BACK TO DOWNLOAD MENU

THE VISIONARY REVUE
Fall 2004

DOWNLOAD VERSION OF:
ERNST FUCHS SPEAKS

VR - 'Where' does the inspiration for your work come from? What is the driving force behind the creation of your work?
FUCHS - Well, when I first started to work from the imagination, I was about twelve years old. And the imagination became for me the only way to perceive reality... to shape it. At the same time of course I did like everybody else: I went to art school, took courses, and so on... I drew from nature. I found it rather fascinating to 'render' reality into a very convincing form, using the utmost of my ability.
      Meanwhile, I realized more and more that the reality of the imagination is almost identical to the reality that everyone sees - that the two are more or less the same. So, over the course of my studies, I kept doing both - working from nature... making studies... and working from my imagination, as if I were portraying something that everyone could really see. Except, for the artist working from the imagination, nobody would ever know that such a thing existed, if he had never drawn it.
VR - When you say 'from the imagination', that happened while you were drawing, or it came to you before..?
FUCHS - Oh - ask somebody hypnotized: when did the experience start and what happened during it... (laughter)
VR - OK...
FUCHS - That's something that remains quite obscure, because... it's like dreaming: the dreamer cannot change his dreams. Maybe he can remember what he dreamt. But he doesn't really know what it means. It's another language - a language that comes to him. He doesn't make it up. Instead, it is made up. Well, that's what I think the source of visionary art is, or imaginary art.
VR - You said 'imaginary or visionary art'... Do you make a distinction between what's called Fantastic art and what's now called Visionary art?
FUCHS - Not really. This is due to different countries and what, in their language, the word 'fantastic' means. 'Fantastic' in English does not necessarily mean something visionary or 'fantasiste' as we would say in French. It's hard because so many different artists could be recognized as belonging to this kind of art, and they live in different centuries.
VR - You've had the project of a museum of fantastic art for quite some time. What do you imagine that museum would be? What would it bring together?
EF - Well, I participated in an exhibition in Venice, showing over a thousand paintings from artists from all over the world. And it showed us how many different aspects there are to it. So, you couldn't possibly say already what such a museum would be like. It's a process that will have to pass through many stages, and will no doubt change constantly. The generations that I have seen, and to which I belong, have already made great changes in our understanding of the Pre-Raphaelites, and the Surrealists... All of these movements have a different value from the time when I started out as a painter, say 1945...
VR - You keep moving forward artistically. What is it that fascinates you now about painting?
FUCHS - Well - to be honest, I don't know how to do anything else... (laughter). So, I try doing this - which is something I thought I could do - but is really something I can't do. (more laughter)
VR - Don't you find yourself being drawn more towards certain subjects now? Or going back to your past?
FUCHS - It's more like what I already said - like going to bed and saying 'I want to dream about being in Calcutta'. But then, you wake up and realize, 'I didn't dream anything.' At least, nothing about Calcutta! Then suddenly, you have this urge to do some work, and it becomes a kind of mania, or obsession. You get obsessed with a painting that you saw once, from another painter... so you start.
      You know, the way I understand it, art is also the discovery of all the artists who have come before you... and that, they are in you... so you have to revive them. This resurrection of the arts that goes on, I think, from generation to generation. If you think of Michealangelo, when he saw the Laocoon, he didn't see an old piece of greek sculpture. He saw his own art, on an eternal level. And immediately, he could give expression to it in such a way that even the Greeks, as the originator of that style, would have respected it.
VR - The work had evoked something in him.
FUCHS - Yes. The artist responds to something that he is. It awakens, and comes to life - by looking at art. And that's what I think has been very important in all the periods that I've passed through. I know what inspired me. I even know what I wanted to repeat - just to see if I was good enough. It becomes a kind of 'conjuring', if you will. You see somebody doing a trick, and you have no idea how he did it. You stand in front of a painting and wonder: how did he do that? And then you go home and you try and you try. And suddenly - you got it! That's really something - to discover an artist who was living maybe centuries before you, by doing what he was able to do.
VR - You are appreciated today for rediscovering the Mischtechnik. How did you develop it in your own work?
FUCHS - Seeing how most of my contemporaries used paint, like a heavy paste, it reminded me more and more like ... making pastry! Personally, I couldn't see how putting yellow, very thick on the canvas, would make it brighter. I didn't see the value of relief in painting either, except perhaps in Bonnard or Bracque, where it could be of great importance. And, of course, Rembrandt!
      But, to me, it became a kind of 'senseless heroism' to throw around such big quantities of paint. So, I found out that glazing over a white ground made the colour even brighter. And then I got into the idea of studying the different possibilites - of developing a rich palette of colours with all the best glazes. If you go through a museum, looking at Dürer or Holbein, you can see that glazing was very important for them. And centuries before that, it was developed by the icon painters of the Russian and Greek schools. Throughout the centuries, they were using what was actually the basis of the Mischtechnik.
VR - You were also working on etching at the same time that you did your first Mischtechnik paintings. Did your etching influence your painting: the way you developed the painting?
FUCHS - Yes. And it was, most of the time, the cradle of pictorial ideas. Because, I am very given to drawing... I love to draw... line... and light and shadow... just by using a crayon. It was such a wonderful sensation... it still is really. But I realized very quickly that, since the fine pencil drawings would never sell at the prices they deserved, I ought to do them 'en masse'. I had to invest my time and my invention - by doing engravings or etchings.
VR - But the way you approached an etching, which is to say, with lots of lines and hatchings - didn't you bring that into your painting as well? Or did you just do it naturally?
FUCHS - Oh, that was done quite naturally. I did it in my earliest drawings, even as a child really. Hatching for me is like a kind of writing - a certain grasphism or even lettering. Because, there's a big difference between rendering a shadow by making many strokes of line and colour, or by taking a well-mixed turn from the palette with a big brush and making a broad stroke. It's different way of making your vision visible. My way is rather by cross-hatching. I build with lines. And so, for me, making etchings was a kind of primary invention of a picture.
VR - Do you have an idea what the final product will look like, or does it reveal itself to you slowly as you work on it?
FUCHS - Like the beginning of a dream - you don't know how its going to end... even if you are conscious to a certain degree.
VR - So you don't have a clear vision first of something that you want to capture...
FUCHS - No. Some of my works were etchings first and then turned into paintings. And, if you compare the etching to the painting that was done afterward, there's hardly a trace of the original, except for the composition.
VR - It becomes another work...
FUCHS - Yes, it becomes another work! The composition itself remains somewhat fixed. But with colour - that changes a lot, a lot more than you would expect... Then again, some paintings are done without any drawings - very spontaneously on the board or canvas... And in the end, you know, I tell myself - somebody must have known it would turn out that way!
VR - You said once in your writings, 'I developed my imagery through concentration on the picture surface'. Is that one important way of working for you?
FUCHS - Yes, of course. Like here [he points to the canvas he's working on]. Through the purple and the green here, there is a certain colour which comes that you just can't mix on the palette. And then you follow that colour, and you say, 'well, complementary to the shadow, the light must turn a little more orange'. You know what I mean? There's always a kind of 'visional process', which leads you - if you follow it with knowledge and feeling - to a perfect image. It's an inner process.
            I wouldn't even say that this painting was seen in my fantasie or imagination - no. It comes to be seen - for me and for any one else - as if for the first time. It is not 'pre-viewed'.
VR - But then, does it remind you of a place in your imagination or... a place in your life?
FUCHS - It reminds me of... certain feelings I have had while looking at other paintings. Other times I do something and I say, 'I've never seen anything like it!' - Although, not necessarily with this particular painting...(points, laughing)
VR - So you have to surprise yourself as well...
FUCHS - Yes. That is, practically speaking, the fun of doing this. If it becomes something that doesn't surprise me, then the painting has to a rest, or is declared to be finished, because I'm finished.
VR - So there's a constant interaction with your works...
FUCHS - Yes.
VR - You recently completed your Memoires. How does it feel to go back over your life? Do you see it more as a whole?
FUCHS - ...Sometimes there are places that you can't return to. Just as one remembers; one also forgets. Especially with things that were hard to overcome... When you look back over all those years, most of all you forget the grief... (long pause) But Mr. Alzheimer helps a lot!
VR - It seems that most of your work has both a personal and a mythical aspect to it. Do you interpret your life through myth? What is a myth for you?
FUCHS - Well, that's one thing I sometimes try to do - to interpret my own work and, at the same time, to interpret myself and the meaning of my life. Because you always think there must be some connection. For me, mythology is the eternal prefiguration of a human life.
VR - So, when you read a myth, you...?
FUCHS - Yes ...I identify with it. I think everybody does. That is the fascination of theatre in antiquity - the idea of theatre, as a kind of religion - where we contemplate the eternal patterns of life.
VR - And where does that bring you?
FUCHS - Well, it is actually a very fatalistic thing to get into... It makes sense to me that... being caught in the physical universe, in the trap of those patterns... you have to learn how to live in it - despite the fact that you cannot change it.
VR - Have your paintings opened a doorway for you? Has art shown you things that philosophy could not?
FUCHS - Of course. One of the most important lessons you get from fine art is that - language is not everything. Verbal expressions are not everything. Words and images are given to each other to enhance one another. Then, coming together in a song, or in an opera... I don't think that art, if it's isolated and specialized, can really create culture. It needs a cult. And theatre is a cult, and so is opera. Therefore the isolation of the artist today stems from their interests - they're too limited.
VR - For you, art can interact with writing and...
FUCHS - It has to. It always has. How could you extract Berlini's work as a sculptor from his work as an architect? And from his contemporaries who worked with him? There was communication, inspite of all the jealousy! Inspite of that, they were all working on one thing, and that was their culture.
VR - Do you try to understand your own works?
FUCHS - Always.
VR - But you don't share that with people.
FUCHS - (Sighs) You know, I realized that what I did in the past, I didn't understand very well. And suddenly, I've come to understand it much better now. So, I'm actually cautious about sharing my understanding because it changes a lot...
VR - But each thing you understand, manifests itself later in the next painting.
FUCHS - That's why it's a good idea, if you've worked on a painting, not to look at it for sometime. Then you see it with fresh eyes.
VR - In your own time you have also been a very successful artist financially. For an artist today who is starving, what advice would you give him?
FUCHS - Well, first of all, seeing art in commercial terms is a special point of education that an artist must learn - to estimate the value of art, in relation to becoming known. When I started, I gave my etchings as a present to anyone who liked my art. Many of my etchings from those first years have survived because I gave them to people. Just like that! - if someone liked it, I gave it to him. It was a kind of visiting card and, at the same time, kind of original. And, most of the friends that I made that way also became the artist's associate, or a collector in a certain sense, even an 'impresario'. So, I think that artists today, well... they expect too much in the beginning. Because it is a profession after all... art is a profession.
VR - And you have to practise, develop, mature.
FUCHS - Yes. After all, we don't have Werkstatte any more - you know - 'workshops' like the painters of the Gothic and the Baroque periods still had. Rubens used to have at least thirty people working for him! Today we don't have that opportunity of being educated in practice, of being in a studio which sells a lot of paintings and has a lot of commissions.
VR - As a painter you also had your 'Wanderjahre' - your period where you travelled a lot, where you acquired a lot of experience. Is that also necessary for being a painter?
FUCHS - Hmmm. I would say yes - because I like art, and I love to see masterpieces. When I go to a city, I already know where the masterpieces are... where I have to go to see Böcklin, or Grünewald, or whatever. This is maybe a peculiarity of my character - that I'm extremely interested in the art of others.
VR - And is it just the artists of the past who have this effect on you?
FUCHS - No, of course there are also many artists who were my friends, like Hundertwasser and Brauer, and all of the Fantastic Realists really.
VR - You have inspired a second or even a third generation of artists in the last thirty years. Do you think there is the possibility of a movement arising, similar to Fantastic Realism?
FUCHS - Oh it has already happened, don't you think? The influence of Fantastic art has been considerably strong, with followers all over the world - hundreds of people, good painters, bad painters... It even appeals to the very young. But it remains a fact that fantastic art has a great fascination, creating a certain following. I think that the museum I'm planning, based on the information we have of the talents and the artists of this movement, would have quite a good response.
VR - I certainly hope it does.


BACK TO DOWNLOAD MENU