Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Semiutopistic Retrofuturism

Visiting Roman Bittner in his studio in Berlin with references to Eboy, Mies and Hergé

Hello Roman, in recent time we see only one new picture a year by you! What's the matter?

Well, two pictures a year I however made so long. Though this year I have three significantly smaller ones yet; I am currently working on a larger one. One of few negative “results” of the broader public of my work since ILLUSTRATIVE!

You don’t have time for uncommitted work?

I have to decide indeed. I have more and more commissions concerning editorial illustration in exactly that “ancient-city-style” which was displayed at Illustrative. They are eating my time.

Aren’t vector graphics – this complicated you conceive them – an extreme complex task? Don’t you just copy elements?

Vector graphics really are quite time-consuming. Of course I double things sometimes, for example the windows. But I do at least variations regarding colours and positions of the blinds. This way I try to draw a balanced mix of freshly drawn, modified and doubled elements, which will not cause the impression that I chose the easy way.

One couldn’t help but notice your cycle “Ancient Cities of Tomorrow” on ILLUSTRATIVE. What is this series about?

I am a big fan of architecture and metropolises. At the same time I grow up in the late seventies and early eighties at Kaiserdamm in Berlin. In this scene there was a character-forming mood of occupants, rioting, fury of demolition, failing modernism, mordant criticisms towards major projects like Gropiusstadt or Märkisches Virtel. Though I was a little kid then all this had major influence on me. Later on I studied art-history and history in Berlin, visiting almost solely lectures on history of architecture. As Kippenberger told his students: “Do what you feel like doing. If you love cars, go in for cars!” – so I was attracted by buildings and urban structures.

While beholding your pictures it is impossible not to think of Eboy (founder of pixel art). Is there any relation or is what you do something completely different?

Of course I know Eboy’s work and I appreciate it. But there is no direct influence. This impression is more likely aroused by external perception. I don’t do pixel art. Formally we work on two different segments. What is similar is the topic of cities, the density, maybe advertisement and neon signs, and in certain respects the perspective with its parallel lines, not meeting in a vanishing point.

So the subject of megalopolis shams having more in common than there actually are?

Yes, there is rather much in contrary. I used to see Eboys in their aesthetic of pixels more than in that of classic modernists. Also their town views have rather futuristic or at least contemporary elements. And pixel of course is absolutely something of the late nineties when computers were something very new and therefore a cult of machine was adhered in a way.

Your pictures pay homage to the anti-modernism more.

You could say that, yes. This is why my cities are more and more noted as “retro” and indeed there is hardly any building from the years between 1940 and 1995. So nothing looks like Mies, Corbusier, Gropius or Liebeskind. I absolutely define myself as an anti-modernist also by the seamless dense of details, ornaments, and urban canyons, all in flat piles like in a medieval painting. The formal pendant to what is displayed is the missing background.

You work in a way more detailed manner, however…

As the Eboys have to pass everything through the transformer of style-forming pixels they can hardly pay attention to architectural quillets like friezes, cornices, architraves, pilasters, and covings. Neither light nor shadow play a role in their art – though this of course is not what they focus on. I would rather consider Chris Ware, Edward Hopper, or Ali Mitgutsch as inspirations. And Hergé of course, with his tendency to fetishistic research about planes, cars, and trains and the Ligne Claire, quasi his invention.

Eboy depicts actual cities with all their known and unknown landmarks…

…which gain their appeal and wit from the simple and abstraction by their transfer into pixel. Me in contrast, I try to depict cities which are not existent in a way as realistic as possible with all their tiny details.

This reminds me of the “Cities of the Fantastic” by the Belgian comic artists Schuiten and Peters who were shown at the world fair in Hanover. Would you say that your “Ancient Cities” are of an utopistic – or semiutopistic – character?

Of course there is an utopia in all of my illustrations – that cities become more dense, urban, heterogeneous, figurative and detailed. This would be the opposite of architectural utopia of the classic modern from the twenties to seventies, a new utopia-like city turning away from common, future-oriented utopias in a sense of “old is the new new”. Many details, but also crafts and ads can be assigned to the past. Nonetheless I add a certain element of utopia to the entire scene, for the elevated railways crossing in the air, the airports on roofs, and the densification and piles of transportation routes contain a subtle idealisation of well known urban scenery. Therefore I think this can with no doubt be referred to as “semiutopistic retro-futurism”.

What will be next?

Next I would like to make the large scale “Air Harbour und Train Station” centre of a polyptych of about 5- 8 illustrations! This will keep me busy over the next years…

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