Clemens Wolf is a Vienna-based artist who doesn’t waste time concentrating on the slow pace of his mini-metropolis on the Danube. Instead, he praises the supportive structures of this very cultured city. Perhaps his optimism is based on the fact that he studied business before beginning his studies at Linz Art University, is not afraid of a little PR and truly loves what he does.
Clemens’ artistic roots derive from the world of street art. Even though he now works on canvas and with installations, the reference to urban space is central to his work. His paintings deal with barriers and explore ideas surrounding perceptual notions of observation and perspective. Clemens welcomes us into his studio in Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus, also known as the 15th district of Vienna. Despite the cold winter light, the space is bright and smells of turpentine.
Clemens, we’re meeting in Vienna, a cultural capital that has inspired many artists. What influenced you in your career as an artist?
There was never a moment when I decided: So, now you’re an artist. The most important part is the route and the process you follow from the beginning to the end of a project. The crucial point is probably when you finish a work for the first time and come to the end of the creative process. You start with school, then you come to the end of your studies and suddenly you’re an artist—if you can say that.
Can you remember the time when you thought: yes, now I want to become an artist?
An important moment for me when I was 13 or 14 was the Kunsthistorisches Museum here in Vienna, a temple. And when I first saw “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt in Amsterdam, that was really a crazy moment. I’m generally very impressed by the old, powerful and complex masters. They have an incredible charisma and are still timely.
Your art uitlises the notion of barriers as a central theme. Your viewers always see your work through a fence—do you intend to exclude the viewer?
Well, as a viewer in front of a fence, how do you know where you stand? The closer you are to something, the harder it is to know whether you are inside or outside of it. My approach is to build up distance. Fences also have a more graphical subdividing function—they serve as a grid. The fence in itself also fascinates me: when you don’t want someone to see you, you build a wall to block their view. A fence is permeable and lets the viewer see through it, so it is a physical but not necessarily an optical barrier.
You paint frequently, but you also make sculptures—what is your favorite medium?
Definitely painting. I also see my sculptures, in a way, as paintings. Lately, though, I’ve also been working with metal and welding. My other tools are Stanley knives and paper—almost all my works are created with the help of templates and stencils.
Speaking of stencils—you were previously involved in creating street art. Do you still do it?
Well, not so much. Classical graffiti is a form of language, a code. It is not really intended for the general public, but it’s a sort of truncated form of communication, to be understood only by other graffiti artists. Street art has always been a very political and direct form of art, but now it has become more socially acceptable, and the boundaries between “classical” art and street art have become blurred. Today, street art is seen as an anchor of “art in the public sphere” and it becomes an exhibition concept for this type of art. I find this fascinating, but street art in exhibitions is not really street art—it is art by street artists. True street art needs the street.
What does the role of artist mean to you?
I am in a very pleasant position here in Vienna, since I can rent a proper studio and have created a very good environment for my work. My approach has never been to work somewhere where I could afford to be an artist. My job should be able to finance my life. This is currently the case, and only this way can I implement my ideas and inspiration. For the same reason, I never do anything on commission; my pictures are created purely from my inspiration.
How important is it to win prizes like the Strabag Art Prize—a prestigious prize in Austria—and to be represented in the Essl Collection?
If you want to live off your work, you need buyers and, of course, publicity. Prestigious names and institutions help with this. It is like a wave—one leads to the other. You meet people who support you and your art gets seen. So in this way, prizes and well-known collections help encourage further success.
Many people in the creative industries complain that Vienna is rather boring compared to other cities. What do you think about Vienna as a homebase for artists?
I like Vienna. The city has a rich history and therefore a great sensibility towards the artscene. Also, the infrastructure and the funding is pretty good. If you are a dedicated young artist, you will get financial support rather easy which is great. But of course you need to make sure that you get international recognition, too – at the end there are only 8 million people in Austria.
How important is it to have your own studio? Do you need a place to go to to be productive?
Definitely! I need to go somewhere in the morning and come home at night. I‘m not a night-owl, I like the light and have some beautiful big windows in my studio. Besides that, I need good music, a respiratory mask and gloves to work.
Who do you look up to? Do you have any heroes?
Hmm…hard to say. I don‘t really have role models, but I would like to meet Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer, Richard Serra, Mathew Barney or Ai Weiwei.
Thank you for spending some time with us Clemens, it was great getting an insight into your work and career as an artist living in Vienna. We recommend checking out his website for more about his artistic practice.
Interview: Alexandra von Quadt
Translation: Sylee Gore
Photography: Lukas Gansterer