German artist Thomas von Palubitzki creates minimalist compositions with maximal visual impact. Using the everyday bottle cap as his muse, he translates ubiquity and versatility into essential forms that populate his artworks. Working across various media, von Palubitzki looks to quiet tones and distilled shapes as the basis for his creativity. Adhering to the ideas of Minimalism, the artist constructs compositions that look mass-produced without any formal images. His signature flat-works hover somewhere in between a wall relief and a painting, adding visual intrigue for the viewer. A self-taught artist, von Palubitzki began drawing intensively in his youth, landing in the world of fashion illustration. This area of interest quickly expanded into graphic design and photography as he searched to define his style and means of expression.
How did you find yourself in the arts—or how did the arts find you?
There was nothing to look for — it was already there. I have always been creative and drew a lot as a child. In elementary school, we kids were supposed to bring toys occasionally and guess who owned which toy. Instead of He-Man figures and toy cars, I brought in design objects and figures from the 19th century. I probably wanted to express my creativity and interest in art. Art creation was something like a basic need for me, as an urge. First, I started drawing intensively in my youth and taught myself fashion illustration. Then I worked as a graphic designer for some time and also took photographs. I experimented with a wide variety of materials. Always looking for my style and means of expression. At some point, I discovered the bottle cap for myself and immediately knew, “This is it!” From then on, I focused all my creativity on that little thing, which has now brought me all the way to New York!
You create minimalist paintings populated with a commonplace found material: metal bottle caps. What was the catalyst for this discovery?
I was looking for something new, self-sufficient, and with a high recognition value. Techniques with which I could develop my visual language. I think the crown cork helped me with that, I was finally inspired when I found a slightly rusted bottle cap with two portraits on it. From then on, there was no turning back.
Your compositions showcase a wonderful exploration of space, through serial repetition or a groundless expanse. What artistic movements or methods did you look to develop your style?
I realized early on what possibilities the small bottle cap offered. I wanted to implement as many ideas quickly and wanted my art to be recognizable without having to sign the work on the front. I’m inspired by art that uses simple means to identify the artist. Some fine examples are the deep blue of Yves Klein, Keith Haring’s stick figures, or the nails of Günter Ücker (Ücker is a German artist and member of the ZERO movement best known for his signature use of nails arranged into tactile, sculptural paintings).
The placement of bottle caps within your compositions varies. What determines their arrangement?
My daily mood and the idea that is the loudest in my head that day. I find that the best things arise unplanned, and I can create effects I didn’t expect, like an impromptu party! I vary my approach to evolving my art. Minimalism can quickly seem boring. And yet, I think I’d come up with something great if I placed a single black bottle cap in the middle of a large canvas.
Bottle caps not only feature on the surface of your paintings, but you also use them as a texture-building tool — how did this idea come about?
For me, the fundamental question has always been how to artistically incorporate the bottle cap into my works and the visual arts. No sooner is one idea implemented than the next ten come knocking. So many ideas have been recorded in my sketchbooks, yet it’s only a small part of what’s floating around in my head.
The titles of your artworks are as succinct as their appearance. Do you develop the title before or after the piece is finished?
As a rule, the work is created first and then titled. However, I sometimes have ideas for two works in mind where I want to make large canvases. In this case, I would title them in advance. For example, to create a diptych with skin color and artificial blood, the titles “Large skin picture” and “large blood picture” are already in place.
Where do you source all your bottle caps? Do you save the ones you have from glass bottles?
Just by collecting used crown caps, I would never be able to accumulate the necessary amount that I need. I work primarily with brand-new caps that I purchase from beverage companies in southern Germany. They probably still think that TVP (Thomas von Palubitzki), is a private brewery! For reliefs or works with a lot of colors, I also work with used caps that I order on the Internet.
Conceptual Pop artist Ed Ruscha stated in an interview that he enjoys the belief that “disorientation is one of the best things about making art.” How does this statement resonate with you?
TVP: I like the idea very much. Disorientation has a lot of freedom. Seemingly unlimited possibilities to penetrate the depths of space. A void without boundaries to create something new. A feeling as if one is floating. It’s great!
What message do you hope your work communicates?
Perhaps it is quite accurate to say that you do not need many means to achieve a significant effect. Less is sometimes more.
Lastly, how do you think your work fit in with the theme of Agora’s group exhibition Summer Solstice: Luminescence?
I think it fits in very well. Seasons are a continuum of light and dark. I like the idea of change. Not standing still and staying in motion, but everything in a controlled rhythm. Serial repetition is like a wave of light. Textures, light, and shadow in black, white, and bright colors become symbiotic.