Fré Ilgen

Berlin, Germany | by May 29, 2013

Fré Ilgen’s stu­dio is mas­sive. Located in the town of Span­dau just west of Berlin, the for­mer fac­tory turned ate­lier is filled with metal based mix media sculp­tures and large scale paint­ings on can­vas. He and his wife Jacque­line (who is his full time man­ager) wel­comed me into this space on a bit­ter cold Decem­ber day. I pulled up in a rented Mini Cooper through a dirt alley that led to the back of a large indus­trial brick build­ing. Both Fré and Jacque­line greeted me at the gate and ush­ered me into the cav­ernous space where strong cof­fee and pret­zel bread were wait­ing. Typ­i­cal of win­ter in Berlin, the day was an opaque steely grey, but inside Fre’s stu­dio — thanks to track light­ing installed through­out, the light was warm and bright.

Fré is a Dutch born artist who moved to Berlin five years ago from the Nether­lands. Mainly in part to be closer to his col­lec­tors, but also to have a change away from the rural set­ting they were liv­ing in out­side Ams­ter­dam. We met through a mutual artist friend in Wash­ing­ton D.C., the won­der­ful Carol Brown Gold­berg. Last June 2012, Carol was the fea­tured artist for an exhibit and week­end dis­cus­sion Fré and Jacque­line hosted at their apart­ment in Char­lot­ten­burg. Thanks to Carol, it became very clear that Fré and I both shared a mutual enthu­si­asm towards col­lab­o­rat­ing with other artists through work­shops, talks and cura­to­r­ial projects. As we shared our past expe­ri­ences as ‘art col­lab­o­ra­tors’, it led to dis­cussing TSV and its mis­sion to pro­mote the impor­tance of stu­dio prac­tice and rigor in the artist’s stu­dio. Although our inter­ests are quite dif­fer­ent, we both agreed that the foun­da­tion of an artist’s prac­tice — or dare I say career, is the actual work itself, and in essence, what is hap­pen­ing in the stu­dio, not in the exhibition.

Not sur­pris­ingly the energy that Fré embod­ies is clearly evi­dent in his own rig­or­ous work ethic, his art and stu­dio prac­tice. All around the stu­dio there were large and small sculp­tures in progress includ­ing mod­els and maque­ttes for large scale instal­la­tions. His work table was full of paint bowls, paints, and every size brush imag­in­able. On one cor­ner, a pile of scrap metal and wood was accu­mu­lat­ing for future sculp­tures. Each part of his stu­dio was occu­pied by a dif­fer­ent medium. On one side he housed his wire mod­els; behind a wall upon dis­play shelves, he show­cased his smaller metal works, and in that same space he stored his works on paper. The main floor of the stu­dio was taken over by a giant sculp­ture made of metal and wire and on the walls were his paint­ings on canvas.

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, there is a dynamism and light that per­vades all of Fré’s work. Noth­ing is ever sta­tic. More specif­i­cally, it is the impor­tance and the evi­dence of the hand that is a pri­mary con­cern for Fré and one that he wants the viewer to value as well both in his sculp­ture and in his paint­ings. While his paint­ings incor­po­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tional ele­ments such as horses and fig­ures at times, his sculp­tures remain non-​​objective, employ­ing cal­li­graphic lines and spher­i­cal shapes all kinet­i­cally inter­twin­ing in what could be inter­preted as a uni­verse recall­ing the mobiles of Alexan­der Calder and the paint­ings of Wass­ily Kandin­sky. There is a musi­cal ele­ment to the move­ment of the forms that one can almost hear in the sculp­tures. His paint­ings are less ref­er­en­tial to audio and in con­trast, are softer and more brushy, appear­ing from a dis­tance as all over paint­ings akin to abstract expres­sion­ist work. His inspi­ra­tion from Korean land­scape paint­ing and cal­lig­ra­phy are evi­dent in the par­tic­u­lar kind of lines (sub­trac­tive as well as addi­tive) he cre­ates. Yet he is also com­bin­ing his rev­er­ence for clas­si­cal west­ern paint­ing by allud­ing to a nat­u­ral­is­tic kind of light as the forms begin to emerge out of fields of swirling masses of vol­ume and light.

Although the deci­sions he makes in his work are done more intu­itively — such as choos­ing his color, he also is quick to define intu­ition as based on expe­ri­ence and a kind of empiri­cism — which is really in large part an accu­mu­la­tion of con­crete and inten­tional moments culled to form a par­tic­u­lar the­sis — and for Fré, a the­sis of per­cep­tion. His stance on per­cep­tion is very exis­ten­tial and quot­ing from his state­ment from 2011 which can be read in full from his web­site:

“To be free as artist means to acknowl­edge the Other, to acknowl­edge a gen­eral ethics or ethics spe­cific to one’s soci­ety, while one moves freely within social perime­ters which is dif­fer­ent from the arti­fi­cial and tem­po­rary perime­ters set by the art world..…The con­sis­tency in my cre­ative drive is shaped by the pre­dom­i­nant pres­ence of our phys­i­cal being in the flux and dynam­ics of nothingness.”

Fré approaches his work intu­itively and clearly com­bines what emo­tion­ally dri­ves him with his philo­soph­i­cal research. Cere­bral and joy­ful in his art mak­ing, he is just as charis­matic and socia­ble as a per­son, embody­ing a fan­tas­tic sense of humor. At one point he even took one of the large brushes that looks like a horse tail and propped it atop his clean shaven head. After the tour of his stu­dio, we pro­ceeded down­stairs to the stor­age and pack­ing area, where all his work is crated, stored or shipped. The amount and orga­ni­za­tion of the crates were impres­sive unto them­selves. My tour ended there. I was grate­ful to be able to spend this much time with such a gen­er­ous artist and look for­ward to keep­ing up with his other endeav­ors in Berlin and beyond.

His work is included in numer­ous inter­na­tional pri­vate and cor­po­rate col­lec­tions such as the Köln Arca­den in Cologne, the pri­vate col­lec­tion of Ulla and Heiner Piet­zsch here in Berlin and the Sin­doh Head­quar­ters in Seoul, Korea. He is  also an avid col­lec­tor with a var­ied taste that spans a range of styles and peri­ods. His home show­cases work by Alexan­der Calder, Korean cal­lig­ra­phy and land­scape paint­ings and work by emerg­ing artists Chris­t­ian Awe of Berlin and Megan Craig from New Haven, CT.

To see more of his work and his other projects such as Check­point Ilgen and his Study Project Ethol­ogy of Aes­thet­ics, please go to his web­site at:

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1 Comment

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