Munch, Anna Ancher, Ensor (here and here) -, the late, simple Klee drawings from the thirties, Pierre Klossowski and his brother, Philip Guston, the late paintings of Maria Lassnig

 Der Schritt, 1999

You were not only a founding member of the artists' group "Mülheimer Freiheit," but also one of the first publishers of the music magazine Spex What role did pop music play for you back then, and what role does it still play for you today, especially in terms of your artistic work?

There is as good as no direct reference in my artistic work to pop music. Despite this, in the case of certain musicians I detect related worlds of feeling and attitude, even if they might be my own projections. I'd like to cite the artistic mania of a Bob Dylan here, who didn't let anyone stop him from acting like a jerk, (i.e. his Bible-preaching time or the alcohol concerts at the end of the eighties), only to rise up again all the more gloriously later in adventurous reinterpretations of certain classics and new, graced creations (see "Time Out Of Mind" or, more recently, the "Love and Theft" album!). Each concert presents a new picture. Finding oneself through redefining oneself.

Another favorite is Townes van Zandt. I'll never forget his concert in 1996 in a small club in Cologne (32 spectators). The night before, during a performance, he'd injured his hand in a fall, and he could hardly play the guitar anymore, but he told all the more enthralling anecdotes. He embodied the most lovable person on Earth. Everyone knew that heroin and alcohol had already nearly devoured his body, but for those two hours, death was banned at the door. It was his very last concert. Among the younger musicians, I'd like to point out the masterful people of Lambchop and above all highlight Will Oldham. I like listening to the music of these artists while I work.

Interviewers: Ulrich Clewing, Oliver Koerner von Gustorf

Translation: Andrea Scrima

pictures: © Peter Bömmels, Köln