Stefan Reiss is a German artist whose artistic approach focuses on the physical experience and transformation of digital signs into analog, haptic elements. Read on to learn how he forms spatial constructions in drawing, painting and sculpture, always combining the material with the virtual.
Good morning, Stefan! What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
It’s almost easier for me to describe the last thing I do each evening before going to bed. This is because I develop many ideas before drifting off to sleep, often able to connect things that have been bothering me for a long time, or to find that special something that makes an idea really exciting. Consequently, in the morning I’ll think about the last idea that came to me that evening, which I will then either reject or take on for further consideration.
What inspires you to create every day?
Truthfully almost everything in this world can inspire me – in fact even outside of this world. Of course, inspiration can nonetheless be categorized: first of all I’m inspired by art history and artists whose works I find exciting. But nature, architecture and literature also trigger ideas or confrontations with certain themes and facts. For example, I once became fascinated by a snow-covered winter landscape that appeared almost black and white. An exact black line was created under a sloping tree trunk where there was no snow.
But there are also simple things like cardboard pipes, remnants, garbage or scrap that can be exciting. I am always intrigued by the scrap yard that I can see from my studio.
What does your work space look like?
Many of my drawings and sketches are made at home, often in the evening. Paintings, sculptures and models, on the other hand, have to be constructed in the studio. When I’m invited to installations, festivals, public art commissions, prizes and events, the works are set up in the exhibition spaces. These are often works that I can’t set up alone, only with the help of builders and technicians.
Describe the core of your technique or style.
In my first paintings, my aim was mainly to translate digital signs into real space, via painting and then via installations. The digital drawings were supposed to regain spatiality and become tangible. Of course, given the fact that human hands cannot be as precise as digital forms, mistakes occur and the works must take up a different, analog life. My installations expand on this idea: digital signs change into spatial structures, which in turn serve as projection surfaces for digital signs, structures and forms. The result is a peculiar overlapping of spatiality and flatness, a real space with digital expansion.
That’s why I think Augmented Reality is much more exciting than Virtual Reality. For me, the virtual world must merge with the real world. We, as we stand here, should stand here. I don’t want to stand in a virtual space.
So this is my essential conceptual approach, and my newest series of pictures targets it closely. The digital signs are no longer transferred with stencils, but with a spray can directly onto the canvas. The resulting spray fields move away from the digital signs and form color structures again.
Do you have any studio rituals or essential items?
I don’t really have studio essentials. I find listening to music completely disruptive, and believe that using it as mere background noise degrades the music itself. I listen to music when I sit in my armchair at home.
What often accompanies me in the studio is the stench of spray cans and fine dust. Of course it must not be too cold in the studio, but too warm is much worse. The only ritual I have is possibly the constant rearranging of things. In my studio there are too many things; remnants of installations, sculptures and paintings have to be rearranged every now and then to clear my head for the next work. Though that doesn’t necessarily mean that more space will be freed up…
How do you know or decide when an artwork is finished?
In the case of artworks that have a predefined workflow, the question doesn’t arise very often. The sketch is more decisive, and since it’s digital, I can delete the last steps or change the color, shape and position over and over again. For all other works, I know when they are finished by a feeling that tells me I have to stop. During and after my studies, I repeatedly ruined some pieces because I missed the moment to stop. But it’s something you learn over time.
What do you like to do to unwind after a day’s work?
In most cases I read newspapers, magazines or books – usually specialist literature, catalogs, and scientific research, rather than novels. Digital and analogue. Or I browse the internet for interesting things. I also watch movies, mostly via the projector or in the cinema. Of course I also go to exhibition openings, exhibitions and festivals. But reading is the best antithesis to my exhausting studio work.
What’s your overall favorite aspect of the creative process?
The most exciting point often changes from work to work. For the drawings I make on a tablet, I find it exciting that I can make them anywhere: in the train, in the waiting room at the dentist, on the plane. I can take the tool with me almost anywhere, and sometimes I just need a little electricity. The most exhausting part of the stencil paintings – both physically and psychologically – is definitely cutting the stencils. The process of applying the paint is the most positive part of the work, because it’s exciting to see the whole picture come together.
With the installations, I enjoy the moment when everything is technically implemented but there is not yet an audience; I like to sit down in the installation myself and let everything have an effect on me. The different processes are so unbelievably diverse, which makes them restless, insecure, confusing… but they also all offer a nice challenge.
Who are some of your favorite artists or artistic influences?
There have always been artists who have made a lasting impression on me. First of all I have to acknowledge Roman Signer – an artist I met during my studies through a fellow student. Some of us went and saw “Signer’s Suitcase,” a documentary film by Peter Liechti about the artist. The humor, the complexity of the work, the lightness, the research with material, texture and physicality, but also the poetry of each work are extraordinary.
The second artist who influenced me was Blinky Palermo. A few years ago I was able to see one of his rare extensive exhibitions, with its large-format color field pictures made of fabric. There are few artists today who have been able to bundle color, material, surface and space in such a radical way as he has.
The works of Francois Morellet have also been with me for quite some time. Bringing sculpture, painting and light together forms a major concern of his work, and I find his installations with neon tubes particularly outstanding.
Last but not least, I would like to mention Peter Buggenhout. I became aware of his works via “ABC – Art Berlin Contemporary.” At the end of the exhibition hall there were three huge displays with three dark grey sculptures. Buggenhout’s oeuvre includes a multitude of exciting sculptures, all of which reveal an incredible sense of material. Each of these sculptures tells a little peculiar story, each with a specific liveliness.