Dreams In Blue: An Interview With Artist and Painter Phillip Mueller

text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

Viennese artist Phillip Mueller’s art is mythical, fantastical and deranged. It exists on a plane somewhere between Hieronymus Bosch splashed with modern pop references, Thomas Kinkade on acid and a print out from your brain of a recurring nightmare.  However, there is also something so sweet, alluring and romantic about his work. Mueller, whose solo show opens tonight at Carbon 12 Gallery in Dubai, is a genuine painter and he is studious about his work. In a world devoid of figurative meaning in painting, Mueller uses his paint and brushes almost like a protest, and the depth of his work is a war against contemporary’s artist stodginess.  His current exhibition in Dubai, entitled “Dreams In Blue. The Year Phillip Mueller Didn’t Wake Up,” is described as a “dream-inspired road-movie.” One of my favorite pieces by Mueller is a portrait of Byron holding a pack of cigarettes, wearing camouflage and a pope hat – it is painted on a surfboard, which is a regular platform the artist works on. In fact, the surfboard isn’t just a medium, it is yet another piece of the puzzle and symbolism for the artist’s seemingly voracious desire for freedom and rich excess. Rich, not in the sense of monetary wealth, but rich in the sense of life. There is a distinct vitality in Mueller’s work that spills over the canvas edge like an orgy. We got a chance to speak with Mueller shortly before Christmas, when he was still working on his current exhibiton at Carbon 12 Gallery, to discuss his practice, mythology and his desire to get back in the studio and back to work.

 Oliver Kupper: When did you know you first wanted to become an artist?

Philip Mueller: I never wanted to do anything else. I was painting my whole life. When I was 8-12 years old, all of the other boys went to play soccer, and I had painting lessons at the studio. I had lessons from a Croatian painter.  I was always painting.

OK: Did your parents support you as an artist?

PM: Mostly my father did. My mother didn’t want to see me as an artist.

OK: Why’s that?

PM: She was scared I would always be broke, you know? I wouldn’t be able to feed my child.

OK: Your work deals with a lot of allegory and mythology. Where did your interest in mythology originate? Why does it play so heavily in your work?

PM: It was always interesting for me. It’s an imminent level. There are so many strong stories and strong figures. You can tell these stories for the next ten thousand years, and it won’t get boring. You can see all these stories in our contemporary life too.

OK: You can turn to them to find answers, or to figure stuff out.

PM: They exist because of explaining life and humanity.

OK: I want to talk about some of the mediums you use. You use surfboards, which is really interesting. When did you first start exploring the surfboard as a canvas? Have you ever gone surfing? Vienna is kind of far away from surf culture.

PM: Actually, near Vienna there is a lake that is quite big. It’s a well-known place for windsurfing. About 4 to 5 years ago, I bought a windsurf board and started to paint on that. Since the late 50s and early 60s, the surfboard has stood for absolute freedom. It’s also a myth for freedom. It fits on this narrative level. 

OK: Freedom seems to be a major theme in your work. Would you say that freedom is one specific theme that you’re chasing? Is there any specific theme that you’re chasing in your work?

PM: Not only in my work, in my whole life. I’m looking for freedom in everything.

OK: When you conceptualize a work of art, what is that process like? Do you have visions that come to you? It seems like there’s a lot that goes on in your mind before you put paint to canvas.

PM: There are these stories, and I can talk about them. Then, there is a sketch. The canvas is like a playground. It’s like playing. It has to be playing from the start, in the end. Otherwise, it would get boring. It’s very important to have storytelling, but it doesn’t completely inform what I’m painting. Colors, structures, figures—they all come together during the painting. The longer it takes to finish a painting, the more complex and interesting it gets, for myself.  When I think it’s finished, I sit in front of it. That’s the part when the painting tells me what I have just done. The work reflects when it’s done. It’s a very exciting moment.

"There’s a lot of stuff that has to be done. I get really depressed if I haven’t painted for more than three days. Last week was tough because I barely had time to paint. Christmas is coming and I hate it."

OK: You apprenticed with Hermann Nitsch. We did an interview with him, actually. He’s amazing.

PM: He’s fit at the moment. He’s strong again.

OK: Yeah, he seems like it. I still owe him some California wine. What was it like working with him? What kind of impact did that have on your work?

PM: I was working with him at the Castle in Vienna where he lives and works. Normally, his assistants are working for him for 5 to 8 years. I quit after 1 ½ years because there was no time for my own work. Still, I think that time with him was very important for me. He’s one of the most intentioned and sophisticated artists I know. It was also quite heavy. It was good to see this industrial, factory kind of working. I learned things that I would have never learned at university. Creating exhibitions, dealing with art dealer and collectors. It’s quite romantic. There are lots of animals there. In winter, it’s like a Nazi movie.

OK: It’s like a fairytale.

PM: Yeah. Actually, I met him five days ago. He looks good. I didn’t see him for a while.

OK: He seems reinvigorated by something. Maybe more people are appreciating his work.

PM: Yeah. There was a time when the state of Austria was fucking with him.

OK: A lot of countries were.

PM: Yeah, but especially Austria. Now, they want everything from him.

OK: Exactly. Now he’s a national treasure. As soon as American audiences (or another big audience) appreciate his work, the country where he’s from ignores the past completely. Now, you’re a national treasure, no matter how controversial. You could be in jail for twenty years.

PM: [Laughs.] Once the American market embraces an artist, you’re perfectly right. Everything changes suddenly.

OK: Speaking of reception to your work, has there been a certain perception to your work in Dubai? Is there a controversy? What has the response been to your work in Dubai or the Middle East?

PM: Dubai is so international. People from all over the world come to those exhibitions. They are really happy to have my work there. There was this performance I did at my first solo show, “Eat when you can, sleep when you can.” You can watch it on YouTube. It was quite disturbing for most of the audience, I guess. I’m sure they went home and thought, “Wow, what the fuck, but good to have such things here.”

OK: Is there going to be a performance aspect to this new show?

PM: No. I don’t want to do performances at the moment. For the past two years, I haven’t been doing performances. I really want to be a painter.

OK: Do you think people are coming back to figurative work? It seems figurative painting is coming back as a more appreciated art form.

PM: It will come back. On the other side, I don’t care because it’s the only thing I want to do. I will do it anyways. Maybe it will come back because of me. [Laughs.]

OK: You asked people to watch Holy Mountain by Alejandro Jodorowsky (another person we interviewed) before seeing your show. Why Holy Mountain?

PM: It’s one of his strongest and most complex works. I’m impressed by the project itself, the grand scale of it. Every thirty seconds, you have an idea that is so unique and great. It leads to the next idea. Jodorowsky is interesting because he’s a logistical genius.

OK: And it’s full of symbolism.

PM: Yeah, of course. That leads to my work. He uses symbols that are already socially visible. Skulls, crosses, all of this occult stuff. he brings his own ideas onto those symbols. When you do that, you can create something really big based on those symbols that are already in our heads.

OK: What’s next? Is there a new body of work? You said you would focus on painting.

PM: Yeah, I will focus on painting. I’m so happy with the new works I will exhibit in Dubai. I already started a new series that is based on the works I did for Dubai. There’s a lot of stuff that has to be done. I get really depressed if I haven’t painted for more than three days. Last week was tough because I barely had time to paint. Christmas is coming and I hate it.

OK: You just want to be in the studio.

PM: Yeah, and there’s so much to be done. 

Phillip Mueller “Dreams In Blue. The Year Phillip Mueller Didn’t Wake Up" opens tonight in Dubai and runs until March 6th, 2016 at Carbon 12 Gallery. Unit 37, Alserkal Avenue, Street 8, Al Quoz 1 - Dubai. Photographs courtesy Carbon 12 Gallery. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

Camelops Femina in Dubai: An Interview with Olaf Breuning

Olaf Breuning is one of those mystical artists with a gift that is both totally innate and at the same time seems to involuntarily possess the artist – as if he were haunted by the immense creativity that overcomes him. This is evident in the art that he has created and presented in over 250 exhibitions, either solo or group, since his professional career started in the late 1990s. The Swiss-born, New York based artist, has created everything from creatures made out of rakes and cardboard, to films that explore the thin line between reality and fiction, bizarre photographic explorations, and installations made from kitchen appliances. Now Breuning brings his phantasmagorical world to Dubai for the very first time with a striking and magical exhibition at Carbon 12 gallery. “Camelops Femina,” as the exhibition is called, is a fictional exploration of pre-conceived ideas and iconography that digs back 10,000 years in history to excavate an extinct species of Camel that once roamed North America. The images, which were created exclusively for this exhibition, are distinctly Breuning in the quotidian and strange manner of the composition of the photographs where models are dressed like desert sheiks or Bedouin gypsies to represent the imaginary extinct species of camel. This wonderful exhibition is on view now at Carbon 12 in Dubai. Pas Un Autre got a chance to speak with the artist himself in the following interview.

PAS UN AUTRE: You’ve had over 250 exhibitions since the late 90s and this is your first in the Middle East – do you have any expectations – trepidations?

OLAF BREUNING: Trepidations? Uhh…. I will have them if there would be a reason! And expectations? No never have them. The most important for me is that I do an artwork I like. And so far I love the "Camelops Femina."

AUTRE: Your work experiments with, or is a reflection of, popular culture – what are some of your predictions as to where pop culture will go in the next 10 years?

BREUNING: Haha, pop culture...I am not sure…if it still exists…the art industry is pop culture itself. For example Andy Warhol’s work in the seventies was something different because the self-awareness of art itself was still very conservative, but today there seem to be no borders…just different strategies produced and read by different groups of people. Random, like our time in general.

AUTRE: What are some of your favorite inventions of the last 10 years?

BREUNING: To be able to challenge my small brain and come up with always new ideas responding to me and the time I live in.

AUTRE: Have you always want to be an artist? Can you remember the first time you said to yourself: “I want to be an artist”?

BREUNING: I think I never said that, it was always a natural situation. Maybe I am just a natural self-centered person who cannot do anything else than speak about himself. No, no I am a modest person.

AUTRE: What is your ultimate goal as an artist – is there a specific message you want to communicate?

BREUNING: No, no message! I do art to go through this life on my terms. Sounds dramatic, but it is fun and addictive. I feel free as an artist and I hope I can do so until my last day.

AUTRE: Why is art important to society?

BREUNING: Well, I am not a politician, but would I would say: EDUCATION! Whatever that means, just to give different points of views to things.

AUTRE: Where do you find inspiration or creativity?

BREUNING: Mostly at Balthazar in New York, the breakfast restaurant I’ve gone to for 12 years from Monday to Friday. This is the time where I have my first coffee and make my drawings for new ideas.

AUTRE: Is art a product or can a product be art – or both?

BREUNING: Art is whatever you say is art....no borders, just a matter of definition.

AUTRE: Your art deals a lot with the human condition in the 21st century – is there something unique about this time or perhaps different than other epochs?

BREUNING: Yes! THE INTERNET, it changed the way we see the past, the now and the future…so long we are online.

AUTRE: What can we expect from your show Camelops Femina at Carbon 12?

BREUNING: I show with my kind of humor and I hope people in Dubai like my humor.

AUTRE: What’s next?

BREUNING: One day New York, one day Toronto, four days New York, one week Japan, one week Switzerland....and after that I have to focus on a show in August at the Paul Klee museum in Switzerland.... have to make some art!

Text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Camelops Femina will be on view until April 30, 2013 at Carbon 12 Gallery, Warehouse D37, Alserkal Avenue, Street 8, Al Quoz 1, Dubai contact kourosh@carbon12dubai.com for all inquiries