Excerpts of an interview of Prof. Wilhelm Kufferath von Kendenich and Alexander Zakharov
(from: Art comes of an inability to do anything else, G. Maecenas Edition Zug, 1996)

Most people looking at a work of art, like to see something in writing about the artist, or at least a few words of explanation, thinking that will make it easier for them to “get into” the picture.

Interpretation is the revenge of mediocrity on genius (Susan Sontag)

The better way would be to let the pictures speak for themselves, to listen to what the artist has to say. Space should be given to comments only in so far as they affect the technical aspects of painting and art, and the historical or contemporary context of the artist and his work.

“If you look at my works youíll see changes step by step, and then, suddenly, thereís something new, something that isnít directly connected with what went before. I make my way into the subject and a manner of painting by stages; I feel it developing, always going onward and upward, I feel myself getting to grips with the subject more and more effectively. Suddenly I have the sense that Iíve reached a peak. From that point on I notice my interest waning, and I know I must stop there and look for something new.”

Art comes of an inability to do anything else (G. Brus)

“I paint a picture, I keep on painting. Iím a tool, just a brush, knife, scraper and my arms are tools. Why do I paint? Donít ask; I donít know. Painting paints me. I have to paint! Painting makes me paint, the painting goes on inside me, it paints me!”

Paint is to do with rage and obsession, impatience and the urge to go on, unstoppability and compulsion.

“It always starts with a few brush-strokes, a couple of lines, and then something develops out of that. When I paint, I paint people and animals. Angels, too. That doesnít mean that I'm particularly fond of people, or animals either. Iím not religious either, not a believer. And yet angels emerge.”

The artistic part of art always starts and finishes without a plan. The artist does not know what the final result will be, so he has no plan.

“It all began with landscapes. Then they turned into stylized landscapes which in turn became Ė how shall I put it? Ė landscapes in the still-life manner; and then still lives without any landscape. Pictorial elements in still lives, rods and so on. I look at my tubes of paint;
theyíre squashed flat because the paint has been squeezed out, but theyíre still round at the top. And the cap of the tube looks like a head, set on shoulders. Those tubes suddenly looked so alive to me. They turned into human figures under my hand. Not people, not actual distinct people, no distinct person Ė I donít paint portraits; I could, though I donít have much practice, but I donít because my hand refuses. And then there are other images, animals, angels, boats joining the human figures. I mean the outlines of human figures.”

Archaic forms present themselves with a strength and power felt as a force still unspent. Great icons stand before us: archetypal structures of the unconscious, both collective and personal. Religious feelings are at home here too. We all carry them around with us, believers or not, members of a religious community or not. At some point or other in our lives we all ask: is there anything out there? Thatís part of the basic archetypal structure of all human beings, part of humanity.

“You want to know the meaning of the black figures in that picture over there. You ask such detailed questions! I donít know the meaning of them myself. I donít start painting by making a decision, deciding what Iíll paint this time, I simply begin. And suddenly there are the black figures. Thatís all, no questions, or think what you want.”

“Personally, you know, I donít divide art into abstract art and representational art. You can drink good wine out of your hand, or you can equally well drink it from a precious glass. Abstract art can move me deeply. But people quite often hide what they canít do, or then again what they can do, behind an abstract style of painting. ĎTo pretendí is what I mean. And like so much else this is a fashionable trend. If you follow fashion you always run the risk of losing the point, losing your spiritual centre.”

“What do I think about beauty? What a question! I never put my mind to such a thing at all! What does it have to do with my painting? I just want to paint, not split hairs. I donít like Ďout of harmonyí, Ďout of balanceí.Beauty: the Guernica painting is beautiful, but it isnít Ďsweetí, you know what I mean.”

That is very well put. Abstract art is by no means the same thing as art without any beauty. External beauty, hard as the fact may be for us to understand, is not (or is no longer) an artistic criterion. Art does not have to be (or no longer has to be) beautiful in the traditional aesthetic sense, it need not depict a perfect world, a kind of beauty often still seen as culminating in Romanticism; there is an inner beauty which is not obtrusive, it remains hidden in the work, a spiritualized beauty expressed in the equilibrium of the play between form und content, in the innovatory aspect of the work, the intensity of the depiction and the statement it makes, the harmony of simplicity and of complexity, and finally in the workís numinous quality (in the words of Peter Killer, museum curator).

Art does not take the path of reason but the path of the soul, going that way alone, lonely, in pain, in anger, in hatred, in happiness, in harmony with itself, in love. It transforms the images of the highly individual and subjective palette of the artistís soul, and they flow out into the world again through his hands, so that our souls can read them. “It is difficult to reconstruct a workís relationship with outward material reality, nor should such a reconstruction necessarily be sought, since what appears is the internal aspect, translated in terms of an individual language of signs, symbols and colours.” (Johann Widmer, artist)

“The things you want to know! I paint, I donít meditate about it. I donít think about it, I donít construct theories, Iím not prepared for your questions. Any answer I give sounds flawed : it comes from inside me, like my pictures from my soul, not from my belly.”

Here the basic concepts of art surface again. Art is the setting out on display of previously absorbed images.

“Iím only a painter; which is like being a kamikaze pilot: if I donít do it, if I donít succeed in it, I might as well work as a garbage-man. Painting is my vocation, and thus my profession. I paint me, thatís what it comes down to.”

Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Kufferath von Kendenich, born 1939 in Duren/Germany, lives for over 30 years in Switzerland (Trimbach, Kanton Solothurn). He is writer, artist, art theoretic, philososopher and organist; on these subjects he has published several books and publications and explained his ideas in a great number of lectures around the world and in radio and TV. He knows the artist Alexander Zakharov personally over several years by many conversations, atelier visits and meetings.