German-born collagist Werner Hornung moved to Paris after high school and never left. Throughout his career running his own advertising studio, he kept himself creatively fulfilled by creating collages in his free time. In 1993, he started scanning his handmade collages and digitally enhancing them.
With decades of these personal digital art pieces in a backlog, Hornung was perhaps more prepared than anyone when digital art was revolutionized by NFTs. We spoke to him over Zoom from his home studio in Paris to discuss his process, inspirations, and how his work has evolved since he started selling NFTs.
MP: Can you tell me about this quote I see on your social media profiles: “The better you look, the more you see.” What does that mean to you?
WH: There are two meanings. The first meaning is a general description of looking at things. It’s obvious: if you’re looking at it more carefully and with intention, you might see more than if you just look superficially. But that’s what everyone understands.
What people don’t get and what, for me, is the most important reading, which is a bit cynical, is that if you are good-looking, you are designed to be shopped around, to meet more people, and to see more things. So that was my way of looking at it, you know, but that’s the aspect that nobody talks about too much.
MP: Your pieces are incredibly dense with imagery. How do they start, and how does the complexity build over time?
WH: It started over 50 years ago. I started making collages with pieces of paper and glue because there was no machinery to help. Collages were always my kind of expression, you know, taking pieces from all over the place and putting them together in a new order to create a new world.
I think it was in the 90s when I started with a computer. I started to scan these older collages, these handmade pieces, which were huge with thousands of pieces. I never minted NFTs of this work because I don’t want to sell them that way. These collages were base work, which I transformed afterward with a computer.
I have never drawn anything in my whole life. I always took existing pieces and transformed them in a way that you don’t recognize them as they were in the beginning. You couldn’t look at some piece and tell where it came from or what it looked like before.
I had an advertising agency in Paris for many years and a huge photo archive. The complexity comes from — if you take something from the past and you work on it, you put more layers, it gets denser. I might pick up a piece from 10 years ago and start working on it and even simplified, the passage of time gives it depth.
MP: I’ve noticed several recurring images and pieces from collage to collage. Have you found digital to be thematically advantageous in that you can re-use the same piece over and over to accrue meaning and…
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