Bernhard Adams in Conversation with Art Historian Ruth Polleit Riechert
What motivated you to work as an artist and how did the change from photography to painting come about?
The insight that art is not just a pastime for me came to me in law school. During the day, I was impatiently sitting through criminal and state law lectures, and at night I rode around with my motorcycle in the Cologne area to photograph power plants. Fortunately, after one year, I realised that I had chosen the wrong path and applied to German art colleges to study photography. I only started painting while I was already studying. My view of painting is determined by the distinction to the photo. In the painted picture I search and appreciate all the qualities that photography cannot give me. I missed the directness, movement, the ability to be felt through seeing, tactile quality, and the immutable, factual elements of a painting when I was working with the camera. For me, a photo always has the overlay of a noticeable filter, a distance to the viewer. Today, I once again see a stimulus and starting point for my work in photography, but during my art studies, after the first year, I was only interested in painting.
What inspires you, where do you draw your ideas, suggestions?
I consider everything that happens during the process of painting and whatever I observe an inspiration. It can influence me in the decisions that lead me to a finished painting. Two splashes of paint on the floor, which mix slowly, rubbing out a paintbrush, two paintings leaning against the wall funnily, etc., affect how I paint. I get the "what", the ideas, less direct considerations - when I'm not facing a canvas.
Astronomy has always fascinated me. I follow scientific findings on this topic in books, lectures, and films. When I graduated, I understood this interest as an energy source that I can use for painting. Since then, I have found inspiration for new images regularly, such as how other cultures look at the stars, which cosmic forces are needed to create gold, or when I try to visualise how great a light year actually is.
What methods and techniques do you use?
My "gateway" to painting was the distinction from the photo. Making the materiality of a work of art visually and tactfully so rich in contrast, immediately making the creation comprehensible, that does not work in photography. I work with a paintbrush and spray gun because both tools allow me to visualise my thoughts on the possibilities of a picture.
A brush stroke conveys something archaic, direct, tangible. Movement splits into its components and burns into the canvas. Drag, speed, and determination are projected, layers of paint blend depending on the strength of the stroke. With the spray gun, I don’t use the base. Everything is effortlessly covered with a grid of individual colour particles. Spraying does not shape the surface of the image; the haptic element of the brush istotally avoided. Sprayed paint reminds me of screens, mass images behind glossy glass. I regard both manifestations as antagonists and see them both as irrevocably relevant to today's understanding of images.
What do you want to say and effectuate with your art?
The question "what a picture can be" is the engine of my painting. I want to convey this driving force and provide suggestions. I do not produce propaganda, so I do not want the viewer to agree with my thoughts. I want to work, inspire, share my fascination, prompt and capture the viewers’ imagination with what I do. Painting is communication. I communicate with the world. My paintings are manifestations of my reflections and decisions, which document this communication and should initiate discussion independently of myself.
Thanks for the interview, Bernhard!
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Text: Ruth Polleit Riechert Photos: Jennifer Rumbach Production: Christoph Blank
Read the interview in German on kunstbar.de
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