Photograph credit: Sibylle Brodmann
Till Brockmeier is a contemporary artist from Freiburg, Germany who defies most labels. At just thirty-two, this artistic gem has a repertoire that acknowledges no limit, with sculpture, line drawing, poetry, dance and acting all essential elements in his creative melting pot!
I first catch up with Brockmeier in his atelier, an airy creative sanctuary located in the French village of Hegenheim that neighbours Basel, Switzerland. ‘Treasures in the Dark’, his show debuting in St Louis, France at the time, is the focus of our initial discussions. I am not prepared for what lies in store.
Brockmeier’s studio is brimming with books and artefacts that nurture his inventiveness. There's a book on lines 'Treiben Lassen' by Peter van den Ende, 'Pen & Ink Drawing' by Alphonso Dunn, a book on the study of hands, John Briggs and F David Peats’s ‘Die Endeckung des Chaos’. Prototypes of his sculptures, dried flowers and rather menacing shards of wood also adorn the shrine.
'I'm heading towards a more minimalistic approach', he tells me, 'and becoming more inspired by artists such as Giacometti, Anthony Gormley, Roberta Buffo and Chiharo Shiota.'
He offers me a tour of his space, accessorising the circuit with live demonstrations of his works in progress. Lines in straight and curved formats prevail amongst the mix and match of eclectic projects he has on the go. I tiptoe delicately across the floor so as not to disturb the intricate patterns he has etched on his underfoot 'canvas'.
This young artist is fairly new to visual art but there is no mistake that his experience of other art forms permeates his current oeuvres. A former student and practitioner of modern dance, Brockmeier’s intense sense of movement oozes through his posture and physical presence and also sets the narrative of his drawings.
‘When I draw animals they are always inside a movement, he comments, ‘as if they are performing. Art forms like dancing, speaking or acting, all influence my style. These genres are coming together now and finding their expression in me through the medium of visual art. I am no longer an active dancer but the dancing still lives on in my drawings.’
An engaging speaker for sure, and one sees the thespian come alive in his explanations. ‘When it comes to acting, my drawings tell a story. I use animals that take on human characteristics. The creatures are almost ’talking’. And the dramatic artist in me falls on the page.’
Talking further about his switch from performance to visual, he says. 'With very little, just a piece of paper and a pencil you can express so much. During Covid, everything was closed or cancelled and that focussed me on the basics. Now I have my own holy space, and as much as I love to do projects, I recognise that I need time for myself to enable ideas to flow.’
Brockmeier was influenced from a very young age by his aunt, an artist, a teacher of art history, and a musician who was immersed in various art formats. ‘From early on, I didn’t separate one art form from another. My aunt was interested in so many different techniques and experimented with materials, which encouraged me to be explorative. My drawing then developed into abstracting and layering. I tried my own things to avoid copying my aunt, but drawing is the foundation and remains the basis of whatever art form.’
As a teenager, Brockmeier explains that he didn’t fit in. ‘If you are an artist, society does not have the structure for you, you have to build it yourself. It can be painful and something has to be released from within like a man who transforms into a werewolf. It literally bursts through. Artists are always the outcasts that no-one understands, but once they embrace their weirdness, they reveal their own magic. It’s the path of the artist. It’s not that you do it just once, it happens many times. But if you continue, you will reach that 'phoenix' state. Even though it’s hard, you will find the motivation to move on, and in continuing, you will discover the people around you are also weirdos and happy to be so!’
Brockmeier’s maverick nature meant that he resisted classical art school to avoid feeling the need to please professors. ‘I would often see students copying the professor when I visited art schools as it’s all based on grades. Good professors can bring out the best in you but I was scared of being too influenced and ending up just sucking in what’s around me. So I dabbled in many different fields to avoid becoming too one-sided. I call it fusion cuisine
Brockmeier on lines
Drawing lines is a meditative act for Brockmeier. ‘Once you strip away the colour and other elements, lines are what is left.’ As the interview continues, I start to realise that we are just starting to scratch the surface of his thinking.
‘The line is the link between the drawing that is two-dimensional and the sculpture that is in space, he says pointing to some key works in his atelier. ’The line can give the illusion in the drawing that it’s a sculpture and the lines on the sculpture can be deceptively graphical.’
‘As an artist, you create a fantasy and something wondrous happens, enabling the viewer to breathe new life into the works. For me, lines have this ability to make your eyes dance, producing an almost hypnotic effect.’
He illustrates his point by showing me an entrancing drawing of a bird-like creature. The lines are deeply concentrated yet, as he explains, there is always blank space that surrounds the image. The visual commands my gaze.
He talks about his fascination with the process of movie-making and the legions of artists involved. ‘There are the writers who produce the screenplay, the artists who draw every scene, the artistic directors who direct the shoot, not to mention the costume designers, makeup artists and set designers. There is this whole creative universe needed before you have the movie,’ he exhorts.
‘I would like to make an artistic project that is similar in complexity to a movie, he continues. As a director you need this multi-layered approach to tell the story.’
Brockmeier then spills the beans on another 'big idea' that he is currently hatching. More on that at a later date!
The fantastical and the magical
Photograph credit: Sibylle Brodmann
Part two of our meeting takes place in Elys, a multi-purpose community building on the St Louis-Basel border. We sit in its ‘Bouderloft’ café where his recent works are exhibited and the interview continues to the soundtrack of the coffee machine percolating and pop gems. Alice Cooper's ‘School’s Out’ captures my ear. We are also joined by my daughter, performance art student, Nandi Clarke-Coulibaly who participates in the discussions eagerly. We dig deeper into the fathoms of Brockmeier's rationale, searching almost frantically for the precise word that best describes the unifying force to his work. What I don’t realise is a tsunami of metaphors and concepts is about to hit.
Treasures in the Dark
His first solo exhibition ‘Treasures in the Dark’, imagines with magical simplicity, the wild creatures that slumber in the darkness, that are only just visible through the shadows. Metaphorically, this work refers to both the concrete darkness of the deep sea as well as the ‘shadowy darkness’ of the unconscious parts of our soul. Wild, creature-like beings combine with the beauty of the curved and hypnotic lines that are nature’s everyday wonders. The message becomes clear. The strongest light and greatest treasures can emerge through the deepest of darkness. How up-lifting, I gush!
Photograph credit: Sibylle Brodmann
Photograph credit: Sibylle Brodmann
’The centrepiece of the show, a sculpture entitled “Transformation”, deals with the arc of the transformation process from the dark depth of the shadow to the unfolding of the soul's potential. It’s a layered creation and although static, it conveys process. The first layer, an urchin-like object, spiky and sharp, confusing and slightly disturbing, ascends to a phoenix-like carving rising from the ashes. Brockmeier’s explanation of this works is no less mesmerising than the visual.
‘I want the viewer to feel the process, the shadow, and the awkward beginning. Changing aspects of your life can be very painful, he elaborates. 'You get lost in the middle of that metamorphosis, and then something new comes through and it’s almost like a rebirth that grants you wings. The sensation passes through your skin and something needs to burst through. It’s painful. Your old skin starts to peel off. There is a moment when you feel very lost. You cannot go back to the old, but you are not yet in the new.’
Brockmeier continues. ’As an artist, I often feel lost, and find it difficult to make sense of things, but if you persist, you arrive at a tuning point, where everything starts to have meaning and the path becomes clear. The phoenix literally spreads its wings and something lights up and you start to understand the process.’
‘As one part of us dies, expands Brockmeier, another part is born. You have to go through this process. Otherwise your shell can become limiting. It can stiffen you, because you are trying to hold on to something that you have outgrown. But if you let go, you can reach another level of freedom and discover a new you.’
Brockmeier's thoughts glide towards his interest in polarity, especially the contrast between light and dark shadow or beauty versus harsh and scary as represented by his jagged sculpture. 'The contrast can be seen as a dance, like the yin and the yang,' he exclaims.
Brockmeier on animals
Animals are omnipresent in Brockmeier’s work. Pointing to some of his line drawings on display, he explains how for him animals embody the 'spiritual dance' of nature. ‘In nature you don’t have the judgement of what is good and what is bad, it just happens. There’s no box to say whether something is allowed or not allowed. Playing and fighting can both happen. A leopard chasing a gazelle in slow motion can be cruel but it can also be an elegant dance. In nature there is no sharp line between what is playful and what is cruel. These poles are complimentary as well as opposites.' I understand his thinking around the giddy blurring of what is good and what is bad.
As our gaze slides to the next picture, we see the point made poignanty. ‘The animal has a physical form, a kind of external costume, he continues, ‘but we also see their spiritual side. The shark in the image eats the seal, the seal eats the fish. Or is it merely a dance?' He questions rhetorically. ‘Unlike science, nature is very playful and you can see this playfulness everywhere, even thought it’s not always needed. For me the magic of life is its playfulness.’
Drawing humans as animals seems an inevitability with Brockmeier, as I contemplate the walruses featured in another of his drawings, that resemble two elderly gentlemen. ‘They could be two people in a waiting room, he enthuses.
We return to the theme of lines which Brockmeier describes as ‘the invisible life forms that flow through everything and connect everything’. ‘Whether in the abstract form, he says pointing to his ‘Circles’ drawing that is also featured in the show, ‘or in the organic form, these lines are an ever moving energy, a dynamic current that’s hidden from our view. We sense it is there, like the electricity between people. It may vibrate or glow.'