Igor Hosnedl

Igor Hosnedl’s debut solo exhibition was held at Horizont Gallery, Budapest in 2018. Then 30, the artist had already made remarkable progress developing a highly singular style of painting, characterised by carefully aligned colour tones, flowing geometries and an atmosphere suggestive of alternative states of consciousness. Working almost exclusively in large format and with custom pigments, Hosnedl deploys a cautious yet bold technique to his work. It’s late March in 2020 and the world is currently turned upside down during an unparalleled viral epidemic. Sound artist and writer Daniel W. J. Mackenzie reaches out from his seaside home in Brighton, to the painter Igor Hosnedl at his Berlin studio via WhatsApp. In conversation, the two share ideas on existentialism, the human condition and the suspicion that magic and mystery are not as unreachable as they seem.

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Igor Hosnedl, Sickle and Lamp, 2020, Handmade pigments in glue on canvas, 220 × 140 cm
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Igor Hosnedl, Dedicated to Matthew Wong, 2020, Handmade pigments in glue on canvas, 220 × 140 cm
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Portrait Igor Hosnedl

Daniel Mackenzie: Hello Igor, in light of the crisis we’re currently in, how are you?

Igor Hosnedl: Hi Daniel, I’m doing well but nowadays all is really surreal. I live in Berlin, in Tempelhof right next to the old airport, and it’s kind of a strange feeling because the Czech border is closed, so we are unable to see our parents for example. I guess everything is different for many people right now.

DM: Yes very different. There have been some localised epidemics before that have affected nations but nothing on this scale for anyone living today. It’s very surreal indeed.

IH: Yes, also the fact that this change comes without any notice or any announcements. This is something that people can’t bargain with and I believe that is something really unusual. Berlin feels like it’s in a constant Sunday mood.

DM: With the restrictions on movement and socialising there have been a lot of exhibition cancellations and shows moving online. How do you think this has affected you as an artist? And the art world in general?

IH: We can divide this frustration into two different bags. One is that you have your schedule for a whole year arranged and then it’s all cancelled in just a few days. It’s not only the expectations from the exhibition but the loss of the preparing and work that has to be done before the project itself. So artists are in a position where they have to learn and adapt mentally for these changes. Also the market will be slowed down I think. There will be more important things to buy and take care of after this epidemic. But I truly believe that art plays a major role in society in every period of time and especially when nations are trying to reconstruct themselves after some disaster like this pandemic, or wars. The second bag is full of doubts.

DM: I suppose time will tell what the artist’s significance is in this particular moment. It’s encouraging though to see that the art world in general is responding bravely and assertively in this sort of ‘art cannot be stopped’ mentality. Moving onto your work, how closely do you align yourself to classic surrealism? And how could this relate to today’s society, which has seen a neo-psychedelic resurgence, updated and more welcoming attitudes towards the spiritual, metaphysical and so on?

IH: I would be very careful with the possible link to surrealist ideas when we talk about my work, not because I don’t want to be linked to this period of art history and the history of painting but I think that these formal links are not that relevant. I operate with classical and established narratives from painting history, like dropped shadows from objects randomly placed on tables or simply on horizons, because I’m trying to develop something that might be understood as an everyday thing, and a system that you already know from your visual experiences. Ideas of surrealism are beautiful and too fragile to take into the mayhem of this century.

DM: I suppose the idea of a link comes from the interactions between objects placed out of context, landscapes and mindscapes almost becoming the same thing. It’s interesting that you think fragility needs protecting today. Because today is chaotic and overwhelming? So in a sense your paintings could attempt to inspire a sense of calm, perhaps almost meditative?

IH: I deeply believe that this fragility is something that is really needed for people living in the fast stream of the world today. I’m convinced that we are feeling the same things as one species. Maybe that’s a common feeling for everyone in the world.

DM: I believe in the concept that a conscious universality exists on some level, like we are all tendrils coming from the same shared connection.

IH: Yes definitely, we are all the same. It’s only about how much we let the circumstances change us.

DM: That is beautifully put.

IH: The question is how could each person find and consciously feel personal fragility? It’s inside of us, it’s who we are, but sometimes this fragility is never explored but suppressed as our ego is winning every time. I have my own experience with my personality and I’m dealing with this as well as everyone else. That’s the reason why I’m able to speak about this.

DM: I personally find the atmosphere in your paintings very calming – the tones and colour harmonies, associations with objects and symbolism, the geometry and sense of space. They are unquestionably dreamlike, and I think it’s important to maintain a connection with dream states even when awake, as a place to escape to.

IH: My paintings are serving me as a confession. I deal with my ability to challenge my skills to create art. It’s a really personal experience and whole process too. I’m a naturally aesthetic type of person and I really enjoy the whole process of being creative. How my work affects the viewers is really a secondary effect.

DM: I wanted to get some thoughts on how expressions of identity have changed with communication platforms. Social media allows people to share their thoughts, bodies and aesthetic personalities on a whole new level. As bodies and figures are so common in your work, often in exposed situations, I wondered if there is some link.

IH: The human body is an object of desire and an object of our own vanity, but also unfortunately it could be our prison, mentally or physically. I understand what you are pointing at with your question, it’s a really thoughtful idea. I think people have been trading with their own body shells from the beginning of time. I think this might also sit close to ideas of fragility. I think there is some reason why I’m painting bodies so often. One reason would be that I’m taking viewers into the sensitive environment of the painting through their own bodily instrument which they are using daily. This serves me the same way as the viewer – I understand my physical shell through the visual language of the painting with a different perspective. Painting is very often totally uncompromising, it shows you something that you might hide from yourself for your whole life. That’s the difference between social media, body language and art.

DM: It’s a valuable function of art to reveal the things which do not have a common language – again this links to the idea of a shared single connection between human beings. Art can provide a language or method of understanding that transcends our differences.

IH: Yes I believe so.

DM: There’s a quote from Leonard Bernstein I’ve long admired which goes ‘Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable’. I think in this context you can say the same for art. Would you agree?

IH: Absolutely, but there is the question of how many people would agree and will try to link their mind to some medium like music, poetry, literature or visual art, and how many wouldn’t even think that something like this would be possible. This is again the question of knowing self-fragility and not being afraid to be sensitive and show this firstly to yourself. I’m dealing with this all the time.

DM: Do you link your work to other creative forms, for instance music, film or dance? Do these serve as inspirations, technically or thematically?

IH: Personally I would link to poetry – not written poetry how we experience in books, but the imaginative poetry of everyday life. Some experience that you could search for your whole life but find only a few times. I’m fascinated by many things around all the time, especially by visual art. I’m getting inspiration nonstop. The problem is that rarely I’m able to find something like that poetic experience. Something that doesn’t infect you visually, letting you have your own vision, but still guides you somewhere else that is totally beautiful.

DM: Maybe it’s something that isn’t necessarily found. Instead of the potential discovery of something that might not be there, it’s more so an emergent understanding of something that is there all the time – an essence. Almost like another dimension or realm that exists intertwined alongside our own.

IH: This is completely true. The problem with visual art is that you can’t just simply stand and talk about how brilliant your inside life is. That’s really naive. You have to go and try to do something visible and deal with all these aspects together until you can figure out how to find a balance between them.

DM: And even if you find that balance, it’s a compromise. Some things were never supposed to be turned into experiences you can see, or hear, or feel in a conventional sense.

IH: Absolutely, I can’t describe it better. It’s a never ending dialogue full of doubts about yourself.

DM: The use of objects in your exhibitions seems to connect to this idea of exploring dimensions and makes them more like installations. I’m interested to understand why the objects are used.

IH: I’m using objects in my exhibitions from time to time. It really depends on what exhibition I’m working on and the state of mind I’m in during the process of building ideas. Objects serve as a mental exercise in something real, something that I can’t experiment with in my paintings, like working on something without a desire to create an artwork. Maybe that’s the reason why I’m sometimes working with installation and objects. I guess I have a desire to create something between a sculpture and a piece of furniture, something that prompts you to perceive as usual, a different system from the system of paintings.

DM: Can you outline some of the technical and thematic aspects you implement – custom pigments, recurring themes, use of large format?.

IH: My technique is a bit unusual. I was figuring out how to build a colourful pictorial space where all colours can interact and influence the final sense of the painting. I was wishing for success with classical paints like oil or acrylic but it didn’t suit me well. So I started to experiment with pigments mixed with water-soluble glue. I guess that this was helpful for me because I had to slow down the process of preparing each colour tone, especially because I was buying soft pastels and crushing them into powder pigments. I’m still using this method because this guided me into a deeper space of painting. Colour is a very powerful weapon, and I really appreciate the unusual final look of the painting surface – it’s almost like a ceramic glaze. I’m usually working on large scale paintings around 210 x 130cm and bigger. I think this choice suits the natural state of my mind. In recent times I’ve started to work also with small ones, 130 x 90cm for example, but I’m happy to be able to create big paintings as it has some kind of different energy.

DM: I’d say it adds to the dreamy qualities to work in a larger format. At that size you can step into that environment, which can be more powerful than looking through a window, which is often the effect of experiencing smaller paintings. The feeling that you could maybe exist within the world of the painting rather than observe passively is magical.

IH: I guess it’s nice to shift between big and smaller sizes. My themes are going in cycles and they feed themselves over and over again. They depend on my drawings – everything starts in drawing and I draw a lot. I keep all drawings in sketchbooks so I’m able to go back and forward in streams of ideas. I guess that’s what creates the repetitive conversation between the drawings and paintings. Also I’m very interested in the slow stream of time in my work. It’s visible in paintings where you can observe hands and cut limbs, falling apples and slowly moving objects placed on tablets. I’m taking my time to establish new compositions and systems, it’s naturally slow in tempo and I believe this is a fundamental part of my work in general. On the other hand I’m working in the studio every day and rarely stay away from the paintings.

DM: It sounds like a very intimate, private process. What about the idea that your paintings contain symbols or sacred objects?

IH: I think mystical symbols are a dangerous aspect of work in general as it might look like an artist is saying ‘I can do something that others can not, or I can even think differently to others’. I’m not trying to concentrate on the specific magic meaning of things pictured in my paintings.

DM: That’s the danger of utilising esoteric elements. There’s a risk of alienating people or suggesting that those elements of a work, or the whole work, are somehow inaccessible to certain minds.

IH: Yes. That’s maybe why I’m isolating myself from something mysterious. I don’t want to influence the audience with any kind of “special reading” of my language. I believe in everyday things around us. They might become wonderfully magical in paintings afterwards but that’s the task for viewers and their own personal perception not mine. I’m finding inspiration and all the imagination in quite an ordinary environment. The most beautiful aspect of art is allowing viewers to build their own visual relationships.