Interview Armin Baumgarten – A Modern Romantic?
What are the first three associations that come to mind with your paintings?
Autarkic / archaic / pure
In your works you deal almost exclusively with three themes: Landscape (especially mountains), head and figure. What fascinates you so much about these themes?
From the age of 14 I was a painter and tried everything that was accessible to me, but it was about painting. So during my studies I looked for the most elementary topic that art history has to offer: the human being. And that has remained the case to this day, because that is how I relate to the entire continuity of art history. I would like to turn an ancient theme into something current.
Your works are usually limited to three colours: red, blue and green. Why?
Yellow, too. I like to work with pure colours, but I don’t necessarily want a "colourfulness". What I am looking for is a kind of inner glow of the picture, and I find clear colours to be very pleasant. I like a basic sound of the picture from which there are nuances.
Your paintings are so pastose that they seem almost three-dimensional. How did this style develop?
At the end of my studies I created a very thin glaze painting. But when compressing the figuration and the long working processes, it was important to arrive at a process that allowed the picture to be "modelled" for a long time, i.e. a tough oil paint with long drying times. But increasingly, the differentiated, haptic texture of the color, which led me straight to the sculpture, also became important to me.
How long will it take you for one of your works?
The pictures have their own time and I listen to them. It’s always the case that after a few days my picture looks quite passable, so basically almost like finished. Then I start with the elaboration and there are regularly the stages of total failure. After some time, about five to six weeks, the matter becomes condensed again, the "compensation of the catastrophe" begins. If things go well, then the pictures really have come a little further and just a little bit more intense than at the beginning. But actually that’s exactly what matters to me, I don’t like quick talent exercises, I like the headwind very much.
How much paint do you use about per painting and how long does an painting dry?
Unfortunately I use a lot of paint. It’s not that I choose a certain pastoseness, but it results in the process of finding the picture. On the contrary, I often remove a lot of paint when painting. In intermediate phases I like to let the colours dry through. Most tones take two to three weeks to dry on the surface. It takes a few weeks until a painting is completely dry. Oil paint is something very lively. It is very thermoplastic and the pigments change over years, decades and centuries. What Rembrandt painted is not exactly what we see in his paintings today!
I read that sometimes years later you edit your pictures again. When is a painting ready for you?
Pictures as I paint them are never actually finished. I don’t work out of a concept, but the picture results out of itself in a tedious process of discovery. I stop painting when the picture begins to "breathe", becomes independent and somehow begins to lead its own life, in other words when I realize that I can’t improve anything. But sometimes, after a long time, I recognize new possibilities and then it simply excites me to pursue the matter.
Personally I think your pictures can be described as "beautiful". Even if the concept of beauty is very subjective, what role does beauty play for you in painting?
Beauty is a very loaded criterion in the art of modernism, it is regarded as whitewashing – lying. It has always interested me very much as something elementary, something that simply cannot be denied from our existence. But what is beauty anyway? I was less interested in the "classical" ideal of beauty, including that of the Renaissance. I like to travel in France, and when I look at the cave paintings of the Dordogne, I see that from the beginning it was all about the sublime, somehow unattainable. Archaic, idol-like form-findings. I am also very interested in the Middle Ages and Byzantium. I seek beauty in the successful merging of opposites such as colour, style, form and picture surface. My picture should radiate a timeless inner order and harmony. However, the restlessness, the breaks that have contributed to what is visible in the end, are part of this beauty.
What should a good work of art ideally do with the viewer?
It should radiate intensity, grab him directly and convey a certain "noblesse". A good work of art should be something more than a good gag, a nice event or a useful pedagogical aid for everyday social problems. Art is free! And this freedom must also be responsible and embodied, i.e. it is both timeless and ancient at the same time. It is not the cola bottle, but the source.