Georg Salner is a well-traveled, gifted artist who lives in Vienna, Austria.
His work http://www.georgsalner.net/ is bold,
graphic and highly conceptual. I wanted to find
out about his unique vision and also ask him about life for an artist in Vienna.
don’t speak German, but Georg managed to chat with me in English.
MICHAEL: Georg, I absolutely love your work! Let's start with your paintings. They are
bold and very graphic. They're almost like advertising billboards. What inspires you to
GEORG: First, thanks for the honour of being interviewed. Your question is aiming at the
relatively big - in matters of number and size - complex 'typo.log 36 EXP', which was
a few years ago and which is the last series of works exposed on my website. The reason for
is that I've been working on smaller, identical formats on paper since then. The results are
nearly 180 pieces, each of them created in about one week's time, which are not easily
the frame of my website. Your first question inspires me to complete the archive, also in
matters of ‚spaces’ I was exhibiting in. The archive in itself is of course not complete at
For a long time I've been collecting small splinters, particles and whole pages of magazines.
big number of various photographs, images, objects, designs, typographies, graphic side
words, sentences, (advertising) messages, codes, brands, symbols, signs, logos, icons were
isolated from magazines and mounted in scetchbooks. They are representing a certain personal
view on the artificial world of media, which again represents the globalized world in a very
artificial way. So first I am a fascinated observer and collector before I go to my own
strategies of preparing a series like this.
After rather reduced and minimalist years, I had decided to open up my spectrum of motifs
bigger oil paintings on canvas, a technique to be put into practice for the first time by
some of the small scale materials of inspiration are transformed into big size, found
and my individual inventions go parallel. I wanted to create a world of pure colourfields
my personal choice and variation of colours. I also wanted to create out of strategies of
and Minimalism, but representing various types of classical modernist and contemporary
and typography, which I used nearly intuitively and systematically - to find as many
ideas for a certain number of distinctive paintings.
Oil colour on canvas - what a history. I used my 'motifs' - free of clear meaning,
of texts and special contents - to add a comment to this history by the means of today. At
same time, of course, it's ironic.
The production in my studio is strictly analog, extremely low-tech and the things are made
concentrated handwork. The origin is all digital, we sometimes forget it, but real life is
analog. It's my way to overcome the digital divide, to bring back these overwhelming and
dominating mass of digital elements into reality - the reality of art as it is relevant for
for this series.
Many more things could be said, especially in matters of geometry: rectangle, the order of
square and the circle are the determining factors of this „typo.log“, used in a wide scale
in a huge playground.
One thing is also very important to know with this series: I'm working in a relatively small
studio, normally only a drawing and thinking room. In 2005, I went to Pakistan and crossed
Karakorum into China to travel to Beijing and Shanghai by land for three months on a
journey. It was to complete earlier trips to the Indian subcontinent overland from Central
Europe (first in 1978!), so part of the complete crossing of Asia by land. Before that, I
prepared exactly 36 images, according to the coincidental number of sheets left in a
I thought it was a wonderful number for a unit of paintings with a lot of connotations.
successful return from this globally relevant distant journey, I had the strong will and the
energy to translate the painting's concepts made before in two year’s hard work - also meant
widen, to 'break up' my studio. Long distances, long times of preparation, long processes -
these belong to my work.
MICHAEL: Do I understand correctly when you say your motifs are free of clear meaning? Does
mean you don't have a narrative and you're not expressing specific messages in your work?
the characters and symbols just characters and symbols?
GEORG: Not easy to answer. Yes and no. These characters are typical for our time. I consider
they express our world "atmospherically," because they represent for example big
companies, if not with a typical logo (Nike, Adidas, etc.) then - for example - with some
typical graphic elements you find hanging with clothing as part of the merchandising. It’s a
widely "capitalist aesthetic" that we're part of.
Think of Andy Warhol. He also took the stuff and made interesting pictures out of can
But mine is a more of a minimalist vocabulary and more poetic. It's sometimes an emptied
or organigram or a blindtext, standing e. g. for pornographic advertising. Only a few
punctuation marks are left, numbers (to be dialled for "1-on-1" phone sex) or some fragments
messages. It shows the shape of 'communication design' in a free specific form of painting,
which functions without all of the applied aspects of the model, if existing. A nice reason
cover the surface of a prepared canvas with a nice hot layer or skin of oil colour. (I
use a brush, but a kind of small flexible silicone spatula).
The paintings don't have to be logical on the outside, they follow their own individual
They all have different "meanings," absurd, surreal, but always specific for themselves,
means they are in a way, enigmatically hidden in themselves. At the end, they're maybe a
merchandising logo for themselves, for being sold more efficiently. Haha!
NEO stands for New Entertainment Online, but I say NEO is always up to date. You will find
or H5N1 as parts of a composition or a simple word game with (the German) 'und' and the
(English) 'and.' The und/and/pun (a coincidental discovery!).
MICHAEL: What's your first memory of art? When did you first start drawing and painting? Did
grow up in Vienna? Do you come from an artistic family?
GEORG: After a rather complicated matter, probably more confusing than enlightening,
to only a small, but important segment of my work, I'm grateful for these biographical
MICHAEL: Yes, you are a prolific artist. I can clearly see that.
GEORG: I was born in 1958 (like …Keith Haring, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince and Sharon
Stone…) and raised in the small, high-altitude mountain village Galtür at the Austrian-Swiss
border in the Alps. There is a strange short story by Ernest Hemingway, who was skiing close
my village in the 1920s about it – “An Alpine Idyll.” Still Galtür is a prosperous skiing
resort. It became especially famous in 1999 when a series of avalanches killed 45 people and
American UH-60 Blackhawks (5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment) evacuated thousands of
In the years of my childhood in this gorgeous mountain landscape, there was no art around
the impressive late baroque altar and wall paintings in the village church. No media except
local newspaper and an old radio, TV only came in the 70s.
My father was just a hobby painter and handicraft enthusiast in his younger years, but among
seven children, there were quite a few talents. He was rather surprised and my mother, who
when I was 17, loved it. The art education at my high school was relativey up to date, I
remember having learned of Renaissance art, American art (Pop Art, Edward Kienholz'
environments), Islamic art and so on. It was a boarding school and I started with my own
of 'art' as a more and more fascinating way of an 'inner emigration when I was around 16.'
adolescent works were given affirmation by the art teacher, an artist himself.
After grammar school (with ancient Greek and Latin), I went to Vienna for studying graphics
the Academy of Fine Art, an old institution, where - imagine! - Hitler had tried to study
World War I. As you might know, he was not accepted. For several years, we were three
at the academy in Vienna, later one sister also finished there. She and a brother still are
freelancing artists, the elder brother is teaching art at high school. Another sister has a
small fashion label.
Of course, from the beginning of my studies in the imperial and also more modern Vienna
Loos, Josef Hoffmann) my eyes were opened to a wider horizon. When lots of younger painters
the 1980s in European countries and in the States were becoming successful by just painting
the spirit of this time, I always was also interested in drawing, constructive art,
art (On Kawara) and later the results of upcoming computer art. Not to forget comics and
anonymous street art. I accepted various influences. I enjoyed the works of innumerable
Mondrian, Fernand Leger, the Futurists, Paul Klee, Josef Albers, Marc Rothko, etc..
After Europe (London, Paris, Rome, Berlin) I saw the ornamental wonders in Istanbul and
(Iran), Mazar-i-Sharif (Northern Afghanistan), the Taj Mahal and Kajuraho in India, then
original Tibetan Art and East Asian, African and Pre-Columbian art in museums in these young
years. From that time on, I've been engaged in the old and the very new art - applied or not
all around our globalized world.
MICHAEL: For some reason, you strike me as an academic or college professor. Are you a
artist? Also, how do you manage to travel around so much? What have you learned from
GEORG: Thank you Michael, for your exciting questions. You're giving me good ammunition.
when I'm getting too long. But you know: The mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart.
Yes, I am a full-time artist, which of course is not a contradiction to have some experience
knowledge. They're only fruitful together... Experiences mostly come from "real life." And
real life belongs travelling. As a master of my time and with the ability to travel with
relatively little money it is possible, - but before all necessary to leave my studio every
and then, to leave the city, the country, to leave Europe.
Travelling means variety to studio life, to private life, vivification, freedom, studying,
exploring, photographing, adventures in cities and in stunning nature. Once you have started
travelling as I did in very young years on the hippie trail to India (most people cannot
to have seen Iran of the Shah in 1978 and one year later Iran of Khomeini), you try to
this role model trip ‘forever’. And I stayed curious and found splendid concepts for myself
As you might have seen in 'spaces' on my website, there is an installation called E/O/S, a
- as a whole two by seven meters big - consisting of thousands of little narrowly combined
arranged industrial design objects in 'my' colours red, yellow, black and white (with all
in between, so also a surrogate for a three-dimensional painting).
The whole setting looks like the model of a fantastic city, a megalopolis. One of the first
smaller versions was very much associated with New York (I was there in 1993 and 2003 for a
weeks only). This was a nice side effect. When I reached my last destination, Shanghai, on
mentioned long journey through China (with lots of different, also very old cultural aspects
connected to India) I went to the rooftop restaurant of the Raddison Hotel in the city
What I saw was an incredible déjà-vu of what I had created in my installation, not in
but in the arrangement and shapes of buildings of various sizes.
Last fall, I went to India to study and photograph (in black & white analog) the modernist
capital of the Punjab, Chandigarh, a 1950s Le Corbusier project and in April, I travelled to
federal capital Brasilia and to Rio de Janeiro to work in the same way with the Niemeyer
buildings. Before that, I had produced ten delicate gouaches based on Google pics of the
architectures placed in specially created displays. This shows the intimate connection
the studio work and travelling projects, which are highly based on architecture, art and
A wonderful contrast to the artificiality of our civilized lives in the West is nature and
wilderness. I belong to those who know how to move there. After India, I went to Nepal for
fourth time and did trekking in the highest mountains of the world close to Everest, one of
most breathtaking landscapes in the world. I consider myself extremely privileged to lead
life between superlatives.
MICHAEL: What have you learned about people as a result of travel? What have you learned
GEORG: People are always around you, people from all countries are in Vienna. Formerly, it
very different, although I grew up with tourists from different parts of Europe.
To meet people in their countries (of origin) is totally different. Even if 'No Such Agency'
watching us, I'll tell you a little story about our prejudices. When I traveled to China
four years after 9/11 and one month after the London terror attacks) via the Pakistani
Highway, I stopped at the village of Chilas. I was the only tourist, but in the guest book
the small hotel, I even saw two women from Rochester/US! I had stopped there to see
five-thousand-years-old petroglyphs, rock engravings at the river Indus in desert-like
scenery. I met many friendly people there.
Passing by Nanga Parbat, I went on to beautiful Hunza Valley with Aga Khan followers living
there, a liberal group of Muslims. For example I was invited by a keen young lady for tea,
I was hiking from one village to another and an older man embraced me to welcome me on the
But there people, being astonished, told me, that Chilas is a Taliban region! In the close
Nanga Parbat base camp there was a massacre of Taliban terrorists among climbers last year
police prosecutors were killed in Chilas afterwards. So what did I learn of this? Even in a
Taliban region, you will find friendly and hospitable people. Assumingly, there are only a
radical fellows and if you are really unlucky you'll meet them. Later, I saw the arrogant
Chinese in the western minority regions of the Uigur and Tibetan areas, whereas I also met
friendly, helpful Han-Chinese people everywhere in the 'rest' of China. You learn about
diversity, different manners, languages, tradition and cultural heritage, about common
about simple everyday life, about poverty, about how different you feel on the way - in
and strange surroundings.
When I first saw India and the incredibly poor classes (in 1978, life was much simpler
still is simple and poor for too many), it made my decision to be a freelancing artist at
in one of the richest countries in the world much easier.
Recently when I was in Brazil, I 'fell in love' with the charming people there. I was not
feeling endangered in Rio, only when I saw security staff and police. I met friends in India
in Brazil, with whom I can easily stay in contact with social media nowadays. We're living
one world, but it's endangered. We have to take care of it. I have a guilty conscience,
I'm flying. The only excuse, I don't drive a car.
Look at the trash work E/O/S: It is made of very noble garbage with lots of ‚gold’ in it, to
found somewhere nearly new (some of it also comes from New York) or not thrown away, but
to be thrown away. There is plenty of stuff in our affluent society being produced to 'kill'
In this respect, I know that I'm a guilty victim.
MICHAEL: When you are creating your art, who are you making it for? What's the point of
art? You never know if or when it will sell ... so what's the point?
GEORG: I see you know artists very well. This is again, not easy to answer. ‚The point' is
existing, it's many points. I could reply quickly and say - no risk, no fun. As long it
fun, I'll produce my things. Not too many, because it's not my style and not my 'operation
mode.' I leave myself time to develop my 'products.' My approach is - based on my mentality
also intentionally affirmed - a contradictory attitude to the high-speed of our time and the
mechanical mass-production of pictures. Nevertheless, by working steadily for long times,
are always 'big' numbers of works accruing.
To be in the process of making art is exciting, fulfilling - and it is an appropriate way to
my given time and to forget it at the same time. It's a way to get calm, relaxed and
concentrated, to lose nervousness.
Of course, I make it for myself first, but I'm not only one inside (I love multiple
not only in life in general, but also as a practicing artist) nor am I alone in the outside.
always think of at least one spectator, one recipient in the background, with whom you want
The risk to fail, the risk to be misunderstood, the risk not to be understood at all, the
not to find even one person who shares similar feelings about the work as I have, the risk
to find the ultimate recipient, the one who falls in love with the work and who wants to
the money for it, is not separable from the production.
Let's say, there are plenty of reasons, not to go on working in my studio anymore, as there
always some processes on the way, which do not need a studio. Besides - there is the
my art and the art of others, cooking, having sex, hiking, watching the sky, writing,
What a pity that I have decided to earn money with my art, it makes it terribly profane.
MICHAEL: Tell me about Vienna. Are everyday people there interested in contemporary art? Are
part of the art community there? Shouldn't you be in London or New York?
GEORG: Vienna is a vivid city with a good quality of life (Vienna tops Mercer's quality of
living list), although in my eyes 'the better is the enemy of the good’. As I'm an
environmentalist and aesthete, I find things to criticize every day (I'm punished…),
in matters of architecture and public space design. Vienna is working well as an organized
structure, but you have to have money like anywhere else to have the 'benefits of higher
Theaters, opera houses and concert halls are more popular than the numerous museums here, as
result of long traditions. An American acquaintance of mine from New York City, who was a
neurologist there and who came to live here, says Vienna is great in art institutions. But
recently we lost two smaller, however important semi-private spaces of a bank and an
group (one of them the Generali Foundation). But there still are quite a few international
galleries - well reachable on foot in and around the city centre - and also the main
institutions as the MUMOK, the Leopold Museum, the Kunsthalle, the Kunsthistorisches Museum,
Secession, the MAK, the Belvedere Museums including the Museum of the 21st century as well
the Thyssen-Bornemiza Art Contempory and the Bank Austria Cultural Forum, which all offer
rank international exhibitions.
Outside Vienna, there are new Modern Art Museums in Linz, Salzburg and foremost the KUB in
Bregenz (with a Richard Prince exhibition at the moment), also the Kunsthalle Krems and the
private Liaunig Museum. They all are quite well-accepted, but the atmosphere of London,
Berlin, NY or LA is a bit missing, as far I can judge. There is no Tate Modern and so on,
attracts huge numbers of especially younger visitors.
I myself am known among my colleagues in Vienna and Austria, but far from being famous (who
is?). Partly because of my art and partly by the way I'm being present. The younger ones
their own communities. They mostly only know their professors and the international stars.
part of the village here, but I'm freelancing by my nature and so I am not "employee" of a
gallery. The disadvantage is the lack of an efficient management, which by the way, is also
to get within a gallery. Some say I'm underestimated, that's nice. Some say I could have
resonance in London and NY, you're not the first.
I came to Vienna in the late ‘70s and in the ‘80s I decided to have a family. So I never
of leaving Vienna except for travelling and a few scholarships connected to travelling. To
more important and to get higher prices is a nice idea, but not for the price of losing the
quality of life imagined by me. Maybe I also was too lazy for an international career, not
clever enough, not needy enough and too little entrepreneur.
MICHAEL: Well Georg, your work is great and you’re super-talented. Thanks for chatting.