Meet The Artist: Mark Gmehling
18.11.2011 by Roisin McGuire
Mark Gmehling is one of the leading names in German Street Art, and is best known for his digital illustration and animations (see video below for proof). His creations are the perfect fit for us here at Dudebox. In his world everything is possible, including an interview with us, so we had a sit down to go over what drives his imagination wild!
Hi Mark, Lets kick off with a brief recap of what you do.
I make a living as a freelance illustrator and artist. Over the years I specialized in 3D character design and animation. Watch this short TV Artist profile, it’s in English:
What are your creative roots and where has it taken you?
I have been drawing and painting since before I can remember. Graffiti was something I started doing in the late eighties - old skool tags and styles which soon turned into characters, because I realised that painting characters allowed me to communicate with the whole public - not only with the "graffiti scene" that is able to read cryptic wild style. This was a logical consequence for me because graffiti is all about fame: I just wanted to widen my audience back then.
My idea of graffiti is more about entertaining people in the street, than fighting a formal war about the domain of public space. The question if public space should be dominated by advertising is relevant to me, but I think the visual alternative: graffiti should be entertaining and visually attractive. On the streets I kept working on my vision of style and studied art and graphic design to develop my skills - grounded by a professional education. After studies I started doing art direction in some big advertising agencies but soon got bored there. I decided to go self-employed to focus more on creative execution - illustration in my case. For the past few years I have been able to enjoy choosing on what clients I spend my time working with. Next to that I’m teaching digital illustration and graphic design two days a week at university.
Your works all look immaculately well planned, the Bridge Gallery piece for example. How much planning goes into something like that?
Yes I'm a control freak..haha. But in this case painting two columns of 15 meters high and five meters wide over four days really needed a bit of preparation. There is no time for experiments, its a matter of money when you need to hire the lift. In general, all of my work is painstakingly planned, before I switch my computer on to final execution I’ve developed a detailed plan using my sketchbooks and nailed a composition that offers no space for experiments, this is the most efficient way to work for me.
You have had your work featured in exhibitions around the world, recently at Moniker Art Fair in London. How did that opportunity come about?
Moniker is an art air focusing on street art/ graffiti related artists. Coming from the same background all these artists developed in different directions.The direction I go is quite unique and speaks an international language. I’m happy to say I got illustration inquiries and fans from all over the world and also lots of invitations to join festivals and art fairs.
And did you make come good connections or meet any of your street art heroes?
Well, I had a handshake with D*face, met Eine and maybe I met Banksy - who knows? But in the end I'm still unknown in the UK, its a different universe. The feedback to my work was very good. As always people told me that my stuff looks unique and fresh, this is the type of feedback I get from all over the world. In general I feel a bit uneasy watching people checking my work at an art fair. I don’t like to see my stuff shouting out “buy me!” and this is how I perceive its role in an art fair. Personally, the most satisfying thing is watching people passing by artwork on the street and seeing them smile. Maybe it’s the honest context that is free from any commercial thought. On the other side its an honour being showcased in galleries, but I prefer not to be there when it becomes too commercial.
Explain the processes involved in your 3D work and what inspired you to go digital?
When I began to work in my own studio I used to paint with charcoal and oil. When I came across the possibilities that digital 3D offers it was just a decision of efficiency. Painting my stuff in oil takes me a few weeks because of the limitations of the medium, creating the same thing in 3D takes me two or three days. Furthermore there is no need to photograph or scan afterwards - the handling of digital media is so easy, colors are always in stock, my hands and the studio stays clean and tidy. Nonetheless, I enjoy painting a canvas from time to time or sweating by building a sculpture.
And now these are being turned into physical objects - with breathtaking results. The porcelain piece for example, take us through the process of realising that.
Well, I created the model in digital 3D, then resculpted it by hand, just because rapid prototyping in the size I wanted to create was simply too expensive. Soon I found some people that were able to do some molds and I painted the casts. Quite straightforward.
At the moment I'm developing other porcelain sculptures because its the material closest to my canvas and print work.
Prayer, idols - what is behind the use of religious symbols and iconography that is a recurring theme in your work.
I'm not religious while I do have my very personal universe of morals and ethics and meaning of life. My Bridge Gallery piece in Lörrach communicates something like that: In style we trust / The norm we fuck. Next to some ethical policies this is one of my mantras and I think of most people of my graffiti generation. My religious works are representing the golden calfs of a generation that is becoming more and more individual. The credibility of the established “clubs” claiming for themselves to represent god on earth is becoming more than questionable. People are becoming sceptical and establish their own personal system of ethics. My works are the metaphoric portraits of my perception of the time I live in.
Street, gallery or in front of a computer. Where do you feel most at home?
I love painting big murals that communicate with the everyday people on the street. I always feel a bit "pseudo-elite" when exhibiting in a gallery and hope the general public can find its way into the gallery. My work is straightforward. I want it to touch people and visualise what is hard to describe in words. Each work speaks for itself and I try my best not to be one of these artists whose work can only be understood or makes sense if you studied the history of art or if you know the hard life of the artist. In general, I’m not much interested to explain my work, if that is needed then I did something wrong. It’s cool if it makes you think, if it inspires… If it just make you chuckle I’m proud of that. I don’t like to provoke or to say to people how to think or what to do… its more like mirroring the spirit of the time. If people feel connected with my work I did it right. I hate these pieces of filth called abstract art, looking like the results of drawing therapy.
There’s enough visual noise around us. Art has a communication task in my opinion, communicating with average people. At home is in my studio, where it all starts, no matter if its a canvas, digital painting, mural sketch or a sculpture.
What is next on your schedule?
Some of my works are exhibited in Museum Gaîte Lyriqué in Paris from 7th until 31st December 2011 and I’ll try to show up there. The next big exhibition will be in in Berlin in April 2012 flanked by Pictoplasma
, where I'll do a lecture about my vision of contemporary character design. Next to that the creation of the porcelain sculptures is something I'm working on at the moment. Then some interior design jobs for the fashion industry are on my desk too. All this will be flanked by my daily business of commercial illustration and teaching at the academy.
…and the dream job. What is the ultimate for you?
I can make a living of doing what I love, what could be better? At the moment every commercial job is a challenge I’m enjoying. On the long run I’ll probably focus on my personal work only.