"Punkte" - Interview Jürgen Leinemann - Scharein

Interview with Günter Scharein, 14.10.2006 in Berlin
Jürgen Leinemann, journalist (Der Spiegel)

Mr. Scharein, with your paintings you bring your life literally to the point. How did you reach this point?

Of course, this wasn’t a conscious act. I came to this point by reducing permanently. … But this was only one part of the process. In my case, the other part has always been a high level of complexity. …

I’d like to find out in how far this creative process reflects your life experience. You were born on April 27, 1949, in Bassum, a small city in Lower Saxony, close to Bremen. What did your father do? And your mother? Where did they come from?

My father and my mother were both refugees. Before WWII Bassum was a self-contained place of quiet and peace with 7.000 inhabitants. …. My mother is from Silesia. My father comes from a place close to Königsberg. The name Scharein also originates from there.

So that was the home of the Scharein family and its many children?

Yes, three brothers within two years, after that a fourth one, the pet of the family, who followed after a break of four years. …

And your father worked freelance as a photographer?

Yes, and this meant he took pictures at weddings, communions, confirmations – everything that could be photographed in such a small town. From an accident victim to a couple celebrating their golden wedding, from births to funerals.

This can’t have been a luxurious childhood...

Those times, the fifties, were very difficult because my father didn’t earn big money with his job. We lived in a very crowded place, six people in a two-room flat. And of course, we were refugees who were having to start from scratch. The cupboards were orange-boxes.

So you were not only an outsider in Bassum, but also in your family?

Everywhere. Even in school. This was because, from early on, I was doing things for myself. … I loved the technical professions. … Everything you could do with your hands fascinated me. Whether I was sitting at my aunt’s tailors, in my father’s photographic laboratory or at the cobbler opposite. I thought that was great.

How politically aware were you at that time?

I was highly interested, highly committed politically. After all, this was the sixties. I was fascinated by history, particularly the implications behind the bare facts. My sports coach also noticed that: „Schari", he said, "why don’t you join us, we read Marx’s Capital and the Manifesto, talk about it and discuss it“. For a time I went once a week ... to Bremen and back 30km to … discuss books with them, all this surplus stuff, everything. That was fascinating for me.

In 1969 you started to study art in Hamburg.

I studied art and crafts. ...

This move away from Bassum and Syke to the art academy in the city – this must have been a major change in your life?

It was very, very big. Hamburg fascinated me so much ... In Bassum the streets were empty by eight at night, the blinds went down… But Hamburg – if you went out at ten, the night life had just started. … I always saw „Berlin – Alexanderplatz“ in front of my mind…: the lights, the cars, the red lights, all really flashy and immediate, boah. Bassum had no red lights.

Nevertheless, in 1970 you moved to Saarbrücken. You didn’t regret that?

Not at all. The basic teaching provided by Oskar Hollweck proved to be very valuable for me. That is to say I realized … that what is most important is to first learn the basic vocabulary of my craft: what are gray tones? What constitutes the volume of an object? I learned to look, not at the coloring, but only the dark-light sequences.

You then went to Berlin, to the HdK, the Hochschule der Künste, the Academy of the Arts.

That was 1972 … in the art education department in the Grunewaldstraße …. I started to work with screen printing. …. I wanted to make use of my workspace as much as I could and turned into a veritable little eager beaver. Some mornings, even the doorman arrived after me.

What did turning away from the realistic mean to you?

When I was 16, 17 years old, this was already … a sore spot for me. My mother was a highly emotional person, and I adopted her emotionality in every form. But at this stage it was very difficult to put my feelings into my work, because then they would be perceived by my friends.

At that time I was really quiet, close-lipped. I didn’t want to reveal my private business. But you always saw it in my works. … And so I started on my path … from the objective and realistic to the abstract.

But you still must have missed something?

At first not at all. … But then I started to develop my paintings in the intoxication of work, in the process, rather than developing them theoretically from formulas. And I had to decide: either follow concrete Swiss Guard, Max Bill, Lohse, and all the others belonging to that school, or follow a Scharein way of my own.

You got to know the then Daimler director Edzard Reuter in 1980, when he was chairman of the Karl-Hofer-Gesellschaft, which gave you a scholarship after your state examination.

He liked my work. I didn’t even know who he was. At that time I was not interested in that. … I had no clear idea what a director of finance is in a company he described as middle-sized. Nor did I know that people thought it strange that an Edzard Reuter was interested in my work.

And he became your artistic mentor?

He immediately accepted me as an equal, as fully-fledged. He was the first person with whom I could immediately talk about my art very, very intensively on a high level. I immediately felt that he could do something with my work. In fact, he himself is highly emotional. ...

You didn’t go into school immediately after study?

…At first I started as a sick-leave substitute – yes, I have always been tentative. But I really enjoyed it a lot. Altogether I stayed eight years in the business and left with a heavy heart.

You have said how much you liked being a teacher. So why did you stop working in school? What prompted you to say „I now want to live from my art“?

The reason was a quite simple one. I taught with warmth and affection, but I always continued to work as an artist, even though I exhibited very little. So I left home in the morning between half past six and seven and returned between one and two o’clock at night. No relationship can bear that, and neither can a friendship.

After finishing teaching you also stopped working in the studio?

For three years I did not touch a brush. In those three years I spent seven to eight months traveling each year?... My first successes made me skeptical rather than confident. Market success? Me? Funny. I was 43 years old and I finally wanted to know: Is that really my work? And what do I want with it? What is important for me in it?

When – point by point – you bring your imagination, your emotions to the canvas, what happens inside you? Are you only focused on the color or on your work? Or does something happen inside you?

I see this as a kind of meditation – it saves me lying on the couch. Doing this I can work through my problem-world…. This is very important for me, and I listen to music while working. Because the processes I use are so work- and time-intensive – requiring intense concentration – real decisions only have to be made every now and then. … Through this process of withdrawing, I have the opportunity to leave everything behind and to come to myself … And if I am in too bad a mood because I have too much other work, my dear wife says to me „Go into your atelier and make points."

ISBN 978-3-8030-3318-5