It is 11.00 and I am in Berlin Friedrichshain to meet the famous Danish painter René Holm, who has a studio both here in Berlin and one in Denmark. René greets me with his black hat, black T-shirt and black shorts. He opens the door to a super cool flat in a building that used to house a factory. The flat has high ceilings, is stylish, minimalistic and done with class. It is full of amazing art pieces, both René’s work and the work of others.
The first room we step into is his studio and I feel a thrill of excitement. I had not expected to get s sneak peak into his work in progress. This magic space where creativity flows and turns into art pieces manifested on a canvas. “Wow, can I take a look?” I ask. “Yes, sure” René replies and adds that he often has clients who come to see his unfinished work and some even buy it before it is done. “I work on several pieces at once and move around between them. Last night I worked on this one and painted the wire a bit longer” he says and points to a large picture on the wall of a girl by a lake (see below). We talk about his art for a while before he makes me a cuppa tea and we sit down to start the interview.
Nina: Who are you René Holm?
René: Well first of all I am a Danish artist who is very curious about telling stories through my work. I am a painter, which is easy to see if you see my work. I love all the different layers, the different techniques in paintings…ehm, cause painters they work in very different ways. You can see painters that almost don’t have any layers. If you see my work, you can really see that I am a painter.
So to come back to your question: I am a painter and I want to tell stories to the viewers and that is probably why I find it interesting to work with people who struggle most in their lives. Not that it is something that I do personally. Well I do have some concerns and thoughts about my work all the time of course, but mostly for me it is interesting to visit people that we hear about in the news or we see on the streets. Then you know, you have thoughts about them and our kids have thoughts about them and we talk about it in our family. So for me it is important once in a while to meet those people.
Now I want to meet the refugees. I want to meet the homeless people. All those that I don’t meet in my daily life. So, it is kind of like a research in the beginning. Almost like somebody who travels around and tells stories to a newspaper. I keep all those experiences for myself. You know, we can Google everything but to see the people and to maybe feel their pain, smell the smell of a homeless, hear their stories, you know in the street. It is something else than if you google everything. So I come home with all those experiences, feelings and I always bring my camera.
Nina: When you go out?
René: Yes, so I can take pictures of people. And then I come home after a trip to somewhere and I have many pictures of somewhere or of a group of people. Then it takes me a while to figure out why this is interesting. Why is this interesting for the viewer. How can I take those people into my work and put them in a new or different environment and through that tell stories to the viewer. Cause for me it is important as an artist and if I see art, that the artwork can have a dialogue with the viewer. So if it is hanging in your home or in a company and 4-5 or 10 people are standing in front of it then maybe they can have a good discussion. It is not about if they want the work in their living room, but mostly if it can give a good discussion about ”no I think he is looking for that or searching for that”.
Quite often I have people who write me long emails about that they have seen my work. I don’t know them and they write me very honest stories about how that painting reminded them about a certain thing in their life. And that is a big thing for me, that they actually take time to do that. It is just a good feeling that my work actually does something for somebody. That keeps me going into the studio every day.
So first of all, when I go into the studio it is not for the…. (René pauses)…of course I want to sell it, cause I need to sell my art, cause I have tons of expenses. But it is never with that option or that point of view when I start to do a series of work. Cause after almost 20 years of course I know which paintings are easier to sell than other paintings. And especially with my new and very dark series of paintings I know that they are harder to sell because they are so dark. Most people want to have bright paintings in their room and also because of what they tell.
Nina: Why do you think so may of us don’t like dark paintings in our homes? We talked a bit about this when I arrived today, before we started the interview, and you said ”actually life is both light and dark”. We have the night that is dark and it can be beautiful biking home in the dark. But we automatically associate the darkness with something negative. Do you think that could be a reason why many of us refrain from having a darker pictures?
René: I am sure that is one of the reasons. It is because the darkness is a mental thing and a physical thing. And for me the darkness is really beautiful when I ride my bike through the city or a park at night, you know to take a piss with my dog late at night. I often stand in the street and I am almost the only one there and you see the light from the light poles or the stars or the moon or whatever. Then you have the mental part, which will strike every human in life and we will all loose somebody close to us eventually.
I have friends who have been in a dark period. It can be from a divorce, it can be from work, stress or whatever and then we all need to find our way back to life. And that is why all the paintings have small light points.
So either they are holding a light to kind of guide them through life, or they are searching for the light on the other side. And it can be the beauty there that they are looking for, but it can also be you know, to come back to life.
Now you ask me why people don’t want to have dark paintings mostly, and I think some people they can see the beauty in them, but a lot of people…I think they are kind of afraid to have them. Not only to look at, but also because it can send a wrong signal to their friends or family you know. Why do you have something so dark?
Nina: ”What are you hiding from us…haha”
René: Yeah, and especially as a Dane, you know we need to be so positive. We are that most……..
Nina: Most happy nation, right?
René: I don’t know where it comes from haha…. (we both laugh)
Nina: Yeah, I also asked myself that a few times…(note to reader: I Nina, grew up in Denmark, too)
René: So I think sometimes, especially as I know Danes, you know we have to be so positive, we have to live so amazing. What we have on our walls should be like ”happy clowns” or whatever. I do know a lot of people who have dark paintings with dark themes, but that is because I do what I do. I know a lot of people who collect art, but that is 2-3% of the population in Denmark who really collect art and also see the beauty in something dark or a dramatic photo with blood.
Nina: Yes and to get through life you cannot avoid the darkness. But if you constantly avoid it because it is uncomfortable, for me at least, there is something you are trying to escape from right? If you dare to look at it and feel what it really provokes inside you, then you can also let it go. But if you always try and hide it away, it just will stay inside you. Then every time you see something dark it will feel uncomfortable until you get past this and can just see it for what it is.
Nina: I must admit I can feel like the people you describe as being uncomfortable with the dark pictures. But, at the same time it also makes me curious cause I am always searching for why I feel the way I do, so I get curious to find out, why does it make me uncomfortable.
René: Yes, some of the works that are dark and have this dark feeling or atmosphere show that there is something happening which is not part of the perfect life. Some people will see them (the paintings) but they don’t comment them cause you know, this is too dark.
Sometimes I wish that we could have some of the way of living like they have in South America, cause they really almost celebrate darkness and death in another way. And they strongly believe that there is something after death, like in other religions in the far east. So for them darkness is not something negative. And as you said it is almost something that you don’t talk about. And you know in my family, as my parents and my mother in law …. (René pauses for a while)….hvad fa’en hedder svigerforældre (that was Danish and means: what the f…. do you call in-laws)?
René: In-laws… hahaha….It’s like…we don’t talk about not feeling good. Really not at all in our family. It is something you just swallow. And I don’t know any families that don’t have any issues. Really!
Nina: No, the perfect family does not really exist although we all try to create it.
René: Well, I know some where they really really want to show that their family is super perfect. Their kids are like super kids and I don’t fucking believe it!
Nina: Yeah and the thing is also what is the cost. What is the price you pay to try and create this perfect family.
René: That is a lot of stomach pain. When something goes wrong in a family like that, which I have seen….that all of a sudden the son or the daughter does something or the husband might come out and say: “well I have seen this other woman for five years “ or whatever…then everything just brakes totally down. Then you can really talk about darkness and finding your way back. And I often hear…and that really makes me mad…the “what would other people think” phrase.
Nina: Yes, but that is the general problem right, of people living lives they create to be accepted by the outside world.
René: And that is really bullshit! You know when people say: “what would other people think if we do so, or if I get tattoos or if I get whatever”. I am like, if you want to do it, then do it! What does it matter?
Nina: yes, and would people really care about what YOU do in the end? Maybe they would talk about it for a few minutes and then that’s it. We always think everyone else it so occupied with that we do, but actually they are not.
René: No no.
Nina: It is all in our heads. And we are so afraid of falling outside the norm and not being accepted. And if you are like this, you can keep being like that for the rest of your life.
René: I think some people they really…if people do something different…think: “ why didn’t we do that too? You know I am working from 07.00 – 18.00 and I am doing whatever…”
Nina: Maybe just to make money…
René: It IS to make money to have the perfect outside life. And especially with all the media now, we show our perfect life. If you are on holiday it is almost like: “Don’t touch your food and put the expensive wine bottle in front of the camera” so that everyone can see how great our vacation is.
Nina: When you walk down the street and you see people at the restaurants, many of them are not even talking together, cause they are busy posting pictures of their food on social media. And does it really make you feel better when you get 10 or 20 likes? Why is it we do this? Is it to get acceptance?
René: Some people do it to tell their story and some people do it to be part of the great world, or be famous, or get accepted. I am that old that I grew up before the smart phone… haha….good for me, but as a dad of two kids… (René pauses…)
Nina: How old are your kids?
René: 21 and 16.
Nina: And the 21 year-old is your son and the 16 year-old is your daughter.
René: Yes, and for my daughter it is definitely more important to show the perfect pictures on instagram. They both don’t use facebook. Or almost not at all.
Nina: So the younger generation is more on instagram and snapchat?
René: Totally. Facebook is almost done for them. They probably go through it to see who’s birthday it is today, just to say happy birthday.
Nina: Why do you think it is like that? That it is different how your daughter and your son are on social media? Are girls more into what other people think of them? (….to be continued)
Find out what René answers to that question next Wednesday evening on the 15th of August, when the 2nd part of this interview is up. We also dive further into René’s own childhood, his love for graffiti and how he ended up doing art.
If you want to find out more about René Holm here are links to his website and social media:
Coming exhibitions with René Holm in 2018:
Code Art Fair (DK) at Galeri Benoni (30th of Aug – 2nd of Sept), Esbjerg Gymnasium (DK) presenting new work in glass and neon made for the school (Aug), Kühlhaus Berlin (DE) group exhibition during Berlin Art Week with Kurator Uwe Goldstein (Sept), Museum Frello (DK) Group Exhibition (Sept), Hygum Kunstmuseum (DK) group exhibition (Sept) Galeri Benoni (DK) Solo exhibition (Nov).
Smiles from hot and sunny Berlin,