Our digitally impressionable brains don’t know what do with the checkered reality presented by Römer + Römer’s art. Sure, they create widescapes examining an individual’s place in collective arenas, and vice versa, but what are they really? Are they pixelated digital photos? Could they be photos processed to look like pixelated art? Or, better yet, are they digital photographs of digital art then passed off as digital art?
The stunning reality is that these are in-the-flesh oil paintings. Art couple Nina and Torsten Römer travel the globe documenting events that are of a liberating quality, take thousands of digital reference photographs (sometimes using their phone), and then transfer a select few onto a painterly medium. In this manner, their very work process captures a fine balance the rest of us struggle with in an increasingly digital world. Their real-world impressions dictate their digital ones, which then dictate their artistic ones, which then dictate their real-world ones, and so on and so forth.
It’s a feedback loop that makes sense during a time when technology is simultaneously bringing us closer together just as it’s also driving us further apart. It’s also really cool to take in, both on the internet and in person.
Seeing as how the art duo currently have an open showing at New York’s Freight + Volume gallery (until April 26th), The Creators Project reached out to them for a deeper look into their unique standing in the art world.
The Creators Project: Having first seen your work online, it wasn't instantly clear whether it was a pixelated image, a photograph of a pixelated image, or some weird digital splicing of the two. Is it at all your intent to defy a viewer's expectations of digital imagery through your paintings?
Römer + Römer: It is true that people are irritated about the kind of media that our pictures are made of, [either] when they see it on the internet or in books. When we started with our way of painting…our starting point was the digital resolution and the pixels of the images that you can see in different medias. Some people now compare our technique with Pointillist artists like Seurat, but we came to dots/pixels from the resolution of digital images, movies, prints like it is used in different fields of our contemporary culture.
We think that we started at a time--with our actual way of painting--when digital cameras and digital images replaced the analog culture. But at that time we were not aware of this fact; we now think about it looking back. Digital images change our reception of images and we wanted somehow to thematize this. We play with different resolutions in the paintings, sometimes in different parts in the same paintings like in Face to Face. In our newest painting Party-Löwe, we are inspired by 3D movies.
We like it when people compare our paintings in a way to video or film stills. For us, it is interesting to bring the new medias into the "old" media [of] oil painting and the play with this relation.
A big difference to pointillistic paintings is that our paintings don’t have an “overall structure” of dots. In our paintings, plane surfaces alternate with areas of mostly dots and pixels. The way we use colors is very different. We try to come near to colors from digital screens [and] monitors as much as possible.
The handmade aesthetic makes a big difference to printed pictures, when you have a look at the original paintings. The structure is much more vivid, because it is not so "perfect"--every dot is different--and the surface variates. Sometimes the color is pastose, sometimes slim. The opacity is different in different parts of the painting.
Many of your paintings explore the idea of community. Is there anything else that goes into your decision process when it comes to what imagery you turn into paintings?
As we said, we only use our own photographs. We focus on different themes: sometimes they are more social/political, sometimes they come a lot from colors, light and atmosphere.
In the last years, we mostly travelled to special places to research. For example to Japan, where we wanted mainly to look for cosplay people. To Brighton, for the gay/lesbian event of Pride. To Brazil, to look at Carnaval. At the moment we work about the festival Fusion, which , once a year, takes place around 120 kilometers…north of Berlin on a former Soviet military airport with around 70,000 visitors. The paintings Party-Löwe [which translates to Party-Lion and is the title of their New York exhibition] and Party-Sträfling are about this festival.
We make a lot photographs that are not always strictly related to our first focus or idea. When we come back from a place, we bring thousands of photographs. From Brazil, we came back after one month in Rio, Sao Paulo and Salvador with more than 10,000 photographs.
When we are back in Berlin, we look again and again at the photographs to decide which exact theme we want to have for a painting series and which exact images we want to use. We decide very intuitively by viewing the pictures. We look for special atmosphere, color, light, and expression. When we have decided [on] some images, we work on them [on the] computer. We make a lot drafts. We change colors, combine sometimes different pictures, change some parts of it with parts of other pictures or artificial structures, decide on the format, etc.
Instinctively, it would seem that the liberating qualities of your pieces should be at odds with the "pixels" that compose them. Why does the union work in this case?
It is a long process when we paint a picture. Sometimes we work together two months on one larger painting. We think, that a lot of the energy that we put into the paintings comes back to the viewer. And we think the paintings are not too sterile—the aesthetic is vivid enough.
Sometimes we think about our work as making sand mandalas. We have to be very patient and our paintings give a lot of visual-detail information. From far away, you have a more or less clear image, but the paintings look very abstract. When you come near to them…they are then more about color and sensuality.
We think to leave the viewers a lot of space for themselves.