Adrian Falkner lives and works in Basel, Switzerland. The Swiss artist is also known under the name Smash137. He has travelled the world as a graffiti writer for many years. Seven years ago, Falkner started to work as a contemporary artist, establishing and creating an identity expanding his graffiti-activities. He has successfully proven that it is possible to prosper in the art world as the artist Falkner was and as the one he has become. This mirrors when one looks at the list of international galleries that exhibited his works, for instance Library Street Collective, Detroit, LeFeurve, Paris, and Die Kunstagentin, Cologne.
The large scale paintings can be situated in the field of abstract or informal art. The works appeal to the audience especially through their gestural and contrasty colour compositions. His vocabulary of forms reminds of fonts and their italicisation. However, the forms and strokes are dissolved to such an extent that his works are by now simply about colour and gesture.
We had the chance to visit exhibitions and fairs together with Adrian during our week at Art Basel Miami.
We met for the first time at Art Karlsruhe in 2010. Back then your works referred strongly to graffiti writing and to concrete letters. A lot has happened in the meantime. How would you describe your development?
At this point in time my interest was to transform what I did outdoors in such a way that it worked indoors as well. That was mostly due to the rather small scales of the canvases. Even then a lot of people said: "Graffiti belongs to the street and not inside a gallery." For years I tried to prove them wrong. But finally I found that traditional graffiti is only rad when it happens in the public space.
So one can safely say that you have undergone a process and that you were a pioneer so to say?
You know, I had to find things out for myself. Retrospectively I'm quite happy about that because I learn and understand best by doing something. Believe it or not, I like to assemble IKEA furniture without the manual. With regard to classic graffiti, I came to the same result.
What was it that triggered your finding?
There was no special trigger really. I found it extremely irritating how little time one spent actually looking at a piece and how fast one tended to just tick it off. I've never really mean into all that guess-what-letter-it-is thing. Finally I yielded to the fact that there's no chance to discover a work of art indoors in an unexpected way and that it has to stand the test of the second and third sight.
By now you have dissolved your letters completely. One wouldn't even dream of attempting to read letters into your actual works.
Yes, that's true, although there's a lot that reminds the viewer of script. The letters that I used as a formal scaffold for a long time made room for abstract painting. Graffiti to me is all about how I write, not about what I write - and that's what fascinates me about painting too. Especially abstract art is all about how it is made and not about what it depicts. All of that might sound easy as pie, but to get rid of the constraint to depict something was extremely hard. That took me seven, maybe even 25 years.
“Abstract art is all about how it is made and not about what it depicts.”
When did you achieve that state?
That is a very recent development. I showed the first works that are truly free from a script-like pattern in Saarbrücken at the end of 2014.
Your works seem to be the result of spontaneity. But when we worked in the studio, I found that you are a very in control and reflected artist. Why's that?
I can only achieve a spontaneous line after eliminating all other possibilities. This elimination process works as follows: I ask myself which colour, which medium, which tools, in which direction should I apply the medium and in which direction? The security to draw a free line comes only when I am absolutely sure where I want to go.
That sounds like you are creating a sheltered space for yourself. Have you ever attempted to paint in an completely uncontrolled way? If yes: what was the result?
Time and again there are sections in my work where I apply the no-control-principle on purpose in order to react to the resulting chaos afterwards. Up to now I have never created a piece completely under no-control conditions - I do not feel the need to do so yet. I have read this very interesting interview with Daniel Richter and Albert Oehlen. Both of them are painters I appreciate a lot. Oehlen stated that he doesn't even look at his paintings while actually painting them. Richter answered: "But at least when you go to get new paint you have to look at the painting!" That resulted in a very cool discussion about whether or not Oehlen looks at his paintings. I couldn't get that out of my head and it took me a while to understand it. To yield control while painting was unthinkable and potentially too high a risk for me over the last couple of years.
“I can only achieve a spontaneous line after eliminating all other possibilities.”
“To yield control while painting was unthinkable and potentially too high a risk for me over the last couple of years.”
Is a free and spontaneous way of working a desirable goal for you at all?
Yes, absolutely. I am sure that a free and spontaneous way of working will play an important role with regard to my future works.
There are obviously people out there who say - being confronted with great art - things like: "My three-year old kid can do that!" That might be true to some extent. My little niece used to come to my studio. She was sitting on the floor, wearing an old shirt of mine, painting the most amazing wild pieces that left me breathless. But at around the age of three, the quality of freedom started to fade away. She started to interpret the paintings and that was the end of it. I guess I have to paint my pieces again myself the moment she turns four.
When we were in Miami we went to see the collection of the Rubell Family together. The collection comprises works of artists such as David Ostrowski and Will Boone. Their works are both extremely minimalistic and radical. That's why they are the hype at present. Can you relate to their works?
Yes, absolutely. From my point of view they are among the most interesting painters at present.
What do you find so fascinating about the guys and is there a difference when it comes to your approach to art in general?
It's the fact that I find their paintings absolutely contemporary.
Now to the different approaches: As an artist you can confront the art audience with whatever you want. They come to you, they come to see your works, and they come prepared. I have my roots in the public space, I have painted there, where other people live. The ordinary people react to what you do; they are more aware of what’s going on so one should not underestimate their judgements. What you get is immediate direct feedback. Again, you are free to do whatever you want. You take your work to the people. That's why this is a different attitude compared to their approach to art and this attitude is still a part of me.
Can you imagine working that minimalistic, that cool one day?
I think I'm moving fast enough already. There's no haste and I enjoy the luxury to push my painting in my own time. For some that might be too slow, for others too fast. But "Yes": I could imagine a result like that. But my I am is not to follow a trend, but to focus on my own art until it sets the trend.