in conversation with
I’m calling Martin on a Friday morning in August, just shortly after he started his day at his Copenhagen studio, working full-speed on his upcoming solo show at Valerius Gallery, which is the second show he has with the gallery. I met Martin last year when we showed his works with Valerius Gallery at Luxembourg Art Week. I remember his spontaneous approach to painting and life, always having a story ready on each of his paintings. ”I’m having a cigarette and coffee while we are talking”, he says, taking the time to catch up and talk extensively about his career as an artist, how it all started, his plans, motivations and inspirations. I’m excited to dive into his wild and thrilling art-universe shaped by color-splashed oors, buckets of paint, and pieces of unground canvas tacked to the walls...
FROM ACTING TO PAINTING
LP: You’ve studied to become an actor and then kind of had a change of heart. When did you start painting and at what point was it clear to you that you would dedicate yourself to a career as an artist?
MP: When I was in acting school I wrote a play about a painter in his studio. And for that role, I was playing the painter, so I had to research the role. So I went to visit a studio of a Danish artist some months before the show to research it properly. I wanted to see how a painter works in his studio. When I went to visit him he gave me an empty canvas and some color and told me to paint something. That was a naked experience, I felt naked more than I ever did on stage. The most important point is that I got this kick out of painting, it was such a wild experience. In my life, I’ve never been into art. I grew up in a home, that was not very creative, I hated museums up until 8th Grade because I thought it was so boring to go and see works of art. I didn’t understand it! But right af- ter I did this painting it hit me and there was no doubt that I wanted to fol- low this path, not professionally but as a hobby. I thought that having another creative outlet next to acting would be a good way to evolve. So I bought a lot of canvases and started to paint.
LP: When did you do the play then?
MP: That was in my third year of acting school, in 2015. All of the works that were hanging in the play as a scenography were painted by me. After the premiere, some people came to me because they were interested in buying the works, which was like a tap on the shoulder to me. I was astonished that I did something that touched somebody else.
Next to acting school, I was painting most of the time, so whenever I had time off just because I loved it. And when I nished school I had no job as an actor so the rst thing I knew I had to have was a studio. And while I was doing more and more works it got to me that I like this so much that I need to do this. I suddenly had this urge to show my works to people. So I start- ed to frequently go to Vernissages and walk into the art world which I didn’t know anything about at that point. I think it kind of helped me to be so naïve in this. I couldn’t see why people would not like my art. So I started to meet people and show my paintings every time I had the chance. I had some art people coming to my studio to have a look at it. That’s also when I met Jens Peter Brask, the curator I’m working with in Denmark. He came to my studio twice. The rst time he came I had another style, more like the one when I did the play. It was okay but it was too easy to see who my in uences were. It was too similar to something else. My interest in art was nding out which painters I like and then I fol- lowed that language. The rst time Jens Peter Brask went to my studio he just walked around, didn’t say anything and then he said “I don’t like it”. That’s just it and then he walked out. I threw that out of my head and just went on with it but at some point, I thought I needed to do more. I wanted to get out of that language that I was painting in and find my language.
MP: At some point, I got a huge piece of industrial canvas from a friend. And I decided to cut out pieces of it and put it on the wall. This opened the world to me, because instead of painting a motif that was supposed to look like something I wanted to bring forth the canvas in some way. Because this canvas was so rough, so wild; it had a lot of stains and tire prints, etc and I loved that, I thought it was very cool. Before that, I used the basic stretched white canvas. When I look at it in retrospect, I was trying to remove the feeling of a newborn canvas. When I got this rough, raw canvas I didn’t have to do so much to make a good painting. I had to think a lot but not paint that much which was an opening to me. When I ran out of this canvas I decided to buy rolls of canvas instead of buying it stretched because to me when I paint on a canvas that is already stretched, it is too at, there’s nothing there. But when I take a piece of canvas and put it on the wall, raw, it’s unlimited in every direction, it’s more sculptural-like I’m molding instead of painting a motif.
LP: ...and you can cut it however you like...
MP: Exactly! And also glue something on it and just work with it in many ways. So I think when I started painting full time was when Jens Peter Brask came to my studio the second time. I remember sitting in my studio with my studio mate and of the new canvas work I had made 6 or 7 up to that point. And I was just looking at them and I told my friend “You know what I need now? I need a man in a suit to bring these works into the world”. I went to an opening where Jens Peter Brask was and I went to say hi to him and then I told him he should come and see my works again. He then came to my studio and he liked the new works. These works were in a new language. From that point on being a painter took over professionally.
LP: So when did you have your first exhibition and where?
MP: I actually did my own show in a photo studio that I borrowed. That was before the new canvas works where I ad- opted a new language. I put everything together myself, made yers, posters. Many people came to my show, it was a good atmosphere. I was very excited anyway about showing my works for the first time. Then I did another show half a year later, also by myself, with the new paintings... but that was before Jens Peter Brask came to my studio. I knew in my belly that the new works were good. But my rst professional solo exhibition came half a year later, in August 2018 in a gallery in Aalborg, the third-largest city in Denmark. This was exciting for me. It was a new world for me since the art world was so new to me. Over the years I grew wiser in terms of look- ing at art and I’m always striving to learn and become more aware of putting my works in a context because that’s the mature thing to do. I think every artist should do that if they want to develop or grow.
LP: Can you explain what inspires you for your paintings? Where do your ideas emerge from?
MP: To be perfectly honest I’m very in uenced by the art world of Instagram. Pretty early on in my career, I had figured out that Instagram has become the place to be as a young emerging artist. It’s the perfect platform to show your art. But it’s a fast-paced industry so you always have to nd content to put on if you’re not already very established. I use Instagram a lot and I follow the artists that I like. I’m very inspired through Instagram but also very inspired by other painters. But of course I’m also inspired by the obvious thing to say: my life. I’m not painting things that I see out on the street, but I’m looking a lot at color combinations or how to build up a painting. For example, I could look at a demolished wall where there’s still some traces of paint and it’s looking like a coincidental artwork... that could inspire me. But a lot of inspira- tion comes from me looking into the art world, for example going to openings and museums. But honestly, it comes from oth- er art mostly and not so much from things that are happening around myself.
LP: Would you name any artists that inspire you?
MP: There are so many! Through Instagram, I have become part of a small com- munity, an unspoken community. You can see who follows who and so I can see who speaks my language in terms of painting, even if all of them are different. So you start following each other and liking each other’s works and then you start talking.I am drawn towards these artists and they inspire me a lot. Most of them are younger artists... the new blood! The list goes from Jenny Brosinski to Richie Culver, Robert Nava, David Matthew King, Eloy Arribas, Ricardo Passaporte, Erik Sommer. You name it, it’s a list of 100 at least. And then there are a lot of the older generations. I’m a huge fan of Helen Frankenthaler and Cy Twombly of course, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Picasso, Philippe Guston. I’m also inspired by many Danish artists like Frederik Nae- blerod and Tal R.
LP: How does your day start usually? Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
MP: Usually my day at the studio starts early in the morning around 9. That’s both because I have kids that need to go to kindergarten before, and because I like going to the studio early. I found out that my mind works better in the morning, that’s when I’m working the fastest. When I come to my studio I love it when I have something that I need to work on, so when I got an idea that I know I have to make. So when I do that I come to my studio and I need to do it right away. And when I don’t have that I usually just put on some music when I come in. And then I make a cup of coffee and then I start wandering, just walking around the studio and looking at my paintings. Like this I see what I have to do for each of the paintings... and because it’s in the morning and my brain is fresh I can see more clearly what needs to be done. Sometimes it’s the right choice, sometimes it’s not. That’s my only rou- tine. I come from a working family. My dad has always been working and waking up early and do his job. And that sticks to me a lot in my life and also in my paintings. When I’m just taking a day in the studio not doing anything, I mean not doing hands-on work, I feel like I’m wasting my time... even if you always do something, even just being present, because you paint in your mind every hour of the day... To me, that feels like having a boss over your shoulder saying “You haven’t done anything!” This working mentality that I’ve grown up with is good for me. I need to run towards something... If I got too much spare time I would feel like wasting my time. It’s all about striving to get better.
ABOUT ANIMALS AND MEANING
LP: Your paintings are often dominated by animal drawings or other objects. What role do animals or these specific objects play in your paintings?
MP: My primary reason why I paint the things I paint is that I like painting it. And with writing, it’s the same story. I don’t analyze my work while I work. If I should talk about a painting and explain it to somebody, I would never analyze it. I would rather talk about how it was made or what I thought when I made it. I believe that analyzing is the viewer’s part. To me my works don’t have a speci c story, I don’t have something speci c to say. Mostly I paint these elements because it’s just fun to do.
LP: I realized when people are talking to you about your works or one speci c painting, you always have a story to tell that they will remember and maybe because of that story, they understand the painting better...
MP: Of course, because I did the painting there is a story. Saying something about my paintings, like telling a story, that was a big problem for me for a long time because Ididn’t know what to say. I thought I had to put some kind of analysis in it or some kind of bigger meaning to it. But through my paintings, I found out that it’s not about that at all. The important part is that I did something. When explain- ing a work I am mostly talking about how I build it up and the process of making it, like physically what did I do. I think when you’re present while you do a painting then you always have something to tell. To me, the process is the most important thing. To answer the question more directly, why the animals or these gurative element. I like paintings that have this hybrid between the abstract and the gurative. Sometimes I see it a little bit like a dish when you go to a restaurant. You have the main piece, which could be a steak and then you have all the things next to it that make the dish perfect - the beans, the potatoes, and the sauce for example. I could compare it to that... the gurative element becomes the steak to me, not necessari- ly saying that the gurative thing is the main element in the painting but it brings balance to the painting. At the moment I’m stepping with easy feet because sometimes that constellation becomes a comfort zone for me. I can do a painting and if I put something speci c on it, then it’s made. I think that’s not a bad place to be at all, because I have developed a language that’s really strong - to me at least - but for myself as a painter, I’m trying to get away from that a little bit to step out of my own comfort zone.
LP: I can see that... When I was looking at the new paintings for the exhibition, I’ve realized that you’re trying to get away from these nice looking animals...
MP: Yes, for example for the Cheetah Painting (Gold Leg, 2020)... That was the painting I struggled the most with ever because it was too good, too nice looking. I was actually really surprised that I did this so well. I had to disrupt it somehow, and so that Cheetah painting has become a little bit of a changer for me. I don’t want to do a painting out of a recipe. I need to invent a painting every time! When I do paintings it’s about giving ideas... and because the idea of an animal in my works keeps coming up, I’m thinking a lot about how I can do an animal in another way.
WORDS AND LETTERS
LP: Another important element in many of your works are words or phrases that seem to be out of context. Could you explain the interplay of objects and words in your works?
MP: A big part is actually aesthetics. I think words are funny but words are also very concrete. Every word has its own specific definition. But if you think about a word what is it actually? I think a letter is just a form... a form that we agreed on. An “a” looks like an “a” and you can use that in “ass” for example. But then it’s just three letters combined in a certain way. A chair is a chair because we agreed that it is a chair. But it could also be a giraffe. Why not? It’s a little bit the same with words and letters. Because to me, a word in a painting could just as well not be a word but just a gure, a thing. That’s the holistic way of thinking about it. But then again I think it’s funny to see a word that has nothing to do with the painting whatsoever. That also takes the word as a word and not as part of the painting. Do you know what I mean? The word is just a thing.
LP: Yes, you mean it stands alone because it’s not really connected to the figure that you painted but it’s still a part of it?
MP: Exactly. When I started painting one of my biggest in uences was Jean-Mi- chel Basquiat who integrated a lot of words in his paintings. So I used to add a lot of words and letters to my works because I was inspired by him. And in my process of changing my language into the new canvas works, I let go of words and letters for a long time because they reminded me too much of him. I had let that go and evolved my own language. And at some point, I wanted to bring it back. One reason was that through Instagram I found out that a lot of the painters that I like used words in new ways. That inspired me to start using it again because I think it gives depth to a painting not necessarily saying that there have to be words but sometimes it just ts. And sometimes the painting is thereby balanced. If you have an abstract painting with a wolf on it and then you add a word, it gives depth because then you have the three elements abstraction, guration, and words. It’s like the dish I was talking about before, you have the steak sauce and beans... It ts together! You take things that are very much apart and put them together in good harmony.
A good example of an artist that is using words in new ways is Richie Culver. He puts lines on his paintings that are pretty funny, wild, and crazy. But he has brought his characteristic thing down to just do words. And I think that a lot of his sentences are actually just really weird.The painting he did that made him go through the roof is the“Did u cum yet?” painting. To me, that’s a brilliant painting! I think this sentence in the painting is just about aes- thetics... the words don’t matter. It’s the way the letters look on the canvas. It’s a form, it’s a motif more than actual words. And that’s the way I’m thinking about my own words as well. I’m thinking about the viewer a lot. I think about how my painting is looking, not for everyone else but for me. A good example of putting words in my paintings in a new way is the Toilet painting (Bowl, 2020) with the “I love you so much” sentence... I love that painting! I think it’s one of my favorites.
LP: What was your focus for the upcoming solo show? If there was any.
MP: I didn’t have a specific focus for this show, I just wanted to do great paintings. All the shows I did until now didn’t have any theme. I’m doing what I think is fun. When I’m doing a show I open my studio to the public and show the works I did for the last half-year. “This is what I did... look at it!”. I like having focus! Knowing I have to prepare for a show gives me a drive and xpoint to work towards. I like working with a deadline because I feel it makes me paint better paintings since I have to make the paintings faster. When I have to think too much about a work it doesn’t end up being so good. But when I have to take decisions quickly I’m not allowed to consider too much. If you start thinking about the small details it gets too contrived. The naive ap- proach is very important to me and also that you trust what you do.
DELI GROCERY NEW YORK
LP: You were supposed to be part of a group show this year (2020) in April with Deli Grocery Gallery in New York, along with artists like Jenny Brosinski, Richie Culver, Marco Pariani, Hunter Potter, etc... but the show was canceled because of the Corona-Virus. Can you talk a bit about the show?
MP: Deli grocery was a huge accomplishment for me. I absolutely wanted to meet with this gallery in New York because I saw who they work with. Also, it’s more like a community than a gallery. The gallery has this roster of artists that I really really like. I knew I had to be a part of it. I found out about the gallery on Instagram be- cause they made this group show called “Supper” in 2018. And when I saw it I thought it was the coolest group show in the history of art! So I started following them and I started following some of the artists that were in the show and at some point, I thought I need to go see Paul, the owner of the gallery. So I asked one of the artists to hook me up with him... And so things started to come together. In April I was supposed to be in the 2020 “Supper” show... The gallery does that kind of group show every year. It has unfortunately been canceled, but I have my paintings in New York and I de nitely know that we’re going to do something at some point.
LP: Can I ask who was supposed to be in the show with you?
MP: It’s a good line of artists! It was supposed to be only one painting by each artist: Marco Pariani, Hunter Potter, Richie Culver, Jenny Brosinski, Taylor O Thomas, Erik Sommer, Piet Rcak, David Matthew King, Eloy Arribas, Martin Lukac, Austin Eddy, Dan Flanagan, Hettie Douglas, Alan Neider. Well hopefully they’ll do it next year, and hopefully, I’m still part of it.
PAASKESEN AND VALERIUS
LP: A last question: Why have you decided to work with Valerius Gallery back in 2019?
MP: When you at Valerius Gallery wanted to work with me you were a pretty new gallery and I was a new artist. It was a good match, it tted together. I like you guys and I like Gerard. Of course, because you gave me an opportunity to show internationally and you believed in me and my works. In fact, my show at Valerius in February 2019 was my first international show.
Personally, I do like you! And I love being in Luxembourg with you, I like the atmosphere. That’s one of the main reasons why I want to keep working with you. It means a lot to me to have that good connection personally. It makes working fun and I want to have a good time when I work and with what I do in my life. So it all comes together, having fun while doing my paintings and having fun doing the shows. I had a lot of jobs in my life where I didn’t like going to work. Now I’m nally doing something that I love almost every second of the time so inevitably you need to work with somebody that ts this level of satisfaction.
Professionally I think that Gerard and you at Valerius Gallery have a good eye. You’re looking at artists and working with artists that I connect to as well. It’s a good mix for me, and I also know which painters Gerard is looking to and wants to show with and these are, mostly, in the same area as the line of artists I was talking about earlier. The pro le of the gallery ts me very well and also the size of it. I think it’s essential to grow together. I can see that working for many years, to see how far you can make it as a gallery and how far I can make it as an artist. And to keep helping each other along the way... To me, that’s what matters.
© Text by Lou Philipps
Published in the catalogue "Martin Paaskesen. Slow dancing with fast feet", Published in Luxembourg, 2020.
Would like to order the catalogue? Find it here.