, 08. July 2017
"I paint because I have to paint"

Interview with Metal Painter Michael H. Dietrich

Today, I met with the painter Michael H. Dietrich in the Stuttgart gallery stuttgArtandDesign. Dietrich paints pictures with, out, and on metal. It was a fascinating and inspiring conversation. Convince yourself!

x-working The painter Michael H. Dietrich in the Stuttgart gallery stuttgArtandDesign with the picture "Nach dem Urknall" and Sonja Bachmann, CEO of x-working
The painter Michael H. Dietrich in the Stuttgart gallery stuttgArtandDesign with the picture "Nach dem Urknall" and Sonja Bachmann, CEO of x-working

x-working: Mr. Dietrich, thank you so much for today´s interview here in the gallery stuttgArtandDesign. You paint with metals and you share a passion for sculptures made out of metal. Where does your passion come from? What is the fascination for you concerning metal?
Dietrich: Gold and silver in the form of prepared metals have been used in art for 7,000 years. I did not invent that. My father was a painter and restorer. We lived in the Hanseatic city of Lübeck and he received orders from rich Hamburg merchants to restore pictures of old masters because of the interest of the British and American occupation troops. However, there were pictures that were supposedly destroyed during the bombings. The merchants could not go to the museum and say, "Restore the Picture!", they would have looked at the list of missing masterpieces and said "But that was burnt at the bomb attack". Therefore, this had to happen illegally. So one did not choose a Hamburg restorer, but one based in Lübeck. At that time, I was introduced to the art of restoration because children have little fingers and because children could roll over a picture on a cart to clean the painting from its surface dirt. That's how I got into metals. So we not only restored the pictures, but also the frames. For this reason, I have been trained in the father's studio. He then told me, you cannot paint on metals. Thus, it was clear what my life was going to be: I had to paint on metals because my father said, "It does not work!" He was right and wrong. He was right that you could not just paint on them. Painterly processes are required. Painting techniques have been existing for 400 years, all of which are described in detail in holistic standard works. Nevertheless, when they ask, "How is that with metals?" - There is no book. You cannot read anywhere anything about it. So: Learning by doing! I did not even know that this was expensive. Opposite to you sits the man who has destroyed plenty of beaten gold like no one before me. What should I do? Trial and error! Excuse me, even if it is an interview, but shit off target means broken! Away the gold! You cannot scrape it again. I have already died several times in the course of such experiments, poisoned, blinded, deaf, lost taste, insensibility - once a week was normal. I sometimes produced white lead myself, which is simple. You take rolled lead, hang it in hydrochloric acid, and when you seal off all windows and doors well, you have the effect of the gas chamber in America. However, cheaper and self-made! Therefore, I started to experiment.

x-working: What is your preferred metal? Gold, silver, copper, aluminum, lead, brass, tin, bronze, zinc, iron?
Dietrich: There is no favourite metal for me, no!
After the Second World War, material research began and brought about milestones of progress. Teflon knows everyone. The military and the NASA pushed material research. Today we have materials that are harder than diamond. Today we have bulletproof vests, etc. One has of course also experimented with metals. Aluminium, lead, gold, silver, copper and impact metal are two-dimensional metals. Liquid metals come from automotive engineering. The most important invention at all in this entire metal material science was tin, rolled out in microns, so wafer-thin. Without tin no computer, without tin, no TV device. Without tin, no car. There is nothing in technique without tin. Tin is produced in various alloys. Tin is produced in Germany near Frankfurt in the Taunus and sold to the whole world. People sell only once a year. The buyers come with 30-40 people and order their secret alloys, thicknesses and widths of rolled tin plates for millions of dollars. When I called and asked if I could buy tin, they replied, "How many tons do you want?" I replied that I did not need tons, I was a painter. However, I got three meters of tin three days later - as a free trial!

Copper is seen everywhere, for example on church towers or roofs. Since I lived in Frankfurt am Main at that time, I called the colour factory Hoechst and ended up in the development department. Then I had some professor and told him that I wanted to make copper on copper, but also the beautiful patina green of the metal itself and that I want to do it quickly. I mentioned that I did not have 700 years of time, I would only have seven days and asked him how to do that? He said to me, "I think you're crazy!" I could then come to him. This was not the first and last time in my life that I stood with the palms on the wall beeing scanned for weapons. My Fiat 500 was "raised" by strong men, whether I have guns or bombs under it. I finally landed in the department and there then were serious gentlemen, who said I was crazy. The whole crew was topsy-turvy because of me. Then they gave me the Obelix magic potion in a small bottle with warnings before the application, which I of course ignored. However, it had worked, with which I had saved 699 years and 350 days, because now I could make patina green myself. Meanwhile, there are also liquid metals with which I work. If I had solved a problem, two new ones were created. This is the way: trial and error - that is research, this is the way experiments work, always emphasizing the question: What if…? Jab, it bangs and stinks - not good! Once again.

The metals itselves have a closed surface. Gold is gold - silver is silver. Therefore, I tried to work on these metals so that each leaf itself is already a work of art. The gods fail on this! Now let's take this picture here (goes to a picture). This image has the title "Nach dem Urknall". This is the exploded bubble. Life came from an egg. Here is the x-axis, using gold, silver, and aluminium. Any single little area is already a picture in itself. This image seems to be out of a colour. This is not the case. It is almost monochrome. It is painted without colour. It is only in black and white. This technique of removing the artificially made craquelures has lasted over 20 years. Here you can imagine how much gold and silver I have used. This technique is my special touch regarding my painting style. My painter colleagues, who come by from time to time, claim (enviously) I would be a miserable painter - but "How did you do that?"

This image is coloured over metals and oxidation I have inherited. The problem is that this technique cannot be applied onto a canvas stretcher frame. Because the mechanical processing is performed with e.g. wire brushes it does not work on canvas. You have to do this on wood. This technique is also so difficult because it puts the artist into a timing. If they apply anything, they have to work on it exactly 12 hours later. If you do not, it is broken. So that has very exact times, when you do this. Moreover, you can imagine the preparation of such a panel takes 90% of the time opposed to the painting itself. These lacquer effects over the metals cannot be painted. The very special thing about these pictures is that I always claim, I´d be a painter. I paint with brush and paint.

The painter Yves Klein has made a single metal painting by gilding a canvas with gold leaf. Gold and silver have been and are still used in painting as a decorative element, in sacred pictorial art, etc. For me there was the goal of disprove my master. In addition, all of his colleagues claimed that metals were only for frames. My concept was to prepare the painting ground not with pigments and stinking fish glue. I came from below. What I paint on is not something to give a shit about - if it is only good! The light is also special. Metals reflect the light. Depending on the incidence of light, depending on the time of the year, according to humidity, according to the time of the day, such images painted on metals look different.

x-working: Do you still experiment with new metal compositions or alloys for your pictures?
Dietrich: Yes. They are all very difficult to design. I never know how it will become! My ego in the preliminary work is perhaps 51%. I can tackle the structures. However, as they become detailed, I cannot determine. Nevertheless, in some way I can control it. Such a process is already a sure-fire success produced by oxidation.

x-working: I have read that you do not allow anyone access to your studio. Why?
Dietrich: Because there live ghosts. In a studio, the soul of the painter is exposed. In a studio, I am even unwanted myself on some days. Now you think I am crazy. That´s ok (laughs). In a studio, a spiritually esoteric climate develops over time. You as a woman understand that no one can ask: What do you have in your belly. After nine months you have a child born and say, this is how she looks like. That is good. And so I raise her. And if you like it or not, I have it born! These pictures, which are here, have partly been developed for more than nine months and they are signed. That is, they are no longer mine. You cut the cord with the signature. This is the worst thing that almost all painters have suffered and will always suffer from. I have to puke, I have pain, and I start to become hysterical. For me, signing is the worst thing in the world. Signed pictures are arrogant, boastful, naughty, stupid, snotty, horny - all sorts of things. A picture is never finished. When it´s done, it's a shit picture! A studio body that you put in a corner to kick in. Even if you painted 200 hours or more - that does not matter. You stop painting when the fight is parlé. If I cannot win against the picture any longer, but the picture against me also not - then we make a deal. Then I just have to sign. At this moment, I do not care if someone buys the picture, if it ends up on bulky waste - or in the museum.

Ever since the Internet, I have been researching every evening whether there is a second painter who also paints on metals and works in my technique. No, it does not exist! Great request, if you discover one, tell me immediately (laughs).

x-working: What are your views on the art market?
Dietrich: The fact that I grew up in my father's studio influenced me of course. When one recognizes as a small boy that the achievement that one brings in art does not count; That one's own personal contribution is not capable of living out of it, but that this art market functions according to its own strange laws, then one must think about it as a young person and draw consequences from it. The biggest mistake of my life is that I have read too many painter biographies. My attitude is that hustling is more honest than the art market. I lived in Frankfurt in a subculture; there were artists, scientists, pimps, hookers, policemen. I am a member of the 60s generation, I was intercepted for four years by the constitutional protection because I played chess with Andreas Baader. And if you realize how you have to prostitute yourself in the art scene to make contacts, how you have to humiliate yourself to succeed, then you say "No" or "Yes". I get five to six calls each month to participate in important exhibitions. The rip-off of artists with exhibitions, prices and other dubious offers is still increasing.

Therefore, if you make the decision not to prostitute yourself for painting, you have to have a different profession. I have been doing advertising, so I've earned good money and travelled half the world. I always sold pictures. Except for Australia there are pictures of me on all continents. That is not the problem. However, I have never sold so many pictures that I could have lived on. In addition, I as a painter alone, that does not go anyway. This is tied to the agent and to the gallery. If they know all about it, then at my age, now more than ever, I am behind the fact that I said, "I do not play this game in a submissive way". I will not let anyone tell me whether I should paint it or not. I will not let anyone tell me "orientate yourself to the mainstream - you have to do so that you can swim, otherwise I cannot show you anymore". I quickly realized that the perfect painter is 20 years old, has very low prices, had several individual exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is represented in all the great galleries and is married. This is the perfect painter from whom you buy a picture for 50 euros, which is then sold for 15,000 euros. If I currently see the documenta, then political art is in. Art is mobile. In addition, when they abolish painting, they must first abolish the birth of children who want to paint raising the impudent claim to be able to live from it. Then they have to close museums that develop covetousness among young people. However, artists are made through the art market. It is my greatest merit that I have remained clean. I paint free!

x-working: You are from the Hansestadt Lübeck, lived for a long time in Frankfurt am Main and then settled in your Stuttgart electoral home. What makes Stuttgart so special for you?
Dietrich: Two-legged, blond, Viennese (laughs). Stuttgart has beautiful museums. This Swabian mentality is cozy and humorous. The Hessians as well, by the way. Actually, I am homeless. Everywhere where I can paint, I am at home. You can take me now and put me down in the Rocky Mountains. If I can paint there, the Rocky Mountains are my home. Painters have no home. Painters rest in themselves.

x-working: What are you currently working on?
Dietrich: You wake up in the morning and say "shit painting". I am currently working with Italian alabaster, slate, acrylic glass and bone. I saw 25 large figures of copper with gilded pointed hats in a museum in Beirut 40 years ago. The text was interesting because they did not know where and when these figures were found. The story is easy to tell: Sometimes, robberies have women at home who say, "You gott bring this to the museum now." This is rather rare. The women usually say, "See that you bring enough dollars home." Nevertheless, there are also buyers who buy it from the robberies and leave it anonymous to the museum, because it was bought with black or drug money. And such packages are then placed in front of the museum entrance. These figures came to the museum this way. This fascinated me. For 40 years, these figures were in my head. For 40 years, I said to myself, I am doing something out of it. I never knew what and how. Now I've been dealing with the gold-hat ancestors, as I call the figures. Then I got on the Internet and found an artist who makes bone art. That interested me. So I've researched about "buying bones" and I found what I was looking for on the west coast of America. I instantly ordered material in English. Then they came back in German "What the fuck? Call my German friend around the corner on your side, there you get bones immediately and cheaper." So I did that and ordered South American cattle bones, Moroccan camel bones and Nordic elk bones. From this I am currently developing a series of these golden-hat-ancestors (shows me a copy).

© 2017 – x-working

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