Sunday, 20 July 2008

The image-sound of our time

Pascal Johanssen is founder and curator of the berlin exposition Illustrative, which is displaying an international selection of the best young illustrator´s work. The illustrative art, once an art „forgotten“, is reinventing itself and presently in great demand: in the design and art scene as well as in commercialising an attitude to life. Pascal Johanssen, curator, talks about tendencies and self-conception of the genre „illustration“ in tension to the fine arts.

Mr Johanssen, what does „contemporary illustrative art“ signifies for you?

It´s a new art movement. Unlike classic illustration it is a mix of influences from comic art, graffiti, fashion, advertisement, set design for computer games or animation. This form of illustrative art is marked by very different creative impulses and thus can be design or art.

What does this mean for the traditional term „illustration“?

It is not wrong but occupied too one-sided. According to the established definition an illustration is an image supporting a text, it is not considered apart from a text. Therefore the fine arts consider the illustration to be an antipol to free art and devaluated as „technically bounded“. The term „contemporary illustrative art“ is challenging this position. The idea of a free art being handled as a law in the art world today is pure fiction itself, lasting from the establishment as artes liberales in the renaissance on to the pretended sterility of the art modernism. We are giving up this fiction.

How do you identify this new movement? Where are bounds to fine arts and graphic design?

One signifier of the new illustrative art certainly is the technical imprint coming from the illustration. Today however these techniques can be extensively exhausted thanks to the possibilities offered by analogical and digital means. Today´s graphic design and media art being created almost exclusively at computers and paintings at all times on the canvas, illustrative art is discovering the spaces between and picks up the best from both fields. Through these hybrid mixed media one cannot tell how the picture has been created.
In addition to this technical component there is one concerning the content. Baudelaire once talked about the illustrator Constantin Guys in one of his essays about „illustrators as painters of the modern life“. He saw their particular ability to catch „themes of the street“ picturally and to translate the modernity of his respective time vividly into pictures. Today´s illustration could be qualified in a similar way – it provides the sound image of our time.

What is the rediscovery of the illustration about?

It´s about a new aesthetic in fine arts. In the last few years we have heard many theories and have been astonished about diamond skulls (Damien Hirst „For the Love of God, Shine“, editor´s note) Here, like in the last 30 years, the main quality standard of contemporary art is solely the idea behind the piece of art. This because a good idea can be extended into the medial space of market. Illustrative art having been created beyond the art market again links to the idea of the work. This signifies a new turn.

An advantage of illustrative art is that you can earn money with ist. Which sectors are focused on illustrations?

Indeed there is a growing market for illustrative art even if it is still small and underestimated. So far buyers and people interested in it are mainly persons with a certain sense of design and the ability of realizing that innovative character of illustrative art: architects, designers, internet-focused enterprisers, etc. Certain influences, such as from the aesthetics of computer games, will only be apreciated by someone who grasps it. It is like anything new: To comprehend it, previous knowledge is essential.

The demand of illustration in advertisement and Corporate Design is constantly increasing: Why?

Illustrations are emotional. More than photographies can ever be because they are displaying reality per se – apart from that too many photographies have been seen by now. The illustrator has the possibility to bring an personal artistic note into his work: He is painter of the modern life. He can use influences of comic art, graffiti, music and any more. This way a sense of time is communicated more intensively. Since businesses look out for an emotional marketing the illustration is on the rise.

The focus of your work exhibition is set on the younger generation of illustrators. What characterizes this generation?

A new self-confidence. Olaf Hajek, one of the german representatives at the Illustrative, having recently been asked in an interview if illustration is newly moving toward free art, said it is the opposite way round: The free art is moving towards illustration. I think he is right.

Where are the differences to the generation before?

The parent generation for me is represented by illustrators like Tomi Ungerer. These have been willful, charismatic drawers. They were close to political caricatures, which was in accordance with the common operational fields of illustration back then. Today´s illustrators are mainly avant-garde regarding innovative means of design. And being really good and having found their own position they can even be the artistic avant-garde.

How is the proportioning in digital and analogical illustrative art?

About 50:50. But it is difficult to make a clear distinction. The drawer Tim Dinter for example sketches his „City views“ analogically on paper, then scans the drafts and does not stop modifying again and again the layers and the coloration of a picture „Photoshop“ unless everything is perfect after hours. After that he either silkscreens analogically or again draws, but this time on the digital master. Is this an analogical or digital production process now? I don´t know. But it is exciting since a new aesthetic emerges.

In addition to the exhibition of illustrative art there will be four further section at this year´s llustrative: Book art + Sketchbook, Fashion Illustration + Wallpaper, Audio-Visual Illustration, Animation Film + Set Design. Which of these sectors is the most fascinating for you?

Interesting things are taking place in all fields: In the book art section we see beautiful, modern books. Fashion illustration shows that the illustration is not copying something which is already there, but rather is a sketch having to create a proper atmosphere, contrary to the technical drawing. In the section Audio-Visual Illustration we are presenting a current being somewhere between the Vjing and the media installation. Here the artists experiment with light as in laserpainting for example. In the section Animation and Set Design the scenographic element of the illustration is employed.

In which direction the illustrative art is moving at the moment?

Game Art will come up. This will be an art genre which will not only copy the aesthetics of computer games, like Eboy, but uses the graphical, narrative and technological means emerging from computer games and making them possible. Something new will develop in this field.

You have also launched a contest for young illustrators. Which trends are obvious taking into account the submitted works?

At the moment it is exciting to observe in what manner illustrations can work more abstractly. Traditional illustration is relatively figurative. Meanwhile we know the pure drawing of pictures. Hence the question is how illustrators manage to translate picures more abstractly. There are only a few who can do this – but it is the challenge for the future.

What are your personal highlights of the exhibition?

All artists occupy a complete independant position. Let me pick up two of them arbitrarily: Jeanne Detallante, because she as fashion illustrator shows that fashion illustration does not have to be sweet but can be pretty cool. And Roman Bittner, because he invented the „Retro-Pixel-Graphic“ from which he constructs monumental, utopian cities in „Freehand“. But this is almost sculpture art.

Images are by Tim Dinter, Roman Bittner and Jeanne Detallante

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