‘When I was still at the Academy, I was very focused on imitating, but I quickly saw that I did not excel at it,’ says visual artist Timon Hagen (1957). He graduated in self-portraits and portraits of friends. “All painted from observation.”
In his studio in Amsterdam, he displays his work, which is striking for its size: ceramics with small figures, as evidence of minor human incapacity. A notebook contains small, autobiographical drawings in which he tries to capture the essence of the subject by leaving out a lot. That he, together with the author Andrea Travaglia, made the smallest art history book ever, Art thread from AZis therefore not surprising in that light.
Hagen finds his own imagery in the minuscule of everyday life. “I started drawing early on about what I had experienced myself. First in pencil, but I wanted to make something that was easy to reproduce.”
While gestures seem to get bigger and bigger in art, there are two antique cabinets in Hagen’s hall that are filled with tiny drawings on wafer-thin porcelain. Colorful skaters, two men on high lifeguard chairs looking at each other, a figure with a golden suitcase: they are on the edge of the zeitgeist. Postage stamp size, sometimes slightly larger, the pictures in the cabinet tell a story built up from anecdotes and metaphors from Hagen’s environment.
He explains in the book how Hagen’s cupboards provide a lot of space for your own associations Art thread from AZ in a clear way, concepts such as grant (grant), instrumentalism and digital media art from. The paper book came about after Hagen made the first version of the book in tiles during a 2020 residency at the EKWC ceramics center in Oisterwijk. An art story arose naturally on the basis of his diary. Hagen: “The documents were not directly related. Then Andrea Travaglia and I decided to make it an alphabet, then you have a line.”
That line brings surprises. Take the lemma for example fitness center, which you do not directly associate with art concepts, but which nevertheless manages to find its context in the book. Furthermore, each ceramic page is a work in itself. Some drawings lie on the tile and create layering. For example, there is a porcelain teapot with small holes and waves, each consisting of a different layer of ceramic.
In addition to being a visual artist, Hagen is also a student advisor at the Dutch Film Academy in Amsterdam. During the manufacturing process of Art thread from AZ he had his students in mind. “When I was at the academy myself, you could make a nice painting, and that was good. Today’s students are expected to reflect, to be responsible for their own learning process. You must be able to write a project proposal and explain why you have chosen it. It wasn’t like that thirty or forty years ago. Why did you do something? That question was not asked at all. It came too close or was seen as irrelevant, at least in my opinion. Now it’s more important because you can’t understand some works without explanation.”
Hagen sees Art thread from AZ as a kind of handbook for the (young) artist. “I felt that every topic in the book could be a lesson. You can talk to the students about any topic, about what the subject means to them and what layers there are in their work.”
To keep the book accessible to a wide audience, Hagen did not only use examples from his own environment. For example, he chose Wim T. Schippers’ peanut butter floor by the ‘C’ in it Conceptual art. “The peanut butter floor is familiar to most people,” says Hagen. “It’s nice for the reader to have something to hold on to.”
The E is for ‘entertainment’ and on that side is a photo from the Rijksmuseum of a sign with a hole to stick your head through for a funny picture. “If art does not provide enough enjoyment, art museums sometimes add elements of entertainment” is next door.
Why did you do something? That question was not asked at all
“Art really should be entertainment,” says Hagen. “It has to offer something beautiful, a lovely experience or a terrible one. With beauty you draw someone into a work. You can deliver a terrible message, but only if you package it in a nice way will the message get through. You can also say: art must seduce. Perhaps it is better phrased.”
What Hagen does is no small thing. He is currently working with felt and two large pieces of fabric hang on the wall in his studio. A cut out space in the felt creates the image. Hagen has previously made his large-format drawings out of polyester and plywood, but he developed an allergic reaction to these materials. He also uses the clear imagery that emerges from his diary drawings in his larger work. “Why do I make things the way I make them, or what is the source from which I draw?” Hagen stops for a moment, smiles. “It’s fun or exciting to think about it. Meanwhile, you don’t need all those questions to make art, it’s a bit of a paradox.”