Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx

Stefan Marx

Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx
Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx

In just seven carefully drawn lines, Stefan Marx can tell a short story and change your frame of mind. Entry into his world is instant: eyes scan the page, tracing meandering limbs and bent text, his character’s crooked smile quickly mirrored in your own. But it’s not flippancy that fuels this fire. Stefan has particular affections—like record covers, books, illustrated iconography—that have inspired not just the beginnings of his artistic narratives but their placement too. His aversions also get a look-in, when alarm clocks and fried eggs are hugged by a ‘fuck reality’ sentiment, or when his jovial flop-eared dog takes a stand against the AFD, G20, Nazis, and Sundays.

In recent times, Stefan’s work has had some culinary concern that pushes beyond his often-drawn pizza debris, discarded booze, and chomped fruit; he’s also lent hand-painted editions to Berlin-fired porcelains and created a series of burning bananas for Olga Goose Candle. Though, admittedly, his real-life food foraging doesn’t yet move too far past potatoes. In even more recent times, Stefan has uprooted from Hamburg to call Berlin home. He has occupied his new digs, in the west, for just a few months. And when we talk, his studio is but a day old. Amid the freshness, we talk about necessities, feelings, and colours—the kinds of quick, ordinary bites that puncture his artworks (and his life), that make his work (and his self) penetrable, enjoyable, and so sharply satisfying.

Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx
Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx
Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx
Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx

In researching you a bit, I kept reading about your spontaneity. So it felt like a good omen when you wanted to reschedule last minute, because your day had changed in a positive way. Do you always say yes?

No! I’m definitely not a person who always says yes, that would be crazy. I have to say no; I had to learn it, but I do it a lot actually. So, we’re right in the interview?

Yeah, we’re in it! Did you want to do warm-up questions?

No, no, no.

So do you work and live in the same space?

No. I mean, I live in this space and I do work a little bit here—small drawings and computer stuff from time to time. But I am about to get a new studio here in Berlin. I recently moved to Berlin, not that long ago.

You were in Hamburg before, right?

That’s true. I got this flat in May and yesterday I got the keys to my new studio; it will be great, you should come by!

Beautiful. We actually share some mutual friends, who I’m told are seeing you next week: Marvin and Valentino from Public Possession.

Yes, I’m going to Munich to have a talk with them—a public talk. And they’re in Berlin tonight, playing at Berghain.

Yes, that’s why I couldn’t reschedule our interview to tomorrow morning.

Oh, you’re going. That’s great.

Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx
Stefan Marx | Apartamento Magazine
Stefan Marx | Apartamento Magazine
Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx
Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx

You’ve been in Berlin since May. Does it feel like home yet?

I have quite a strange connection to the feeling of home. I never really had it in Hamburg over the 18 years I was there. I had it from time to time, but I travel quite often. Maybe the place that still feels very much like home is the place where I grew up. It’s a small village in the middle of Germany, close to Kassel. But this place here in Berlin is super great; I feel quite homey here in this one.

There’s something strange about the pace here: it feels quite slow compared to most cities. I feel like I have time, and, while I barely speak German, I feel settled.

You feel settled?

Absolutely. Every time I’m flying and the plane lands in Berlin I feel so glad.

 

Oh, awesome. I have this feeling too, actually. I think it’s because in Hamburg I was always sharing flats with my best friend, and now, here, I’ve bought some property and it’s a different feeling. Now I am hanging my small collection of art.

Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx
Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx
Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx
Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx

It’s interesting that when talking about home you talk about hanging artwork. It’s very symbolic when you move into a new house and you drill that first hole—it’s your wall now.

Yes, I think so. In all my other places my artwork was on the floor standing against the wall. I always thought that maybe I’d move out in the next few months, so I never made the effort.

I wanted you to describe to me the place where you work, but you’re probably in the middle of moving.

Absolutely.

So what needs to go in there that’s most important to you?

 

Definitely some art—a little bit of my archive. I try to keep track of the things I’ve done. My book archive, my record cover archive, all the printed matter you get when you work for other people. Also a big table, my favourite colours, my favourite work materials. It’s pretty simple, really. Actually, I have a big copy machine, it’s now in my apartment. It’s a super tiny room with just the copier; my own copy room.

What do you have on the table next to your bed right now?

Just books and magazines, a small pad and pen to note things down. Not much else.

And the artwork you’re currently hanging on your walls, is it by your peers?

Yes, it’s very diverse. There are drawings and paintings by my friends or some people I’ve got to know. I trade a lot of artworks, that’s what I really try to keep doing every year. But I’m also buying art every year. I set aside a certain budget and buy at galleries or at art book fairs. Every year I go to the New York art book fair, which is one of my favourite weekends every year. I exhibit my own work and see a lot of my artist friends. I’m always trying to do studio visits or trade or buy something.

Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx
Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx
Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx
Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx

A lot of your work is text-based, as you know, so I wondered if you were into personal affirmations—do you have a mantra? Do you have something that you say to yourself when you see yourself in the mirror in the morning?

No, I don’t have this. It’s not an everyday thing. When I’m a little bit down, I have to cheer myself up—I mostly do that, talking to myself positively, when I am down. But that’s not too often, thank god.

Does your sense of humour and lightness come from your parents?

Yes, I think so. I think I’m very lucky with the situation. I grew up in the countryside with like 500 inhabitants in this village. It was very much about nature and the woods, also about the seasons and being outside, having space. I grew up also with my grandparents in the same house, with a sister and a brother and cousins. I had a lot of freedom, it was great; I still carry this feeling around with me.

Before speaking with you, I really did wonder if you were going to be carefree or not. A lot of your work is light and jovial, but you also have some serious social commentary.

Yeah, absolutely.

Does it feel urgent for you to express your political leanings through your artwork?

In Germany, yes, it does. I try to not let it overtake 100 percent of my work, but I definitely do drawings that are related to the recent political situation in Germany. I try not to comment on America or other countries, politically. I grew up as a skateboarder, so that’s always super left, and we had a lot of trouble back then in the village with kind of right-wing people. I’ve spent my whole life—fighting is the wrong word, but definitely having a form of political expression. I’m having fun working with these symbols and drawing to make a comment. In Hamburg there is an active demonstration scene with protests all the time. There’s the Rote Flora, a squatted building that’s been around since 1989 or something. They spread their protest in the city, and I found it always inspirational – it was more about painting banners and doing drawings for T-shirts—very accessible.

You get a message across without being preachy.

I’m always asking myself if I should do more of it. I have very active friends in my circle, and I often try to help them out a little.

Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx

Growing up, what were you interested in before you found art?

Definitely in imagery itself. I wasn’t art-educated, not through my family. But I was interested in the images under my skateboard or the images on my favourite records; I always thought about who did them. I was very fascinated by this.

What was on your bedroom walls when you were a teenager?

Iron Maiden posters, Dead Kennedys posters. Never photographs, but the things that were drawn or illustrated. I redrew skateboard images and made my own posters, of course. There was art everywhere.

So this is when you found out that you were enjoying drawing on things, when you were decorating your bedroom as a teenager?

Yes, absolutely, or even before being a teenager. In Kassel, in the city, there is the Documenta place—the big exhibition that happens every five years. This taught me the difference between art and graphic design, or art and illustration. I made contact with it and really enjoyed it—being a teenager and finding out about the different fields of images.

Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx

Recently, your drawings have appeared on and inside the Apartamento cookbook. Do you cook?

Rarely! I mean, I do, and more often here in Berlin. My girlfriend does it more often, but I am getting into it.

You just wash the vegetables, don’t you?

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

What’s your signature dish?

Oh my god, I can’t really tell! Probably something German. I really like a lot of potato dishes. This is not about French fries; potatoes are always a side dish, but I like to put the potatoes up as a main star in the dish.

Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx
Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx

So far my favourite quote from you is, ‘This is not about French fries’.

I mean, I love French fries too.

Are you allergic to any foods, or do you hate anything?

No. I’m not vegetarian, but I don’t like some things. I don’t like anything white and fluid, like sauces. I try to avoid spaghetti carbonara or all of this white, creamy—white cream is what I avoid. I also enjoy a lot of meals based on their colour. It goes against not choosing a book by its cover, but I still buy books for their covers, and I like ordering food by colour and what it looks like.

Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx
Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx
Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx

That’s funny—in my notes I’d written that I wanted to ask you about the colours that appear frequently in your life, because a lot of your work is in black and white. I was curious about your relationship to colour.

Recently I’ve been doing some more work in colour. I’m preparing a show for my Cologne-based gallery, which has opened a space in Paris. I have a solo exhibition opening on March 9, 2019. I’ve been going through some phases of using a lot of watercolour; it’s very colourful work. I’m working more with colour, and also working with different porcelains.

Do you have a favourite mug? One that you pick out of all the rest every day?

Yes, definitely. In my studio I had a ceramic coffee mug, a big one. I made a graphic for one, for a company here in Berlin. They make paper cups, but they called me and said that they give a ceramic version to their best clients as a Christmas present and asked me for a graphic. I ripped off the graphic from this famous New York cup that was originally designed by Leslie Buck, who worked for this paper-cup company that supplied lots of cafes and restaurants run by Greeks living in the US. He designed it to attract these people with some Greek symbols, like columns and things. It’s called the Greek Anthora. It’s in every movie that’s set in New York—once you’re aware of it, you’ll see it everywhere. So I ripped off this graphic and redrew it for this company, and the sample they sent me became my favourite cup. But it changed recently, because I moved. So here in Berlin, I am working with this porcelain maker, KPM. I’m drawing editions for them, hand painting their porcelain. It’s the best porcelain you can get around here, and they gave me a cup as a present recently. I am totally in love with this cup.

When you eat at home, do you like silence or music in the background? This is a big debate at my house: my partner thinks you can taste things better without music on.

Oh, interesting. We don’t have this debate at home, and I think we definitely have music on quite often. Also, when having food I really enjoy having conversation. When I’m alone, I am terrible—always eating and surfing the internet or something, never sitting down quietly and enjoying the meal. That’s very rare. I’m very terrible, flipping through magazines or books. But I love the social aspect of food. But I’ll check out whether the food tastes different without music—I’m not agreeing just yet.

Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx
Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx
Apartamento Magazine - Stefan Marx

Your collaborations span so many different mediums and industries. Why do you think people like your artwork so much?

I don’t know. Maybe because I love these topics so much and I put a lot of love into these drawings, so there are some people who understand it and also love it. But I really can’t tell. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, so by now a lot of people understand the language. But I get a lot of negative comments as well, and question marks.

Really?

Yes, of course. The positive ones, people putting their hands on your shoulder, saying, ‘Well done, Stefan, I love it’—I really appreciate that and am happy to hear it. But I always get confronted by feedback that isn’t positive. But it’s good, it’s OK. I think there are many people who don’t like it, we all don’t like a lot of things.

What do you hope that people feel when they come into contact with your work?

I hope they feel something. I don’t mind if it’s positive or negative. If they feel something, it’s pretty well done, actually. Right? I’m very happy when people just enjoy it, maybe they smile or maybe they hate it. I think if there’s some unlocked feeling, then I have succeeded.

Aside from your artistic ability, what do you think is your most valuable attribute or quality?

I think I am patient, and I like to listen to my friends’ stories and problems and successes. At a dinner table, I like to listen to other people rather than talk about myself. My drawings are out there a lot, they are so present—a book, a record cover, an Instagram post, I’m getting quoted—sometimes it’s a little bit too much.

books, illustration, interview
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