Words/interview: Renko Heuer
░▊▊ ░ ▊ ░ At first glance, Esther Stocker’s elaborate paintings, murals and installations have an almost soothing quality: Always based on grid structures, always black-and-white (with additional shades of gray), they seem to portray the kind of order and coherence our everyday existence too often lacks. And yet it’s a trick to lure us in, to make us forget what we were thinking about a minute ago, to come closer and take a second look: manipulating the relationship between the painting and ourselves, the viewers, the Vienna-based artist (*1974) manages to trap us in a loop as we’re trying – in vain – to decipher whatever message or system of patterns might be underlying her work. Thus raising questions about the relationship between chaos vs. order, reality vs. fiction, foreground vs. background, precision vs. elusiveness, certainty vs. ambiguity, the various disturbances and glitches in her illusive works ultimately put all our assumptions of the world around us to a test. We reached out to Esther to learn about rhythmic patterns, rectangular friends, and the stubborn nature of artworks in general.
Esther, how’s life treating you these days? What are you currently working on? ░░▊▊ ▊ Life is great. I work on big, crumpled sculptures that distort the grid on the surface. They are not very obedient to my ideas, but this is what artworks are in general. Stubborn. Also to its creator.
What was your favorite color as a kid? Do you remember the kind of pictures you used to draw or paint when younger? ░ ░▊▊░ Yes. Yellow was always my favorite. I remember because the jar was always empty. My first memory of drawing is when I was drawing that hedgehog, a semi-transcendental experience. Until someone interrupted me, I was very angry. Perhaps I still am.
How did you do in math in school, if I may ask? ░ ▊▊ Really bad most of the time. The only thing I liked: to calculate geometric forms.
Having “a desire for a static condition”, did you think of becoming an architect at some point? ░░▊▊ ░ Never, so far. I studied painting in the belief that I could stay far away from anything technical, real, complicated. With painting I felt in the safe place of fiction and dreams. Now that I discovered that fiction is real and that reality doesn’t have so much to do with real life, yes, I could design architecture!
When and how did you first discover that all you needed was black-and-white lines? Was it like a proper moment of epiphany? ░▊▊ ░ ▊░ More like a moment of liberation. Of relief. It was during my study times in Vienna. The thought: why not get rid of everything unnecessary? I didn’t have to deal with everything anymore. It was an intuitive decision, but it turned out that my interest lies mostly with the forms.
You’ve been working with grids for 15 years now – what were some of the main lessons you learned from doing so? Any insights you keep returning to, and have applied elsewhere in life? ░ ░ ▊░ First lesson: Simple things are complicated. Second lesson: Grids are confusing. Third lesson and also applies to life: Don’t forget to eat; the grids will be waiting for you.
Is your approach to creating art a way to create order – and thus: meaning – in the otherwise chaotic stream of life? What else drives you? ░░▊ ░ ░ Life is not complicated; it is wonderful most of the time but sometimes unacceptable. I don’t believe in order, so I cannot create it. I believe in paradoxes, and I find it most beautiful to describe them.
But seeing patterns, making sense, dealing with chaos – it can create both necessary outlines but also paranoia, an overly-strict, overly-rigorous system. How about your relationship to patterns and organized systems in general? ░ ░▊ ░▊ I never liked systems, anything ordered, anything with a regular rhythm. It made me feel sick to look at the radiators at school. Because of their ordered tubes. As a child I strongly believed the regular structures represent the biggest lies in the world. I was attracted by anarchic structures. It just turned out that you cannot describe the deviation without the regular, that there is anarchy in order.
You consider yourself a painter first and foremost, and the installations are merely a way to “enter the images” you create? ░▊▊ ░ Yes, I am painter. I was educated by paintings I believe, and I learned most from them.
I guess every work of yours starts with a single line – is that usually the hardest part? ░▊░ ░ No, I am not afraid. That is to say: I am not afraid of lines. I love the lines, I love the beginning of an artwork.
Are rectangular forms still your best friends? ░▊▊ ▊ Of course! They are very entertaining and unpredictable friends too.
Do you think the order of society should ideally be arranged like your grids: open-ended, non-hierarchical, alive, chaotic and beautiful at once? ░██░▊ Beautiful, alive, open-ended, yes, those are great words. Ideally a society doesn’t have any order, it should more have a rhythm, because it is something that is constantly changing. I don’t see my artwork in a symbolic way.
Spiegelman, Schulz… what are some of your more recent comic obsessions? Why? ░░ ▊ Great question. Lewis Trondheim I read a lot. And I heard about some abstract comics. I would love to find out more about that.
Finally, what does it look like around the house: generally somewhat messy or perfectly in geometrical order? ░░▊ ░ Ha-ha, it depends on who you ask. All I can say is that I don’t live with my parents anymore. Otherwise: it’s a secret.