The paintings of American artist Paul Wackers redefine the idea of the still life today. As if he were contemporary to Willem Van Aelst, Wackers paints from his studio in New York a world where the stories are written by objects. Interested in the strong meaning that everyday things have, his brush perfectly replicates the textures and the soul of the pieces that appear on his works. Fascinated by his quiet narrative and his exquisite style, we talked with him to better understand this world filled with plants and pottery pieces.
When did you start painting? Why this discipline?
I have been painting since high school, so almost 20 years, but I didn’t really focus on it as the main thing I did until around my third year in college. I think I gravitated to it because it gave me a freedom I was not finding with photography and printmaking at the time. It was the only thing that allowed me to make and see where things were headed as I did them, which is something that frustrated me with other more process orientated mediums.
Your style is about figuration through everyday objects and life. How do you explain your identity as a painter?
Yeah, I relate to that description. The paintings are all about familiar things but with a twist. I like how with a certain amount of attention to an object without too much provocation or manipulation it can become much more than itself. And also narratives can develop within that exploration.
The still life is an omnipresent subject in your work. What do you find on it?
Like my answer in the previous question I like how a seemingly ordinary group of objects can speak to different things and convey moods and feelings not in them but through color and shape, and overlapping moments and reusing objects. You get a sense of history and a journey. They are all familiar to me and I think they are to anyone who looks at my paintings over time. It’s sort of how little things can populate out lives which in them selves are meaningless but that within a specific context mean the world. Like a pin given to you by a loved one or a book of matches that tell the story of a wild night and so on.
Something I see in your work brings me till the 17th century's style of northern Europe but with a contemporary point of view. How would you describe the atmosphere of your paintings?
Yes, I like to think of those paintings. I heard that with many of those still lives that look so real and perfect. Like flowers that would never have been in bloom together would be in the same bouquet or fruits that could not have been ripe are placed next to each other. So I love how they plainly present a world of fantasy with an eye that seems very mundane, and only if you know the secret the whole thing explodes with the mystery of its creation.
I love how you combine your elegant technic with this kind of surreal component that creates the space. How’s the relationship between objects and their context in your work?
It is very important in my work, indeed. Trying to make the pieces look at ease and impossible at the same time is a big part of my fascination in making images.
I'm pretty fascinated by the textures of the pieces that appear on your paintings, especially when they are ceramic pieces. Is there an influence from the ceramic world?
Yes, very much so. I have always been drawn to vessel forms. They seem so natural and limitless in their usefulness and in the shapes and ways they can be presented. I like the connection to history that can come up in them. It seems like such an ancient thing that is also never changed but has also become so many different things. But I also work in clay making vessels that sometimes get painted or just making some of the sculptural forms from my paintings. This is still a new thread for me, it’s only been something I have been doing for the last 3 years. And I have only now started showing the ceramics with my paintings in the last year.
The power of the color is something that reminds me of the art of the abstract expressionism. Why this powerful color combination?
I don’t know, color is a very seductive thing to work with, at times overwhelming. Which is why lately I have been making a lot of black and white drawings. I need to cool it down a little.
There is also a clear interest to create balanced composition. How do you sketch your pieces, in case you do it?
Normally I just have a very basic mood or compositional problem I want to think about, and then I try to form the painting around that. But for the last few months I have been making drawings that have then been turned into paintings, which has been interesting to have a solid composition before dealing with the color and surface issues. I am still waiting to see if this is a way to work all the time, but it has been fun to figure out all these parts separate from each other. We will see.
How is Paul Wackers at his studio? Where do you like to work and how?
My Studio is a cozy workspace in Williamsburg but not too far from my house. I have tall ceilings and big windows so I can and do have a lot of plants. It is a space that shows up in a lot of my paintings.
Working from NY is probably very intense, and sure there are some interesting artists you like. Do you have some suggestion for our readers?
Yes, New York gets overwhelming sometimes. I love it but I need to remember to step out of it every once in a while. There are so many great people making great things here and elsewhere. There have been a lot of great shows in the museums and other galleries here like the Chris Ofili show at the New Museum was amazing, or the Matisse cut outs at MoMA. There are so many other shows I can’t name them. Off the top of my head I am really excited to see Trudy Bensons next show at Lisa Cooley in April. I also really love the work of my buddy and studio neighbor Mathew Palladino.