TA: When did you decide to become and artist and why?
CS: I wanted to be a painter ever since I was able to form a clear thought.
Why? I don’t know. Maybe because I didn’t want to grow up – like Peter Pan in Neverland. In Neverland, it’s enough to believe in something for it to happen. So I just painted what I wanted. Playing meant painting for me and still does so to this day.
TA: Which international artists have informed or inspired you?
CS: Thomas Dylon, Kathy Acker, Arthur Rimbaud, Marlene Dumas, Lucian Freud, Eugene Delacroix, Peter Hujar, Gabi Hamm, David Hockney, Max Beckmann, Jean Genet, Alice Neel, Eva Hesse, Lovis Corinth.
TA: I find your work intimate, vulnerable and beautiful. There seems a very deep connection to your subjects. Can you tell us more about this relationship and how you choose your subjects. Do you paint from photographs or do you prefer your subjects sitting for you?
CS: I don’t associate my work with the portraiture genre. Because it’s definitely not about representing a specific person through their individual properties. Also, I’m not interested in exercising sovereignty of interpretation over my models. Rather, I’m interested in the surface of the model, in this faint incorporeal mist which escapes from their bodies, in the film which envelops them. At the same time, I regard the painting as a mirror between the model and me, or the model and the beholder. That way, the painting is, I think, less a portrait of the model in the classical sense of the genre, than an incorporeal double, a phantom of my respective subject. Paul Valery hit the nail on the head when he said: “What is most deep is the skin”. I work with photographs of the models and atelier sittings.
TA: Photography seems an important part of your work. Can you tell us more about how photography is used in your creative process?
CS: The work I do with photography or with software for creating drawings is perhaps comparable to the process of drawing – I use my laptop like a sketchbook. Painting in itself, however, still has a lot to do with dirt and substance, and, above all, with this constant failure and misfiring towards fulfilment, and so, in the end, is something different from photography altogether.
Nevertheless, what media reality does to my perception of the world and also to my painting interests me. In my time, I, too, have been imprisoned and have grown up in front of the video screen. In this day and age, people are driven neither by Platonic Ideas, nor by intuitive sensuous needs and appetites, but, rather, by virtually generated and digitally manipulated faces and bodies that are ubiquitously blasted out at us, smiling out at us from magazine pages. Painting, in contrast, has a crude surface, a hapticity, the “suchness” of oil paint.
TA: How did the residency in Beijing inspire you and do you feel it has changed your work in any way?
CS: Beijing is possibly the only world metropolis where you don’t necessarily get by everywhere with just English. I was, consequently, constantly dependent on outside help, which was swiftly granted as well. Loyalty is essential – not only, as we know, with regard to the governmental regime. Society fosters strong networks of relationships everywhere there, where someone assumes responsibility for the members of the group. Needless to say, it’s the starkest contrast to Western individualism, which is, more than anything else, a disengagement from society, and in which autonomy as an ethical ideal becomes wooden iron: “self-realisation” as a must, as a criterion for mental well-being. Experiencing this contrast was very exciting and interesting. But not being able to connect to other people in the usual ways outside of verbal communication interested me particularly. In Beijing, for various reasons, I learnt to contemplate isolation, self-isolation, sociopathy and narcissism.
What’s more, in Beijing I really came to the understanding that lingering in the regional periphery of an urban art scene can give rise to a very deep-seated, reduced and self-enclosed understanding.I have to say that a large proportion of art production which we see in, say, Berlin, and which is discussed in Berlin, is a topic of conversation only in Berlin, and is examined only in Berlin. I have nothing against the place, but this provincialism is tough. Regionalisms start being interesting only when their protagonists from New York, Berlin, Beijing, or wherever, come into opposition with one another, fight each other, or make friends and create intersections. Such effects are due, above all, to the engagement of galleries, like Galerie Urs Meile (which made my residency in Beijing possible), which, despite their exposed position in the art world, don’t define themselves as salesrooms, but as trial areas and places of diversity, with the vision of shaping culture.
TA: Are there any Chinese artists whose work you got to know in China that you like?
CS: The works of the youngest generation of Chinese artists interested me in particular, those artists who are no longer affected directly by the Chinese art boom. Notably, the work of the young Chinese conceptual artist, Li Gang, as well as the work of the performer Yan Xing, born in 1986.
Further interesting encounters were with the painters Qiu Xiaofei and Xie Nanxing.
TA: What is going to be the next body of work you will work on now you are back in Germany?
CS: I’m working at the moment with 3 models from London: David, Oliver and Jenna. They will be large scale. I’m optimistic.