Studio Visit with Olaf Kühnemann

Olaf Kühnemann is the new painting instructor at the Berlin Drawing Room. His first workshop will be the Intro Painting Workshop starting January 8 followed by Creative Painting Workshop starting February 19, 2020. He is also a wonderful artist and experienced teacher, having started painting as a small child and teaching in 2004 in Israel. We caught up with him in his studio, which happens to be in the same building as the Berlin Drawing Room, while he was preparing for an upcoming exhibition. His work is now on view within the exhibition Navigating Berlin: Perspectives on Cartography until March 1, 2020.

BDR: What was your first painting experience? 

Olaf: Very very early! My parents are Anthroposophists and according to their beliefs art, and especially painting, has a therapeutic meaning. So this idea of painting was kind of like “healthy food” my parents gave me. Something very positive. The very first time I remember myself painting was in my early childhood with watercolors, accompanied by the ideology of anthroposophy. I had my first professional experience at ten years old when I met my first art teacher in Israel and this was very meaningful because from that point I stopped “playing with painting”  in order to become his assistant.

BDR: Can you tell us a bit about your creative process throughout the years? Why and how you did a transition from painting photographs to abstraction and free association painting? 

Yes, at some point I started looking at family photographs and copying them with watercolors. My family background is a bit complex, I have german and Israeli family. So I started to look at photographs to try to understand and paint the story. This was 12 years of work on photographs. Then in 2009 I moved to Berlin and slowly there was a gradual shift and transition in my interests, my ideas. Now I try to not look at any photographs or any exterior images and just work very impulsively, from my imagination. I work on many paintings at the same time. The process of working small on paper is very free. You can see themes but all is invented. 

BDR: How would you define your work? 

Olaf: I can’t define it! But I think this is my definition. For me often defining something is like killing it! For me painting is something that’s very alive. But till then I want to keep it open and I try to really play with painting and try a lot of things, contradicting things,…

BDR: What made you decide to teach art? 

Olaf: Teaching is actually a learning experience, you have to constantly think and talk about and exercise again and again. You have to think every time how to bring the information in a very clear way to people who are not necessarily passionate about painting or drawing. It’s a privilege to get paid for speaking about what you love doing. Teaching it’s a gift to me in that sense.

BDR: How does your studio practice inform your teaching practice?

Olaf: While in the studio there is a kind of hopefulness that drives me to tackle questions of painting and drawing again and again, experimenting with different materials, struggling with disciplines, looking and thinking. I am never fully confident about anything that I make. This state of not knowing is a drive and constant motivator to learn through trying, which becomes a very real and interesting theme when teaching.

BDR: What advice would you give to your future students or anybody starting with painting?

My tip would be to find ways to turn off the brain a little bit to find a good relationship between the brain and eyes. Training the brain to do that can be difficult but if you can do it, you open so many possibilities; not only in painting and drawing but how to perceive life!

Join Intro Painting Workshop at the Berlin Drawing Room January 8 – February 12, 2020 with Olaf Kühnemann!

Visit Olaf’s Instagram page to see many examples of his wonderful paintings!