Joanna Fiduccia: You have a work from 2008 entitled Von der Unmöglichkeit seiner eigenen Jugend treu zu bleiben…
Nick Oberthaler: Literally, “About the impossibility of staying true with his own youth.” I got the title from an interview with the filmmaker Robert Guédiguian, who used this phrase to describe the plot of one of his latest films, Lady Jane (2007).
JF: That plot seems to come up often in your work. We’ve spoken before about your attraction to a doomed attempt to cling to youthful dreams. Your works on paper, however, could be seen precisely as dreamscapes, stretching into scenic, empty vistas. Is it possible to represent the “impossibility of staying true to the dreams of one’s youth” without also maintaining those same dreams, if only “on paper”?
NO: I think the failure and the dream occupy the same narrative layer. There are probably a dozen youths we carry around — a dozen ideas, concepts or ideologies, and many more dreams. Dreams or stories are always placeholders for problems we’re trying to hide; they’re a way of blocking out something.
JF: Your latest drawings ply this block form with what appears to be a process of suppressing something by blacking it out. Could you tell me more about them?
NO: I’m using a wax technique: applying wax to paper, then inking it and carving out the light areas. I started the series during a lonely residency in the Czech Republic, in a village full of tourists with a massive castle and Renaissance buildings and squares. It was cold. Lonely. Depressing. So I decided to make drawings with bricks.
JF: The simplest construction material?
NO: But also a grid, a frame, a wall.
JF: The results are very painterly. Is that your background?
NO: I studied drawing but painting always interested me, especially old Flemish and Dutch landscape painting and German Romanticism. I always liked the light games in Flemish paintings — very dark, smoky, savage landscapes, but there is often a ray of light grazing through some gray heavy clouds, trying to touch the small people on the ground. It has this religious or perhaps metaphysical power, making us very small in relation to nature. A very contemporary thought right now, considering this volcanic eruption in Iceland. There is a sentence by Catullus that goes something like, “Suns come and go, but when our light expires, we have to sleep an eternal night.” It says everything that haunts me about death, life and light.
JF: Where is your work headed now?
NO: I’m trying to figure out a way of expanding the works on paper into space, or even time. Recently, I’ve been thinking about slide-projections as a way to separate the images — or the figuration that I often used in collaged works and earlier drawings — from the works on paper, leaving the drawings more formal, rigid or even, perhaps, abstract. I’ll show the images as slides within an installation. I’m interested in creating a kind of “void” in the new drawings. Sometimes, they seem empty now. Empty, but hopefully concentrated in my imagination.
Joanna Fiduccia is a writer and critic based in New York.
Nick Oberthaler was born in Bad Ischl, Austria, in 1981. He lives and works in Vienna.
Selected solo shows: 2010: Liste Basel with Layr Wuestenhagen; “Mallorca” (with Carsten Fock), Eva Winkeler, Cologne. 2009: Layr Wuestenhagen, Vienna. Selected group shows: 2010: “Both Ends Burning,” Martin van Zomeren, Amsterdam. 2008: “Landscope,” Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris/Salzburg.