The artist couple Maike Abetz & Oliver Drescher have been working together for more than 20 years now. Their upcoming show “Dawn of Tomorrow” at Magic Beans Gallery is an oeuvre of their intimate collaboration and relationship. We spoke with the artist couple about their paintings that are filled with a labyrinth of symbols, references to Greek Gods and ’60s pop icons like Jimmy Hendrix, Mick Jacker and David Bowie.
How did you two meet?
We met in Düsseldorf. Maike started a few years before I went to the Academy in Düsseldorf. Oliver studied Philosophy before and worked in theatre. We met at a party where new students of the academy come together. Since that day, we’ve been together.
What drew you to start making work together?
Because we spent so much time together, we influenced each other a lot. It was almost like imitating. There were two group exhibitions in which we both participated individually and we were like, “hey your work is like mine”. After these two group exhibitions, we decided to work together as a couple.
What is the best thing about working as a couple?
For us it is the best thing you can do. You get up in the morning and can immediately start to discuss works and ideas. We think very similarly; we have a similar mindset. It is very useful to work together, as you also get critiqued and you share the pain. At the same time, it is very inspiring. You never see what it’s like during the process of making paintings. Sometimes you have to change the composition or colour. It is good to discuss and talk about it with someone else. We do also have time for ourselves and talk about other stuff, but inside our minds there is always a painting going on.
How do you start a painting?
There is always a double vision. We have the vision of a road, but we never know how the road will go - sometimes we find obstacles, sometimes it isn’t fun at all. While we’re on the road, we can always change direction. That is always the most exciting part. We never have an idea of how it will look beforehand. We start in a very visionary way. Somehow we do have the image inside us, but we do not yet know exactly what it looks like. We start to search for it. Sometimes the painting grows and suddenly starts talking to you. When we are arguing, we always know that it is a sign that the painting is talking to us. This is when we start to search for what is missing, what we have to change or which direction we have to go in. Unfortunately, we only learned this after some years. It would have saved us a lot of fights.
Why did you choose painting as a medium?
To be a painter was above being a rockstar. For us, it is also a form of Rock-’n-roll. Painting in the ’80s had a lot to do with music. God prevented us both from being able to make music. Although, Oliver actually played in a band. In our core we are musicians, but we use the pencil as our instruments. We want people to hear the colours and connect with them emotionally. For us, painting is meditation. We need so much concentration for making these paintings. There is no time for thinking; this is when we create the flow.
In the ’90s, there was a lot of conceptual art, and we thought it was a good decision to create a new type of painting. We questioned ourselves about what kind of paintings we could make, and we decided to make figurative paintings. It is also because, as young people, we were both very inspired by Andy Warhol - both his lifestyle and his art. Andy Warhol had perfected screen printing. We wanted to make the complete contrary. We wanted people to immediately recognise our signature from a distance. We didn’t want to make work like anyone else. What’s interesting is that Oliver worked in theatre before. Our way of working is always an enscenation. We decide the composition very organically; it is a process that we constantly discuss.
Where do you find your inspiration?
We are influenced by a lot of different styles. We are obsessed with Pop Art and the Renaissance, the Greeks. For us the Renaissance is an intellectual history. The discussion that arises from that time period is something that finds expression in our works. The strange thing is that there are no images from the past of the Greek gods. So we decided to create them. We see our paintings as modern Greek paintings that are a re-experience of the renaissance. The other aspect of the Renaissance that inspired us is the intellectual; the form of democracy that we are still confronted with nowadays. Very important as well is the knowledge of light in our works. Plato, for example, held intellectual illumination as the Form of the Good. We are especially interested in this part. We strive towards beauty.
Avantgarde, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 250 cm. Credits: Courtesy of Magic Beans and Abetz & Drescher.
Oliver studied Philosophy, so he could not escape from philosophical influences. We both grew up with ’60s music, like the Beatles, Stones, Jimmy Hendrix. In the ’80s there was a ’60s revival, but very underground. The music scene in Düsseldorf was very big. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, there were only a few big cities in the West - like Düsseldorf, Hamburg, München - that had great impact on the music scene. Now, everything is so focused on Berlin.
Was there a turning point in your career?
In the ‘90s there were a lot of sculptures and conceptual art. We also did that, but we came to a point where we decided that was not us. We wanted to make paintings, no matter what people thought of it.
Can you tell us more about your upcoming exhibition at Magic Beans?
The title "Dawn of Tomorrow" comes from the idea of love and hope. We will show large scale paintings inside the gallery space that are a homage to the Greek gods and pop icons of the ’60s. We will open during Gallery Weekend on Thursday May 27. We are sure it will be a great party.
The director of the gallery, Christian Efremidis, knew us for quite some time. Last year, he founded a gallery in the Auguststrasse. He named the space after the story "Jack and the Beanstalk”. They see the artists as the magic beans that they like to support so that they can continue to explore the world, travel and challenge themselves in their artistic practice. The gallery has a very close relationship with its artists. For us, it is a great place to show our work. Becoming part of Magic Beans is in that sense also a turning point for us. Magic Beans also showed our work during Volta New York, and recently they were invited by The Solo Project Art Fair at Art Basel to show our paintings.
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Abetz & Drescher, "Dawn of Tomorrow"
Preview: Thu, 27 Apr, 19.00h – 21.00h (open for everyone)
28 Apr 2017 – 28 May, 2017