Torsten Gebhardt / Interview

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TORSTEN GEBHARDT, 1966 born on November 1 in Oranienburg (Germany, former GDR). 1986 completion of vocational training. 1988 imprisonment due to conflicts with the System and failed attempt to escape to West Germany. 1989 relocation to West Germany. 1990 intensified self-taught painting. Since 1996, work as a painter. Since 2003, exhibitions in Germany and abroad. Torsten Gebhardt lives and works in Berlin. Works by Torsten Gebhardt are in private collections in Germany and abroad.

 

OFFICIAL SITE / torstengebhardt.com

 

 

 

 

Artist Statement

In these fast moving times, the visual arts – deriving their creative potential from mind and soul – are an enormously important medium and should rise above trends and commerce, because especially through the language of the image it is possible to enrich society in different ways. The American playwright Arthur Miller has said it best: “Art can’t change people but it can exert pressure on them to look at life with different eyes, to recognize their own moral problems.” I for one see my artistic existence as a sort of creative journey with many stops to experience wonderful things. And who knows where this journey will take me.

 

Torsten Gebhardt / Interview

 

 

Tell me about your background. Where did your life as an artist begin?

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in art. Painting, literature, music, and films – all of it. That has always given me an inner satisfaction. However, since I grew up in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) it was difficult to be active as an artist. Sure, there was a shortage of resources but much more important was the fact that you had to toe the party line - at the very least you needed an opportunistic attitude.

That never was my thing, so I attempted (and failed) to escape to Western Germany and was imprisoned as a “deserter of the Republic”. This time in prison and the short period afterward until the fall of the Berlin Wall have been deeply formative for me. Before I was more of a roamer, simply accepting life as it is, but after my time in prison the topic of (in)human patterns of behavior was more and more on my mind. 

Since I have always loved drawing and painting I tried to translate these impressions into art – right in the middle of the turbulent times of German reunification. Maybe these also attempted to fight my inner demons because my past had certainly left its marks. In 1996, I started to take painting more seriously. My first small oil painting dealt with the subject “serial killer”.

 

You grew up in Oranienburg. How was creativity part of your early childhood?

I was born in Oranienburg, however, I grew up in Strausberg, a small town near Berlin. I spent most of my childhood and youth there. As I mentioned, I have always liked drawing and painting. I think most children do. But what probably set me apart was that I have always had a certain tendency toward the morbid, something that did not seem threatening to me at all. I remember well that once I painted a picture for my mum. A house and a landscape around it. My mum said: “Oh, how creepy, it looks like a witch’s house.” I was really offended and angry: for me that house was simply beautiful. I also enjoyed copying comics and handing those out to my mates at school. Later on, I grew more interested in music and tried my best, however, without much success due to a lack of talent. So I went back to doing what I knew - painting. I gave the walls in my room a black background and then painted creatures and my favorite musicians on them. Altogether, my childhood was very creative.

 

 

Describe your path to becoming an artist.

I often wonder if things are not somehow predetermined. Because the path of an artist is not exactly easy. My parents’ jobs had nothing to do with art, and studying art at university was not an option for me. I simply liked drawing and painting, so I basically taught myself and just tried to never stop improving. Time and again, I have met people along the way who have enormously helped my progress. For instance, I once collaborated with another artist on a painting that we kept sending back and forth. This exposed me to new techniques and became part of the process. For some time, I also worked as a scene painter at the theatre, and that really helped me along.  

It inspired me to “stage” my paintings rather than simply paint something. I didn’t follow a classic path to becoming an artist if there even is one. Things just kept happening and that process is still very far from its end. It is a process that repeats itself.

 

 

What motivates you as an artist?

Maybe what motivates me as an artist is the privilege to be allowed to live as a freethinker and a free spirit. To see more than others or to perceive things differently. To create paintings that fascinate or maybe repulse people. To be allowed to be simply myself – that is motivation enough.

 

Where is your studio?

I live in Berlin with my wife who belongs to the writing profession. We live in an apartment, and I have a small studio right there. We are surrounded by art and the things we like. I need that, and I can get to my canvas anytime, night or day. That is just marvelous.

 

When you’re doing any kind of painting and you’re starting with a blank page, a white canvas, or an empty plot of land, it’s intimidating. The hardest part is starting.

Yes, that is true. It is very exciting, each and every time again. Even though I do a lot of sketches and drawings in preparation and my brain is brimming with ideas, the story emerges only step by step.

Making the first brushstroke is a moment of huge suspense, and experience is a good companion at that moment.

 

 

 

Where do you get your ideas from? Have you had any particular influences over the years?

Let me put it like this: for me, the source of my inspiration is this wonderful earthly sphere where somebody (let’s just call him God for the sake of convenience) has dropped his load of humanity. Obviously, my own life also has an important role to play, as mentioned.

 

Have you had any mentors along the way?

No, I have never had one mentor, however, along the way I have learned from many people and also benefitted from their support.

 

 

What does a typical day look like for you?

Usually, I start my day at a leisurely pace and prepare myself for my work. We can’t forget that painting is my job, so I spend my time late into the night or even into the early morning in front of my canvas and work on my paintings. But I also love the life of a Bohemian. Let me quote Charles Bukowski: “How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?”

 

 

What advice would you give to a person starting out?

That is really difficult. I think you always have to stay true to yourself. Don’t look much left or right and don’t allow yourself to be deceived by the “success” of others. That may be your only chance at gaining some sort of recognition. 

But I can’t judge if that is the right way for everyone, those are just my experiences. Being able to support yourself through your art should never be your goal – even if you don’t make any money, you have to work on it every day. Because in the end, what survives you will be your complete works. 

Art history is full of examples.

 

 

 

Do you have a favorite book?

“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote. A trailblazer for any other book of this genre. Or maybe to take it to the extreme: “American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis, but also “Paradise Lost” by John Milton or Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy”. Reading these books is tantamount to the sheer fight with yourself. But art is a fight, and in the end, these books have really inspired me.

 

Who is your role model?

I don’t really have any role models. Of course, I seek inspiration like any other artist. There is such a diverse treasure of artists from different times and directions who are all unique in their own way. They are the mental nourishment that will feed your own art. But there are artists that I find especially moving. Sometimes it is not even their work but rather the stories behind it. Let me just mention two examples: Vincent van Gogh.

You can like his paintings or not but his life story really moves me. Just like his paintings, his life was full of energy and passion culminating in self-abandonment. The other example is Théodore Géricault: with his painting “The Raft of the Medusa”, he dared hold up a mirror to the society of his times. If you know the story behind these paintings you know what it means if an artist is going to stop at nothing – not even at the flesh of the dead and dying. I love this painting.

 

 

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

Just like many other artists, I haven’t always dedicated myself exclusively to my art: I had to work other jobs to earn money. When the company I worked at was bought out I had to decide. Somebody told me: “Just concentrate on your art”, and that’s what I did. I think that was the best advice I have ever received as an artist.

 

 

What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?

I don’t know, I have never really thought about it. Of course, you want to be remembered for your art but what influence do you really have on that? My paintings are my legacy, in the hopes that

future generations will see art from a different perspective, maybe free themselves from the interchangeability that is currently so prevalent in the world of art. As for my legacy as a human being, time will tell. Because death is an important part of the life of every single human being, and death will be the measure of our worth.

 

Thank you.

 

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