“One Answer At A Time!”

“Don’t take everything so seriously – the world itself is only made bearable by humor.” – Carsten Weitzmann

I never got to meet him in person; our initial interview was canceled due to a snow storm.  Nor did I ever get to speak with him directly: we have no language in common (you know, that old Tower of Babel chestnut). But where there’s a will there’s a way. It all came down to a single round conference call without time limits. On one corner of the arena: your BAPS writer, wearing his favorite snakeskin shirt and armed with a fist full of questions. On the other corner: artist and audio book enthusiast Carsten Weitzmann, showing up with a mouth full of answers and a canvas full of flavor (see photo above for a visual). In the middle: our referee and translator, the anonymous gentle-voiced Anita.   

Artist Carsten Weitzmann in the comfort of his studio in Erfurt. Photo courtesy of the artist

Because of the nature of the interview, Carsten’s answers have been presented in a paraphrased manner. To avoid confusion, it should be noted that my side note comments – outside of the artist’s answer – appear in italics. With that said, ladies and gentlemen, let's get ready to rumble

First, an introduction: For those not already familiar with your work, where is your eye, your focus – What is it that you paint?

His most important concept to date is the elaboration of what he refers to as his “staff.” This is a group of 20 protagonists, or principles, which appear in his paintings giving, through their characterization, an interpretation of the world according to Weitzmann.

Carsten is a mythmaker. Myths, by definition, are traditional stories (usually fantastical and supernatural) that serve as vehicles to explain a natural or social phenomenon.  It is the latter the focus of this artist. Each of his appropriately stereotyped characters fulfills his/her own destiny within the canvas. It is the varied interaction between these twenty forces that has given Weitzmann plenty of room and freedom from where to expand his thoughts and artistry. 

Where did this fascination/interest in creating your staff begin? 

In 2007, Carsten received a grant to live and work in the village of Willinghausen, in the center of Hesse. Here, in the middle of nowhere for three months, he found the solitude necessary to think about the world, his life, modern society—you know, the sort of things you think about when you have no internet at hand. It was there, at a distance from civilization (so to speak), that his characters were created.

This area in Hesse is also locally known as “The Land of Red Riding Hood.” As a result, the creation of his first character carries the name Little Red Riding Hood’s Daughter (the animalistic feminine principle). After time, this lone character gave birth to stories that developed into new identities. No single character is a direct representation of someone he knows, but rather a personification of everyone and everything he has come to know in the way reality behaves. Yet, some of the figures are very abstract and surreal (see Control Mouse and the Globalist).

Bella Donna (the seductive feminine principle) by Weitzmann. Photo: Chris Phillips

Weitzmann’s 2007 journey into the solitude of this little village and his triumphant return no doubt brought to mind Joseph Campbell’s seminal book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In it, Campbell – another mythologist – discusses his theory of the hero archetype found in so many world mythologies. “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from his mysterious venture with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” It was this quote from the book that Weitzmann’s story echoed in my mind. 

Born in Mexico, I remember wanting to be a Luchador when I grew up. Could you tell us a bit about El Toro and how that specific character developed?

El Toro (the bull) is the masculine principle pronounced outwards and remaining always hidden by a mask (in this case, that of a Mexican wrestler). Behind the mask there is uncertainness – he is not socially stable but pretends to be. Carsten works with stereotypes – El Toro is a stereotype for the masculine, macho man: the expectation of what a man should be, according to society. But society always sees only the mask.  

It was time for my golden question. I find that the answer to this reveals a great deal about any artist’s incentives and intentions:

If your paintings were not paintings, what would they be? Mirrors,  windows, hammers, love letters, (etc.)?

Carsten’s quick answer: A video camera. 

(You draw your own conclusions here)

Berlin's arts and culture scene: what's the best and worst part about it?

He lived in Berlin from 1993 to 2003: in this time the city was totally different. He said that it was much more exciting because of the atmosphere after the fall of the wall. His favorite place during that time was the Kunsthaus Tacheles. At the time, he said, there were many more possibilities and everyone was open-minded. You had the feeling that everything was possible and you could be reach anything. What he dislikes now is the radical change this city has taken.

There are no facts he could point out about his answer; he’s simply talking more out of the feelings he now experiences when he thinks about Berlin. He mentioned his sadness about the effects of there being no cultural consistency here in the city and thinks that the culture here gets lost from time to time. Berlin is currently in a deep cultural depression, he observes.

I’m certain this raised an eyebrow or two. Are there any Berliners out there willing to agree or disagree with his statement?

The Young Philosopher (the cosmopolitan, scrutinizing principle) by Weitzmann. Photo: Chris Phillips

The most general and vague question in my deck, but perhaps the most important: why do you paint? 

He said he has always painted. In contrast to other children he grew up with, he never stopped making art.

When not painting, what occupies your time?

The most important thing in his life is his family. He also spends a lot of time with his students (he holds a professorship in Erfurt).

Recommendations from Carsten Weitzmann

Favorite movie: 2046 
Favorite Berlin Restaurant: Salumeria Culinario in Tucholskystrße
Favorite Books: Anything from Jules Verne 

Words of advice for young artists: To the children interested in art and culture: never stop painting and drawing – you could reach anything if you really believe in it. To anyone: remember not to take everything so seriously: that the world itself is only made bearable by humor. 

Weitzmann is currently busy with many projects; he has exhibitions coming up in Nürnberg, Düsseldorf, Salvador and Brazil. However, he says his most relevant project these days is painting a sugar bag for his daughter who is soon starting first grade at school. 

Article by Jovanny Varela-Ferreyra