Monday, January 17, 2011


Sunny Side
German photographer and miniaturist, Frank Kunert creates small worlds that slide into a realm of the surreal.  In his table top creations he challenges our eyes, makes us look a little closer to the story being told and then makes us look again. His photos of the miniatures bring the dioramas to a level of realism that astounds. There are views that create poetic qualities, silent jabs, some quick humor and dark zones. Most of these places have very little nature. They are views of industrial grey under an overcast sky. No people show up in his creations. We can see them as simply a funny story or feel their grit and leaf blown familiar alleyways. The architecture defines the people that live there and pushes the imagination closer to a lucid state of altered reality.

Kunert’s models are made with extreme reality in mind. He works on the miniatures for months before the lights come on and the camera shutter clicks. Everything about the constructions is meant for that moment of creating the illusion and telling the story. Often the story is a word play or a subtle jab at how the punch line is delivered.

A highway beneath a park playground slide becomes a devious parental thought for dropping the kids off to play for a short time. A contemporary art center with an impossibly inaccessible entry sets the tone for ‘high art’. Diving boards that hover above the audience stands, a public pool toilet or a house at the end of a pier invites the divers to one last free dive. The clay tennis court on a half pipe for a quick rush to the net. His “Public Toilet” invites an audience to watch the stage with the not so private function displayed a little too publicly. An apartment building that stands perfectly proud except that the balconies have no access and the doors to them make for a treacherous drop.

His miniature works are like a question mark on our perceptions and are scenes that open the world around us revealing a world of quiet fantasy underneath. They mimic a disturbing dream state and pull us to the edge of a diving board.

With Balcony

Event Restaurant

Adventure Pool Complex 

The Dream of Fortune

Almost Heavenly

Life Goes On

At a High Level 

Crowd Pleaser

Small Paradise

Hope is Green

Onward & Upward

Petting Zoo

Public Toilets

In Depth of Ecstasy

Tennis Half-Pipe

An interview with Frank Kunert

G P- I'd like to know how your current works came to you? Just glancing at your gallery sections there is quite a difference from your earlier cartoon-like illustrative works. These almost look like another artist entirely. I do understand that some of these works were for a purpose of working in the graphic and illustration realms of commercial works but where did the building works spring from?
F K - When I started building my miniature scenes I made my figures (human beings, animals) with plasticine. After a while the buildings became more and more realistic, and I had the feeling it could be interesting to build my small worlds without any figures to make it look less cartoon-like. And it worked: the scenes became more open for fantasies.

G P -Could you talk a little bit about your processes in your works. How do you pull your ideas together? Do you spend a lot of time constructing a scene in your head or by first sketching them out?

F K - At the beginning there are influences of everyday life, ideas by watching TV, reading the newspaper, take a walk through the nature or town and let the imagination and ideas in my head move around. Then, after a while I start sketching a little bit in my sketch book. But not every sketched idea is taken for the three-dimensional work. Some ideas are mixed together one day and the result is a new idea. If I have the feeling that an idea is ready for the model making, this will take a few weeks, sometimes a few months to the final result. When the miniature is finished I set the light in my studio and take the photographs with my large format camera. Then the 4"x5"-inch slide is scanned for the production of color prints, postcards, etc.

G P - Are there any events or stories from your deep past or childhood that inspired your present use of the absurd and the surreal in your works?
F K - When I was a child I was always happy when I could "work" alone with my hands in a quiet place. And it is still the same today. I can do things that I am not able to do in the "big" world outside. Perhaps It's easier for me to handle the absurdity of life with humor. And if I am alone it's easier for me to bring some order to my thoughts.
G P - Could you talk a little about your fascination with architectural environments, the realm of city and urban places in your works and the reason there are very few people in your constructions?

F K - Architectural environments show how people live, what their hopes and fears are. And I am fascinated in suburbs with their more or less old buildings mixed together in so many different ways. And in my pictures the life is shown without showing people, only what they have done. For me that makes more space for the imagination.

G P - I find studio scale often is a driving force in the scale of works that artists make. The work space defines the work like a ruler. Your miniatures are small scale. How does the camera change this and what attracts you to the miniature made large by the close up view? 

F K - It is always fascinating for me to play with the scales. If I build a miniature model, it looks like a miniature model. But suddenly - after setting the light, putting the camera into the right position - it's like diving into another reality.

G P - Your constructions often show a raw and rough edge to things. The buildings are weather beaten, the streets and steps are worn. How has living in such man made environments effected your view of nature and humor? Are these familiar places in your environment or history?

F K - As a child I lived in a new house, and everything was perfect. But I know that I was always interested in raw and rough edge of things. They always seemed to be more honest to me. We always try to get the nature under control, fight against the transience, and I think it's easier to bear the absurdity of life with humor. 

G P - Could you expand a bit about the importance of your hand built environments versus the more realistic or digital effects that one sees most of in this computer age? 

F K - For me the advantage of building the environments is that I can do everything step by step and the whole scene is of a piece. Sometimes it's a hard fight for my impatience, but I think it's better for developing my ideas - it's less abstract than digital work. The  hand made things have more charm than digital productions. I try to work out my skills with a perfection of imperfection.

G P - I like your attention to the story and narrative of a scene. Have you ever been tempted to expand your stories to the actual streets as guerrilla art and discovery installations? I'm thinking perhaps of Charles Simonds works placed in small corners of the urban environment or maybe actual children's slides and diving boards placed for visual effect.

F K - I am always fascinated in works of some other artists working in that way. But until yet I need a quiet place where I feel secure. For me it's necessary to build my scenes with the possibility to have everything under control. Perhaps one day I will go outside...

G P - I know you don't like to talk about any future ideas but could you expand a bit about process and journey? Often times we are led by unseen forces and end up making random choices about how the ideas can proceed. I also remember from a very early age how the act of drawing and learning to draw was like a journey creating it's own path. The best that could be done is just to follow the natural outcomes and be tempted along by learning more about the world by making and drawing. What important events brought you to make these small worlds?

F K - In my apprenticeship with a photographer I was fascinated of the possibility making illusions with staged photography in the studio. There had been quite banal things like water taps or door handles we had to photograph. But I learned that how you do something and not what you do is the important thing. After my apprenticeship I was busy with advertising and industrial photography, but I knew that wasn't the thing I really liked. I always needed the "quiet place at the corner". And among my commission works I built my first scenes for myself and realized that there were also customers interested in those pictures. Then I had the first commercial works in that way - and that was the beginning of the small worlds for me. In the last years I like to do my own things without any order. That's the best way, watching step by step how the work goes on.

G P – Is there anything else that you’d like to share?

F K - An additional thought: In 2004 I began producing my own postcard edition. I like the imagination that the pictures can go their own way around the world. It's a quite cheap way for people to buy a photograph. Additionally they can write down their own messages. I think that's great. 

Frank Kunert in studio working on Onward & Upward
To see more visit Frank Kunert’s web site 

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