Peter Herbstreuth in Interview with Franziskus Wendels
Three Rebounds and into the Pocket

Peter Herbstreuth: The most striking thing about your paintings is the wide scope of artistic conceptions they draw on. They remind us of different styles which sometimes overlap.

Franziskus Wendels: From my student days on I was attracted by various artistic traditions but from a certain moment I no longer found them satisfying. The problem I have with existing styles is that they themselves set out or explain an idea and virtually execute the idea, so to speak. Such automatism renders works lifeless and uninspiring. They become stiff. This is where I go beyond the formal characteristics of style. For an artist, I think the most interesting places are the inbetween zones, those places where something is in transition and formulates a question rather than an answer.

PH: Many of your works reminded me at first sight of photography. On closer inspection I realised that they are about something else. Art historians distinguish between disegno interna and disegno externa. Your concern is less to reproduce things that are already visible on the surface and more to stimulate the imagination. You add something to things that are already visible.

FW: That's right, I'm actually interested far more in the imagination and the memory of something than in its concrete reproduction. This is also why I almost never work with photographs, but with sketches which I do on the spot and which later serve rather as a support to jog my memory. The painting then takes shape in the studio, most often following a series of several studies, almost like a dialogue between my memory and the ideal image of an object.

PH: It is striking how subjective aspects in these works are very subdued. Many of your works have an objective form as it were. This applies particularly to the abstract paintings such as "Driving School", which appears at first sight to have been painted in a constructivist style.

FW: I find this work appealing because it can be read in a number of different ways. In spatial terms, it can be seen as a view from the outside or from the inside. It can also be seen as a composition, as a strict arrangement of 8 surfaces that together form a rectangle corresponding approximately to the format of the painting. On top of this, every form occurs twice, creating a degree of symmetry between them.

PH: Yet this is not a constructivist painting. The surfaces are not strictly and clearly limited but blurred, so that the overall impression is more lively, open and ambiguous.

FW: That is exactly what I intended. I was not at all interested in dividing up surfaces according to a mathematical principle. This work plays on strictness rather than being strict itself. Above all it plays on the ambiguity of the range of perceptions that it makes possible.

PH: Your works have a great deal to do with light yet they never deal with gleaming, glaring light but with twilight, with nuances. In an essay about the avant-gardes, the philosopher Hannes Böhringer wrote that much that appears to be bright and clear in the most fundamental works of the twentieth century proves on closer inspection to be fuzzy, dark and patchy. By contrast, the dark and unclear elements appear on closer inspection to be more clear. Brightness and darkness become mixed up in a complex jumble.

FW: Can you explain that more?

PH: Whereas our will tries to distinguish clearly and resolutely between lightness and darkness and to draw clear and strict lines between them, the artistic avant-gardes preferred to take the opposite approach precisely by making people aware of the points of transition and grey zones and to make distinctions blurred. This approach seems to be a characteristic of your works.

FW: That is an interesting comment. I believe there really exist two ways of thinking - either to establish the identity of something, or to bring it into a state of flux. I'm interested primarily in the latter, although I do of course almost inevitably have to deal with both.

PH: This lends many of your works a dramatic element. I already mentioned the relation to photography. But the longer I look at your paintings, the more apparent seems to be their relation to film. Several images create not only a very particular atmosphere but also tension. One gets the impression that something is about to happen, that something is on the verge of invading this order. This impression is reinforced by the fact that none of your paintings contain representations of people, and yet they arouse the impression that people are present in them.

FW: I try to create images which have the potential to provoke or awake something, which trigger a story, albeit without relating specific details. In this respect, the comparison with film is correct. A good film can tell a story simply by fixing on one image. The plot continues and develops. We know that something or other is happening even though we cannot see what is going on. As regards your second point, I believe that empty spaces create a very particular presence. They are almost the shell, the outer or negative form that creates the essential object of the image due to the fact that it is missing.

PH: The effect your works have on me is like a game of snooker. A ball is sent rebounding off three cushions before being potted, against all apparent odds, into the pocket.

FW: That is a splendid image. Yes, I'm interested precisely in such "indirectness". The world is bigger and contains a greater wealth of associations if we choose an indirect route, off the cushion as it were.

PH: And there is more that gets potted than the ball.

FW: Yes, although I'm not sure whether works of art ever reach a goal, that is, get potted.

PH: Where should works of art be going then, in your opinion?

FW: I think that works of art are homeless metaphors.
St. Elisabeth