Give Art A Chance
By the desire to deepen the theme of "the artist as curator", Alessandra Ioalè did this interview with Stefan Winterle, artist and CoLab Gallery’s curator, who she had the pleasure to meet during her visit to the gallery spending a few days with him.
Before being the curator of the Colab Gallery (ex Carhartt Gallery), you're also one active and talented stencil artist. Your work has been shown a bit 'all over the world, from Australia, Europe to the U.S., in international exhibitions. Tell us about your beginnings, from the early ‘90s until early 2000, when you started to tag LECKOmio and how did you developed your personal stencil style?
Thanks for the flowers. I started Graffiti Writing in 1993 and I used other names back then. Being active in a small town resulted in consequences too fast. Troubles with police and law followed and so I had to take a break. During that time I started to paint on smaller surfaces. I found out that I cannot reach my desired quality with spraying on canvases. I knew I did not want to start with brushes, acrylics or oil and I`ve already had plenty of spray cans at home. So I did my first tests with stencils and that worked fine with me. I chose the name LECKOmio in that time and I came back on the streets writing that.
I have to admit that when looking at my pieces in daylight I was never happy with my writing skills. And so I decided to put my energy on cutting stencils in 2000. Friends told me that there is a stencil movement going on which I did not know because I`ve had no internet at home. I did my researches at work and found “Stencil Revolution” which was an internet platform with ambitious stencil artists. It was a revelation for me. Finally I found out what`s possible with this technique and I wanted to challenge them and myself. It took me almost two years of cutting and painting until I dared to upload my first work there.
I have recognized that the bigger part of the stencil artists only used one color scale. Grays or browns, Blues and so on. But the world comes in multicolor and so I decided to paint in lifelike colors. That was the start of my “style” and I am developing it since then. The downside of my way of stenciling is that it needs more then 8 or 9 layers and a lot of time.
Rose, stencil on canvas, 2006 (left) and Lila, stencil on tcanvas, 2006 (right)
The stenciling technique has been totally reinvented during the last 15 years. Artists can use laser-cut layers, develop their images on big scale and work with a broader imagery. What is your opinion on that? Which are the artists that have better taken advantages of this evolution?
Stencils are tools which have a very long tradition in painting because they offer convincing possibilities. Once the stencils are prepared you can work fast and clean. You can be pretty confident how the result will look and you can repeat the painting process in the same quality. But cutting them is very time consuming compared with the speed of painting.
There`s a group of artists that has been pushing stenciling in the last 15 years. Several artists have arrived at the physical boarder of what you can cut with an X-Acto blade. All their stencils are independent pieces of art. Some artists show them alongside the finished paintings, others dump them after painting. In then end, it`s not their stencils that makes these artists popular. It`s their paintings, their choice of theme and their painting skills.
I don’t have a problem when artists use machines to create paintings. To me the stencils make just one third of a good painting. The other two thirds are image choice and painting skills. We all use computers, printers, beamers in the painting process. Stencils got more complex with photoshop and illustrator. They got bigger with the use of Plotters. Why not use cutting machines when it helps you to be faster?
All stencil artists I like have proven that they can cut by hand and of course some of them are using lasers in 2014. I don’t want to point out which artist is working with what tools. It´s a personal thing. I have learned that you won’t see the use of any technical help in a good painting
Precision, stencil on canvas, 2012 (left) and Evergreen, stencil on canvas, 2013 (right)
As an artist your first step into Carhartt Gallery was in 2007, invited by Sigi ‘Dare’ Von Koeding, a legend of European writing and one of the founders of the gallery, with whom you were from a long time friend and fellow studio. Please tell us how was born the Gallery project and what was the curatorial line followed by Dare? And what’s different from the other galleries?
The gallery was founded in 2006. Sigi met Edwin Faeh the owner of Carhartt W.i.P. and art collector at a common friend’s wedding. That’s where they made up the idea for an Urban Art gallery. It took only a short term of planning. As a result the gallery has been included with 300sqm in the upper level of the brand new Outletstore of Carhartt in Weil am Rhein.
Sigi has been writing on the highest level for a long time and he was well connected within the Graffiti scene. Of course that’s where he put his focus. He was sure that the Urban Art movement is going to develop very strong and that it’s going to be the next serious Art movement after the Pop Art. His idea was to show the vast skills, variety and high quality that is growing within in the Street Art in a gallery environment. To fight for its acceptance, to help the artists to get some attention and of course managing sales so they can continue their work.
I think it`s our philosophy that makes the difference. We are seeing ourselves as a platform for Urban Art. That means we are not aiming on long term or exclusive contracts with artists. We are showing artists that need to be shown not those who are shown. The way we are constructed enables us to take the risk to also invite unknown artists or underdogs to show their talent. Of course we enjoy sales too but it`s not necessarily the most important thing to us. Authenticity is the most important rating for us. We try to keep the true spirit even in a gallery environment
A view of the entrance of the old Carhartt Gallery in Weil am Rhein
In winter 2010 you become curator of the Carhartt Gallery. What does it mean for you to become a curator of place like this? And how can you describe your curatorial line?
Although I never doubted it, I am happy to see Sigi’s vision is becoming reality and I am proud to be an active part of this process.
I am an artist-curator not a businessman-curator. So for me it`s a big joy to team up 20 artists in two shows a year and to celebrate art together with them and the audience. To me it`s a big privilege to spent those days and nights with all these creative minds when they build up the show. We are trying hard to offer them the perfect setting but it`s the artists who bring the magical element to it.
My concept of curating is not too far away from Sigi’s I think. I want to keep this personal and original spirit as there is no way to improve that. My share is that I have opened the gallery to other disciplines like stenciling, wheat pasting, oil and acrylic paintings as well as sculptures. But writing will always play an important role in our house.
In 2013, the Gallery has changed its name to Colab. What does this mean for you?
The Gallery has been founded as Carhartt Gallery and was growing well with that name from 2006 to 2013. The first show with the new name “Colab Gallery” has been Public Provocations V in 2013.
The name itself is a short version of “collaboratorium” and describes our self-concept very well. We are collaborating with the artists in any step. On the other hand we find our gallery space to be a laboratory where we are inviting the visitors to follow us to see the development of Urban Art just in time. Although it`s always risky to change your name I am happy we did it. I think it`s as important for Carhartt as it is for us. The new name shows how we are really set up. Because we`ve always had total artistic freedom of which artists to invite. There has never been a hidden agenda from Carhartt.
Anyway some artists refused to follow an invitation because they thought we or Carhartt have any hidden interests. To underline this freedom the Colab Gallery has been changed into a corporation this year. To me changing the name has been a milestone in the galleries history and a very consequent decision.
I could appreciate in person the expositive boxes system of the gallery and I find it a great way to present the work of individual artists in group exhibitions. Real mini personal reunited in large group show, like the shows you have already curated in those last three years that stand out for the different themes each time: "Wallflowers", "Do not forget to write!" and "Rule of Three". Can you tell us the choice of themes and artists?
We decided to focus our energy on two shows a year with the gallery team, because we are sharing the same expectations concerning quality.
The concept of the summer show has become an institution itself. It’s called “Public Provocations” and is meant to show Urban Art while the Art Basel is on in our neighborhood. This is a more or less open show. And the only concept of this series is diversification and quality.
With the winter show it`s something different. There we want to focus on certain aspects of Urban Art and then I invite matching artists. With “Wallflowers” we tried to bring some specialists for mural paintings and tried to implement this in our gallery. “Don’t forget to write” was about showing specialist for typography, handwriting and Graffiti Writing to explain how the written word can work as motive for paintings. With “Rule of Three” on the other hand we want to focus on regions or countries. Because I have the feeling that some styles are cultivated in certain countries. Maybe I am wrong. But that`s what I want to find out with this show concept. There are plenty of more ideas for future shows that we are talking about within the gallery team.
The Spanish artist Aryz at work for 'Public Provocations III' in 2011
So, even if Street Art is often depicted as a globalized art phenomenon and internet is pointed out as something that erases differences, you seem to defend by a more local approach. It’s a very interesting point of view. Could you tell us more about it?
The Internet helped a lot in raising the awareness in developing the overall quality of Street Art and to make it popular. It’s great when the Internet erases certain differences but it should not erase the diversity of painting styles. When I am defending a local approach then it’s because I liked Graffiti Writing before I liked the Internet. Good Graffiti Writing and Street Art has always been site specific and placement is still very important. But the Internet has different rules. It implicates that the question of placement is reduced to how to take a good photo and not necessarily how the passersby are attaching with the painting. Sometimes it seems that the difference between a famous and not so famous (Street) Artist is not necessarily the painting but the marketing skills.
It’s good to have the internet for the big overview. But I don’t rely on it 100%. There’s a lot of talents out there that are working locally but do not give a thing to the world wide web. I like those guys. And I want to give them a chance to show their work in a gallery as well.
Airport, stencil on wood, 2013
Showing every kind of Street Art, what do you think about the scene at the moment?
Street Art has come a long way. When I have started Graffiti Writing was the thing. The main question was if you were painting styles, characters or backgrounds. It had to be freehand painted and there were a lot of other unnecessary dogmas in that “macho world” of graffiti.
Then Banksy came and changed the game completely. Suddenly using stencils was a legit tool to speed up painting a wall. Smaller surfaces became more interesting. Wheat pasting and other techniques came and stickers were used similar to tags. A new name had to be invented to put a bracket to all these illegal outdoor paintings and it was named Street Art. A good effect of this evolution is that more girls started to work outside.
Street Art is still developing. At the moment I see Mural paintings as the main thing to gain fame and recognition. It seems the new dogma is “bigger is better”. I am still not a friend of any dogmas but it`s okay for me as long as the main goal is to make the urban space more colorful.
Nowadays Street Art is an art movement and it is recognized as part of contemporary art. Young writers or painters can apply at any academy of art with their photos, sketches or canvases. Even if you are not going to any university to study art you can dream of having an artist career when you start spray-painting. That`s the best part of the development I think.
I am afraid there are also negative developments. Street Art has become a market. And with money there comes trouble. There has always been a competition between street artists. A competition of visibility, of style and fame. To me that was a very honest and fair competition. But, in combination with money, this competition gets another quality. A lot more players entered the scene and more galleries are founded. Considering the artists a proper marketing has become as important as the quality of the work. And few galleries are playing wrong games and sucking out young talents for their own interests.
Whenever a subculture becomes Pop culture there are victims. And I am afraid the romantic times of Street Art are over. I am glad that I could enjoy this movement before it was a market. As a result to me it is very important to keep that original spirit alive in our gallery.
A recent view of the Colab Gallery
Until October Colab hosts Public Provocations show, but I know you're already thinking about the next show. Can you tell us something already?
We are planning a second round of the “Rule of Three”. I am working on bringing together 3 artists from Italy, 3 from Russia and 3 from England.