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: www.freilgen.de