In the studio with Judas Companion

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Discover the London studio of German artist Judas Companion, whose practice explores themes of deconstruction, preservation, and annihilation of the self.

Joanna Hirsch visited the studio of Judas’ to speak with her about her work. Read the full interview below.

interview with judas companion

Judas: I feel I was always dreaming about this really big and empty studio, but this is getting there…

Joanna: I know you’ll make it your home in a way soon once you settle in. So, do you mind starting with the introduction ‘hi my name is Jasmin’ or if you would like to introduce yourself as Judas?

Judas: Yes, shall we go with Judas. It varies but I think it’s good to keep the character – to shape this character.

Joanna: So some questions I have – Can you start with a general background about yourself, your education, and your journey to how you got here?

Judas: I’m German. I’m from west Germany and I studied arts for 7 years at Dusseldorf in the Art Academy which sort of became my world. The studios were massive and I got to know so many artists.

It was a great time, but after graduation it was quite clear to me that I didn’t just want to stay there and rent a studio around the corner. I wanted something else so I applied to go to London. It was actually a friend and she always wanted to go to but I didn’t really know much about London to be honest. But then I applied and got into CSM to study an MA in Fine Art for 2 years.

After that I stayed and now it’s been 7 years. I’ve just moved into my new studio which is my 5th studio I think in the course of time.

Joanna: How do you think your practice has evolved since then?

Judas: Oh my god, I think it has been ups and downs, moving forwards and moving backwards, moving forwards and realising I have to move backwards —

My practice has evolved massively on one hand, but on the other it hasn’t evolved at all. Before I started at the Art Academy in Dusseldorf, I was making masks and dressing up using the clothes of my mum who was sowing everything herself. The house was full of fabrics, so I made these photo collages before I started doing A-Levels or something.

At the Art Academy, I became more minimal and questioned what i’m doing and so-on and so-on, but what’s the end of that? The masks and the costuming came back so I thought, what kind of journey was this? More or less, the masks have always been there.

Often my photos or performances have to do with naked bodies. Theres always this sort of erotic but hidden identity or covering of the face and emotion, but also at the same time about exposure. This has always been there, but just I’ve expressed it in a different a way and i’ve developed the ways I express it. This theme or urge has always been there though.

Joanna: Oh Amazing – So how do you think your practice has been influenced by your personal experiences?

Judas: Well I think it’s all about my personal experiences. I think my masks were always a theme and birds were always a theme. I’ve done this video performance where I tried to eat with a beak, and i’ve also created birds masks.

My mum had birds growing up. She was this ‘bird’s woman’ in the village where people would bring birds with broken wings to her and she had this massive outdoor cage where she would look after them until they could fly again.

I think it’s all embedded in my childhood experiences and being surrounded by nature . But the erotic element has always played a role and also is a part of my childhood. My mum and my dad were taking photos all the time of each other — or rather my dad of my mum… I think it’s all embedded from that.

Joanna: Oh that’s interesting!

Judas: Oh, it’s a good thing my mum’s english isn’t so good so she can’t listen to that…’laughs’

Joanna: So how would you describe your style of painting?

Judas: I hope my paintings are expressive. I think it’s quite violent. It sounds a bit silly but it’s an honest answer, I’m never really sure if it’s really violent or not.

But often afterwards, when I look at my work after a year or something I think, OH this is intense. It’s not that I feel it though when I do it – when I do it I feel just how I feel but I can see now as we look and talk about the images it’s quite intense.

But I love it [painting], it really has a quality that photography or masks don’t have. Or let’s say the complement each other.

The fashion show I just did last weekend for example can’t replace the painting – It’s the same theme and emotion I let out but in a very different way.

Joanna: Yes, I also saw a biography of about you, it doesn’t define you per se, but you described yourself you as a “textiles designer, sculptor, and painter” – your practice is very multi-disciplinary …

Judas: It is very multi-disciplinary. It was always the case that I wanted to do things myself, that I wanted to know how they were made. Everything that has to do with fabric, with knitting – this whole side comes from my mum. She sowed literally every piece of clothing herself. She learned this from her aunt so this is all her.

But then my dad also studied art. He was a graphic designer. I sort of take and use both sides, working in both fields and trying to merge them. I was always curious to learn more techniques. To be able to learn them, make things, jump over this hurdle of how can I produce it? To always try keep my brain active. To know I could make it like this, or express it like that. I make an effort lets say to keep my skills alive if that makes sense.

Joanna: Oh yes, definitely. So, what would you like people to take from your work when they view them?

Judas: Oh, well there is nothing that I want people to forcibly think about my work. What I wish for is that they are telling me how it empathises with them.

Yesterday, I got an email and somebody who said I’ve been following you for years and I would like to do a video documentary about your work and then he explained a little bit how he came across me. It was not the typical way through an exhibition or instagram or something. It was through some website I’d shown stuff on years ago.

I don’t want to force people to see things in a certain way. What I think is important is that they find themselves in my work. What I love is if I hear about it, and if people tell me how they perceive things because it’s always different.

Very often that’s the case where people perceive my work more brutal than what I thought it was, and only then I realise maybe it is quite brutal and full on. But honestly I can’t help it, it’s these things I have to get out. I really feel that they have to be said, or if not said, painted, or if not then materialised, visualised somehow.

I only want people to resonate somehow with my work, I don’t need to deliver a certain message. It’s more abstract and the way I work is more abstractly thinking than formulating ideas.

Joanna: Do you have an audience consciously in mind when you create your pieces?

Judas: I would say I’m getting  to know more and more about my audience, to do with my shows, who attends, and who want’s to collaborate. I think i’m getting more of an idea that my audience is a mix of fashion and art people – it’s both in a way.

I’ve been recently in touch with a fashion designer and I really benefited from his experience. I think for him it’s the same and he benefited from my way of thinking.

How I think about one single piece at a time, and not thinking about production costs, how it will photograph, how will this look in a look-book, and so on. Something that’s really raw and just smashing ideas.

Joanna: Do you plan the works you create beforehand?

Judas: Kind of, and kind of not. Let’s say I plan a loose construct but it always changes and it’s really vital for me to be able to react to the change. I plan to a certain extent, and then I let it go.

I only continue working on a piece whilst reacting to the piece and very often, it has nothing to do with the concept from the beginning.  But of course I have ideas in mind or things I want to explore.

Joanna: What’s next for your practice?

Judas: I definitely want to do another fashion and performance art shows. When I go to Germany for Christmas, I am planning to do my first test with ceramic masks that you put on your head,  that move coming down towards your face.

I also want to develop my paintings, particularly large-scale paintings and work on those. Since I have this new studio space, I feel I can really do that and focus on paints.  That’s next.

Joanna: So, if you wouldn’t mind I’ll ask you about some specific pieces. To start with, could you describe your Blondies series?

Judas: My blondies series… at a certain point I thought what I was painting was kind of violent and intense so I wanted to break that and I thought, “how do I clash it with some beautiful things – what’s a really beautiful element?’

Some of the figures in the paintings were already naked so it was kind of touching up on the beauty of the body but I felt it wasn’t enough. So I thought actually, how about blonde, nice women, with nice hair-styles. It was a really weird clash and that’s how I came across it.

I also call them ‘Ghosts’ at the moment as a sort of overall theme and how to make them look beautiful in a sarcastic way because they mainly look a bit nasty or cheeky.

Joanna: How long does it take for you to make these?

Judas: It depends because I need time to view them. It’s often that I may paint for only one day on a canvas, and I may need to look at it for 2-3 weeks. Sometimes I can move on the next day, but I often see that I benefit from giving it time so if I consider that time as well, I would say maybe a week for small works. For the bigger works maybe 3 weeks roughly.

But I always work on more than one piece at a time. In fact, I always work on as many pieces as the wall space can allow me to. I would do a little bit of changes on one and then jump to the other 5 minutes later, and jump back. In my ideal situation, I work on 10 paintings parallel at one time. They then may be finished all at once but I might have already worked on them for maybe 2 months.

Joanna:  Do you also work on your masks, paintings, and drawings as well at the same time?

Judas: More or less. I like the alternation, but then all of these different things take up some time. When I was preparing for the fashion show, I couldn’t really paint or doing anything else. I was just running around getting these masks and materials ready. Getting them on, sowing, so I hadn’t painted actually for 3 weeks because of that.

I think the masks will now have a break and I’ll go back to painting. When I get distant from it and getting close again, it allows me to see it from a different angle now.

Joanna: What inspires your choices of colour or your colour palette?

Judas: I think i’m generally a very colourful person. There’s no way of denying that. It’s just my feelings, but I remember  there was a collector coming in and she wanted to see the studio. I told her I had wanted to work in green. I had planned to work in green for 2-3 days, but when she came in…everything was purple.

I described to her I did plan to do my next series in green, but it didn’t work out. I often have a colour in mind that I really did want to make it happen but it doesn’t mean it would come out in the final result. It can end up completely different – it’s really weird.

It also has to do with my reactions in the middle of the process. There are feelings that I just have to let go and react to what’s on the canvas, and what does it really need. If green for example was really just the illusion, then it isn’t what the painting needs and I don’t do it.

Joanna:  l love that! I think I read something about you always having  sustainability on your mind throughout your practice?

Judas: Oh yes very much! In a sense, it had always been naturally embedded in my life – Sustainability.

I’m from the village, my mum has loads of crafts skills so it was always a thing to re-purpose, up-cycle, and re-use things twice and make new from the materials. It’s very important to me.

I would not ever think about buying leather nowadays! I would not even – no … it’s very clear that I work with up-cycled materials but I also like natural materials.

I think the word did spread however, and they know that they can donate materials at my studio. This keeps happening for a while so i’ve never really had to look for materials. It’s always that they come to me.

Joanna: Is there an interesting story you can recall about how you got across some materials?

Judas: I mean, it’s always interesting! It’s sometimes a phone call, or I pick things up from a random studio – it can be anywhere.

But the last big donation I got was from a college. I have a friend who works there whose a technician and he said they were closing down the bookbinding department, we have loads of colours and the college was just going to throw them away so he has asked if I wanted them. I came with a car, and it was full to the top with materials.

I thought, “what do I ever do with all this”? But it became a vital path for this fashion show where everything was made from up-cycled little scrap parts of leather which was intended to be for book binding.

Joanna: That’s so fun. So our last question – What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given and what’s a piece of advice you like to give?

Judas: Oh i’m not sure I really have an answer for that. I think what advice I would give though is to be open all the time, to not be rigid, and to try to develop strategies to keep your mind fresh and ready for change at anytime.

That’s something that I think which makes my work alive – to never say ‘this is it’ and it must stay like that. That’ s almost the moment when you want to nail it all down where everything must change actually.

The best advice i’ve been given…there’s so many advices people have given me.  There are so many good things i’ve learned from other artists. I don’t really know where to start but I think the most important thing for me was when someone encouraged me to bring the masks back into my practice which was in 2011. It was all to do with [him] encouraging me to look back at my roots, and where my art came from. Questioning how did I start making art and what was important at that time. I think through him I then decided to go onwards with masks, knitting, and photographing them. It all sort of blossomed from them and this was the best advice I think I was given – to look back at my roots and to see if there’s anything I want to add on.

Joanna: Perfect, thanks very much Jasmin!