David Hockney and Matthias Weischer

A year of mentoring

Overview (Chapter 1 of 5)

Looking forward to a year of privileged access to Hockney through the offices of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, Matthias Weischer – a 32-year-old painter from Germany who specializes in deceptively realistic interiors – had no clear-cut expectations.

David Hockney and Matthias Weischer

A year of mentoring

First impressions (Chapter 2 of 5)

An interview with Matthias Weischer early in the mentorship

What interested you most about participating in the Rolex Arts Initiative?
The unique possibility of working together with a person like David Hockney. I know that he has never had students, so it is very exciting to start a mentor relationship with him, for both of us it is a new experience and I am looking forward to starting.

Have you ever had a mentor before?
I had a teacher in art school, but he wasn’t really a mentor to me. He didn’t really influence me. The influence of Neo Rauch – now a leading artist – as assistant of Arno Rink in the academy where I studied wasn’t too deep, because he left the school a year after having started. He is someone I admire deeply, but he is not a mentor.

What do you hope to get out of this collaboration?
I have no idea of what will come out of this relationship. I don’t have a clear vision. Up till now I have shared conversations with David Hockney in which he has talked about art. He is a great teacher, he can change my way of seeing with his great enthusiasm, which is really exciting. I hope to visit him in his studio and perhaps there will be a chance to work together or see him working. I’m sure you can feel a lot of energy when he works.

So far, what is the best part of being a Rolex protégé?
The trip to Paris together with David Hockney. It was really impressive. We visited four exhibitions in two days, the Chinese scroll paintings in the Grand Palais, the Picasso Museum, Miró in the Centre Pompidou and the Egyptian section in the Louvre. A perfect programme! It was amazing to see connecting lines between these four exhibitions. Seeing a sculpture of a goat in the Louvre and the Picasso Museum led to the following conclusion: Picasso must have seen this Egyptian goat, they were very similar. That was great!

What was your first impression when your mentor interviewed you during the selection process?
When I entered his room I saw many books and paintings all around, and I thought that he must know so many things about art. The conversation was really natural. He was very friendly. First we tried to figure out our interests, what we had in common. We found out that we had the same interest in space. And we discussed the question of what painting is compared with other media and also how it goes further than photography. Very quickly I had this feeling that I had known him for a long time.

How is your work similar to or different from your mentor’s?
What is different is our approach, the way we paint. When I start a painting I don’t know what will come out, what the result will be, while David Hockney knows from the beginning exactly what he wants to paint, what he wants to achieve. In his watercolour paintings, for example, he isn’t allowed to make a mistake, you cannot overpaint it. My paintings are made of mistakes, there are many layers in each painting, many pictures are built up to produce one final picture. As I mentioned before, the similarity is the interest in space, the use of pattern and the way we try to express time with help from painting.

Do you think that David Hockney’s guidance will change your approach to painting?
I expect that my work will change. But I don’t know how. I think that as a painter you have to be expressive and it is important to be in motion. Throughout his life David Hockney has been extremely flexible, led only by what interested him. I wish to change my way of working from time to time, but at present I don’t know in which way.

David Hockney and Matthias Weischer

A year of mentoring

One wish (Chapter 3 of 5)

One wish
Matthias Weischer did voice a wish to watch Hockney at work. That was in the early summer of 2004, and, while patently intrigued to be setting out in uncharted waters with a promising young colleague, Hockney gave no immediate assurance that that wish would come true.

First steps
First, Hockney whisked Weischer off for a personal tour of London, where – as in Los Angeles – he maintains a home and studio. First stop: the Royal Academy of Arts, in Piccadilly, for a sneak preview of the Summer Exhibition, an annual blockbuster to which Hockney had contributed six exuberant oversize watercolours from Andalusia.

Next stop: the National Portrait Gallery, steps off Trafalgar Square, where the permanent collection includes Hockney’s portrait of his formidable senior, Lucian Freud, while a retrospective of photographs by the fashionable Cecil Beaton captured Hockney in his gilded youth: the same gentle giant though shyer, a soft wave to his neatly cropped hair, the face round, the spectacles owlish, the eyes discreet, yet missing nothing.

David Hockney and Matthias Weischer

A year of mentoring

Wish granted (Chapter 4 of 5)

Whether Weischer would have an opportunity to see Hockney at work anywhere along the way remained an open question. But, figuratively speaking, he had already been looking over Hockney’s shoulder for years. Long before the two ever met, Weischer was studying Hockney's canvases, converting Hockney’s motifs for his own, quite different, purposes.

Like a genie with a young prince to look after, Hockney started plotting magic carpet rides of visual discovery. First, in the summer, they took two whirlwind days in Paris to view Chinese scrolls, Miró, the Musée Picasso, and the Egyptian antiquities at the Louvre, ever on the alert for unexpected correspondences. And the following spring, Weischer spent two weeks as Hockney’s guest at his storybook oasis in the Hollywood Hills, joining his host on excursions to the fabled collections of southern California’s public and private art museums and the opening ofHand Eye Heart, Hockney’s show of his new watercolours from Yorkshire.

At last
Yet in the end, it was in the studio, in silence, that Hockney left his deepest mark, by inviting Weischer to sit (or rather, stand) for a full-length portrait. Here at last, in 20-minute sessions, several times a day, several days running, was the chance Weischer had been waiting for. But wait! Is the sitter not in precisely the wrong spot to see the artist’s hand at work?

Hockney had anticipated this objection by setting up a mirror, allowing Weischer to follow his entire process. “He worked straight from the object,” said Weischer, choosing the terminology natural to an artist. “For the first half-hour or so, he sketched an outline – just a few strokes, but they have to be right. Then he chose single colours for the larger areas: blue for my jeans, grey for the sweatshirt, skin tone for the face and hands. Again, the beginning is something simple: flat colors. But they have to be right. Only then does he get to work on details. You could really sense the concentration.”

A revelation
For the young painter of bare interiors, the experience was a revelation. “My fingers were itching,” Weischer says. “I’m feeling a great urge right now to try my hand at a portrait.” Stand by for a breakthrough.

Extracted from a chapter, written by Matthew Gurewitsch forUnique Voices, Common Visions, a record of the 2004/2005 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

David Hockney and Matthias Weischer

A year of mentoring

After a year with a master (Chapter 5 of 5)

Matthias Weischer talks about his year as a Rolex protégé

What was your most important artistic achievement before you began participating in this programme?
It’s hard to know what yardstick to use. The easiest thing to point to would be a particular exhibition, but the psychological and artistic developments that lead up to the public display of your work are at least as important. Sometimes a breakthrough you have in the studio coincides with a particular show. That happened for me when I had a year-long scholarship in Essen and then showed my work at the Kunsthaus [museum] there. That work was the foundation for a lot of what I am doing today.

What was the best part of being a Rolex protégé?
Of course, the opportunity to meet David Hockney, which I would never have had otherwise, and to get to know him over an extended period. He’s a very self-protective person, but he gave me unrestricted access. That is and will be very important to me.

Is there one incident or remark that sums up or typifies your relationship with your mentor?
I’ve often heard him say: “Be yourself.”

What was the single most important lesson or piece of advice your mentor gave you?
He said many important things that have branded themselves into my memory – particularly about the responsibilities of an artist, about what really matters. This is a time when young artists are in great demand. But David quotes a Chinese saying: “Painting is old man’s work.” That gave me the feeling that I have a lot of time – time to develop, time to grow.

How do you think your work is similar to or different from your mentor’s? Was that a stimulus or a barrier to your relationship?
We didn’t talk much about our own work. We really didn’t have to. We seem to share an understanding of what our work is about. We didn’t have to debate what’s involved in depicting the world. Of course there are differences, but there are no barriers.

Did you learn from your mentor any lessons beyond the practice of your art?
It was very interesting for me to see how he structures his time. He knows how to live in such a way that he can get his work done and also do the other things outside the studio that feed his art.

Has your approach to art changed or developed during the mentoring experience?
Yes – I observed several things that I’m taking away with me. David is a wonderful draughtsman. He draws all the time. I want to get into that habit. And I’m very eager now to work on portraiture – to get friends and models into my studio. It’s all about seeing, examining. I’m realising how important that is. I’m also realising that there’s a lot of art I want and need to see: exhibitions in Belgium and Netherlands, for instance. Getting out of the studio and looking at other art: that’s something David does, and it’s really important.

Now that the mentoring year has ended, which direction will your artistic career take?
As an artist, what you need is to keep gathering new impressions and meeting new people: those are the things that give you a new stimulus and get you moving in new directions. That’s what I hope will continue, and I hope that David and I will continue to meet and share exciting impressions.