The German painter talks medium, interactivity and unpredictability

With the awareness that today’s reality can be adjusted to reflect what pleases the mind and the eye, a certain suspicion arises (or at least, it should) when it comes to overly polished visions. On-going since the 1990s, Peter Zimmermann’s iconic Blob paintings spur this need for a reflexion on substantiality as their extra shiny, multilayered surfaces of epoxy resin allude to the seductive pow-er of digital embellishments. Diffusion, the artist’s first solo exhibition in the Middle East, presented at Doha-based Anima Gallery, acts as a retrospective and shows the many facets of Zimmer-mann’s practice, including his latest abstract series of gestural oil on canvas works. Here is how the German artist has been redefining the notion of painting in the modern age.

Peter Zimmermann, portrait

Peter Zimmermann, portrait

Marina Iordan: Let’s talk about epoxy, the medium that you have been using for almost two decades. Its glossiness and vibrant hues create an irresistible attraction that leads the audience to new ways of interacting with painting, for instance licking them, as unexpectedly happened during one of your exhibitions. Is this what you primarily aim for — an interaction with the painting that goes beyond the visual connection?
Peter Zimmermann: I discovered the medium by accident when I wanted to recreate the shiny surfaces of book covers. Somehow I got stuck with this material because of its appeal. It offers the possibility of intense colours that give you the impression of being able to dive into the paintings.

When it comes to the licking aspect, I did a series of paintings made of sugar for Make Up Forever in 2015. I had always thought, “One day I have to do it.” And it’s actually quite pleasant to lick a painting. From a hygiene point of view it may be a bit problematic if too many people lick on the same painting. However, if you own such an artwork, it can be quite an experience: the collector becomes part of the process by altering the canvas with his tongue.

MI: In Diffusion, your iconic and seemingly organic Blob paintings mingle with more recent oil on canvas works. In the latter, impressionist brushstrokes and drips comparable to Jackson Pollock’s action paintings can be observed. Can you talk about your departure towards a new medium and a more gestural technique?
PZ: I have been doing epoxy paintings for the past 15 years and had the feeling that I needed to open a new door for myself. Somehow, I’ve always thought that if you want to be a painter you need to deal with “real stuff” — brushes and oil paint. When I finally started, two years ago, I was suddenly confronted with many technical issues — gesture, proportion, image. It was a challenge that I gave myself, and, in the process, I made a lot of discoveries. What I appreciate about this technique is that I can’t predict what’s going to happen on the canvas. It makes painting an adventure.

Peter Zimmermann, Delta 1, 2014, epoxy resin on canvas, 90 × 70cm

Peter Zimmermann, Delta 1, 2014, epoxy resin on canvas, 90 × 70cm

MI: All of your paintings result from the digital distortion of images, which are later trans-posed onto canvas. You first used images of book covers, and later manipulated photographs from your own archives. What aesthetic or conceptual attributes do you look for when selecting these visuals?
PZ: It’s a personal game, what I do. I feel very attracted by a photo, admire its colours and details, and then I start decomposing it through the use of different filters until the image becomes a motif. Then I transpose it onto canvas. I like to choose something that is unexpected — that’s why I use a computer to achieve a visual effect that can’t be predicted. What interests me is this contradiction between text and image and how far these two terms interfere. I ask myself, “Can images, and, by extension, paintings, be assimilated to text that can be read? Or are they different in the sense that you have to feel them in order to understand them?”

MI: In an earlier interview you mentioned that you did not consider yourself as part of the tradition of German painters. How would you contextualise your practice?
PZ: As soon as you use canvas, brushes and oil paint: “Welcome to the club” — you are following a certain tradition. I am not sure whether or not my practice is linked to the tradition of German painters. I would say that it’s about a reflexion on Impressionism. That said, I hope it is apparent in my paintings that I am working today, not in the 19th century. What I want to reflect is contemporaneity.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The One-on-One Issue #35, on pages 74-77.