They are figurative in nature, yet symbolic in approach. They read well from a distance, like road signs, clear and succinct, yet up close the surfaces are carefully layered over time, hiding many decisions and rearrangements beneath highly pigmented oil color. The room gives off an aura both hot and cold, and the red dominates.
“What is the purpose of the red?” I ask Werner at Café Westend over coffee and cake at a small table by the window. His brown hair is slicked back and he wears a midnight blue collared sweater. “Blood,” he replies. “Something animalistic. I think we have some kind of animal behavior, animal instincts. The paintings have animal instincts, but are definitely not animals themselves. Gentle manners, they are well behaved.” All are of the same size, with two meters at the longest measurement. Two are hung vertically and two horizontally, as if to be positioned in perfect balance with each other.
Maybe it is the delicate imagery of heads separated from their bodies that makes me feel like there’s some kind of subdued aggressiveness happening here, a forgivable violence that has something to do with love. “You cannot make painting without violence,” says Werner. “It must have some kind of violence inside. Life has some violence of its own, so if you paint about life, you cannot totally take it off, because you are painting life somehow. There must be a hint of violence, like in life.”
The imagery is made up of simplified line drawings showing only what is necessary to convince the viewer of bodies and heads, like strange cartoons that aren’t filled in. There are always two heads, cut off at the neck without eyes, seen from a profile view, always overlapping, often at the throat. The bodies are more mysterious, could be one or more or less, could be whole, could be broken. Certain parts seem made to fit into each other, like voids; some are more explicit, like in the black and white one, with clear genitalia and breasts. “I want to separate the body from the mind,” he says. “What the bodies are doing is important, but it is another kind of position with the heads. They don’t have to fit the same. They have a strong connection to the body, but a different act.”
There is a calmness to these paintings that shows Werner’s acceptance of the complexity of subject matter he is attracted to; things we cannot stop, like sexuality, fear, love and death. I am reminded of Francis Bacon’s maimed and deformed figures, tortured in empty rooms. Or the isolated melancholia of Edvard Munch. “They are screaming, they are hurting,” Werner explains. “But it is their hurt, they don’t hurt the other. They are both hurting. Not only one or the other. Sometimes one screams for both of them. When one screams and not the other, doesn’t mean the other isn’t also screaming. They are not competitive, they are together. They are not enemies.”
Werner has never shown his work until now. I ask him how it feels. “Good,” he says. “I want more.”
Short Profile on the Artist:
Height: 193 cm
Favorite pastime: I don’t have any hobby. Do I have a hobby? I don’t have any hobby. I really don’t. I’m not collecting anything. No, I don’t have any hobby.
Favorite color: Blue and violette, all different kinds of blues, and all different kinds of violettes.
Favorite café: Let’s say this one, I don’t have any one.
Favorite scent: Parfum? Oh, smell. The smell of the sea.
Best friend: Spirus
Favorite drink: Whiskey, all of them.
How he takes his coffee: Black, only if I’m outside then I take it with milk. But if I’m home, only black.
Cigarettes: Yes, definitely. I am rolling cigarettes.
Musical preferences: Fashion show music.
Do you paint every day? When I start the painting, yes.
What do you think about while you’re painting? Only about the painting, nothing else. Sometimes about death, sometimes love, sometimes sex. Sometimes nothing. Different. Maybe some thoughts for three days, and another three days another thoughts.
Do you work on many at once, or one at a time? No, no, no, only one at a time. Until it gets finished or destroyed.
What do you like to cook at home? I don’t cook. I don’t like cooking at all. Whatever is quick to do. Mostly meat. Make a soup. Fry. Sometimes I eat six times a week meat, or five. Red.
What do you like to wear? Mostly black. Not only black, but on the dark side, dark colors.
How do you sleep? I go to sleep very late, 3am, sometimes 6 or 7, sleep until 11. Then I am drinking coffee and painting. Mostly painting until 3am. When I am not painting, I do boring things.
Do you have routines? I love routines. I really love routines. The morning coffee. To lay down in the midday for half an hour, or afternoon. I have many routines, but now I don’t remember.
Do you go for walks? Yes. I love walks.
How did you end up painting and do you think you’re gonna do it forever? I don’t know. I really don’t know… I don’t know.
About the writer: Lauren Nickou is an American artist and writer living in Vienna. www.nickou.net