How do we cross the threshold into genuine expression? To free ourselves from stigma and mores. To be able to simultaneously absorb inspiration from others while also blocking it out to translate one’s own vision onto the canvas, the page, the album, the screen. It is with this sincerity that New York painter Florian Krewer’s work begins to take hold. Fluid brushstrokes form scenes of tension, tenderness, and fervent desire. A cathartic experience, which Krewer describes as, “a process of honesty and [of] seeing and implementing my feelings.”
Growing up in a small town in the West of Germany, Krewer didn’t care much for school. An alternate path led him to a three-year apprenticeship as a house painter. This was a deeply challenging period in his life, but one that pushed the artist to consider his future, eventually prompting him to enroll in an architecture program in Cologne.
At 24, Krewer went on to attend art school at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he studied under Scottish painter Peter Doig. Slowly he began to develop a vibrant visual language of his own, one in which obscured figures, people, and animals emerge in street-level ardor. While at times flirting with the absurd, Krewer’s practice allows him to be vulnerable—to explore and process emotions. “Painting is my medium,” he shares frankly. “It’s my language of expression. I don’t think about anything else.”
Now, just shy of 37, Krewer is in the midst of a year that has seen three solo exhibitions including Michael Werner Gallery in New York, the Aspen Art Museum—his first solo institutional show in the US—as well as a forthcoming exhibition at M WOODS in Beijing. We sat down with Krewer to discuss connection, lust, community, New York, motifs, and memories.
What have you learned about yourself lately?
Well, I have the feeling that I’ve become a bit more irritable at times. I think at the moment we are in such a stressful phase of change, with problem after problem in the world we live in right now. I myself feel a little bit ripped away from life, because it feels like everything, everywhere, all at once is pulling me in all directions. Apart from living in the USA, the fact that Russia has started a war in Ukraine, in Europe, is super shocking. Because of the media, the war feels very abstract most of the time, but this is very close to home, and one feels it so acutely in Germany.
And then in my immediate environment, I have the feeling everybody just works, works, works just to get by. Despite that we live a privileged life, considering, the question is: What is quality of life? I don’t think consumption is satisfying in the end. There just seems to be such general fatigue. So I like to withdraw, and I’ve noticed about myself that it is enormously good for me to spend time with real friends, and everything that goes in that direction. I don’t hang in the art world; that doesn’t do me any good. I try to conserve my energy during the week, then sometimes I let it go, and then let it push me again.
How do you think about connection in your work as it relates to both community and lust?
My experiences that I take with me, and that move me, my interests, things that are close to my heart and relevant to me, are all part of the painting process. There is definitely a connection between desire and community, especially in New York where the communities also differ from borough to borough. On the one hand there is anonymity, on the other hand it’s intimacy that makes these communities—moving back and forth between these two extremes. I would say it is a real mixture of things, also in terms of sexuality, that seep into my work, and I think you can see that.
What prompted your move to New York during the pandemic? How do you feel the city has impacted your practice?
For me there’s something super wild about the Bronx where I’ve lived since coming over from Europe. Because everything is a little tougher, and people here are still predominantly working class, but it also has something loving. It’s rougher so to speak. And the roughness has something to it that is interesting; it feels new, raw, and very direct. It’s so boring to live up to society’s expectations, to pack yourself into such a small box, trying to match what people think of you. That’s not for me. It has nothing to do with life.
I believe there is also a big generational difference. The older generations are much more rigid than the younger generation. I think the younger generation is much more open about sexuality, and being together is so much more important than exclusion. Sure, it always depends on where you are, but I generally believe that the way people deal with things nowadays is much better than it used to be. Having moved here has helped a lot in that regard. I feel more accepted here and can be more myself. During the pandemic, the first five weeks were tough. Very brutal with the complete lockdown and then me being sick right away. I didn’t see anyone, except the mail carrier. I was grateful to talk to him. As soon as I recovered, the city became super exciting and interesting, and I definitely had a good time.
I’m interested in the themes of duality in your work and the tension that it can bring. Can you speak on the roles that humans and animals play in your work?
You could say animals have certain properties, they can represent personality traits and function like avatars. They live out their instincts freely, which we suppress. So in my work they sometimes are like companions or counterparts, representing certain feelings and moments.
I’ve heard that many of your paintings start from photos or memories. How do you think about what visual elements and emotions to draw from these moments?
Painting gives me the greatest possible freedom and allows me to bring any memories or feelings together. I can mix it the way I want, and in such a way at that very moment, that it can convey the longings I have. For me it’s a process of honesty and [of] seeing and implementing my feelings. Sometimes a motif or a moment stays on and is still burning in me and I paint it more than once in different constellations. I notice it still captivates me. And sometimes I only paint something once.
I absorb all the emotions, and so it always feels good to implement these, it grounds me. It could be anything, a sexual experience, which we would always assume would be positive, but isn’t necessarily so, for example if it doesn’t go the way you anticipated it. And sometimes it’s mundane things, just experiences on the street, in daily life. Even if an experience has been a negative one for me, my studio gives me the freedom to work through it. So at least after I have dealt with it, I feel better, and it brings me distance and clarity.
Do you feel like painting is enjoying a contemporary renaissance?
To be honest, I think a lot of things in painting are being repeated right now. Of course, we people repeat ourselves—with always a few new things coming in along the way. But I think right now there is so much painting, and the market is greedy, that the medium almost receives too much attention and becomes less about true passion. I believe that painting would probably be more interesting if there was a little less focus on it right now.
You trained as a house painter before you entered the fine arts realm. What drew you to the trade? I’d be curious to hear how you felt that experience influenced your work or work ethic?
The first shift from house painter to architecture school was actually much tougher than my shift to the art academy later on. It was hard to learn to express myself and find the right vocabulary at first, because I didn’t know how to, and the students in the architecture world had a different background and upbringing. But my architecture professor was interested in my work, and that changed things in the environment for me.
Our society can be brutal: when you are successful, everybody comes up to you, and when you are not, you are a nobody. By the time I went to art school at 24, I had learned how to focus, work hard, and have general discipline. That is so important. Painting is my medium. It’s my language of expression. I don’t think about anything else.
Written by Bennett DiDonna