I first came across Danish artist Torben Ribe's work at the Carnegie Art Award group expo in Stockholm earlier this year. I'm feeling the need to tell you about this because in that desert of pretentious-yawn-modern-yawn-art I suddenly stumbled upon a set of works in visual styles ranging from cheesy romance, penis-dinosaurs, 8bit computer games, balloon animals and pubertal scribbling, to Bauhaus, Francis Bacon and conceptual and modern art. And it wasn?t even a hallucination. It was a fine selection from Torben Ribe's Graphic Journal series.
Hello Torben, how was your weekend?
It was nice. I looked through art books with friends, went to some bars, was hungover, did a bit of work and so on.
Your Graphic Journal series made me smile. What brought about the idea?
It started out as a wish to have some sort of consistent project in an otherwise fractured body of work. I needed a portion of regularity. So I started this apparently endless series called The Graphic Journal, which I hoped could function as a kind of aesthetic diary or a visual encyclopedia of fucked up graphic solutions. The rules are simple: they all measure 80 x 60 cm, a good poster format, they often combine a text and an image, and style, technique and materials are used in whatever manner that suits the individual piece best. Hopefully the whole project will eventually turn in to book, because that?s the series? true media.
Do you have a preferred hierarchical order when it comes to your eclectic use of aesthetics, or is the concept of taste what you?re trying to question?
I neither have, nor represent a certain taste. I?ll eat anything. I?m not interested in good or bad taste or whether something is beautiful or ugly, I only care about if it is useful or not. In some ways, this series is also a way of trying to grasp this aesthetical, stressful, but also very interesting situation we?re in; a world overfilled with images, text and meaning.
Do you sense a lack of humour in the art world? Is it somewhat of a taboo?
Not at all, there's plenty of it right now. Perhaps because, after a decade or so with a lot of artworks operating with irony and sarcasm, people want something different, like pretentiousness or existential stuff. It's just different attitudes going in and out of fashion, it's no big deal and it all still exists simultaneously.
You?ve referred to yourself as, ?a bastard in the classic conceptual art family.? Is that a self-proclaimed statement? Or have fellow classic conceptual artists/art cognoscenti ever met you with criticism?
It was just an expression I used to describe my inspirations and my artistic inheritance, as an artist who is making conceptual based works in a very physical and sensible way. There's something about the straightforward logic and the tautological element of the classical conceptual art that just doesn't do it for me. I acknowledge its historical importance, of course, but these days, I just prefer it served a bit messier.
How did you first get into art?
When I was around 16, my brother got a Salvador Dalí catalogue for Christmas, which I stole right away. It opened my eyes to a new world of theatrical weird stuff and kitsch. Before that I was mostly into comics, Stars Wars and stuff like that. Later on, I thought for a moment that I was going to be an academic, so I started studying Art History at the university. Luckily it only lasted for a year or so, because I suddenly realised it was way more fun to be part of the game than just reading about it.
What was the first thing you ever painted?
I'm not sure, but probably some corny, surrealistic landscape with figures dissolving in to one another and a tiger with a fish's head, or something "crazy" like that.
Did starting from the theoretical side make you more aware of what you were doing, in terms of style and analysing your own work?
Maybe I developed a certain allergy towards this classic, western-white-male artistic genius type with a significant signature style, wwhich we read about all the time during art history. Other than that, I don?t think it influenced my artistic development.
What would you do if you didn?t do art?
I would probably be a successful businessman, dealing with good karma, exotic animals, Hawaii shirts, or something like that.
You?ve made pieces consisting of light bulbs, plugs and empty canvases. What are you trying to say with it?
I believe you are referring to the show Dust, Kiwi, Rucola this year? I was trying to come up with a very dumb, physical version of abstract painting, that didn?t rely on an extremely complicated reference system, like The Graphic Journal for example, but just looked like cut outs of walls from almost normal people's homes. It was a study in the relationship between hyper-realism and abstraction, how something really familiar, like a plug or cornflakes, can become something else and act like a small part in a bigger composition. Besides that, I was interested in making paintings that were characterised by being weak, indecisive and full of dubious decisions.
Is there a red thread between everything you do?
I often think about the very same thing? I guess there are some recurrent themes, like what to do with painting today, artistic identity ? or the lack thereof ? and the role of the artist in our society. These issues are often explored with a certain love for the banal, the everyday and the popular. It's a certain kind of sensibility, a certain look, that triggers my interest. But I guess above all, and like most artists, my art practice concerns what it's like to be around right now.
What are you working on at the moment?
Playing outdated strategy games on my laptop. It's not easy.
Torben Ribe is also involved in the artist run IMO gallery in Copenhagen, which he runs together with 10 other artists and two directors.