Thomas Kalthoff, MOT International, London, United Kingdom



January 10 – February 15, 2009

MOT International founder Chris Hammond interviews artist Thomas Kalthoff.

“One cold April afternoon in Cologne I spent a few hours at the studio of an artist I had recently been introduced to. We drank coffee and ate large slabs of gateau whilst discussing painting, Palermo and the Cologne scene in the 1980’s and 90’s. All the while I was flicking through a large pile of photographs of the artist’s work from the last few years, all of which were quite remarkable. What was more remarkable was that Thomas Kalthoff, despite being friends with Krebber since the late 1970’s and having mixed with many of the German heavyweights from the Cologne period, was little known outside his close circle of friends. Even more remarkable was that he had quite happily kept his work to himself for all these years. This exhibition of new works by Thomas Kalthoff at MOT INTERNATIONAL will be the artist’s first in the UK. Below is an abbreviation of our conversations around his work, but viewing this work is the only way to discover Thomas Kalthoff.


Chris Hammond: When did you start to paint the cube\box and what is its’ significance in your work?


Thomas Kalthoff: I started to paint monotone grey boxes on small canvases around 1992-3 for the Friesenwall 120 exhibition. At around 1995 I painted lots of organic formless canvases using only three colours. This developed into grids, rectangles and squares. I rediscovered and started painting boxes again in about 2002.

The significance: I remember that I was very early (1979) inspired by packing cases of washing machines and refrigerators. This not necessary as art but its’ imposing presence in the room. I did not immediately follow this up since I was not interested in commenting on design or packaging at all, but its ambiguity. When I re-discovered the boxes in the 90’s I wanted to explore this vacant quality I had earlier discovered.


CH: What made you move to rendering the boxes as sculpture? Also how do these works relate to the paintings?


TK: I started to make the 3D boxes around 2004. While I had been painting these boxes I had often brought my groceries back from the supermarket in cardboard boxes and they seemed to accumulate in my house. One day it occurred to me to build, out of wood, a 3D version of what I’d been painting. The result fascinated me and I built more to explore this dimension. This in retrospect seems to be a completely natural development. The boxes and paintings are of equal value.


CH: Could you tell me a little about the method of display, the use of home made tables and plinths?


TK: I felt it was very important that every box needed space all around it, It is not just a question of presenting the boxes more officially. The boxes in the paintings for example have to have the space around it. They need their own space. Similarly the 3D boxes could sit on the floor or on a white plinth, but that didn’t seem to be enough. Each box needed its’ own unique stand or table to be displayed on. I felt this accented the character of the boxes.


CH: tell me about colour in the work, do you consider yourself a colourist? Where do the colours come from?


TK: I don’t consider myself to be a colourist. I am not interested in the beauty of the colours themselves. My choice of colour is extremely related to a tension between harmony and discord, accord and disharmony in the relations of the colours to each other. This tension is to find a balance in the colours in each image or box where the colours resonate with each other. I use colours to get a result that creates both conflict and resolution.

There is no model that I use to choose and select the colours. I have a palette of fifty colours and I mix them sometimes with each other but mostly I use them straight from the tube or mix them with white.


CH: How do you place your work in relation to Palermo or anyone else?


TK: I find it very difficult to compare myself to someone who is so well known. I find a great affinity with artists where their work is monochrome and/or the form simple. For example Palermo, Morandi, Tuymans, On Kawara, Zobernig, E. Kelly, De Keyser, West, Gober.


Thomas Kalthoff was born in Essen in 1954. He started studying mathematics in Berlin 1975 – 1976 before changing to art school and in 1979 went to art school Karlsruhe for 1 semester, meeting Michael Krebber. Back in Berlin Kalthoff saw, for the first time, a catalogue by Palermo and everything changed. He found it impossible to paint and spent much of the 1980’s traveling or working in various jobs. In 1988/89 He moved to Cologne, where his friends Krebber and Strothjohann introduced him to the scene there and he was able to start painting again. In 1993 he had his first solo exhibition with about 20 grey box- paintings(fuse- boxes ) and 3 Wittgenstein- house paintings. In 1997 he was in a group show at Galerie Daniel Buchholz with small house paintings and in the same year started to make the grid paintings. In 2002 he had a couple of two-person exhibitions at kjubh Kunstverein. (with Strothjohann) and from this time on was painting mainly the box motif. Kalthoff has remained elusive over the years, showing rarely apart from a few group shows such as at Galerie M 29 in Cologne in 2004. Choosing not to self promote and to concentrate solely upon his work makes Kalthoff unique and this is a great opportunity to discover an artist who has, until now, remained hidden.”