“To be an artist is a way of life for me. My grandmother always told me that I could be anything I wanted to be. ‘Choose the thing you love most in life and make it your profession’ she said.” Thanks to these motivating words, Matthias Contzen started his unique career. The multimedia artist who plays with translucent marble, natural light and sound has a mission to reach the heart and soul of the ‘human beings’ behind their masks. We spoke with Matthias about his work, his life and his spiritual crisis.
In the beautiful seaside town of Cascais, in the Portuguese district of Lisbon, I have a meeting with the German artist Matthias Contzen. He moved to this idyllic place in 1998 to be closer to the ocean. “The mild climate allows me to work outside and take advantage of the natural sunlight which is essential for my work.” When the cool wind blows past me and I feel the salty air gently sticking to my arms, I envy him for a short moment. Matthias is a man who has known ups and downs but was able to achieve his dreams anyway. Not only is his work represented on different continents, both in private and public collections, in 2009, he also founded The Sculpture Factory in the colorful town of Sintra. This is a multifunctional center that serves as a workspace and art gallery from which he is the artistic director.
“Shall we?” Matthias asks. We walk into a small bistro and sit down on the terrace with a view on the undulating water. Accompanied by a snack and a drink, he tells me all about his life and (life’s) work. “About sixteen years ago, I had my first spiritual crisis. For fifteen years I had been sculpting like a mad man. Sometimes I spent twelve hours uninterrupted at work. I ended up in bed almost paralyzed: a ‘broken’ back, a broken heart and a broken dream. That crisis was my personal earthquake to transform myself into an artist in the true sense of the word. I did this with the help of God, yoga and some applied willpower. I now perceive myself as a translator. I translate divine consciousness into matter and form using translucent marble, the vibrations of sound and mantras and light as essential tools to communicate directly with the viewer.”
I notice that Matthias is a vastly spiritual figure. A fact that actually fascinates me about him. When I ask him how he would describe his style, he says – not very unexpectedly – “Contemporary Zen. My sculptures are materialized consciousness. They are channeled from the universe where they already exist as an idea. They are created by sacred sound patterns that I download and translate into matter.” As his story progresses, I discover that he hasn’t always had the same art style. A square block of marble had been the constant starting point for his sculptures, but after his spiritual crisis he came into contact with the work of Ernst Haeckel, a German zoologist and philosopher, about the art forms of the ocean, especially the diatoms that have the same shapes as Matthias’ sculptures. This and his interest in the formation of the earth are important sources of inspiration for him.
When I started with the Planet series and other sculptures for which I used the hollow diamond drill as my main sculpting tool, my sculptures became much lighter, more transparent and each time more intuitive. My working process now is less planned and more like an improvisation moment. That makes it much more joyful.” Matthias imagines his Planet sculptures as a frozen 3D image of the universe, microseconds after its own creation by the Big Bang, driven by the power of sound. “I want people to feel connected to the universe, with the source which is love.”
More than Passion
I would like to know whether he has a favorite artist he looks up to. “I am my own favorite artist,” is his answer. I don’t know how to act for a while. Do I find it funny or rather immodest? But then I think: if you’re not your own favorite artist, why do you make what you make? So, I can only agree with his answer.
We order another cup of coffee and talk further in an elated way. The word passion comes to mind when Matthias talks about his work. Though, that’s not the word I’m looking for. His sculptures are not only the result of passion, but also of an unstoppable, far reaching fascination with shapes and being shaped. The most important source of inspiration is his deep desire to unravel the true nature of realty and form. Where does IT come from and why does it manifest itself in that particular mysterious ways? That is the key question that stimulates his lively artistic research. “The philosophy of Plato’s Universe of Ideas says that beyond our world of illusion, imperfection, impurities and changes that is our material world, there is a real world of potential forms where perfection, beauty and truth have always existed. I see it as my artistic challenge to approach these eternal qualities as much as possible and transcribe them into matter.” His approach to think as little as possible brings his sculptures enormously close to the cosmic pattern that looks natural. Each piece comes from a solid, translucent Portuguese marble. His drawings simply follow his intuition.
After a short moment of silence in which we both take a sip of our drink, look around us and enjoy the peace and quiet, Matthias says: “I think the greatest achievement as an artist is to touch people’s hearts.” “Why do you think that?” I ask. “You allow them do take a break from their daily lives and enjoy pure beauty.” We both get quiet again and look at the ocean with a smile on our faces. A break of pure beauty.
Text: Ditte van Doninck