Manor Grunewald

Manor Grunewald in dialogue with Steven Cox

Steven Cox: At the start of the summer I exhibited within your studio/exhibition space within Neighbours Vol.3; to date the Neighbours series (4 exhibitions) has involved you inviting and exhibiting some really fantastic artists in your space so to aid in the development of conversations and the making of new networks. What fascinates me is your enthusiasm and dedication towards nurturing a community both old and new within Ghent. To me, I see your approach towards art as more than just your studio, for your attitude is very giving and supportive of those around you. Can we begin by discussing your views on the importance of networks within the art world, and how important it is for you to reach out to others to make new conversations?

Manor Grunewald: I guess the ‘Neighbours’ exhibition series started for me in an organic way after I renovated my new studio. On the ground level I have a storage space and a bigger space for the stretching of large-scale paintings and to create scenographical tests of upcoming shows. Most of the work I develop and produce is on the upper floor of the studio. So in between productions the space is minimum or less empty downstairs. More of the exhibitions in Ghent take place in institutional contexts such as S.M.A.K and KIOSK that is related to KASK. And on the other hand you have a bigger off space like Croxhapox that has a diverse program and a few galleries. But I felt to have a free space with no-boundaries I could set out myself to show only work that I appreciate from artists from the same generation and where I bumped into in some other group shows or have met before. I also try to connect some really young artists with good work that have also just graduated into these shows so they have a dialogue with more established young artists.

So the network for me is more an organic approach that I can’t 100 percent control, but only lead in a certain direction by showing some artists I feel related to or have certain interests in.  For me the focus of my work in the studio is the most important and the networks that are being created are a direct result of the type of work I make and find fellow artists that struggle with similar things I suppose.  Lately I am also trying to have less interest or focus on the art market itself with networks of collectors, gallery’s etc., and stay more focused in the studio and remember the first step as to why I started making work. It feels more relaxed to me.

SC: That’s healthy and understandable as there is such a continuing focus on the market, fashions, trends as featured on daily arts related websites, all of which are articles primarily orientated towards exciting collectors. But, consequently such articles put negative pressures on artists to feel that they need to be always present, always seen and somehow in the constant spotlight just to feel ‘current’. If anything, such media articles can really have a detrimental affect on the artist covering multiple factors, so it is refreshing to hear that your desire to stay focused on your own work is of central importance…

MG: Yes exactly, it is good to be aware of all this. I guess the biggest problem of this trend is for a lot of mid career artists. As they are not that ‘hot’ anymore for the crowd, a lot of people then jump onto the next person who just graduated from school is trying to develop a market from the start. And on the other hand they are not old enough to have a bigger retrospective show in an institute or so and struggle with some issues that the market created. Selling prices and context of positioning of the work.

SC: It seems a catch-22 situation where the mid-career artist regularly becomes marginalized due to an increasing interest in younger talent. I guess being relational to younger artists is proving important for mid-career artists in the context of exhibitions so their work can be simultaneously measured and evaluated. Is this something that you think is mutually beneficial or perhaps highlights a larger concern where there is actually a lack of exhibiting opportunities for specifically mid-career artists?

MG: The link between different career aged artists is always an interesting discussion. As For the old generation, mid career and young ones, their reflection on the current situation is different. The majority of the older generation began in an era that wasn’t involved with social media at all. Galleries didn’t have a personal webpage or access to e-mail communication, they only had regular mail or fax communication. During this time, physical studio visits actually took place. No Skype meetings or invitations for shows took place without having seen a single work in person either. So this is a big effect on the personal development of someone’s work. Maybe more solid and less influenced. Who knows…

And on the other hand the young generation has more capacity to create a fast paced network around/involving similar minded people. Each generation can learn a lot from each other and to have a luggage of good advise isn’t that bad at all. Like the wise words from Cypress Hill ‘Jump around.’

SC: Continuing on from discussing your studio, can you tell me about your studio space? It is a pretty unique building and space in Ghent…

MG: The studio is located in an old storage / transport company building. They used horses as the main mode of transport back then. It is located 5 minutes walk from the city center of Ghent. It is a perfect location for me to take a break, get lunch or something. I started renovating the space two years ago and it is now finally finished. I thought a lot in advance about the practical install of separated spaces, storage, silkscreen studio and office…so now it perfectly fits the production of the work. So my focus on the work is dominant because I now have a solid base; the space, production material and the print company where I work. I guess you know the feeling of doing a residency and you slowly get into the work because there are a lot of factors involved to get the work done. It is nice and refreshing to work in a new environment for a while but practically you always bump into issues.

SC: Your studio is fantastic; perhaps the most functional studio I have also been into. Without a doubt, it would be difficult to find something more practical considering your studio now ticks all the boxes. So other than your studio, can you tell me about your day-to-day working process? How do you begin a new day and at what point do you finish? Do you aim for regular working hours?

MG: Most of the times it turns out min or less in the same structure. In the morning around 8:30am / 9am, I start doing some office work. E-mails, sending files to the print company and doing some Photoshop work. Depending on the amount of that I start at around 10am or 11am in the studio. The studio is just around the corner from my house so it is practical. When I arrive I make some coffee, walk around and check the progress that was made the day before in the paintings, study some works and check my daily studio agenda. That only shows transport deadlines, studio meetings, material delivery and so on. After that I start working on various things simultaneously. Stretching pieces, painting, making frames. If it is quiet at around 5 – 6PM I go to the city to grab a drink or do some grocery shopping. Back at home I end up by doing a small follow up of urgent e-mails and that’s it basically.

SC: Currently your work is incorporating found imagery, and the break down of information associated with these images. Can you tell me about the history of yourself collecting imagery, where you find your imagery and at what point do you decide if one particular image is worthy of manipulation?

MG: My work in general always starts from found footage. In pop art the use of found images had a direct visual link to the source and reflects on consumption society for example. For me the found footage functions more as buckets and tubes of paint in the studio. It doesn’t matter that much what the image is at the start. It is just a tool to get further on and see what happens after different reproductions of it by a copy machine in black and white.  You win and lose some quality of the original image. That becomes interesting as the form takes over for me rather than the subject of the original. By copying these reproductions further on over others and by just using small parts it becomes more of a collage and Photoshop layering intention of working. It is important to me that the copy machine has more control than me, and you are pushed to it limits of capacity rather than making those on the computer. The limitation of contrast, scale, only able to add darker ink on top of each other or color of paper fascinates me. Also the speed of how to generate new printed images is great. So in a way everything becomes source material once again as it tumbles further on in the process.

SC: In regards to your collection of imagery, you have a collection of physical images sourced from books, magazine and old photographs. Do you also own an extensive collection of imagery sourced from online? What are your views on the ease of finding images via Google as opposed to physically searching through books or shops etc.?

MG: That’s an interesting question. The Internet has an unlimited source of imagery and on the other hand also a lot of boundaries that are set out.  As I am interested in the printed quality of imagery there it ends min or less directly with the Internet. As I am more so searching for small visually interesting appearances within a bigger image or so it seems more relaxed to have something in my hands rather than on a screen.

But the Internet is an easy tool to have a quick random first insight into a subject of course. But the preference for me is just to walk around in a library, bookstore, look through magazines in a waiting room, flee markets etc. and just grab whatever that there is around me. The hunting process without a main goal, interest or subject in mind is what interests me most.

SC: In regards to collecting images from a variety of sources, I am well aware of your own production of booklets (Studio Manor Grunewald Press) that feature a collection of monochromatic images of your work. These booklets feature close up images, additional textures and installation views of your works in gallery situ. Are these booklets primarily created to accompany the completion of specific ‘bodies’ of work? For instance, publication 08 seems to specifically feature imagery from your exhibition Glances Closer To Blindness…

MG: It depends some booklets are made directly connected to an exhibition and others stand on there own. Like the booklet ‘Au couer de la féte’ is just a visual registration during a residency stay at Niort France. I took a hand scanner and took scans for one week all over the city from details on the sidewalk, windows, posters and so on. The only solution for me to show that body of scanned work was in a book form as it would be a completely different to make a show out of those. The idea this is captured in a simple and small publication gives me more satisfaction.

And on the other hand the newspaper I have made for the ‘Glances Closer To Blindness’ show is directly involved with the show. As the paintings in the show came from close ups from a cover image from Olivia Newton John ‘Let’s get physical’ it was good to add an extra layer to the process. So the original image became a copy then again a painting and the reproduction picture of the painting came back to offset printing in the newspaper. It felt as the circle was completed then. But it is rather logical this all is connected to my work in general as I play with printed media. The books feel more like a loose playground to me.

SC: You have an upcoming solo exhibition at Johannes Vogt titled Stand-Inn****, can you disclose what you will be presenting?

MG: The exhibition goes further with the ‘letratone’ and ‘mecanorma’ painting series I was working on during the last year. As the first pieces were blurrier and more monochrome based, the new works will be a bit more visually complex. As the pieces now are made from copies that I made collages from upfront and copied again and repeated that process before printing the canvasses.

Parallel to the paintings I will show a new series of small paintings / installations called ‘Handling.’ Those paintings show close ups of hands that are doing different stuff connected to the artist studio and give you a certain idea how the big abstract paintings could be made. But the source material comes from scans out of industrial books, hobby instructions, do it yourself books etc. Nothing related to the art practice. Each of those paintings is presented on shelves filled with white archive boxes. So it becomes min or les a minimalistic sculpture with a painting on.

SC: Both Letratone and Mecanorma are companies that specialize in dry-transfer lettering, textures and shadings that are primarily designed for use by graphic designers, architects, illustrators and animators. I find it interesting that your works blur the boundary between digital print and analog painting by creating large painterly works that own the adhesive films original shading/texture. Did you begin this series by questioning what if Letratone or Mecanorma made large-scale adhesive films for painters?  Can you tell me how this series began?

MG: It actually started years ago when I made more illustrative kind of work. I bought a large amount of those films to work with. Then I lost them out of my sight in the studio. Meanwhile I was busy testing the boundaries of silk-screening within my practice; there were some good results and a lot of terrible stuff. By moving to my new studio two years ago I cleaned up my old storage area and discovered some collage drawings that had those films on them. Then I made the link with the small dots that refer to an offset print and thought about scaling them bigger so you would have this silkscreen feeling. So I started testing some ideas with that in mind and from there it went further.

Also, accidently it happened to feature the side strip of those films that show the brand, scale of dots and catalog number. I always put it on the left side of the work and feels like industrial packaging in this bigger scale on the painting.

SC: The titles for these works are pretty interesting but simultaneously a little ambiguous. For instance, ‘E.H.D’ (Letratone black #01). Can you explain ‘E.H.D’ for me?

MG: The ‘E.H.D’ part of the title is the on-going series of paintings that means ‘External Hard Disk’ and reflects on the wide range of imagery that surrounds us daily and that I use as an analogue database to start from. The second part of the title just shows a practical registration of the work itself.

SC: Furthermore, you stated that the imagery featured in your handling series is sourced from industrial and hobby how-to books. The images themselves give an insight to processes and techniques connecting to the general making of objects and artworks.  I am curious to know to what extent you discover fresh new processes from such books, and what your thoughts are on the adoption of techniques or tricks that are essentially widely available?

Similarly, to what extent do you believe it is possible for artists to be unique today when the mystery of how a work is made is no longer a secret?

MG: I think a unique visual language is the primary goal. That's the thing that I admire most from artists that I really like. Technique is just the way of getting there. It is interesting now it is also much more possible than rather 100 years ago, so that opens up possibilities again. But still I am less interested the technical approach of a work that I see than the visual effect that it gives me. After I find something interesting, it is good to go deeper into the work and analyze it. But still visual language is the main act.

SC: The idea of presenting your Handling series on shelves filled with white archival boxes reminds me of Jef Geys work Archive, 2001, that was recently exhibited at S.M.A.K. in Ghent. The work itself is inaccessible, though Geys is known for intricately numbering, annotating and categorizing everything concerning his projects in files of mixed material. What I am curious to know is if your archival boxes will also be sealed and inaccessible to the viewer? Also to what extent are you also concerned with categorizing, documenting and recording your imagery and studio output?

MG: In the exhibition of Jef Geys it had two opposite directions for the viewer. The ‘archive’ sculpture on the wall shows all his cardboard maps with his ideas, drawings from many years all captured in a Plexiglas box. That has a very sacral idea over it, a bit like the Holy Grail or of it owning an historical value. But in the two rooms next to it they showed 800 drawings in plastic sheets from that archive.  For me the idea to work with those metal archive shelves and white cardboard archive boxes had a lot of opportunities to work with. The boxes do not contain any content. But only by seeing the stack and shelves you mentally complete the content of the boxes and make the direct link to an ‘archive.’ I also like the repetition of the boxes. It was important the installation set up has an art historical approach that could remind one of minimalistic sculptures by the likes of Donald Judd or Carl Andre for example. But also, it is still just random office supplies.

For my own archive in the studio I am punctual and have everything well organized. From work database, reproductions, study work to press related stuff. Actually just because it is all the more practical to work from when you just spend less time searching for your own stuff.

SC: The title itself for your exhibition at Johannes Vogt, Stand-Inn****, tell me more…

MG: The title I came up with functions as a parallel link to my work. It has two aspects connected: ‘Stand in’ as a term in the movie industry most used for stunt scenes or sexual scenes. The main actor and the stand in have a similar visual appearance. The stand in just fulfills a certain action on behalf of the original actor. It had a clear link for me with the process of an original image and it’s duplicate, they look similar on first viewing but then you see small cracks in between those. The printed dots, contrast etc.

On the other hand I tried to write ‘stand-in’ like the hotel company  ‘holiday-inn’. The hotel as a reference to transformation; going from point A to B. So this connects to the copy machine. The four stars added just give the extra push so you definitely are swayed towards the hotel idea.


Manor Grunewald

Images courtesy of Manor Grunewald, Alexander Saenen, Jan Opdekamp, DUVE BerlinJohannes Vogt and RHContemporary