“The inspiration springs from ideas about language, writing and drawing, low-flying unresolved emotional traumas and moments of stillness”
AT: Where are you from and how/why did you start engaging with art?
FA: I’ve never had a strong sense of being from any one place. I was born in Luxembourg, I lived in Italy for some time and I’m currently based in London. London suits me I think because no one is really from here.
AT: When did it become serious?
FA: It suddenly became serious when I enrolled on a life drawing class 20 years ago. Drawing is impossible and when I realised that I knew I was hooked.
AT: Is there any one person who has been significant in your breakthrough as an artist?
FA: My life drawing teacher – teaching someone to draw is like giving them a priceless gift and an unsolvable problem at the same time – a new way of being in the world that is both difficult and beautiful. It’s taken me twenty years to begin to untangle what I learnt there.
AT: What is your first approach to the work? How would you describe your practice?
FA: The first approach is circumspect – cautiously tiptoeing around. I often start by looking at the work from the day before, speculating on how it could have arrived at that state. I might then start by trying to replicate some of the more successful moves from those works; quickly realising they are no longer relevant. It can take most of the day to get into the right space, with some of the best work happening in the evening, when I’m too tired for second-guessing – too tired to think. It’s a beautiful crystalline moment of clarity that can only be reached by treading on the graves of a thousand fallen drawings.
Alzueta Gallery, Barcelona.
AT: What do you aim to reach with your work?
FA: There aren’t clear beginnings and endings in my work, so I don’t have a specific end point that I’m aiming for. With James Joyce’s Ulysses, for example, it isn’t about the narrative – nothing much really happens on that day – and it isn’t a ‘story’ in the true sense of the word, it has a beginning and an end, but they are arbitrary cut-off points in an on-going stream of consciousness. What makes it a great book is the extraordinary level of scrutiny he’s able to bring to the ordinary events of that one day. Through the minutely subjective he’s able to approach the universal, through relentless realism he arrives at the abstract.
AT: What are your favourite tools and materials for working?
FA: I use anything that dries quickly. I like to work fast and impulsively, and I try not to fuss over details. The first shot counts. If it doesn’t work relatively quickly, it gets stripped back to raw canvas and started again from scratch. That actually happens a lot, and most of the paintings retain some traces of their former lives.
I’m using spray a lot at the moment – an intimate, tactile contact with the work surface has been a defining feature of my work for as long as I can remember, and I wanted to see what would happen if I took it out of the equation. Spraying interposes a vertiginous air-gap between intent and reality, in which anything can happen, creating a weird kind of remove or withdrawal.
AT: What do you feel while you work? Do you usually think about the final outcome beforehand?
FA: No, it’s always a surprise to see where the work finally lands and I never remember how I felt while I was working – I get so absorbed in what I’m doing that I don’t feel the time passing. I make my own paints and the paintings are often structurally quite complex, but I don’t have the patience to note down procedures, ratios and proportions. Each painting therefore has it’s own particular evolution and its own unique make-up as the mixtures are never the same twice.
AT: How do you understand that a work is finished?
FA: As soon as I realise I’m no longer taking risks with a piece, then it’s time to stop.
“Germ, neurasthenia, absence, hysteria”, 2019, Dirt, charcoal, pastel, chalk, acrylic, gesso, pigments and glue on canvas, 150×120 cm.
“Bone craft, owls, orange tetrahedron”, 2020, Pigments, glue, charcoal and watercolour on canvas, 170×130 cm.
AT: Where does the inspiration for the work come from?
FA: The work draws on spontaneous, uninhibited chromatic and compositional choices to generate tense, charged emotional states. The inspiration springs from ideas about language, writing and drawing, low-flying unresolved emotional traumas and moments of stillness. These things enter the work obliquely, via osmosis, they get absorbed, processed, perhaps misunderstood, re-translated and transformed into something else. It’s a kind of feedback loop in a way; the work feeds on itself, pushing itself forwards.
AT: Are there any artists who have influenced your works? Why?
FA: I often think about David Ostrowski and his idea of drawing with the right hand as if it were the left hand’, which is of course deliciously different from simply drawing with the left hand. It’s about making things difficult when they could be easy, working against yourself, or at least against your training, aiming for surprise, something uncontrived within a contrived space. Cy Twombly and Christopher Wool, also, for immediacy, erasure, raw expression and working faster than you can think. Also, Alfred Schnittke, for crossing disciplines and bringing the idea of collage into music – amazing!
AT: How important is the role of social media for you?
FA: Instagram is great for finding your ‘crowd’. I don’t do any other drugs.
AT: As an artist, what is your point of view of the contemporary art system?
FA: I’m quite interested in the market aspect of contemporary art – I enjoy the parallels with tulip fever. For all the various broken bits of thought and other ephemeral qualities that go into it’s making, once finished, a painting is a rather concrete thing. It then gets assigned a linguistic title and a fluctuating monetary value, neither of which sit well with it, but both in a sense add to its abstract qualities, situating it awkwardly and blurrily with respect to the world.
“Fragrance, brutalism, briny spray”, 2020, pigments, glue, charcoal and acrylic on canvas, 130×100 cm.
“Mars violet, Atlantic, teargas, neuralgia”, 2020, pigments, glue, charcoal, pastel, and acrylic on canvas, 130×100 cm.
AT: What do you find to be the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing art?
FA: Every day in the studio is challenging in it’s own way, but it should be, it’s an integral part of the process, so I don’t really think of it as daunting. The idea of failure can be daunting I suppose, but I’ve learned to embrace that too, to fold failed passages or moves into the work as well, like ghosts – haunting rather than daunting.
AT: What is the most rewarding part of working as an artist?
FA: It’s about synchronicity. Qualities that would be fatal flaws if I wanted to be an airline pilot or a banker become vital resources in the studio. That feeling of turning disadvantages into advantages, of being in sync with the world, being in the right place and making the work you should be making, is extremely rewarding. It’s also hugely liberating to stop trying to impose your will on the work – to step back and think of yourself as a servant of ‘inspiration’, like Agnes Martin.
AT: What do you do besides art?
FA: I do a few things that don’t outwardly look much like painting – writing, listening to abstract music, drinking exotic Chinese teas and going for long aimless walks in the park – but actually most of it feeds into the work in some way or another. For better or worse, I’m always switched on.
What are your goals and expectations for the future?
FA: To make the next painting better than the last one.
Frederic Anderson (b. 1973) is a painter from Luxembourg currently living and working in London, United Kingdom. His oeuvre is at first sight free from narrative content and has no immediately decipherable meaning. Instead, his work relies on spontaneous, uninhibited chromatic and compositional choices to generate charged emotional states.