Timo Feldhaus: Why do shoes of various kinds come up in your paintings so often? I’ve spotted a whole panoply of sneakers, slippers, and loafers in your work.
Friedrich Kunath: Age-old, banal symbols of abandonment simply have a fetish effect on me. That’s also why there are always, for example, suitcases in my paintings. I’m just stuck with all that, and at some point I realized that it doesn’t have to be a problem. It’s ok.
What does leaving someone or being left behind have to do with shoes?
You’re always leaving, right, and the chances are that you forget something. But you carry on leaving, onward and onward, away. That’s why the shoes are often disproportionately large.
You left Germany in 2007, heading for California. Is there a connection between Chemnitz, the small East German town where you were born, and L.A.?
It likely has something to do with projection: the romantic pull of the West. I’ve always carried it with me, also in the town where I was born, which is known mostly for its low standard of living and high suicide rate. The first time I was in California I was astounded at the scale, the grandeur, the horizon. And the quality of the light. You suddenly notice: there’s so much contrast here—contrast, in the literal sense.
Karl Lagerfeld once said that a good idea doesn’t just show up when you’re lying at the beach, you have to work hard for it.
That makes sense in view of his work ethic, doesn’t it?
You’re meant to say he’s wrong...
Of course I’ve made a lot of my works at the beach. But I know what he means. Lagerfeld is his own capitalist. He thinks self-exploitation is great, so he exaggerates it and makes a spectacle of it in his own persona. He is anti-romantic, anti-nostalgic, because that’s exactly what makes him original within the system of fashion.
In your work you continually play a balancing act with feelings of nostalgia. There’s always a little melancholy, but at the same time you open trapdoors, and make it possible to laugh on the inside.
Nostalgia can be very dangerous. I’m living in 2016 after all. And I don’t at all want to go back, but forward. In the end nostalgia means memory without the pain, and once you’ve realized that, there’s an amazing technique for dealing with it: irony.