Meet Ulrich Gleiter (b. 1977, Munich)
1261: Your work has such strength in not only color but brushwork. Would you tell us how this style developed for you?
Ulrich: In my point of view, painting must not be a close description of what’s in front of us. To convey an atmosphere of, say, a landscape or a portrait is much more what I pursue. Before setting out to paint, I like to have a strong idea of my future painting first. During the process, working from nature mostly means selecting and merging with what I have in mind. What do we have available when we paint? Lines, color, values, brushwork, texture. All these can be used quite independently from nature, creating a world of its own on the canvas, guiding the viewer’s attention.
One of the challenges is to realize when something begins to turn out in a painting, even more as we often find the unusual and unexpected more intriguing. Thinking about your question, I could say that my confidence in painting grew together with optimism about life. It takes the same qualities: to be able and to notice areas on your canvas where an order begins to evolve is much easier when one’s attitude is optimistic and not stuck to conventions, just as in life itself.
1261:What brought you, a German artist,to Russia?
Ulrich: That was for the art. Back years ago, when I was looking for a school that could offer me instruction in painting the model every day, figure drawing etc., I visited the annual exhibit of student work at the Repin Academy in St. Petersburg. At that time I was in my undergraduate studies at the Dresden Academy of Art, Germany. Clearly, Dresden was a good start. Ever since my interest in painting became serious, impressionist-realism was what excited me. However, I soon realized this direction deviated from the curriculum emphasized at Dresden for the graduate years. After looking intensively into programs at other European Academies in Poland, Italy, and France, I understood that what was offered in either St. Petersburg or Moscow is what would really get me ahead.
My teachers in Dresden did not exactly encourage this decision, as for it was very unusual, too: at ‘peak’ times, we were no more than three students from Germany at the Repin Academy. In the beginning, I felt myself in a foreign land, but soon began to appreciate that wealth of artists and painting in Russian history, and no longer had the feeling of being homesick.
1261: You talk about the community of painters in Russia with whom you interact. How did that group come together and how had being a part of this group help support and advance your career.
Ulrich: Very natural: we all knew each other from school. During the week, we were painting in the studio, and on extended weekends, we stayed on a dacha (a countryside-house) and painted together. That circle with artists of a similar background has become much smaller now, but no less important to me.
Interaction with other artists is invaluable and these experiences still connect me to Saint Petersburg. For my development, it will be important to find other artists working in the same spirit. Based on my experience, a sizable community exists in the States. I will be glad to build friendships with painters in America.
1261: We talked about a certain romantic notion of Russia, of it being an exotic place with a deep history that other cultures don’t really understand. Does that play into your work?
Ulrich: One of the nice things about Russia is that people can be easy-going. I remember one visit with a friend when I was invited first for a week and ended up staying all of February. After the first week, every member of the family had left, except for the father of my friend. In the evenings, I helped keep the house going with carrying firewood and heat the place. At daytime, I was painting.
You could name it easy-going or down-to-earth: people generally don’t make a lot of words about something. Westerners often mistake this for ‘Russians never smile.’ At school, it took me years to get a positive reaction from teachers. Not because it was bad, but because they expected more. This was hard to live with at the beginning. But I feel this sobering view will always be helpful when looking at my work. In this case, I will owe a lot to this attitude.
1261: Your work has really caught on in America. Do you have the same reception in your own country?
Ulrich: I always saw my work being appreciated in Europe. However, for several reasons, realism tends to receive less attention in Germany than in America. That my work has found good reception in the States gives it more credibility, and that surely helps acceptance in Europe, too.
1261: When you go out to paint, what attracts you to a scene?
Ulrich: Often, I have visited a spot a few times before setting out to paint. And I like to begin with a ‘title’ already in mind, something that hints at what’s happening and what I’ll be working towards. A good way to get ideas for paintings is simply to be in the area for a while and observe at different times of the day. Also, I keep looking at other art constantly. When on the road, I’m often spending the evenings looking at all the photos I did in museums on my computer and I take my most valuable books with me. The same scene can look stunning and worth a painting when you have seen some inspiring pieces of art recently.
1261: Walk us through a typical painting in a timeline fashion: How many days to you work on a painting? Do you sketch outside then head indoors with photos or do you keep returning to the same local until you are done?
Ulrich: Finding a scene and thinking the painting through is already half the work. Commonly, I have many days on one painting. Also, I love to work on a few pieces simultaneously. That way, there’s one for every kind of weather and every time of the day. One hour can be more effective than six hours for one session...in other words, the time needed varies. Every painting demands its own thoughts and takes time to get into it. A day of work without significant, obvious progress is not a lost day. I might have collected some ideas that will later appear in the finished painting, but the canvas was not yet at a stage when ready for these details.
Not every stroke is done on location. At some point, I prefer to paint from memory, unify, rework, scratch out parts. Returning to location on a later day, these often are the most productive sessions. ‘Fixing’ the uncertainties that result while painting from memory and combining them with the freshness that I get when observing nature once again, this raises paintings to a new level.
1261: What are your favorite subjects?
Ulrich: Probably I am without preferences here. However, landscapes do intrigue me. A lot of travelling in the last years (in Europe, Russia and America) exposed me to many new places. I felt challenged and wanted to capture as much as I could.
1261: I know you also paint figurative work but we mostly see your landscapes. Why is that?
Ulrich: That desire to capture all these scenes resulted in my painting mostly landscapes over the past two years. I feel ambitious to paint still-lifes again, as well as portraits that I had in mind long ago.
1261: How does painting in America change your work, if at all?
Ulrich: America has its own distinctive character, landscapes, and portraits. And, there is subject matter which is unique to America. Some might call it ugly, I find it attractive: the billboards, car-dealers, trucks. Painting these subjects is a big wish of mine, especially when I’ve just arrived from Europe and look out the window of my motel the next morning and see bleak car parks, highways, shopping areas. In general, I’m somewhat unsatisfied with myself I haven’t yet really approached these subjects. But I’m looking forward to more time to work in America.