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Interview: David Ernst

Updated: Nov 25, 2019

I've been a fan of David Ernst's work for a few years now. Having discovered him on Tumblr and hitting 'Follow' instantly, I admired how he play around with lines and colours fearlessly, merging geometry, conceptual art and a touch of madness in visually delicious ways.

Last week, I saw his new ink on photograph series, where he painted/sketched over analog photographs collected from here and there. I messaged him on Instagram regarding an interview, which he gladly agreed to do.

In conversation with David about his delightful series:

What got you started on the recent ink on photo series, which is starkly different from your usual style?  Indeed it is different from what I’ve done before. My work used to be more abstract and chaotic. The composition always had something fragile as if they could collapse anytime. It was in a different mindset. I knew that I would soon grow out of it.

I’m now more confident and less anxious. So I first started expressing that with art through colours and clarity. I've always painted on photographs using other techniques and with different intentions. I think this series has the intention to make the viewer feel good.

Tell us about the recurring character(s) you've been bringing to life throughout the series. Well, it started around a year ago. I was tight on money then, depressed all day and my partner was living in a different country, so I felt very lost being in a big city. One night, I grabbed me some markers, walked around my neighborhood and started to draw some smiley faces on the walls to cheer myself up. It gave me such a feeling of relief! Running down the streets, I felt like I own this place. A sort of  Make yourself feel at home moment.

The next day, I would pass by those smileys and it brought me so much joy thinking "I did that!". Not only did it make me happy but people soon started to recognise my little tags, and it would make them feel happy as well. Friends would come to me and say, "These sweet fellas just made my day!" And to me, that’s the greatest thing. So I continued doing it, eventually moving to photographs as my canvas. To be clear, these characters don’t have a name or a gender nor do they have to. They are there for you and everyone! 

On what basis are you picking these analog photographs? Did you click all of them? I did take some of them myself with my camera. A lot of times, I also look out for photographs in old books, prints, postcards, etc. until I find something I can work with. I always look for images that feel warm or kind of neutral to me, so I know that if I add this and that, it will evolve to a particular mood I want to create.

What tools are you using to create these? Also, is the creative process spontaneous or planned? I like to work with either water colour or acrylic paint/acrylic-based markers. I love the translucency and texture of these mediums. It makes you feel like you're looking at a painting rather than a stiff graphic applied on a photo.

I wouldn’t say I plan everything but when I look at a blank canvas or photograph as a background, I feel like I know what I have to do in that moment.

Is this series making you look at images in a whole new way? Are you visualising possible additions to every photograph you see? Definitely! To me, it’s like a little game I play in my head looking out for those possibilities. Of course it can’t be applied on every image, but that is what makes it so exciting.

Is it more fun to work with photographs, or just create mixed media artworks like this? That’s a hard one. Working with photographs feels like a collaboration with the reality we have, that we see with our eyes but with limitations involves. The process itself feels a little easier to make on paper or canvas directly. In the latter, I can build my own reality with my own rules but it’s harder to tell when it’s finished. Do you feel like you're onto something? Are you going to continue exploring this style? I sure will. It now feels like I’m not painting only for me anymore, as I mentioned earlier. It feels good seeing how people are reacting to my current work. They tell me how it cheers them up, or how they see themselves or someone else in it or how it reflects where they want to be.

What got you into art? Are you self-taught? My mum is an art teacher, my uncle is a photographer and his wife is an artist as well. I've been surrounded by them all my life, so it was the most natural thing to paint and express my thoughts and ideas through art. Eventually, I went to art school  but mostly, I've taught myself. What's next for you as an artist?

Well, well, well. I cannot tell you too much about it but I’m currently working on a project with some friends of mine. Something big to get exited about. You will see soon enough. ;)

Follow David's beautiful work on Instagram.


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