Markus Amm: painting’s modern alchemist reflects on perfecting pigments

Markus Amm: painting’s modern alchemist reflects on perfecting pigments

When German artist Markus Amm applies oil paint to his canvas, he has an innate sense of what the result will be. Pigments, oil, thinner and binding agents run over gesso boards to create vivid layers of colour that can take days, weeks and even months to apply. The results, Amm says, are always exciting and can be surprising – both good and bad.

‘Pigments can have a different weight, they can combine differently. It’s like a game of ping pong,’ he explains, reflecting on his complex working process. ‘For instance a speck of dust could fly into the paint and I may have to wipe it out. It’s a constant reaction to what’s going on. I’m playing my part, and then seeing how the material is reacting. As I can’t completely control the process, the result is always open; it’s like alchemy.’

Born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1967, Amm studied graphic design at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Offenbach. He has lived in London, Berlin, and now Geneva, becoming internationally known through participation in major group shows on painting.

Installation view of Markus Amm’s exhibition at David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles. Photography: Jeff McLane. Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles

An incredibly versatile artist, Amm is celebrated for his modernist photograms, luminograms, sculptures, oil paintings and drawings that reside somewhere between the avant-garde movement and futurism.

In spring of last year, just before the opening of his mid-career retrospective at Kunsthaus Baselland in Basel, Switzerland, the German artist found himself with an unusually empty studio and an exciting invitation to create a completely new body of work for David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles.

‘Paintings can hang around in my studio for up to four years before I let them out,’ he muses. ‘Normally I have boards prepared that I can work on, but this time, for David Kordansky, it was a completely new body of work. I was working on a daily basis from morning until evening to get this show done. The pressure is always there, even if I were to have double the amount of time. It’s to do with personal ambition – you always want to do the best you can do.’

Untitled, 2017, by Markus Amm, oil on gesso board. Photography: Annik Wetter. Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles

Opened at Kordansky’s 12,000 sq ft space, which was designed by the architect Kulapat Yantrasast, Amm’s latest showcase comprises around 17 small but mesmerising oil on gesso board works, each measuring from around 13 3/4 x 11 7/8 to 29 1/2 x 23 5/8 inches. Looking at these luminous rectangles of layered paint is like staring into deep pigmented pools of water.

The installation of the show was a collaborative process between Amm and David Kordansky. The most recently completed works, Amm says, have taken on a darker mood. ‘Perhaps to do with the fact that they were painted in Switzerland during the autumn and winter months,’ he ventures, noting: ‘This is a new development for me.’

The prospect of filling the spacious South La Brea Avenue gallery space with these relatively small works was, he admits, a rather daunting prospect, but by no means insurmountable. ‘I realised in Basel that I could play with a really big space, even with small formats,’ he smiles. ‘After this, I think I can handle it.’

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