Fallen Angels: Interview with Dennis Rudolph
“The new digital medium completely changed the way I paint in oil. In this way painting might survive another hundred years!”
This is an interview with the artist Dennis Rudolph, whose work features in our current exhibition Fallen Angels (23 February – 30 March). We spoke with Dennis Rudolph about the role of technology in his art.
How did you get to work with the technology of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and the Google Tilt Brush?
“While working on a project to update Rodin’s Gates of Hell in the Californian desert I was struggling to find the right medium in which to build it: a medium that would inhabit the character of being in-between two realities or two worlds. In the end I painted the Portal in the Virtual Reality. With an app you can now see it as a hologram in the desert. It is there and not there at the same time.”
What did you do before your Gates of Hell project? Is your current work with VR an improvement to your previous work?
“I was working in the old mediums of etching, woodcut and oil painting and combined the Symbolism of the German romantics with the aesthetics of Nazi-Germany. My work work was about the end of the 20th century. And now I am working on the beginnings of the 21st century, which brought us the VR. This new development allowed me to incorporate the aesthetics of our contemporary image culture into my work or maybe it is the other way round and the medium is dictating what I paint. (The medium is the message.) Either way it’s a great improvement!“
Do you think that the painting tools of Google Tilt Brush give you freedom, or, do they also limit you in your work?
“Both. Like every medium it comes with limitations. On one hand, it gives me total spatial freedom since there are no borders like on the canvas for instance. The really great thing is that I can paint in 3D in the VR. Which is something totally new. There never has been a medium in which you could draw a line with your free hand into the air and then literally walk around it watching it from all sides. It lets me use my own hands, which is important to me since my hands do things my mind doesn’t know. So the 3D paintings are my true artistic handwriting. But I am also limited by the design Google gave me in form of the different brushes I can choose on my virtual pallet. Limitations are also something that can inspire one to work freely within a given framework. And I love the strange new aesthetic that comes with these pre-manufactured digital brushes like Wet-Oil-Paint, Fire, Disco or the one that looks like a fluorescent light bulb. So in a way Google determined my new painting style which I like to call: Neon-Baroque.”
Does the aesthetic of the Google Tilt Brush also influence your painting with oil on canvas?
“Yes. When working simultaneously in the two mediums there is a feedback happening to my canvas paintings. It is very refreshing to transfer the special digital effects from the VR glasses into my IRL paintings and to find solutions for oil paintings from working in the VR. So the new digital medium completely changed the way I paint in oil. In this way painting might survive another hundred years!”
It’s great to see your optimism in contrast to the cultural pessimism that’s been so prevalent! Also, I find it very interesting what you are saying about new digital means giving an impulse to the traditional medium of painting…When I looked at your – more ‘traditional’ – oil paintings on canvas, I noticed that you have painted them with loose brushwork. Do you paint quickly? Have you always painted like this?
“This has to do partly with my recent engagement with the baroque for this show and partly with the urge to highlight the medium of the oil painting in contrast to the digital medium. If you let it, oil color does great things on it’s own.“
You have also used a technique to print acrylic paint on canvas. I mean, you have used a method to transfer photocopies of Hollywood production companies and of background stills from movies like ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. Can you explain how this works?
“It is called PhotoTransferPotch®. You apply the acrylic emulsion [of PhotoTransferPotch] onto the canvas and paste the mirrored laser copy [of the Hollywood pictures] face down. When the acrylic has dried you rub off the paper with a wet sponge. The color of the toner of the laser printer has bound with the acrylic and stays on the canvas. So everything that is white is transparent.”
Glitches and cracks appear in these prints. Why?
“I wouldn’t call it glitches. The glitches appear in the holograms. There are indeed cracks between the prints on canvas. The technique of the copy transfer is originally not intended for such big canvases. It is more for hobby artists who apply photos of their loved ones onto breakfast boards. So sometimes the transfer doesn’t stick to the whole surface and the blown up copy starts to look like an old movie poster, which I like. You feel the materiality of the medium.”
The scratches on the prints and the glitches in your holograms do also give us an idea of the fragility of our construction of reality, don’t they? How important are the ideas of what is real and unreal in your paintings in VR and IRL?
"The idea for the exhibition was that you should be always reminded of the illusion the work creates. The glitches also make you more sensitive toward the way you perceive the art through technology. It is also an old avant-garde method to reflect on the means of the production of art. And then I always loved it how in the Volksbuehne, the Berlin Theater, they would sing to a fantastic pop song on stage and suddenly somebody shouts „Stop!“ and the music goes off very abrupt and you are left alone with the stage and completely aware of the absurdity of the situation. I wanted to play with this effect in the second gallery room with the Hololens work. One moment all your senses are totally overwhelmed by this Wagner-Meets-Hollywood-Opera. Next thing it is all gone and you are left alone with the bare paintings. So maybe it is not so much about the real or unreal but about truth and the truth doesn’t lie in the paintings.”
The distinction between real and unreal also appears in a different form in your work, namely the distinction between a material and an immaterial or spiritual world. You have chosen to paint Angels that have ‘fallen’ from the spiritual to the material world. Can you explain why you used angels in your work?
“I chose the Baroque as an inspiration for the works of this show because of its use of illusionistic effects in the ceiling frescoes and the Baroque is just full of angels. The way the 17th century used the spatial illusions are very similar to the illusions that Augmented and Virtual Reality give you. Then the weightlessness of the floating angels also fit very well the appearance of the floating holograms. And theologically speaking, angels are beings that can travel between two realities, our world and the after life or the realm of God. In my work they embody the fact that I painted them in the virtual reality – the realm of the AI and brought them into our physical reality with the help of the different technological devices. That is why they are all titled Messengers of the Ai. They bear the aesthetic of the future which in a way makes them very ‘weltlich’ [‘worldly’].”
You make the spiritual present through VR. Are you a religious painter?
“No. I see myself as an artist. Though I could imagine doing a commission for the church but that would probably be the same as being commissioned by Google for a PR campaign. Rather I would say that I see a connection between the Californian Baptist Church and the utopias of Silicon Valley and my work is an investigation into the power of the combination of these two.”
“Technology would be my muse and I love her because she nurtures me. – It is just not God who speaks through the artist’s hands but technology.”
What is the role of Hollywood in your work?
“The use of software and aesthetics that are normally connected to the culture industry draw me closer to the dream machine of Hollywood. By using Hollywood CGIs from blockbuster movies like ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ as backgrounds, I want to investigate where the divide between high and low art actually is.”
Your friend Philipp Kleinmichel has written an article “The phantasm of total digital presence” and he talks about a postmodern society in which there is no distinction anymore between high art and low art. In your work you bring mass culture, technology and painting together. What is the relation between these in your work?
„All three of them shape western culture and they all have their roots in Christianity.“Publication date: 9 Mar '19