Christof Mascher is a multi-disciplinary artist whose practice is marked by playful and constant experimentation in medium, subject, and form. His works incorporate a vast array of figurative elements — from expansive landscapes and architectural forms to cartoon imagery of Kirby or roaring dinosaurs. While figurative, Mascher’s work is not focused on narrative or content as a realized subject. Rather, he creates atmospheres of nostalgia, fantasy, romance, and mystery, playing with representation as a subject, and forcing viewers to question their understanding and perception of imagery. His respect and love of color is clear across his material work. Lush, cinematic light bathes his paintings, while his woven textile works use a bright and articulated palette, reflecting the pixelated and playful subject matter, evoking cartoons, video games, and nostalgia for happiness and fun. Mascher challenges color and its supposed rules, allowing them to bleed and mash up against one another, experimenting with their material properties and application and questioning the emotive outcome. His own excitement and care for challenging his own practice both in terms of material, medium, and subject exudes from his body of work.
Christof Mascher was born in Hannover, Germany and currently lives and works in Berlin and Braunschweig. He attended Fachhochschule Hannover and the University of Arts, Brunswick, where he later earned a MFA in 2009. Mascher has been included in group and solo exhibitions across Europe and the United States. This past year, he exhibited a solo show, Spin a Rainbow, at Städtische Galerie Wolfsburg (Wolfsburg, Germany) and wooed in the group exhibition Schlafes Bruder at Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken (Saarbrücken, Germany. Mascher is currently looking forward to a solo show later this year at o-o LA (Los Angeles, CA).
What is your background in art and how have you developed materially?
I am 39 years old and I started doing graffiti on the streets at 13. I was born in Hanover, Germany. My parents are Christians and we had to go to church from when I was around 10, so I felt the need to escape from this background. I started doing graffiti with some guys at school. We grew in confidence by doing pieces on spots that you would see driving on the way to school or on the subway. We did a lot of tagging — my name was Virus — and through that subculture we started socializing and met other “nerds”, people who also didn’t fit into the social system so much. We built small crews, heavily influenced by New York graffiti and hip hop culture, and I just kept developing my work, but I always felt a bit stuck in the scene. I didn’t like the paradox of rules within graffiti, and I also didn’t like being chased by the police. The police raided my grandmother’s house, my parents’ house and my flat at the same time, and I just didn’t want to keep doing the illegal work anymore.
I did not directly switch from making graffiti to making art, but a year after I stopped I decided I could study art because that’s what I really wanted to do. I was into painting and drawing. I didn’t consider myself a gifted person or anything, but I didn’t know what else I wanted to do. In school I studied under Walter Dahn, a painter from Cologne who had studied under Joseph Beuys. He was a really cool teacher, and he really respected my interests and background. He really gave us students the chance to be ourselves and feel like we didn’t have to hide anything. We talked a lot about painting, but also about other ways to express ourselves that came from an internal desire and necessity. That was what was essential. I decided then that I always want to try something new in order to keep myself triggered and focused. I’m always looking for new options, new techniques and tools, to keep the process interesting.
After I finished my degree I discovered ceramics and continued to work on pottery at the art school. That was the first thing I did that was ‘new’ to me. I slowly discovered tapestry after that. I practice a totally handmade technique from 1850's New England and it takes a lot of time, but I take pleasure in the idea of not putting pressure on yourself.
Can you talk about your subject matter and how you develop that?
It’s tricky because I don’t consider myself a finished person, or that what I’m doing now is the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m philosophically insistent on the idea of discovery, so I follow weird paths that maybe don’t always help me. For me, the strategy for making a good painting can be about being stuck in discovering things? How do you really paint a mountain? How does light work and how do you paint that? I enjoy the process a lot, and I feel like I’ve just started.
For me, landscape is a way of thinking and a way of offering something to the viewer. It’s easier for me to start with figurative elements, like trees, rocks, or water, as a strategy to work out the white canvas. They’re starting points, but it’s not so much about the content. Content is largely unimportant to me — it’s the process that I enjoy because I want to make beautiful things. Making mistakes and trying weird things, doing things that people don’t always understand, is all a part of that. In the end, I’m not a landscape painter. The work is about creating my own story and including storytelling elements, but having it mostly be about how it makes you feel. That question triggers me more.
What is your work process like? How do you develop narrative and source imagery?
I think the normal process of any painter is just sitting on the internet and downloading pictures. I could say something more romantic or mysterious that is also completely true — like how I enjoy going for walks and discovering strange things in the world, in flea markets and old bookstores — but I believe that my key source is vintage animation films. Early animation interests me deeply, as well as outsider art, which has a huge influence on me because I feel that it is the most honest form of artistic expression.
For a long time I avoided painting cars and things from the world around us today. In the last few years I felt the need to paint trucks and jeeps and shoes, and slowly the everyday is now sneaking into my work. I fought against allowing myself to paint those things initially, but now I don’t even know why I was hesitating or what was blocking me. This is a clear example of how I still don’t feel like I’m achieving something, but how I believe that my mindset and process allows me to be more free and accept new questions and ideas.
I work in a free-flowing, entirely intuitive mode most of the time. The content of the work is mostly a dialogue between myself, the forms, and the colors. A dog in a painting is just an outline for something else. It’s interesting for me to see the dialogue or stories that people project onto the works because of the imagery. I’m offering something in my work, maybe a way to read it or some codes and influences, but I do not want to put too much in. Works become surfaces for these projections.
What is the process between structuring the works when you’re working intermaterially — working on a painting vs. working on a woven tapestry?
I have learned that I enjoy spending a lot of time on little details. I started painting maple trees and I began to enjoy painting every single leaf. I used to see how I could make the leaves very quick and fast, to see if there was a trick. In the end there was no trick, and it didn’t look very good. So now I paint every single leaf. Who knows how I’ll do it in the future.
My work is a lot about painting about painting. I see some works from some of my favorite painters, like Bonnard or Vuillard, and then I start thinking about how they would work today. Would Bonnard buy an iPhone or a Samsung? Would he smoke? Would he be vegan? And then I already have a story together. Again, it’s a playful mode, but it’s also a lot about references. You don’t have to see them in the end, but it’s a starting point.
If there’s a light, then I start thinking about how to paint a lamp or a lantern. You end up going through art history, maybe you discover some chapters of art history you haven’t really known before, and then when you make the work and people react to it, they are also reacting to its history. You can’t just paint a lantern because of 2000 years of painting, but at the same time, maybe you should just do it and not overthink it.
Can you talk about your tapestries? How are you thinking about them compositionaly? How does humor operate with them?
I totally love video games, and I like the mistakes and bad graphics in video and computer games of the 1980's and 1990's. I’ve always wanted to transpose that vibe into my paintings, but it didn’t work out so well. In the tapestries it’s easier because you have a weave like pixels. I can go slowly into that 8 bit or 16 bit graphic style. I really want to make some pullovers, like Norwegian winter pullovers, but with other elements like a horse-riding pixel person or neon forms.
I got interested in tapestry last year when I was visiting southern Tyrol, which is where Ansel made his carpets, and somehow those impressive mountains and landscapes triggered me so much that I started to research how I can make carpets and tapestries by myself. The only person in Germany who does this old technique lives in Munich, and by accident I found myself there visiting my sister and I found the woman over the internet and drove directly to meet her. She gave me all the materials that I needed and helped me a lot. I always wanted to combine traditional carpets with something fresh and contemporary, something that you might not expect. That’s why in my rugs there’s a traditional tapestry pattern, but also the cute Nintendo character Kirby, or a cobra in the style of a North American tattoo. The process is so slow and it takes time to finish works. Now that I’m making prints, the tapestry patterns have found their way into those works and I’m playing it forward. It’s like the works are playing tennis, it’s a constant echo all the time. Wu-Tang Clan recorded beats on bad stereo cassettes and then re-recorded them in good quality to make them sound more rough, and I feel like that’s what I’m doing with my techniques. Printmaking, painting, tapestry — these are almost just filters for me to move through. A lot of those vocabularies also lead back to my childhood, like the dinosaurs and the video game elements. I feel as a painter and an artist that I don’t ever want to grow up. I am, but somehow you have to keep your treasures from your childhood. I wasn’t allowed to play Super Nintendo as a child, so I do it as an adult and bring it into my work.
How are you thinking about humor in your work?
Humor is key. The world is serious enough and it’s a nightmare these days, so it’s also a survival tool. As a painter, what are you? People always use you for projection of their fears for the future or their assumptions about art, but none of this is necessarily true, and you can’t take it too seriously. Humor is an essential part of my work and my life.
What are you working on right now? I know you’re doing printmaking now — can you talk about that body of work?
I’m in a residency, which is from a grant that I received last year. It involves working and living whenever I want in this old castle in Wolfsburg, which is supported by the state. I applied for this grant because it was for an experimental printmaking process, and I’m supported materially and can honestly do whatever I want and use the paint or tools I need. I started using oil paint on my lithography prints, which is something that nobody really does. It’s beautiful because the oil paint is not quite dry, and it develops a kind of bas relief. There’s also the opportunity for mistakes because the borders are wet and the oil spreads through the paper in ways that I cannot plan. It looks quite attractive to me to have those variable factors in the work. I just had an exhibition in April of that work, which went very well. I also installed paper cutout works with transparent colored paper and lights in the windows, which activated the space with the different changing lights. So maybe I will also make more scissor-cut works as installation like that. I want to continue working now with LED panels and play with silhouettes. It’s still at an early stage, but I want to try and then fail or succeed. I want to continue working with lights and the outlines they create, and maybe also have moving lights be a part of it too. I really love kitsch, so maybe it will be a little like that. When you work for a while you have your own vocabulary and specific ideas, and the different mediums warm those up and develop them in different ways. I also want to do more with the bas relief and overdo it, develop that intensity like in historical bas relief works.
What is your studio practice like?
Wake up at 7
Read a bit, drink some good quality matcha tea
One hour outside on the bike
Start to paint
Meet someone for lunch
From 5 family time, or continue with paint or research