“The freedom you try to create stands at the top for me. Having time to do what you think is correct and useful to open your mind. But freedom comes with responsibilities”
AT: Where are you from and how/why did you start engaging with art?
MG: I was born and live in Ghent , Belgium. It is a nice and vibrant city that has more of a village atmosphere when you are part of it. It has an assortment of talented artists, musicians, actors, screenplay writers, architects and much more. A good mixture of creative people. I started engaging with art very naturally, when I was a kid I found it fascinating to be dragged into my own fantasy and world through the creation of silly drawings. During my puberty I was directly dragged into graffiti and started painting with spray cans for many years. Eventually this went hand in hand with experimenting on canvas, going to exhibitions, and collecting art books.
AT: When did it become serious?
MG: There was a turning point when I got to understand that not all artwork and artists in the art-world are stereotyped by the education you have at primary school. Most of this is based on art historical knowledge found in standard educational books. Through books I get in contact with artists like Martin Kippenberger, Franz West, Picabia, artists who blow my mind with their different impact on the art world. A wide range of techniques, mediums, input, series; it’s baffling that all of that can come from just one artist. They take their practice seriously but are able to have fun while they practice and can laugh with what they are doing. I learned to let go and care less about what I was doing focusing more on experimenting and learning what I like to do and most importantly to eliminate what was not my interest field. The most interesting time of my career would be to erase my mind and do this research all over again in another time frame.
AT: Are there any people who have been significant in your breakthrough as an artist?
MG: First of all I think my mother takes a big role in this. As she was always the one to support me on whatever I was doing. Big support from day one. Not that I believe in a precise date, the so-called “day one”, at least in regards to an artistic practice that is encompassed in a precise starting point for me. I can imagine a lot of parents have a split mentality on creativity itself. When you’re a kid of course they support the expressive and creative mind because this opens one’s mind and soul molding you into a human being. But things become different when higher education is the focus and the goal is to succeed (most of the time financially) in ‘the real world’. So different choices can be suggested and pushed by parents. Luckily I did not feel that pressure at all. The first steps in the art world where made by taking part of some art contests in Flanders. Some I was selected, some I won, and some turned out into nothing. Meanwhile I was picked up by Galerie Fortlaan 17 in Ghent by Ischa Tallieu. The gallery worked with Bruce Mclean, Hermann Nitsch, Jaques Charlier and some younger local artists like Stief Desmet. I was very grateful that people wanted to put effort in my career. We did some crazy solo shows with metal bands involved. Some art fairs in Madrid and NYC. Made some first publications, a record, and so on. Meanwhile I was selected for the Belgium Art Prize at Bozar institute and quickly went on a rollercoaster of events. A new collaboration with my Cologne galleries Berthold Pott till present. A very interesting gallery with a good attitude, vision and descent presence. Some residency’s in Frankfurt & New York, some shows in Italy, Germany, Japan, USA, France, The Netherlands and Luxembourg.
Goods Between Floors, installation view | scenography Theo De Meyer | Berthold Pott Gallery Cologne, 2019.
AT: What do you aim to reach with your work?
MG: Hard to say, as I never thought about this at all. For me my practice is about development and research. There is no specific goal. I like to keep things open on whatever crosses my path in the studio or through meetings. It could all lead to interesting shows or proposals.
AT: What are your favourite tools and materials to work on?
MG: Quite a wide range, nothing in particular. Everything that is needed at the time of producing an idea could be useful. Last year it was oil painting, canvas, uv prints on mesh fabric, aluminium and metal but it can change quickly.
AT: What do you feel while you work? Do you usually think about the final outcome beforehand?
MG: During the process in the studio I try to have a balance between being extremely focused and on the other hand try not to be there mentally. This only works perfectly by working on different stuff at once. Making a book, studying works, paintings etc. By focusing on one work and being surrounded by many others this works good for the mindset. Having a certain focus on one thing and meanwhile having visual snapshots and walking around the studio problems in other works can be easily solved. Mainly the focus on a work is more a distraction to find solutions in others…You could compare it when you’re thinking about a name of a restaurant, artist, actor you knew before. As hard as you think you just can not find it anymore in your memory but it is on the tip of your tongue. When you let it go after an hour the name pops in your mind again!
AT: How do you understand when a work is finished?
MG: It is all about intuition. I guess only artists understand this aspect well. Sometimes you think a work is finished and when you pick it up a couple of months later in the studio you add something more that could work very well. But you can also destroy it. It’s the circle of an artist’s life I suppose.
untitled wormhole 18, 210×260 cm, Uv print, mesh fabric, acrylic on canvas, 2019.
untitled wormhole 15, 100×200 cm, Uv print, mesh fabric, acrylic on canvas, 2018.
AT: Where does the inspiration for the work come from?
MG: I am highly interested in graphic design and techniques in the commercial field. I try to combine them by rethinking what the medium of classical painting is all about. I try to tell narrative stories about the painting process itself in other mediums. I am all about reproductions in different mediums like scenographics and sculptures. You could compare it to a novel that becomes a play or movie by telling or translating it into a new medium and create a certain distance in technique which actually tries to tell the same. At the start of my career I painted a lot with oil paint on canvas. After a while I didn’t know what to do as I quickly learn technical stuff, getting me bored easily. I tried to make it more complex for myself. I feel like I look at my work as someone who wants to document it or as a salesman trying to sell the ‘painting medium’ in the best way possible to myself.
AT: Are there any artists who influenced your works? Why?
MG: Many, and in a wide diversity. I like everything about some artists’ work, from others just some of their series or the philosophy behind their work. Most of them are graphically inspired or work with a lot of mediums. Some of their names are: Magali Reus, Will Benedict, Donald Judd, Elsworth Kelley, Mike Kelly, Frederik Vaerslev, Mattias Faldbakken, Wade Guyton, Seth Price, Martin Kippenberger, Benoit Plateus, Thomas Demand, Christopher Wool.
AT: How important is the role of social media for you?
MG: I could talk hours about this. So let’s try to keep it as short as possible. The general idea of a social network sounds great within the art-world and was great in the beginning for me. But there are many aspects of it that do not fit reality at all turning it to a place for distraction taking away from what it is all about. I used to have an Instagram account featuring my work and installations. I followed a lot of artists, galleries, private collections and curators. Being dragged into a digital world full of images requires for you to continuously be processing inputs. It becomes image pollution at the end. As an artist you are busy with your work that needs a certain focus. By having too much visual information you quickly start comparing yourself to other artists. There is too much info to be seen and you think you know certain collections making it all too quick and without depth. The opposite of how you would interact with artworks. My Instagram account was hacked and it was the best obstacle I ever overcame. Now I don’t care anymore about social media at all. I go more outside to see shows with my own eyes in reality. Have more deep conversations with artists in person and read more books. I personally believe more in monograph artist books that create more context rather than a constant stream of random images. Let’s say I think the system works better for people interested in Contemporary Art art dealers then as artists try to profile themselves for an abstract audience represented by followers and likes.
Fools From The Same Kingdom (detail).
untitled printrolls, 50x12x6 cm, Cardboard, uv print, mesh fabric, metal, 2019.
AT: As an artist, what is your point of view about the contemporary art system?
MG: A couple of years back I was very frustrated by this narrow system all based on CV/resume, smalltalk, and being there at the right time. Luckily I got in contact with a gallerist like Berthold Pott who showed me things can be different on approach and commercial aspects go hand in hand. This opened my mind a bit. For now I just don’t think about the ‘art system’ anymore and it makes life more simple. Art fairs will be art fairs, auctions will be auctions and blue chip artists will be blue chip artists. And for me I just smoke a cigarette, have a drink and think about what to cook in the evening after studio time. Way of living.
AT: What is the most rewarding part of working as an artist?
MG: The freedom you try to create stands at the top for me. Having time to do what you think is correct and useful to open your mind. But freedom comes with responsibilities. For many years I didn’t get any money and was playing the gamble game to get an artist grant in Belgium, which is not easy. It had a big impact on my social life and had to do shitty jobs. But, you know, going to get some beers with friends without having money is not that pleasant. Luckily I have good friends who like the beers and me…now it pays off in the other direction. So keep on investing on what you believe pays off somehow even for buying back some beers to your friends.
AT: What do you do besides art?
MG: In college I studied to become a cook. And for a year now I opened up a restaurant with my wife who i s a graphic designer. The restaurant is a dumpling/dim sum place in Ghent. It feels like a natural step and it is going really well. We upscaled our kitchen facilities during the coronae lockdown. The whole menu, interior, and ambiance gives us joy in our lives. It is very nice to be directly in contact with people rather than being alone in the studio every day of the week. Now I focus three days a week in the studio and work two days in the restaurant. I go by the percent balance- For more info visit: www.steamywindows.be
AT: What are your goals and expectations for the future?
MG: Too many expectations create too much pressure so nothing spectacular in general. Try to be as happy as possible and keep on doing what I am doing together with my lovely woman and partner in crime besides me. When this plan works out I can be a happy man.
Studio Portrait | ph. Jan Opdekamp.
Manor Grunewald (b. 1985) is a Belgian visual artist currently living and working in Ghent, Belgium. Grunewald considers himself first and foremost as a painter, although he is also active in the fields of sculpture, installation and prints. His work is characterised by the constant analysis of the development of the pictorial in our daily environment. He finds and collects the sources of his images everywhere in daily life: in newspapers, advertising, books, comics, digital media and even illustrations of biological microcosms and macrocosms. His image archive serves as a source of inspiration, and his found pictorial material is often altered, partially on purpose and in some cases arbitrarily, by copying, enlarging or collaging.