Interview: Hans Mendler

By: Valerie Oliveiro

Hans Mendler (aged 58)
Born in Neresheim/Ostalb
Style: Abstract Expressionism
Iconic Work: Dance of Colours

ArtZine spoke with Hans Mendler when he was in Singapore for the Singapore Sun Festival. His works are exhibited at the TCC Gallery till January 17, 2009. Read on as I recount our conversation over coffee. 

Walking up the stairs that lead to the TCC Gallery, I tense in anticipation of finally seeing Hans Mendler’s works in Singapore. I didn’t have to wait too long as I was greeted by Dance of Colours at the top of the stairs. (On hindsight, I wonder if it was the best position for that iconic piece for I’m sure that gallery visitors surely couldn’t spend too long standing in front of that piece to absorb it long enough as they would be blocking the way by standing on the steps.)

There he was.

Hans Mendler, himself, surrounded by members of the international media who were happily taking his pictures and listening attentively to his explanation of Jump. I waited patiently for their questions to cease. It was now my turn, and thanks to the Singapore Sun Festival, I had the opportunity of a 1-on-1 interview with Hans.

“Shall we get coffee?” he asked with a smile. Seated with our expresso and cappucino, he leans forward like how a personal friend would, to tell you a secret. “I’m surprised that the media here is so impressed with my work and will be covering my show. They are interested in my work. In Germany, it is different – it is so difficult to get journalists to come down to write about my show.”

Hans Mendler, the artist

His father was a landscape painter. However, whenever he wanted to paint, he locked the 5 children out of his studio so that he could get some quiet time. Like his father, Hans had a keen interest in art and decided at the age of 16 that he would go to Art School. His career kicked off when he exhibited 20 small paintings and sold one. “I was very happy that I sold my painting! At first I thought, who would want to buy my work? Later, I realised it was the start of my career.”

Hans Mendler, the sculptor

“My paintings are all abstract, abstract, abstract so I like to take a break and go to my sculptures and play with a different medium.”

“People are surprised when they see that I paint abstract and do sculpture. Well I always wanted to do sculpture and play with forms. I always dreamt of sculpting. It was my dream.” He tells me of his studio in Hungary. “I paint everyday and when I’m tired, I’ll work on my sculptures instead.” 3 of his sculptures are on display at TCC as well: Smiling, Sitting and Goose-Woman. Carved out of wood, these 3 have large faun-like ears protude out as if listening intently to the lively chatter of those at the coffee house.

In our world, the sculptures could have been contemplatives as they sit quietly, watching the world and reflecting. “They belong to a silent world with secrets. We have to go into them to find out their secrets. Their half-human features remind us that we’re something else – something more than just human. Who do you want to be? Who are you?” They seem alive with thought.

He laughs, “I would feel very lost now that these 3 sculptures of mine will be far away from home and missing from my studio.” His wife adds, “Yes, they’ll be missing their friends too,” referring to the other sculptures that stand in his studio. “Some come in pairs too – man and woman.”

Hans Mendler, the painter

“I’m like a bear who stays indoors in the winter. But I’m indoors painting, painting, painting everyday.”

He points out 2 of his works that are hung on the walls of TCC’s cafe below the gallery. I hadn’t noticed it there before! I thought that it was part of TCC’s original decor! It fitted snugly with the whole setting. “Do you like these?” he asks. I nod while silently wishing I could take one of the paintings home with me. “They complement each other across the room perfectly, yes?” he smiles. Indeed, I’m still eyeing the painting up on the wall nearest to where I’m seated. Huge, it hands down and occupies the wall with its bold strokes of colour.

“I’m like a musician. I take bits and pieces and string them into a symphony.”

Like the various orchestral parts in a symphony, he cleverly overlaps layers of colour in bold strokes across the canvas, adding spatial and atmospheric depth. “It’s all in a turn of a brush. See the curve and how it creates a 3D look,” he points. Looking at the different segments within a painting, you can almost imagine an invisible line cutting across the canvas. “When I drag the brush across the canvas, the paints drips and dries towards the end of the stroke, leaving behind a beautiful gradient-like texture.”

“I’m brave enough to use colours.”

His works concentrate on the use of colour enhanced by layering to produce bright and rich creations using unconventional canvas surfaces and materials. His Boattrip 1-6 series include pieces of wrapping paper in the background. “My wife likes to keep old wrapping paper so I asked her if I could have some for my art,” he shares.

“When I exhibited in Hungary, people can’t wait to see my colourful work because the Hungarian painters all have a melancholic style that dulls in comparison next to my coloured pieces.” In 1999, he had a show with Jovian Gyorgy Bacchus, whose work highly contrasts with Hans’ bright works. “But we understand how each other works and thinks so it is good to exhibit together. It’s complementary.”

Hans follows his instincts when painting. He shared that the black and white ones were done when he got fed up with colour. He points out that even the predominantly black and white ones contain beiges and greys in them. “Lots of people think that black and white refers to the void of colour. It does not.” His Flying Hour 1-6 series was painted at one go, one after the after. It is remarkable to see Hans’ creative process from 1-6 as the pieces are placed side by side, noting his spontaneity and the metamorphosis of his work.

Despite being painted in one-go, each painting is distinct. “Each painting must be different. It cannot be the same. It must have an element of surprise in it so that every painting you like at is something new and unexpected.”

His advice for aspiring painters

“Do not attend a weekend painting class and expect to return home with a good painting by the end of the class. Art does not work that way. It is a process of finding your own style and that takes time. Bad paintings are not punished, right? it is okay, learn from your problems. Dare to lose. Risk or you’ll never gain anything.”

The Coffee Connoisseur (tcc) presents Hans Mendler
To The Unknown Side: art following an instinct
Venue: TCC Gallery, 51 Circular Road  (Raffles Place MRT)
Open: now till Jan 17, 11am – Midnight

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2 thoughts on “Interview: Hans Mendler

  1. Dear Valerie,

    Thank you for the great article on German artist Hans Mendler and we enjoyed reading-it.
    The exhibition is a big success and thank you for your support.

  2. Dear Claude,
    Thank you.. It was my pleasure to have a coffee chat with Hans. Looking forward to future exhibitions at the Gallery.

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