The James Gleeson oral history collection

James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists

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Blau, weiss, gelb, rot [Blue, white yellow, red] 1975
Drawing, Watercolour, Technique: watercolour
image 51.4 h x 36.8 w cm
sheet 65.9 h x 49.9 w cm
Gift of the artist, 1979
more detail

Gunter Christman

27 November 1979

James Gleeson: This medium is it watercolour or gouache?

Gunter Christman: This is watercolour. I used a couple where I had silver gouache, but mostly watercolour. Watercolour I had started in Berlin. I have had sort of a bit of scare with watercolour, mainly through the incredible skill in some Australian watercolour and English watercolour. That sort of frightened me away and the paper and all that. When I was in Berlin, the studio I was in—a complex of eight studios—was linked with the Brücke Museum. The caretaker of the Brücke Museum was the same guy for our building. I got to know him very well. So I was able to go to the Brücke Museum as often as I liked sort of, for half an hour or an hour in the afternoon or something. I spent a lot of time in the Brücke Museum. Also, I realised then that I had a great affinity with the expressionists. I had, say, up to 1970, yes, I had been schizophrene in my division between the constructed and the emotional.

James Gleeson: Yes. Now these become much more clearly emotional, the brush strokes, yes.

Gunter Christman: Yes. One night I went to dinner there with Yarmi Postigy and some other people, and after dinner he took us into the storeroom of the Brücke Museum and pulled out these drawers and there were watercolours by Schmidt-Rottluff, Heckel, Kirchner, et cetera, without glass or anything.

James Gleeson: That would be marvellous.

Gunter Christman: I realised a matter of factness, the straightforwardness of these watercolours, and that took my scare away. Also, by that time I had painted all the paintings I used for the show and I wasn't selling anything. I realised that everything I do there I have to take back. So I went and bought a whole set of handset red sable brushes and watercolours. Another thing that I noticed was that they weren't using watercolour paper or any kind of expensive paper. They used the most readily available paper which is white Ingres drawing paper. Almost all of them; almost all Heckel watercolours on white or slightly toned Ingres paper.

James Gleeson: Is that so?

Gunter Christman: So I started off buying different types of papers and found that the easiest one was Ingres paper, in fact. I used them in the same technique that I have done with canvases before. I covered boards with polythene, then impregnated the underside of the paper with clear acrylic which stuck the paper down, kept it flat, and I carefully tried of course not to get any acrylic on the front of the paper wiping it off while it was wet. It would dry then, stay flat without crinkles or anything. I was able then to use it right up to the edge, and when I was finished I was able to just peel it off, you know. The paper would be preserved through the acrylic and I could paint on a flat surface.

James Gleeson: You wouldn't get these wrinkles that would normally happen with watercolour.

Gunter Christman: I realised then the trick to watercolour wasn't so much the type of paper you have, rather the knowledge of the paper. To, say, stick to one paper and get to know that very well and keep using that.

James Gleeson: Yes, I see. So you did the underside of the paper with clear acrylic and put it down on board, and then worked on it—

Gunter Christman: Worked on it when it was dry or any way I wanted without any—it would stay flat all through the process.

James Gleeson: Now, did you have to wait till the acrylic dried before you peeled it off, or would it come off—

Gunter Christman: Oh yes, it would have to dry. I couldn't peel it off. If I peeled it off before it would—

James Gleeson: Buckle.

Gunter Christman: Buckle, yes.

James Gleeson: I see.

Gunter Christman: Where is it? There is one watercolour—oh, it must be in this (inaudible).

James Gleeson: It might be in that, yes, the one that you've given us as a gift.


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