Media's a Game in the Work of Christoph Niemann

Unpack the comical, satirical art of this German artist.
November 3, 2015, 2:45pm
All images courtesy the artist

A photo posted by Christoph Niemann (@abstractsunday) on Oct 11, 2015 at 4:47am PDT

watercolor portrait of a child riding through the rain jumps out on Instagram in a feed full of selfies and artfully plated dinners. The puddle is constructed by the pages of an open book. Part sculpture, part sketches, Christoph Niemann's illustrations nurture audiences who otherwise might not find themselves immersed in the visual arts.

The work contains rich ink brushstrokes and an eye for design, and along with Niemann's own comic slant, the combining forces make for images that are simple and fun. His art feels cartoonish and playful, but never shies away from taking on difficult subject matter like world affairs or philosophy. His distinctive craft has made him an enviable illustrator to follow online, boasting almost 92K followers on Instagram alone, while his illustrations have been found on magazine covers and newspapers. You might recognize he visual column in The New York Times titled, "Abstract Sunday."

His work initially took off in the mid-90s when he moved to New York after finishing his studies at The Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design in Germany. Many of his first forays were works commissioned for publications. Niemann's portfolio is still flush with examples of his illustrations paired with editorial work. His illustrations can be political, aspirational, or decorative—Niemann seamlessly distills the accompanying text down to visual anchors. When asked about his relationship with text, Niemann tells The Creators Project, "There’s this worn out phrase of a picture being worth a thousand words. Sometimes, however, a word describes 1,000 pictures. The visual work I’m interested in is not about telling stories with enchanting art. What fascinates me about drawing is the act of deconstructing the world and putting in back together in the mind of the viewer. The images serve as tools, that unlock meaning."

A photo posted by Christoph Niemann (@abstractsunday) on Sep 13, 2015 at 5:47am PDT

You will see glimpses of that in Niemann's Instagram work, except that the images are often tools that unlock unbridled creativity. He cites artists like Hockney, Trockel, Ofili, and Pettibon as inspiration for his drawings, but says James Turrell offers the "ideal art experience." His photo challenge with Mashable, spurred from the artist's abstract work, showcased the adaptive nature of functional design, taking everyday objects and incorporating them into a new visual perspective.

Niemann's art is starting to transition into gallery settings. The artist showed at Backnang's city museum in Germany and then the reputable Galerie Max Hetzler in 2013, which jumpstarted a new trajectory. (Niemann had another show at Hetzler this summer, celebrating his illustrations in a new edition of Erich Kästner's book Es gibt nicht gutes.) He finds the artistic experience, versus the commercial consumption of his art, allows him to maintain autonomy. "What I find very different once the work is on a wall of a museum is how much control I lose. Reading direction, editorial context, size (a magazine or digital device is always at a pretty predictable distance from the viewer). I’m such a control freak that this loss is difficult to deal with," he says.

While his experimentations push the boundary of his varied mediums: ink, watercolor, pencil, and paper. Niemann says, "Nothing beats the sexiness of real ink or graphite on real paper."

Click here to visit Christoph Niemann's website.


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