Thomas Brezing was born in Germany in 1969, and now lives in Ireland. He has exhibited widely both in this country and abroad and his work is held in various public and private collections.
Read an interview with this artist here:
How did you begin your career as an artist?
Hard to put a date on it, but it must have been after I attended Grennan Mill Art & Craft School in Thomastown, Co.Kilkenny in 1992/93 when I first realized there was even such a thing as a professional artist. I had left Germany (where I trained as a metal worker) in 1991 and started drawing and doodling around then, but without anything specific in my mind, just to pass the time really. Then in 1994 I saw The Lark in the Morning, a solo show by Patrick Graham, in the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery Cork. Up to this point I just looked at art, but his honest and raw work made me experience art in a new way, it was deeply moving. Perhaps this was the moment when I knew I wanted to be an artist.
What factors were important in helping you decide to make that your profession?
Everything seemed to be gently pointing in that direction at the time. I think I felt the need to radically change my life and part of that change was to engage in something totally different, such as art. But it wasn’t as straight forward as it sounds. There where pressures to overcome… and I first put pen to paper and wrote a number of manuscripts before gradually starting to express myself through visual means and forms. I wasn’t thinking logically or economically, otherwise I would not have picked visual art. It was an intuitive decision and I was prepared to take a risk. It took a good number of years of drifting and being playful within different creative processes and jumping from one thing and place to another until I made up my mind. Even today I still sometimes have doubts if this is the right path or if any of my works are any good – perhaps this anxiety is a good thing and feeds into the work in some positive way.
What kinds of challenges have you faced in your career?
The first challenge I had to overcome was that I came from a background where art was not in any way present, I grew up in an ‘artless’ home and my parents were at odds with my desire to be creative. I had left a secure job in Germany and went into the unknown, a new life in Ireland, a country I didn’t know much about. My parents weren’t exactly enamoured by my decision. There was pressure to return to Germany, to get a decent job etc. but I wanted to live life to the full and find a way to express myself. I wanted a new life.
Another challenging time came around 1999, when artists based in Sunlight Studios Balbriggan had to move out from the residential studios and I remember ending up sleeping in my studio during the winter in a rolled-up carpet some nights. It was tough and I thought this ‘thing’ is not working out. At that time I had no contacts in the Irish art scene either because I didn’t go through the art college system and I also received a lot of rejections to my proposals and submissions.
I got pneumonia another winter from spending too much time working in a cold and damp studio that couldn’t be heated.
What I also find difficult is you never get the feeling your profession is fully recognized here in Ireland (or perhaps elsewhere), especially in the beginning when you haven’t much to show for yourself.
Another challenge would have been of a financial nature, especially since I have my own family. That is an on-going challenge.If this sounds all a bit gloomy, I have also had plenty of good experiences over the years in my art practice and I have no regrets!
What advice would you give to anyone who is thinking of making art as a profession?
It’s not going to be very comfortable, financially or otherwise, you will be operating outside the economical frame-base for some time and there is no such thing as instant gratification, it’s a long process and therefore you will need stamina and a thick skin, so think hard about it. If you are interested in becoming successful fast and like luxuries and security then don’t choose a career in art. Also, the Cinderella-approach doesn’t work and there is no prince on a white horse, no-one will come looking for you, it is you who will have to do all the looking and running…
But if you feel it’s your calling… you think a life as an artist can fulfil you and you can live relatively modestly and go for it wholeheartedly, than do it. In the beginning it may help to be in a studio group situation for moral support and the sharing of experiences and ideas. Once you have secured your first solo shows it helps if you are not afraid of public speaking (I still get very nervous every time and only do it if I have exhausted all excuses and resources of resistance!), a lot of art centres and municipal galleries now expect the artist to do a talk and/or do a workshop to go with the exhibition to get more visitors in and to bring the public closer to the artist and his/her work.
There are various benefits to being an artist: you get to meet interesting people and you might get to travel from time to time. Your studio is your kingdom, in it you can do pretty much anything you like without anyone looking over your shoulders. There is a sense of innocence about it all. In a way you get to prolong your childhood because you are being playful with possibilities and concepts, the way it was when you were a child. I think you get to know yourself better through your art practice.
Can you tell us about the work you have in our collection?
Both paintings would have been among the first works I ever sold; this meant and still means a lot to me. To have work in public collections is an immense honour. And it was a real confident boost back then to have these works bought for a collection.
At the time I worked with a lot of found objects in my paintings and also incorporated batik works (something I engaged with in Grennan Mill under the teacher Peter Wenger). Those who Love will Ride the Bike is a fairly simple piece, with a smiley playmobil man on a bike, which is basically a rusted piece of metal where the chain of a bike runs along. It says something about my attitude towards modes of transport, I favour walking and cycling over driving and flying and consider the bike a superior invention compared to the car and other motor driven vehicles. The simplicity of the painting goes hand in hand with the simplicity of the bike as a form of transport. As for the title: in other words, those who love nature and care for the environment will cycle whenever and wherever they can…
I am a Landscrape Artist is a busier work in comparison. Brian Hegarty, Diana Copperwhite and myself did a talk during Assembly, a group show of the collection at Highlanes Gallery in 2010 and I talked about this painting. This is part of what I said then:
A painting can never be an answer. If successful it might entail a question. Perhaps this painting asks us how we perceive a landscape, or what we think a landscape should be. A traditional landscape might show us some mountains, fields, a stretch of sea or a lake. This painting has none of it, so it’s on a confrontation course with what we perceive traditional landscape to be. This painting is more of an inner landscape. When I first came to Ireland in the early 90’s I found a lot of artists were painting landscapes and I knew I would never be in the same category, because my work is more about emotions and the human condition and it is raw and perhaps quite un-Irish and I wanted to make a little statement which would make that clear… and so in the title the ‘scape’ turns into ‘scrape’.
What was your motivation for making the pieces?
My impetus or motivation for making these works or making any works at all is always the same: I have to do it. When I stop working I get depressed, I get physically unwell. Going on a holiday for instance and not being able to go to the studio for 2/3 weeks is pure torture.
How do you feel about the pieces now?
I haven’t seen Those who Love will Ride the Bike in the flesh since it was bought during the exhibition in 2000. I remember the work quite well though and think I would still like it if I saw it, it’s a light-hearted piece.
When I was asked to talk about I am a Landscrape Artist at the Assembly exhibition, I felt at first a little apprehensive because I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to relate to the painting after so many years. But the Director of the Gallery suggested I talk about the time when the painting was made and when I thought back I realised how odd and turbulent that period was and a stream of things came up to the surface again. It is of its time I think and a lot has happened since. It’s great to have it saved in a collection because most of the work from that period I have since destroyed.
Tell us a little about your current practice.
I haven’t painted in over a year, which is the longest time I have ever not painted since I started. Perhaps I have painted myself empty when I worked towards The Art Of Failure Isn’t Hard To Master show at the Highlanes Gallery. Perhaps I have said everything I wanted to say in painting. It is hard to know exactly.
My focus is on 3D work at the moment, installation work. I like using things people discard and I like recycling, re-using old materials, unwanted stuff, and giving it new life and meaning. For the past few months I have been collecting old newspapers with the help of friends. I turn these into pulp and then into logs with a briquette maker. In between I add soft toy rabbit parts. It’s part of a new body of work that deals with road-kill and the poetics surrounding mortality. I want to make around 500 such logs and recreate a stretch of road. It’s a slow process. The ‘slowness’ of it attracts me. In contrast the speed is what creates the road-kill.
I am also working on a few ideas for videos. One of these I filmed at night with a camera strapped to the handle bar of my bike (what else!) cycling from Balbriggan to Skerries. My eldest, 12 year old daughter is writing the music for it on the piano at the moment.
In another on-going project which is of a performative nature I wear an old carpet I made/modified, you can see my feet and arms but not my face and I can’t see anything from inside. On the front it says Almost Fit to be Hugged, in one hand I hold an old suitcase. This work played a small part in the Highlanes show and I have expanded on some of the ideas behind it. I go to abandoned and dilapidated places with it (usually with a friend or two because I can’t close the straps at the back of the carpet by myself and the same regarding taking the photos) and get photographed. The carpet man is supposed to be on a journey, he is visiting all the places he used to know and there is nothing left, no-one around and everything is falling apart – he will eventually go to an abandoned train station and then dis-used airport… – it’s a comment on the current emigration issue in Ireland, people leaving the country (again) in search for prosperity.
Find out more about this artist here: www.thomasbrezing.com
Watch a short film of Thomas making work here: