LUXOS met Winston at his Berlin apartment, in one of the regal tile buildings lining former East Berlin’s Karl-Marx-Allee. This architectural development along a wide boulevard originally known as Stalinallee, was a monumental project built in the 1950s to project the idea of the German Democratic Republic’s postwar prosperity. Chmielinski’s apartment is also his studio, where he produces the paintings for which he is most well known. His work has been shown internationally, including his recent participation with the textile-based artwork Melting as a Model, That’s All in the Antarctic Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale.
Do you think of yourself mostly in terms of your painting, or is it more complicated since you’ve been doing lots of work in the last couple of years in other media?
It’s complicated. When I was first presenting myself as a painter, it was almost unconscious. I got a following on the Internet, pre-Tumblr, making paintings while still in school, and then a shift happened and I started living off of my paintings. That’s when I began to feel a little hesitant to say I was a painter. It's an internal struggle I have.
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Because then you felt like you were trapped in the label?
I did, because there were other interests that started to pull my attention away from the paintings, and I didn’t want to hear myself limit the possibilities for my process. Every time I said ‘painter,’ it was like being sealed into a box, and I was doing it to myself. It took me until the last two years to have something else besides paintings to show. As I have been doing other projects – installations and collaborative performances – it’s made me respect my paintings so much more. In the end, you can’t get around the ‘painter’ label, because every time you paint, you are engaging with all of that history. Not just with the canon of painting, but also with the fact that painting has been a fundamental part of human expression since the beginning of humanity.
And people are of course still interested in paintings.
Yes, and I don’t think people change that much. There are trends, but there’s also the fact that you’re in a body, and when you see a body, you relate to it. I’ve spent my time as a painter trying to open up that body so that when it comes back together, it’s more integrated. That’s exactly what my paintings have done, if you look at them from the beginning to now. They’ve been exploded, and now the figure is back, but I truly believe that it’s more alive, because I’ve really pushed it to its limits.
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What inspires you most about Berlin?
I’m inspired by how inspired people seem to be here. If you go to any weird panel discussion or art intervention, there are people who are loving it. It means that when I go out there and take a risk, even if the results aren’t perfect or what I wanted, people will still come and try really hard to get something out of it. That kind of support is really beautiful and rare. People here know how valuable that kind of community is: they have usually come from cities where it’s been lost. Everyone’s pushing to keep the pace artificially slow in terms of the city becoming too much like any other capital. For so many of us, this is our second life.
For more about Winston’s work and upcoming exhibitions and projects visit his site.
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