Linking the worlds of art and academia

22 Jan 2019

The internationally known sculptor Thomas Vinson is the first person to fill the role of Artist in Residence at LMU‘s Institute of Art Education. Both he and the students at the Institute stand to benefit from this unique program.

Nahaufnahme eines Werks des Artist in Residence 2018/19.

© Philipp Thalhammer / LMU

Isabel (44), a trainee art teacher, wants her piece to convey her intentions as effectively as possible. She thumbs through the dossier that contains the material she began to assemble when she first conceived the idea for the project. At its core is a whole series of photos depicting a small field overgrown with thistles. She plies Thomas Vinson (48), an experienced and successful artist, with questions on various aspects of the project. She is wondering whether the format is right. He replies that “30 cm by 30 would be better”. His responses to her questions are unfailingly relaxed and comprehensive. He advises her to dispense with the varnish that she has applied to protect the prints and to think of an alternative solution. Within minutes, he has inspired Isabel with new enthusiasm: “It’s wonderful to have a real expert at hand,” she says

On this cold December day, Vinson, who has both German and French roots and normally divides his time between Giessen and Paris, is supervising a seminar at the Institute of Art Education at LMU Munich. He is the first, but certainly won’t be the last, artist to benefit from a new program entitled “Artist in Residence: Art, Ideas and Communication” (Kunst-Konzept-Vermittlung). The project is a collaborative venture between the Institute of Art Education, the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts.

“A highly influential distinction” During his tenure, from November to February, sculptor Vinson is living in the attractive Ebenböck-Haus in Pasing. The building belongs to the urban authority, and the accommodation costs are paid by Munich’s Department of Cultural Affairs. As an integral part of the project, the Academy of Fine Arts invites each artist selected to put on an exhibition of his or her own work. “This is a highly influential distinction,” notes Anja Mohr, Professor of Fine Arts and Art Education and Director of the Institute of Art Education.

The exhibition of Thomas Vinson’s work, entitled „monachium“, at the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts (Max-Joseph-Platz 3, 80539 München) is now open, and continues until February 15, 2019. Source: Philipp Thalhammer / LMU

According to Mohr, the primary goals of the Artist-in-Residence program are to provide an example of “effective and mutually beneficial cooperation between scholarship, art and culture“, to “strengthen activities devoted to the dissemination and communication of artistic endeavor by means of national and international cooperation, and to intensify support for young talent in the area of art education.” The design of the associated teaching concept is focused on the practical side of things, she adds, and goes on to point out that a residency program such as this, which is directly linked an Institute of Art Education whose role is to train future art teachers, is unique in Germany. And the selection procedure is not based solely on an artist’s international reputation, she adds. “What’s important is that the artists chosen are able to communicate their views on, and approach to art to their students. They must be able to express themselves clearly.”

Vinson undoubtedly fulfills both of these criteria. He has made a name for himself on the European art scene. His works are generally fashioned in wood or industrial materials, and some command high prices. Unlike many contemporary artists, he is able to make a living from his creative work.

Source: Philipp Thalhammer / LMU

In addition, he has had years of teaching experience, having held posts in the Institute of Art Education at Justus Liebig University (2013-2018) and in the School of Architecture at the University of Applied Science in Giessen, where he has taught classes in sculptural design and draftsmanship since 2014. He himself studied sculpture in the US in the late 1990s.

He very much enjoys living in the Ebenböck-Haus, he says. In his light-filled studio there, several of his works, and some of his sketches, are laid out on two long tables. One of the pieces displayed looks at first sight like a somewhat deformed block of wood. It might even be a reject from a saw-mill. But when one takes a closer look at these pieces, one is soon captivated by the beauty of their often rather futuristic-looking forms. Vinson makes use of a variety of materials, apart from wood, such as cardboard or other industrial products. “I try to persuade the material to reveal something of its delicacy and vulnerability,” he says.

Indeed, these pieces do not reveal their secrets to the casual viewer. Take that black cross surmounted by a semicircle: Few people would recognize it as an exact copy of the yellow pattern on the black monk’s habit worn by the Münchner Kindl, the child depicted on Munich’s coat of arms. “There are things one comes across almost every day, but one doesn’t always see them,” Vinson reminds me.

Source: Philipp Thalhammer / LMU

Finding inspiration in the passing parade Vinson himself says that he finds inspiration in the quotidian. It’s a matter of “becoming aware of everyday things, in encounters with visual patterns as well as material structures, which are then abstracted from diverse contexts, architectural, industrial or observations of everyday life,” he explains. By altering, distorting, defamiliarizing materials in carefully considered ways in his works, he seeks to trigger “new perceptual experiences” in the viewer. As a painter and sculptor, his aim is to provoke “discussion of the aesthetics and the wider significance of things” in the world around us through the modification and reconfiguration of his chosen materials.

In his work, Vinson strives above all to achieve a fusion between material and form, “in which the individual elements and properties, the nature of the materials and the chosen surfaces, fuse into coherent structures that are defined by their forms,” as Anja Mohr characterizes the work of her guest. And Vinson’s successors should be artists like him, “who are still full of creative fire,” she says. Mohr and her colleague Günter Stöber (Head of Teacher Training at the Institute) first set the project in motion.

In the course of a special seminar, students like Isabel are working with Vinson and adjunct lecturer Thomas Eichinger on the exhibition catalog. “This gives students a chance, during their university education, to become intimately acquainted with the ins-and-outs of an important component of a possible later career. They learn, together with Vinson, how to write texts, how to go about designing the layout and how to select appropriate illustrations for an exhibition catalog,” Mohr explains. In addition, an educational project, developed by the students themselves, will also be presented in the context of Vinson’s exhibition.

The next artist-in-residence has already been chosen. From November 2019 to February 2020, Egyptian photographer Rana El Nemr will live in the city on the Isar. (Tobias Lill)

What are you looking for?