5 Questions with Thomas Grünfeld

What do you get if you cross a parrot with a squirrel? If you're German artist, Thomas Grünfeld you get a very popular piece of artwork. Since the 90s, Grünfeld has been placing many an ill-fitting head on a taxidermy body, creating animal hybrids for his Misfits series. His funny, disorientating, and very often wonderfully-designed work is currently on show at London's Massimo De Carlo.

Invitation card, foto: Thomas Grünfeld

Can you tell me a bit about the work that is showing in Margaret?

In the groundfloor of this show I have exhibited mustardy yellow cushion-pieces. A few strange pets sit and lie around. Because of the installation height, material and shape, the pieces pretend to be usable and functional (i.e. practical for sitting or placing things). As the show is in England, I wanted to include fireplaces (they strike me as typically British), within these mostly horizontal sculptures and reliefs. Fireplaces come mostly with logs. This gave me the idea to name the show Margaret, the Log-Lady’s name from Twin Peaks by David Lynch. The basement is protected by a weird guard dog and shows several egg shapes that are so-called eye-paintings. Mouth blown glass eyes from many species are inlayed in monochrome epoxy resin. You look at these pieces and they are looking back at you.

What was it about domestic interiors that first interested you? Are there any particular eras or regional styles of design that particularly intrigue you?

When I make art I always think domestic. I don’t think of a museum or white cube as an ideal place for my pieces, as much as a house or a flat. Usability, or apparent usability, might be one of the reasons why my pieces function better in a domestic surrounding. The forms and colours I use in my works might be imprinted by my childhood (1960s) in the Rhineland in Germany.

Your work has been described as being ‘frustrating’ for the viewer, occupying many different middle grounds and escaping easy definition. Is this a response–if any–that you hope for?

Yes. Irritation lasts longer…hopefully. I believe that an easy approach is desirable. The immediate affection should be instant. After that it should be about attraction and repulsion, including intended pitfalls. Ideally there should be more and deeper layers.

What was the starting point for your famous ‘misfits’?

A musquash fucking a chicken from behind. It was displayed in a store window in Cologne. What would their children look like? Besides folkloristic legends (Wolpertinger), mythology (Sphinx, Minotaur, Centaur) and the discussion about gen-manipulation at the end of the 80’s, it was quite academic in a way; the chance I saw as a sculptor working with real skin, instead of stone, bronze or other materials. With something that has had a life. Using the collage principle I designed new species, which makes it possible, for instance, to unify enemies in nature in one body. I learned in time that resting and lying positions work best for what I want to achieve with these taxidermies: as undramatic as possible, more melancholic. Normal pets are better than uncommon or exotic animals. I also like the fact that it’s all surface. Inside is only clay, wood, wool and cord.

You have a diverse practice, is there one medium that you feel most at home with?

I have always worked in isolated bodies of work, 13 so far. This was not a decision, but it worked out this way. Sometimes these lines survive years, even decades, some rest (like the cushions /1986-90,which I reanimate in this show with the fireplaces again), some just end. In 2005 I wanted to do images. As I cannot paint, I started to make these kind of tapestries out of felt. Also a kind of household material. Bright colourful felt. This is my youngest body of work. So far.

‘Margaret’ is showing at Massimo De Carlo until May 28