The artist Stefan Gunnesh describes his work as reinventing continuously, nothing lasts for an eternity which makes us conscious about being in the moment. He tells us that the collage technique presupposes that, at first something in its entirety has to be fragmented and thus destroyed before something new can emerge from it. I sat down with Stefan to see if he can tell us more about the many layers that his work contains.
What does it mean to you to be a visual storyteller?
With my works, I try to connect to the audience’s feelings and memories. On a personal level, I want to tell a story via associations. I consider my collages to be the beginning of visual stories, something that may be continued in the viewer’s mind and can connect with their personal memories. It is always about finding oneself, which stimulates the reflection and tracing of one’s own body and thereby identity.
What would you describe as your signature style?
As soon as I started studying at the university, I developed a passion for working with ready-made pictures. Traditional techniques like painting and drawing also inspired me, but especially doing collages is a way for me to work as a compositor and at the same time to cross-refer to different media like photography and printing graphics. In one of my first collages series called DAEMONIEN, I combined photography with collage fragments, painting, and drawing. This was the beginning of my current visual style. The visual language in my collages and illustrations is defined by combining different materials, textures and structural layers. I add painting and drawing to my collages to make the concept of different layers even more perceptible.
Can you tell a little more about the process of developing your collages?
Most of the time I work very intuitively with collages, letting flow into them what inspires me, what happens in and around me. Each new work starts with a visual starting point (a photograph for example) which I constantly modify and abstract by cutting out different parts. The next step is complementing it with collage elements, paint and drawing to create a multilayered surface. To create collages and paint them over becomes an egoistic acquisition of the picture’s motif. This process in my work has become a central part of the projects, besides the final collage, of course.
In a sense, my method of cutting is directly related to the theme of vanitas. Some of my main inspiration has emerged from the vanitas genre, symbolic work from the early Dutch 17th century showing the transience of life, the futility of pleasure and the certainty of death. Change, blossoming and withering are the starting point for my visual research. In the process of creating, the motif decays and changes constantly; and something beautiful can become morbid or even ugly yet fascinating through its own aesthetic. Doing art is a kind of freedom to me. I’m able to work on very personal thoughts and figure out different creative methods to transfer them into something more abstract. With each project, I learn something new about myself and my own working process.
If you had to choose one of your pieces, which one would it be and why?
This is a tough question! Well, when you look at my collages you can find quite dark monochrome pieces as well as very colorful pieces. Those opposite parts are signature for my work and, somehow, they are characteristic for my personality as well. My collages always represent a personal mood or personal thought. Because of this, I feel a bond with every single one of them. So for me, it’s not about having one favorite piece. It’s more about deciding which mood I want to dive in, the monochrome or the colorful ones.
Would you like to work on some kind of collaboration and with who would that be?
Last year, I worked in collaboration with Aesop. It was a very productive process because our aesthetics matched pretty well. Besides, it was a great opportunity to make my work visible in a worldwide campaign. More collaborations like this, especially in the field of skincare/body care, would be quite interesting for me.
Can you tell something about what Hidden Identities stands for?
Hidden identities stands for something that is not necessarily visible in our daily life, a secret part of us that can hide under the layers of our skin. In my work, I dissolve concepts of identity to create a new projection surface, a kind of white space for emotions and desires. To create a new (‘hidden’) identity, I play with abstraction and anonymization of faces and bodies. Somehow, it’s always about finding yourself in there, which also inspires thinking about and feeling into your own body and with that your own identity.
Do you have any other projects you are working on or planning for 2020, that you would like to share with us?
Since this year, I’m working together with Nadia Arnold Ltd. and I’m excited to be part of her presentations at art fairs worldwide this year and in 2020, for example, PULSE Art Fair Miami and London Art Fair. Besides my collages, I would like to create more artists’ books in 2020. They are a great possibility to combine my images with my own texts and to bring them together in the multilayered structure of a book. For me, the pages of the book constitute a similar idea like the layers of the skin. The Leipzig based artist has an impressive list of international exhibitions in which his work is on view. His well deserved second solo exhibition will be on show at 7 Club Row, Shoreditch in London, between 30th of September till 6th of October.