Art Radar founds out more about German mixed-media artist Sven Pfrommer’s first solo exhibition in Manila.

Art Radar chats with German artist Sven Pfrommer about his long-running “Human Blur” series, his photography-painting technique and working around Asia.

Sven Pfrommer, ‘Burma Blur XXII’, 2015, Fujiflex on sintra, 70 x 140 cm. Image courtesy Ayala ArtistSpace.

Sven Pfrommer, ‘Burma Blur XXII’, 2015, Fujiflex on sintra, 70 x 140 cm. Image courtesy Ayala ArtistSpace.

Though artists keep finding new topics and curiosities to explore, there is always that one image they cannot seem to evade, resulting into a multitude of artworks featuring it. For German artist Sven Pfrommer (b. 1965), that one image is the human silhouette. It is the focus of his long-running and most well known work, the “Human Blur” series, in which he captures the movement of an urban crowd in several Asian cities, as well as the essence of a more recent series, “Java Jazz”, where he casts light on the attendees (rather than the featured performers) of Jakarta’s music and art festival.

While it is fascinating how these two sets of mixed media works show how much this German artist has expounded on the image and meaning of the human silhouette, what is equally interesting is how a simple image could lead one to develop an entirely new technique, which again adds meaning to the image he began with.

“Indistinct”, Pfrommer’s seventh solo exhibition and the first one to be held in Manila, casts light on his commitment to a particular subject and his mastery of his own photography-painting technique. This two week-long show highlightws why the image of the human silhouette is constantly revisited by artists. It is a reminder that we are another blurred figure in this world and that we can cut back on the vanities. Furthermore, despite all being swarms of blurred figures, Pfrommer’s work shows how cities or communities have a distinct collective trait, resulting into a rather curious irony.

German artist Sven Pfrommer in his exhibition "Indistinct" at the Ayala ArtistSpace, Manila, 2018. Image courtesy Ayala ArtistSpace.

German artist Sven Pfrommer in his exhibition “Indistinct” at the Ayala ArtistSpace, Manila, 2018. Image courtesy Ayala ArtistSpace.

A German Walter Thiemann awardee, Pfrommer studied visual communication in Germany and then pursued visual art at The Royal College of Art, London, which he was a British Council scholar. A decade ago, he established his own contemporary art gallery in Berlin, and in recent years has been teaching photography, art and design in Asia. His works have been shown in galleries and art fairs worldwide.

In this interview with Pfrommer, Art Radar gets to know more about “Indistinct”. Recently shown in Ayala Museum‘s ArtistSpace until 28 June 2018, this exhibition also reveals his other curiosities such as the fashion of construction workers that continually help build the urban empire of Manila, quiet yet filled with motion landscapes and the storytelling ways of dancers. Here, the artist provides us with insights into his technique, choice of subject matter and further insights into the Asian art market.

Sven Pfrommer, ‘Watch Tower III’, 2015, lambda on sintra, 60 x 60 cm. Image courtesy Ayala ArtistSpace.

Sven Pfrommer, ‘Watch Tower III’, 2015, lambda on sintra, 60 x 60 cm. Image courtesy Ayala ArtistSpace.

First of all, congratulations on the opening of “Indistinct”. I understand that this is your first Manila-based solo show. Could you talk bit about the different series of works you have included in the exhibition? Which of these have you shown in your previous shows? And which works have you decided to debut in Manila?

Thank you. For this show I have selected 33 different works from almost a decade. I have included some brand new works from 2018, the “Java Jazz” works and the “Abstract Dance” works, and also the construction worker portraits are still kind of new from last year. But the majority of works is from my “Human Blur” series, which have been also on show in Los Angeles and Sydney this year.

Sven Pfrommer, ‘Java Jazz 2’, 2018, mixed media on canvas, 90 x 90 cm. Image courtesy Ayala ArtistSpace.

Sven Pfrommer, ‘Java Jazz 2’, 2018, mixed media on canvas, 90 x 90 cm. Image courtesy Ayala ArtistSpace.

Your profile reveals that you worked as a commercial art director and photographer before starting your career as a visual artist. What made you decide to pursue this career change? And why did you choose to express yourself through photography and mixed media?

After university, I wanted to get some professional life experience in the industry first, so I settled in the advertising world for a while. But I did always paint and explore art as a sideline. I come from a creative background, so I tried almost any art medium from video to etching.

The decision about which medium to use depends also on the mood and it changes in phases. Sometimes, I paint and draw more; sometimes, I prefer to reach for the camera. And in the end, it’s usually a combination of both. Digital photography is missing the haptic, so this is where painting and drawing becomes a good complement. Truly, it is also the inability to commit myself to a medium.

Sven Pfrommer, 'Workers I-VI', 2017, Fujiflex lambda on sintra board and wooden frame, 51 x 36 cm. Image courtesy Ayala ArtistSpace.

Sven Pfrommer, ‘Workers I-VI’, 2017, Fujiflex lambda on sintra board and wooden frame, 51 x 36 cm. Image courtesy Ayala ArtistSpace.

One of the things that interested us about your current exhibition is your use of lambda. Why do you insist on this kind of printing for your artworks?

Lambda has a very high quality, lifespan and just produces stunning results. It’s a wet process and produces images with the highest possible resolution.

“Indistinct” shows the audience a variety of your interests – from city crowds and construction workers to seascapes and movement artists. How do you choose your subject matter as an artist?

I always carry a list of projects I like to work on in the future. And sometimes, the circumstances are right to push through with the idea. Unfortunately, time is never enough to realise all of them.

I like to capture movement somehow, either with abstract crowd, dancers in the studio or movement of the urban and natural landscape.

Installation view of Ayala ArtistSpace's "Indistinct" (2018) exhibition featuring the works of Sven Pfrommer. Image courtesy Ayala ArtistSpace.

Installation view of Ayala ArtistSpace’s “Indistinct” (2018) exhibition featuring the works of Sven Pfrommer. Image courtesy Ayala ArtistSpace.

Your series “Human Blur” began in 2002 and currently includes photographs of passersby from Myanmar, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, Hong Kong and Manila. Could you talk a bit about how you came up with this series? Why do you feel the need to continuously add to it? We are also curious as to why you portray the crowds in Asian cities.

I started with this idea of using the human silhouette as a theme when I was painting abstract silhouettes in oil and acrylic on canvas. Over the years, I developed a more unique mix of photography and painting, which I still use today.

We can see that the abstract human shape is an endless inspiration for artists. We have sculptor like Alberto Giacometti and video artist like Michal Rovner or Yves Klein who have added new definitions and interpretation to the theme.

Sven Pfrommer, ‘Human Vision I’, 2015, Fujiplex on sintra, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy Ayala ArtistSpace.

Sven Pfrommer, ‘Human Vision I’, 2015, Fujiplex on sintra, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy Ayala ArtistSpace.

Speaking of Asian cities, you spend a lot of time here in Manila as a lecturer of art, photography and design. Could you share some of your thoughts on the contemporary art scene of the region? What trends do you think have made a strong impact on contemporary photography? Are there any practices here that have inspired your work?

To speak of the Philippines, Filipinos are very creative and have a pronounced sense for the beautiful in art. Photography as a modern art form here is still a bit underrated compared to Europe and North America.

Art collectors are still mainly looking for painting, but we also see that the art market is changing in this country as we could see in this year’s focus on photography at Art Fair Philippines.

Sven Pfrommer, ‘Saigon Blur’, 2015, Fujiplex on sintra, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy Ayala ArtistSpace.

Sven Pfrommer, ‘Saigon Blur’, 2015, Fujiplex on sintra, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy Ayala ArtistSpace.

What is it like to navigate the Asian art scene as a foreigner?

The Asian art market is booming and we see so many influences from the different cultures coming together, which makes the region very diversified and interesting.

Finally, what shows or projects do you look forward to pursuing after your “Indistinct” exhibition?

I had already three shows this year so for now I’m not planning another one for this year. I just finished my “Java Jazz” series, but, of course, new projects are also on the way.

 Javelyn Ramos

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“Indistinct” by Sven Pfrommer was on view from 15 to 28 June 2018 at the Ayala Museum’s ArtistSpace, ArtistSpace Ground Level Ayala Museum Annex Makati Avenue corner De La Rosa Street Greenbelt Park, Makati City 1224 Philippines.

Related Topics: German artists, human body, Abstract art, photography, museum shows, events in Manila

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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