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“Art is free, but there is no freedom in Art”

Boris Koller was born in Vienna, Austria (1969), he is a painter, musician and instrument constructor. His childhood was a simple one, his mother was a housewife and his father developed electrical gauges before becoming a civil servant. Koller is the middle child between two sisters. His parents, his younger sister and he lived in the same room, as there was no living room in their small apartment. Once he completed his studies, he was able to move out of the shared space, in which there were rarely any visitors and friends never came by.

Koller's paintings contain a majestic and mysterious air about them, with light and shadows cascading purposely over the subjects. He is able to draw our attention to the spaces of meaning by accentuating said areas with the use of glares and shades. As a painter, Borris, cannot be categorized or classified into a particular style, as his work branches out broadly across a large gamut of crafts. From one painting to another the theme changes, simply beautiful mountainous landscapes to more sensual or romantic objectives. With great capability, Koller, brings sophisticated feelings of enchantment as well as melancholy to center stage.

Q. Tell us about some of the highlights of your artistic career?

A. I had a big solo exhibition in Munich in 2012 and another one in Edsvik Konsthall in Sollentuna near Stockholm, Sweden in 2013. Also, there is a permanent and rather large painting of mine at the Natural History Museum in Vienna.

Q. What role does the artist have in society?
The artist is a saint, suffering in longing for real art, so that his bones can be worshipped after death. There are artists trying to climb the ladder into a high position at the International Church of Art, and they always play the role of overpaid clowns.

Q. What’s your best childhood memory?
Coming home after a longer stay in the hospital. I had chronic problems with my kidneys beginning at the age of two, and during those years parents were not allowed to visit their children at the hospital. I was not able to move, so I stayed in the bed in the dormitory all day, drawing, and at night the nurses would bind me to the bed in order to collect urine. I was not able to walk when I came out. My family had hung a jumping jack near the entrance of the flat, I remember falling to the ground when I wanted to take a few steps forward, they laughed, but I was home. It smelled of foam rubber.

Q. As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?
A painter

Q. Do you remember the first art you made? What was it and how old were you?
I never wanted to make art, but my colleague and friend, Genia Chef,

convinced me to work on an art installation with him in Berlin in the early 90s. It was a collective exhibition in a fantastic, unaltered house in former east Berlin, near to the wall. I remember my fellow figurative painters looked at me with disparaging eyes (they thought I was an artist), but I got many praises from others. Our installation was about an expedition through a mediaeval tunnel under a cemetery, right below the graves. We collected relics like dirty clothing, a candle, water, and I made a sound installation with recorded material from the stay down there. It was creepy. I learned a lot from my friend Genia about what art is and how it works.

Q. How and when did you first become seriously interested in art?
I am no artist, I am a painter, maybe even a kitsch-painter. My interest for art began with the development of the kitsch philosophy. Suddenly I understood, that I never really made art and the why. It was like escaping from a prison and then studying it from the outside, as in, from articles or books afterwards. There are some memories left, but the view from the outside is rewarding.

Q. Tell us about your particular style and how you came to it?
I have no style and no taste. Taste is a bad habit, because taste changes.

Q. What does your art aim to express?
When you feel the need to express yourself, you should visit the toilet/bathroom as fast as possible. I do not express myself in painting, I do what I have to do and this is a burden.
Q. What personality trait has gotten you in the most trouble?
I believe strongly in and stand for absolute truth, this does not make you popular. I laugh bitterly when I see truth. People around me do not understand why I laugh when I hear a painful story. Nobody can comprehend that my laughing is a sign of pain.

Q. What have you had to sacrifice for this career?
Everything. Family, home, health, the woman I love. Everything, for nothing.

Q. Who are your biggest influences? Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular?
I highly respect Odd Nerdum, the best painter in history.
Windows have had a big impact on me. Windows are the real enemies of painting.

Q. Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
My life is lonely, artists are flocking together, an artist without community is nothing. I am everything when I am alone. In simple terms, I do not need the world, the world needs me.

Q. Apart from art, what do you love doing?
Working is everything, I count the minutes when I have to do something else. I write classical music, I read about history, I am a badass nerd when it comes to my instrument, the nyckelharpa. There is not much time to lose.

Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?
I do not have my own philosophy. I support truth, I do not have an opinion on my own. Kitsch philosophy is the background for my interest in art.

Q. What does 'success' mean to you?
There is no such thing as success. What do people think is the goal of success? The only thing I want to achieve is getting my things done.

Q. What are the biggest things you've learned in life thus far?
You have to hurry up to get things done.

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and by who?
My teacher in school for pictorial education, which is what art class was called then, advised me not to attend the art academy, but you know, I never listen.

Q. What advice would you give to the next generation?
Be a generation, not a rootless crowd, respect your ancestors.


Boris Koller on Kitsch

This episode was produced by Bork S. Nerdrum, assisted by Sebastian Salvo and Nic Thurman.