In the Studio with Alois Kronschlaeger and His Modernist Matrices
Alois Kronschlaeger finds his voice in the splicing of space. From his signature basswood-and-ink grids to his large-scale, architectural, and site-specific installations, his works interrupt the air around them and assert their relationship to all three dimensions. By contrasting colors and geometric patterns, his works appear to shift and change as the viewer moves around them.
These gridded forms are fairly new for the Austrian-born artist, who has lived in New York for the past 29 years. His new matrix-like pieces, currently on view at Cristin Tierney Gallery, offer a new perspective on the grid, a form that’s been tried and tested throughout the history of abstract art. I recently sat down with Kronschlaeger in his Greenpoint, Brooklyn studio to talk about his inspirations, his process, and how he connects his viewer to the grid.
Artsy: Why did you choose to pursue art rather than architecture?
AK: I never wanted to be an architect; I love being an artist. I read a lot about architecture and my sources come from architecture—but would I want to design an entire building? No. I would potentially want to collaborate with an architect to design a façade, or to create sculptural interventions between several buildings—I would love that.
There’s a strange thing I heard a couple of years ago. An architect said to me, “You know, you artists can ask questions, but we architects have to find the answers.” But my work deals with space, light, color, how you intervene and activate a space, and how a space can be a combination of both interior and exterior.
Artsy: How did you begin using the grid in your work?
AK: The reason why I ended up with the grid is very simple. Cristin Tierney came to my studio in 2010, and I had a tiny concept model, a mesh ceiling installation that traversed a space in stalactite-like forms. Months later we had a meeting and she said, “Let’s do that ceiling installation.”
I went into it with no idea of how we could actually install it. The space was a former taxi garage with wooden ceiling beams; these rafters were every 36 inches, so I worked off of them. In the end there was the question of “Is the mesh membrane holding up the grid structure, or is the grid structure holding up the mesh?” It was a symbiotic, hybrid juncture that I found really fascinating.
This is how the grid sort of came into play for me, a way to locate yourself within the figure-ground relationship in an architectural environment. Ptolemy, the Greek mathematician, first drew longitude and latitude lines as a way to divide space into increments; it’s the easiest way to map out a space. I also love to think about Superstudio’s Continuous Monument—a massive structure that wraps around the world—or movie references, like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and totally utopian, futuristic things like The Matrix.
Artsy: What is the role of the grid in your most recent works?
AK: Within my new body of work, “Polychromatic Structures,” depending on your vantage point, you witness a grid’s rotation from 2D to 3D, which can be a totally weird experience. The geometry unfolds in incremental stages: three rhomboids forming a hexagon, then one single rhomboid, then one rhomboid consisting of two triangles. In the exhibition, the first room has space for the viewer to back up and experience the work from different vantage points and see color transitions in large proportions. It becomes something you can experience by walking around. The back room is more intimate; you have less space, therefore you’re really in the grid. Your nose is almost pressed up against it.
Artsy: Can you tell us about the use of color in your works?
AK: For me, using color is about how you can push the color fields directly into space. The new color work references the kinetic movement in Venezuela—artists like Alejandro Otero, Carlos Cruz-Diez, and Jesús Rafael Soto—and connects to space through color. Color has a physical presence and it can be layered.
In Mexico City a color-blind man saw one of my kinetic pieces—in which the geometry unfolds on a turning axis and you can stand in one position and see the different colors changing. He told me that he felt that he could actually see the different colors due to the changing geometry. I thought that was really stunning.
Artsy: What is the process behind these works?
AK: We use ink to color basswood sticks. There about 35 colors that I use in my palette, pigments that are usually used as calligraphy ink. I love ink. I think about ink for writing or drawing, but here I’m using it directly on wood—it keeps the edges of the basswood extremely crisp. Right now we are working on a kinetic cube piece, which will go to Lima. It is made of 300 sticks—we have three color variations within the composition and each side has a different color. If you do the math there are 1,200 sides that need to be stained. It can be a tedious process. For the show at Cristin Tierney we constructed five large wall pieces; there were about 15,000 sides that needed to be stained.
As the studio practice expands, new materials come in. One of my kinetic pieces, installed in Mexico City two months ago, was made out of stainless steel. It’s the first time I’ve worked with a fabricator and it was quite a challenge to figure out; we needed 3,000 screws to fasten 300 sticks and he had this ingenious idea to silkscreen the colors. But the works made by hand have a very different feel. How the ink is applied creates beautiful little effects; if the brush is heavily saturated or if it’s almost dry before you refill it, you press harder to increase the tactile quality. It is something you want to see in person.
Artsy: What’s next for you? Where do you see your practice headed?
AK: In the future, I want to continue with the materials that I have been using already, but I also want to incorporate anything new that can serve my practice: glass, metal, stainless steel, bronze, plastic, colored bricks, 3D printing…I’m constantly looking. Each material has its own natural, intrinsic qualities and using, altering, or forcing it into your process is almost like leaving a fingerprint, something that’s left behind.
In a studio practice, you create sculptures that can be sold in galleries and art fairs, but I also love doing commissioned pieces, and permanent installations that can become part of the blueprint stages of a building. So that’s a place where I hope I can grow as an artist and where the studio practice can expand: new challenges and new problems to solve.