Andy Fischli graduated from the preliminary course at the Zurich University of the Arts and then went on to complete an apprenticeship in graphic design. Afterwards he worked for a few years as a freelancer for advertising agencies and magazines, and in the meantime he drew increasingly more illustrations and comics for various newspapers. With Marianne Studer, he published an annual agenda on various topics from 2007 to 2013. Since 2007 he has only been drawing and no longer has any other part-time or bread-and-butter jobs. He has thus made his ‘hobby’ his main activity. Otherwise, he swims a lot in his free time or runs cross-country through the forest in loops, arcs and lines. He likes to bake bread with home-grown lievito madre, and every now and then he plays boules. Originally he comes from Glarus, but he grew up in the Zurich region and he now works in Zurich. He is 47 years old.
Where and how did you grow up?
I grew up in Greifensee in the Zurich region in a prefabricated housing estate. There were great Robinson playgrounds there and I was outside a lot with other kids, which was cool. I spent most of my youth reading comics and drawing my first stories.
Could you describe your professional background?
After secondary school I wanted to go to either the Liceo Artistico or the preliminary course at the ZHdK. I passed the preliminary course exam, but not the Liceo, due to my maths score. After the preliminary course I did an apprenticeship as a graphic designer with Ursula Hiestand in Zollikon. However, I didn’t work in that profession for long. I worked as a book seller and layout designer and at the same time I drew illustrations and comics more and more often for various magazines and newspapers (youth magazine Toaster, German language magazine Denkbilder, Zürcher Student*in, weekly WOZ, Strapazin) until 2007, after which I concentrated exclusively on drawing and art.
Were there certain events or stations that were formative for your career?
The change from secondary school to the preliminary course at the ZHdK was a culture shock – in a highly positive way. All the tiresome school subjects suddenly fell away and we students were able to focus completely on our passions and try out a lot of things.
And in 2008 I had the opportunity to take part in many great exhibitions, at Jungkunst, at Fumetto and at the Festival Bande Dessinée in Lausanne, to name but a few.
Moreover in 2017 I was invited to the Thun Literary Festival Literaare for an exhibition and a panel discussion. That was a very exciting and motivating experience.
Were there certain people who were formative for your career?
My parents and my family circle. They are often, and still are, the fertiliser for my work. And a few teachers, but also Mrs Badoux (the mother of the late comic artist Christoph Badoux). I took a preparatory course with her for the pre-course exam. The first thing she said was: ‘Take the black tube out of your paint box. You only work with colours. No matter how dark the shadow is, it is never black!’ That made a big impression on me. Even though today I primarily draw with black ink.
My teacher Ursula Hiestand was also formative, strict but very fair, a great humanist.
Books, texts and music have also influenced me.
Has your environment supported you in your career?
Yes, there were never any obstacles in my way as far as my passion for drawing was concerned. Everyone let me do it. That was good, as I wouldn’t have accepted anything else.
What are your current activities?
I do illustration commissions and work on my own stuff. Or I fill out Corona acquisition replacement forms for events and jobs that couldn’t take place or were cancelled because of the virus.
Does what you are currently doing fulfil you?
Drawing, yes. Because it’s largely self-determined and almost nobody tells me what to do. Unless it’s a commissioned work. Then I’m willing to compromise and it’s fun to work with clients on something.
Do you think that you yourself have an influence on whether your activities are fulfilling?
It is particularly fulfilling when I can choose the themes and stories myself and work them out according to my imagination. For me it is important not to lose the joy in the process of drawing. Therefore, during the creative phases, I try not to think about later evaluations from the outside, nor let myself be influenced or swayed by comparisons, while also trying to ignore the stern inner critic. Unfortunately this is not always easy in these times of social media.
The strategy is to keep reminding myself what I’m all about: implementing my ideas, staying true to my ideals and not wanting to fulfil anyone else’s expectations.
What or who inspires you in everyday life?
This is usually linked to other people. Often an idea comes to me during conversations, or later in my memory of conversations. That’s how dialogues and stories come about. It can be one sentence, which then leads to the next, and in the end it leads to a story. That’s what happened with the book ‘One thing leads to another’, for example. A colleague told how her mother once asked her father, ‘What do you want for your birthday?’ He replied, ‘I need a new rifle!’ I thought that was so funny and I spun it along until it became a book.
The road there is often long and leads deep into the undergrowth and through the thought scrub. That’s the great thing about getting lost and always thinking and sketching on without knowing where the path will lead.
With commissioned work, the text or the theme is usually predetermined.
Stylistically, I’m currently inspired by Edward Gorey’s filigree, esoterically funny drawings.
And as already mentioned: books or text passages can also inspire me.
‘Reality must be learned.’ or: ‘Professions distract from existence.’ Aglaja Veteranyi.
What or who gives you strength and energy in everyday life?
I get that from the people closest to me, from physical exercise in the water or in the forest, and of course from a balanced diet.
Besides, it is the activity itself (drawing) that gives me energy and strength. Someone once said to me, ‘When you draw, your breath changes. It becomes much calmer.’
And last but not least, it comes from all those people who are interested in my work and books. Logical.
There are ‘magic moments’ when everything seems to fit. Moments that fulfil, inspire and give strength. Moments that confirm that the effort is worthwhile and that what you do is meaningful and valuable. Have you already experienced such moments in relation to your own activities?
Magical moments are rather rare. Those moments could perhaps have come from the young art and the great interest in the three-eyed figures. Or the panel discussion at the Literaare. In relation to art, there are moments when I am very satisfied with the result. Then I am relaxed and calm. That probably comes closest to the term ‘fulfilment’. Drawing has a therapeutic function for me in the broadest sense. It is a retreat, and it usually brings me into a state of balance. And – because I am not only a working subject – there are of course other moments and states that fulfil me and give me strength. But I’ll keep quiet about that here 😉 .
Do you actively do something for it, so that such ‘magic’ moments can happen?
That’s hard to force. And then it would no longer be magical. It would be actively set.
Are there moments when you doubt what you are doing?
Sure, that happens from time to time. The insecurity, the doubts, that things are not going well and that a picture is not satisfactory. Louise Bourgeois, for example, helps me to remain stoic and keep going:
‘What matters, the only purpose, is to try to understand what it is about us, is to examine ourselves. Art can help with that. There are possibilities of self-examination in it. I once said, ‘Every day you have to give up your past or accept it, and if you can’t accept it, then you become a sculptor.’ It is of course a privilege to be able to do this self-examination, especially through art. Examination requires tenacity, the tenacity to see, to focus. Scepticism opens the way for examination, clears aside the blindness of dogma, of comfortable belief, of comfortable seeing.’
In retrospect, can you find something positive in difficult moments?
No, I can’t find anything positive in such moments. It wears you down and spoils the joy of your work. I try to forget such moments.
Is there anything you would do differently in retrospect?
Maybe I would skip school more often. And I would be more consistent in implementing my own projects and books. And I would work on my sometimes quite annoying perfectionism, or attempt to reduce it.
Do you want to contribute to society with your activities?
I am of the opinion that one does not do justice to people if one constantly encourages or coerces them into so-called positive thinking or a positive attitude. That’s what I want to incorporate into my work. To counteract the optimistic distraction. And the servile all-is-well gibberish. Most of the time it’s just a parroted lack of content that reveals the powerlessness of the other person. Or they are auto-suggestive sermons in which one is merely a listener or an extra. This is often difficult to crystallise.
I think it is a mistake to divide the world into positive and negative.
‘The tiredness was mostly in her back and face. ‘Keep it straight and smile’ – that was the slogan in the shop. When she was out of the shop, she always had to scowl for quite a while to get her face to feel natural again.’ Carson McCullers
Is the recognition of other people or the public important to you?
Basically, one is always dependent on recognition and appreciation within one’s profession. It is also an incentive. It’s good when I notice that my work can move or trigger something in people and maybe they even recognise themselves in it.
How well can you live from what you do professionally?
To put it casually: I can live a dignified existence and hope that it will be like this until the end. I don’t think much about money and ‘old age’ and I have given up looking too far into the future. It only causes unnecessary stress. Who knows what will happen in two, five or ten years? Maybe I’ll be dead by then, maybe I’ll have emigrated or something else. The financial situation has an impact in that I don’t have a regular income. This is subject to great fluctuations. So I have learned to economise and sometimes to do without.
Is there something that is particularly occupying you at the moment?
What has occupied me for decades are the emotions, the shortcomings of people. What preoccupies me in the long term is not tied to what is fashionable at the moment or what corresponds to the zeitgeist. And it has to do with the harshness and coldness of our economised world. With the principle of competition that cannot be explained away.
‘Why all this? She would have liked to know. Why, in the devil’s name? Why all the plans, why the music? If nothing came of it but this trap: to business, home to sleep, then back to business.’ Carson McCullers
But of course there are things that are on my mind at the moment. For example, Corona and the social and political handling of it. This virus is a serious thing and it certainly wasn’t invented by any lizard people or spread by Bill Gates or anyone else (An evil bat perhaps? Possibly Batman himself?). But I’m always fascinated by the imagination that comes up with such absurd ideas and conspiracy theories. It’s full of science-fantasy fiction.
Is there something you would like to (increasingly) spend time on in the future?
I will – as a thematically logical continuation – delve even more into the heavy, less conformist, but more serious and esoteric themes.
What are you most grateful for in life?
I do not feel this kind of cosmic, religious and fundamental gratitude for life. I am grateful to all those who are interested in, enthusiastic about and promote (or have promoted) my work. And for not having a cavity in my tooth.
‘As we know, there are many religions in the world, maybe eight or ten, not just one or two or three. They all tell you how to express something. They each think they are uniquely true. To all of them I say ‘no’. I want to express myself. They have nothing to dictate to me. You can’t show me anything. You can find your way by comparing them, but none of them will find your way for you.’ Louise Bourgeois
Laura Hilti, January 2021
Louise Bourgeois: Ein Gespräch mit Louise Bourgeois, Donald Kuspit, Piet Meyer Verlag
Carson McCullers: Das Herz ist ein einsamer Jäger, Diogenes
Aglaja Veteranyi: Wörter statt Möbel, edition spoken script
Edward Gorey: The Lugubrious Library, Diogenes
Anders Nilsen: Grosse Fragen, Atrium / The End, Fantagraphics
Calvin & Hobbes: Macht’s gut, Freunde, Krüger Verlag
Portrait photo: Oli Zenklusen, www.lesdelicesduchaos.ch
All pictures: Andy Fischli
This interview is part of the project ‘Magic Moments’ by Kunstverein Schichtwechsel, in which people are interviewed about their careers, activities and their magical as well as difficult moments.
Curated by Stefani Andersen and Laura Hilti, Kunstverein Schichtwechsel.
Supported by Kulturstiftung Liechtenstein and Stiftung Fürstl. Kommerzienrat Guido Feger.
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