“Praised be the Lord!” was heard from behind a painting of Yogi bear. It’s not the cathedral of the future, where holograms of cartoon characters have replaced the stained glass, but instead the Peckham studio of London-based artist Robin von Einsiedel. Aside from having the biggest concentration of gospel churches and hairdressers, Peckham is also home to an ever-growing community of artists. Together with a group of fellow graduates from the Royal College of Art, Einsiedel rents a studio above one of the many gospel churches in the borough. In what he calls a “communal” environment, Einsiedel experiments with new materials and starts each painting with a tongue-in-cheek sketch.
Sorana Serban: Who is Fritz?
Robin von Einsiedel: Fritz is an incarnation of my dad’s old lodger Dieter, [who] was an investment banker who collected classic cars. I can’t remember much of him other than his hair and nose.
SS: How did Yogi bear end up in your paintings?
RvE: I had this Yogi bear t-shirt when I was a kid and I remember never taking it off. It probably ended up in the bin. I have sketchbooks filled with drawings of people I’ve met and other characters from when I was younger and Yogi is one of them.
SS: Most of your recent works feature these characters. What happens in the process of translating the sketches on canvas?
RvE: I try to keep the figures informal and loose, as I do in my sketches. There’s an immediacy or energy that can be found in this way of working, but there is obviously always an uncertainty with how these paintings will end up, which I think is important.
SS: Why ‘Chinatown’ for the title of your latest exhibition?
RvE: Chinatown can be understood as a geographical space, in every major city there’s a city within a city: almost a law unto itself. I wanted to suggest that Chinatown is the space that the characters in my paintings inhabit - in the bars and backroom casinos, or scratching around the bins. In the film Chinatown, the protagonist has these terrible things happen - he falls in love, chases his lover all round LA - it turns out the woman he loves has been badly abused; she’s shot through the eye... and, at the end of the film, his friend just says “forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown!” Shit happens. There isn’t a hierarchy of events.
SS: As there doesn’t seem to be a hierarchy in your paintings, neither for the figures or the background, how does this connect with your early abstract works?
RvE: Many of the paintings have no central focal point so every figure, mark or spill has equal importance. It’s not really a shift from the older work but more of a development from the same idea.
SS: What are you working on right now?
RvE: I’ve just started making paintings on Lino tablecloths.
SS: What’s your favourite post-studio hang out?
RvE: Depends, sometimes it’s The Wall opposite the train station - or a swim.
SS: What do you consider to be outside of a gallery?
RvE: A bike chained to a railing?
SS: Any tips and tricks for gallery hopping?
RvE: Itsu - half an hour before it closes. Everything’s half price, you can go to have a break from private views or whatever and eat a lot of sushi.
SS: What does politics mean to you?
RvE: I think of more local interpersonal politics: relationships, choices, social/ cultural dynamics, and artists’ practices.
SS: Song you’re listening to while answering this?
RvE: 'Into The Groove' by Madonna.
SS: Are you a dog person or a monkey person?
SS: Print screen your desktop and paste it here.
Words: Sorana Serban
Artist: Robin von Einsiedel
Photography: Dan St. Andrei