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Apropos art & everyday life:
Since 1974, the German artist Peter Dreher has painted nearly 5,000 versions of the same picture: a realistic, life-size image of a plain, cylindrical water glass centrally placed on a blank surface against a white wall.
Peter Dreher “Nr. 44 (Day),” from 1982, in oil on burlap.
Credit 2014 Peter Dreher/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and Koenig & Clinton, New York
Lynne Tillman: You said you wanted something that could be recognized as a piece of art not only in a gallery…I wonder what that means to you?
Peter Dreher: I think painting should be open or recognizable to everybody. Everybody. These little paintings of a glass, everybody can understand. You see a glass, you say, “It’s a glass, it’s a nice painting, it’s realistic.” You don’t feel that you didn’t understand it. But if you want to learn more about it, you can. If you begin to deal with this concept, I think a whole world opens to you. (…) The object, the glass, is a simple, simple thing. An abstract painting is something much more difficult to understand. You have to have a certain education to understand it.
LT: If it were just one glass, I’d agree with you. But when you produce and show hundreds of them, it does become abstract and conceptual. It raises many issues. You can think about the glass as a kind of container of ideas, you can think about the glass being half full or half empty, a kind of philosophical statement. The project’s also about art history—painters have been painting still lifes for a very long time.
PD: If you do it a hundred times, people will ask themselves, “If he does it a hundred times, it cannot be to portray the glass. It must be something else. And what is it?” It’s just what I see, and I don’t see a glass, I see a painting. I see the work of a painter.
Peter Dreher “Nr. 0,” from 1972, in oil on burlap.
PD: My idea was only to paint something in the way painters did 35,000 years ago, say they painted elephants. Then, when the work was finished, it was forgotten. They had to do the painting again and again and again. So it was one, then five, then a thousand. But the idea was not a series. The idea was just a lifetime, doing something in your lifetime, doing it with concentration, and showing that it’s not necessary to change the reason, the motive.
Peter Dreher “Nr. 2469,” from 2009, in oil on canvas
PD: I saw a film of a Zen Buddhist master. The interviewer asked him, “What is your task?” He said, “To become a dog.” I think that’s a great idea. Because a dog has no intention of influencing anybody. I think you know what I mean.
LT: Yes, I do. There’s a joke going around: “In cyberspace, nobody knows if you’re a dog.”
PD: Today I told Lucio Pozzi a story of “the frog who fell into the milk.” The frog was afraid to drown. He was working with his feet, very fast, to keep his head above the milk. So he made butter and then he had an island he could sit on. That’s what we, I, do.
LT: I’m still fascinated by the idea that you paint the glass everyday.
Peter Dreher (b. 1932, Mannheim, Germany) studied at the State Academy of Fine Arts at Karlsruhe from 1950 to 1956, and was Professor of Painting at the State Academy, Karlsruhe, from 1968 to 1997. The artist lives and works in Wittnau, Germany.