In the studio: Ian Waelder

Following his remarkable exhibition at the Es Baluard Contemporary Art Museum earlier this year, we spoke to Ian Waelder whose solo show Here not today is currently on view in our Berlin gallery. The Spanish artist opens up his studio doors to share insights on his artistic practice, early inspiration and why stand-up comedy is his background noise of choice.


SSM: Do you remember the first work of art that left an impression on you?

IW: More than one work, I think it was the improvised studio my father had in one extra room in our house, a room that was actually a bathroom that we never used. After his job or during holidays he would spend time there working with clay. He’s worked a lot with the female figure and I just remember my childhood being surrounded by so many casts of breasts and different figures he would do. You can imagine that left an impression on me.
During my years as an artist, I don't remember the first work, but one that has always stayed in the back of my mind is David Wojnarowicz Untitled (Buffaloes) (1988-1989).


David Wojnarowicz Untitled (Buffaloes), 1988-1989 


SSM: Home or studio?

IW: The studio feels really great after spending too much time at home, and home feels really great after spending too much time at the studio.



SSM: What are the 5 most indispensable items in your studio?

IW: Fridge, table, stool, fan, shelve. In that order.



SSM: You've had a 'previous life' as a skateboarder. How has this informed your artistic practice today?

IW: I think I started skating in 2004, when I was 10 or 11 years old. Being part of a skateboard community defined me first as a person, and then as an artist. It meant my first serious approach to art making.
There were no iPhones back then, so either some friend had a camera or you had to get one yourself. For some time I used my fathers hi8 videocamera without him knowing. Once I almost broke it so I ended up with my own handycam, a miniDV Panasonic. From then on, I just kept filling up tapes one after the other. I would edit all my skate videos with Windows Movie Maker, and upload these things on Youtube or share it between friends.
I wanted to be like Spike Jonze or Ed Templeton. Having my own brand, doing my own graphics, my films with friends, etc. My first jobs were at skate shops, at an age that wasn’t even legal for me to be working. But damn, did I learn. A fact people ignore is that, at least back then, it wasn’t strange that a skate shop also had an exhibition space. I worked here and there at this skate shop called Stance, which also sponsored me. I was assisting with the exhibitions, and also doing some of the window displays when new products arrived, or designing some of their ads, and so on. Charlie, the owner of the shop, was very generous with me. I met many people, like Pato Conde, a great photographer and illustrator, and I got introduced more into publishing.
Skateboarding, art, and publishing go hand in hand. So people like Pato had their own fanzine or magazine, and it opened the door to me for such a fantastic world. All my teenage years I spent with friends who skated but were also filmmakers, musicians, visual artists… it is now that I also have more awareness on how that influenced me until today. Skateboarding also seeded in me a particular way of understanding space, materiality, trace, memory, body… things that are today quite central in my work.



SSM: The series of newspaper works in our current show Here not today are diaristic, subtle, yet in a way, endlessly humorous. How did they come about?

IW: Oh, the story is quite simple and funny. I was invited by a friend to take part of a group show in Berlin back in 2021. It was meant as a group show by a whole group of friends, arriving from Frankfurt. So I decided that my works will only take place during the journey by car between Frankfurt and Berlin. In every stop I purchased a newspaper, and ended up doing these collages with the food we carried for the trip in the car.
The following year, I was invited to a group show in a hotel in Frankfurt, and I continued this series by reading the newspaper there and only using the food available at the hotel breakfast. And until today I’ve continued the series forcing myself this sort of “buying the newspaper” ritual, and including leftovers of snacks I have on hand in the studio. I consider them my Sunday watercolours, and a work that helps me relax and think of other things while I do it.


Ian Waelder Sax und Zigarre (The table of M. Reinhardt), 2024 

SSM: Do you have a favourite comedian?

IW: I’d say Andy Kaufman, even though he wouldn’t consider himself as a comedian. He’s one of my favourite artists. Norm Macdonald too, of whom I’ve included some references in other works over the years. These two have a lot to offer to artists. The importance of time, of tension, absurdity, silence… my favourite joke in history might be Norm Macdonald’s moth joke.
I did a little homage to it for my solo show Bystander (Moth Joke) curated by Isabelle Tondre at Neuer Kunstverein Gießen. Also his joke on Germany I find hilarious, which I performed an impression of at Delfina Foundation in London last year.
I really spend a lot of time watching stand-up, night show talks, etc. it’s the background noise in my studio most of the time. It keeps me going, and I think it’s always been one of the strongest forms of critique, especially in contexts where political censorship is very present.



SSM: When exhibition-making, the architecture seems to play a key role in how we experience your work. Was this always the case?

IW: Perhaps it wasn’t so much the case in my first exhibitions, even though there’s always been a concern on how the body is in relation to the space or objects. It’s more about that than architecture per se, even though it’s somehow implicit with each other. I think I was like 17 when I showed my first work in a sort of regional visual art contest for young artist, and I was already proposing a kind of installation that people had to activate by opening several wooden boxes and see the content.
This has evolved in different ways over the last 14 years, be it through sound installations, by intervening directly on walls, closing the main entry of the gallery, or creating different paths and corridors for the viewers. It’s been more explicit with my show at Es Baluard Contemporary Art Museum in Palma last year, where, together with the curator Francesco Giaveri, we got full carte-blanche to do all I wanted.


Ian Waelder even in a language that is not your own, Installation view, Es Baluard Contemporary Art Museum, Palma, 2023


SSM: Hands are a reappearing motif in your works on canvas and newspaper. How do select the image material for your compositions?

IW: The first work with hands dates back to 2016. I was using film stills of injured hands from people after a fall, mostly skateboard related. It was a wallpaper of almost four meters high.
Recently, I continued building up this archive of hand gestures from an instruction manual that belongs to the same car model my grandfather had to sell in order to escape Germany during nazism in 1939. I continue to buy printed matter in relation to this car, the Opel Olympia. At the moment I have press clippings, magazine reportages, and many other publications or booklets from around that time in relation to this car.
For my show at Es Baluard I also expanded the origin of these hands, by also introducing some that I found in a photo album my father did in his early twenties when he visited his dad in Antofagasta, Chile. There’s a point where you can’t really tell where each hand belongs to, and I like there’s this confusion or simply thinking that such hand belongs to the anonymous models holding parts of this car, but it’s actually the pianist hand of my grandfather, for example. I select the image material very intuitively.


Ian Waelder Hand and tire (Thimig/Reinhardt), 2024


SSM: Can you tell us something we don't know about you?

IW: You already know too much!


SSM: Is there an artwork from art history that best describes your personality?

IW: I think I am a mixture between Fall 1, Los Angeles (1970) by Bas Jan Ader and Perro semihundido (The Drowning Dog) (1820-1823) by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes.




Bas Jan Ader Fall 1, Los Angeles, 1970

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes Perro semihundido (The Drowning Dog), 1820 - 1823