Q&A with Pascal Johanssen

Che Min Hsiao, Conquistador

Aficionados of the illustrative and graphic arts will be thrilled to know that Illustrative, the international art show, will be taking place once again in Berlin from tomorrow till 8 September. Boasting works from over two hundred illustrators, the festival venue for this year is the Direktorenhaus (Berlin-Mitte), which is located in the heart of the creative capital. The different components of Illustrative 2013 make for a very compelling visitor experience: curators Pascal Johanssen and Katja Kleiss have included paintings, drawings and even three-dimensional works as part of the show. In particular, the show focuses on the relationship between craft and design, and also pays homage to Polish visual art along the theme of “Where I Come From”. We speak to Johanssen about what makes this year’s Illustrative so special.

Was there anything about this year's selection of illustrators that stood out in particular? Can you tell me more about the process of choosing over 200 illustrators - what were you looking out for?

The selection process takes one year – what we look for are the artists amidst all the designers. Illustrative is not similar to any other illustration fair, it's a pure art show for illustrators, visitors from all over the world and art collectors. A vast majority of the people who seriously deal with illustration, for example collectors who consciously buy more art than they need, enter the kingdom of illustration through a side door. They are in search of something out of the ordinary, a special something as opposed to the art they would find in an average gallery. What they’re looking for could be something that reminds them of their youth, like comics or animated films. Yet they are confused when confronted with illustrations in galleries - is this supposed to be art? Yes, it is, and Illustrative Festival is showcasing this selection. 

I understand that the 2013 edition of Illustrative Berlin includes 3D works as well. What do you hope to achieve by diversifying the range of visual languages showcased at the festival? 

What collectors value about illustration are the legibility of the works, the technical finesse and that certain emotion radiating from it - be it a drawing or a 3D work. Animation is illustration in motion, paper sculptures are illustration in 3D. Our understanding of illustration is not the one from the 19th century anymore. The more practice one gains in observing original works of illustration, the more insight one gets: first of all, illustration is art, but it is also a craft which is deeply rooted in the traditions of the artistic movements from Art Nouveau to the Bauhaus. We can observe the individual impact of images both in illustration as well as in the "liberal arts" - it can dissolve after a short amount of time or occupy one's thoughts for years. Such powerful images can take form through different media.

What would you say are the highlights of Illustrative Berlin 2013?

In my opinion, the overall highlight of the works on display is the striking impression that they leave. A piece like "Shame" by Massimiliano Grandoni seems abstract, yet physical, almost as if the illustrator used Photoshop to skim layers off a classic Vermeer painting until only a shimmer of marble is peeking through.

Tell us more about Poland, the "Guestland" of this year's festival. Why Poland, and what about Polish illustrators do you find most fascinating?

Polish poster art has always been included within the canon of graphic art. But how about the current Polish scene? I’m very happy about the exhibition and curious to see how new Polish creators become internationally visible. It’s time to venture into the environments of different nations and immerse ourselves in diverse art scenes.

Illustrative Berlin is on from 31 August to 8 September.

Illustrative Berlin, Direktorenhaus, Am Krögel 2, 10179 Berlin

All images courtesy of the festival organisers.

Billboard: Vescom
Billboard: Vescom

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