You once said: "I'm not making art; I'm making art
At the art academy, I
couldn't take colleagues seriously who were imitating their professors,
students who were painting what was fashionable at the time, Beuys
or Cy Twombly, for
instance. I wanted to do something that was new, that caused a stir,
something original, and something that reflected its time. Art history,
Didn't you have any idols? Kirchner
and the painters of the artists' group "Die
Brücke," perhaps? Van Gogh, whom you painted again and again?
course the Brücke artists were completely important. I was interested in
Expressionism all throughout art history - Velasquez,
Goya , El
Greco, van Gogh, Picasso
- all the way up to the Abstract Expressionism of the New York School and Andy
Warhol. In my painting, I wanted to take what was abstract in the
Americans' work and convert it into figuration. Mark
Rothko and Willem
de Kooning were very important to me; my works have proceeded through
Van Gogh Gauguin - Rückkehr der Giganten, 1980,
Do you have the feeling
that something is being carried on in the works of young painters today?
can't really say. I just found Peter
Doig's London show
very interesting in a painterly sense. There's a spooky atmosphere in the
paintings. I also see a lot of energy in Norbert
Bisky's work, whose pictorial sensibility goes in another direction
entirely. I'll bet we can expect more from him.
The art market
I'm not so sure. The art market was
hysterical even then. When I became successful, new artists were becoming
established all the time. There's always resistance, and you have to fight
to attain a mental and financial freedom from it. As an artist, there is
always a conflict between the inner will to express and the usual
successful work the gallery wants you to deliver. Do you refuse, or do you
go along with it? You need money to continue to develop artistically and
to become more independent. But I don't really remember making any
compromises. That's why I've had plenty of difficulties with gallery
dealers throughout my career.
How were you discovered?
must have been in 1979. I was standing at the bus stop on the way to the
employment office when Salomé told me that Heiner Bastian was coming to
the Galerie am Moritzplatz with the Swiss collector Thomas
Ammann. Ammann was beside himself; he was hopping happily around in
circles. He bought four paintings in one swoop. Later, Bastian became my
manager and hooked me up with international galleries. There weren't any
waiting lists yet. I think it was rather difficult to sell my paintings.
his first exhibition
"Figur und Portrait"
the Galerie am Moritzplatz, 1978
But then suddenly you became a
famous painter. You underwent training to become a carpenter in
Wilhelmshaven, where you were born. Wouldn't sculpture have been closer?
came later. In the beginning it was a fascination for the image.
did you move to New York in 1983?
I was depressed in Berlin: we
artists always met at the same places, in the Exil restaurant or
club, you always saw the same people wherever you went. The old circle of
friends fell apart; success brought a lot of envy with it. Although I was
the last one to get accepted into a gallery, I wound up with the best
dealers. After a concert tour that included a group exhibition with Salomé
and Castelli in France, I had a lot of alcohol and drug problems and was
Fetting, NY Kids, 2003
Galerie Deschler, Berlin,
you were suddenly without a gallery in New York. Why was that?
I went to New York, I'd had exhibitions with top galleries: Bruno
Bischofberger, Mary Boone, Anthony d'Offay; others joined the list. At the
time there was a lot of pressure and distress, which is particularly
difficult for young artists to deal with. The times were tumultuous, new
talents were constantly emerging, suddenly others were being favored, and
I felt I was being put off, so I made the appropriate decisions. In the
end, I was without a gallery.
And you didn't know anyone in
America at first?
Actually I did, some artists from there
visited me, especially graffiti painters. But I was pretty much
uninterested in making painter contacts. I only consented to one
collaborative project, with the graffiti painter Daze. You can see the
graffiti influence in the first pictures I painted in New York, works like The
New York Painter.
Rainer Fetting, Desmond and Ginger, 1999,
You found new motifs in
the new city, the yellow taxis, the subways…
was later. But what was very important was that I met Desmond, who still
models for me. New York was something very different from Berlin, which in
the end was totally provincial and confining. It was exciting to discover
New York at that time: the gay scene, the adventurous city landscape with
the piers, and outside the window ownerless dogs roaming about. New York
had something uninhabited about it; it was like being in the wild. I
started painting wolves. Then came the paintings of deserted piers and the
wooden picture series, for which I used wood from the piers.
Fetting, Iron Man, 1983,
desire is expressed in your art: in the male nudes, in the shower pictures.
paintings derive from a fascination for painting. In the process, I've
used my environment and history for my painting. And because I'm
erotically fascinated in the male body, this has entered into the images
as well, of course.
You returned to Berlin after the Wall fell.
The '80s were over, not just in a calendar sense, but also as a life
New York was no longer what it used to be, either. It
became cleaner, more bourgeois. I had the good fortune to always be where
the exciting things were happening, where major changes were taking place.
Fetting, Südstern, 1989
Galerie Deschler, Berlin,
were fascinated by the Wall; it appears in many of your paintings.
wanted to go to Berlin in the mid-seventies to get away from stifling West
Germany. The Wall was a part of life in Berlin, especially if you lived
right around the corner. The way I painted it at the time was a taboo; it
was frowned upon.
In the '80s, you lived in the district of
Kreuzberg, which was politicized through and through. It was the major
time of the housing fights.
We painters were already
dyed-in-the-wool Kreuzbergers when the squatters arrived fresh from West
Germany for the riots. They lived across the street when Bischofberger
drove up to my place in Oranienstraße in his limousine. And of course I
was afraid. They came from outside Berlin and spread terror.
in all, it doesn't sound as though you missed the '80s all that much.
was a lot of struggling and envy and existential anguish, but in
retrospect it seems like an exciting time. There was a creative
atmosphere. We were all very lucky that we didn't have to go through a war.
Fetting, Jungen am Meer (Sylt), 2007
Galerie Deschler, Berlin,
you sick of being associated with your beginnings at Moritzplatz so often?
because I made some important paintings at the time. But I'm sick of false
compassion, which can't replace a true exploration of my work.
you become bitter?
More than anything else, I'm especially
proud of what I've achieved during all the years that followed
Moritzplatz. Unfortunately, my work is not sufficiently well known. And to
help this along, I try to fill in the gaps and make my work more
Fetting, Selbstportrait, 1985,