It can be difficult to summarize big cities like New York and Hong Kong in one table. But for the German artist Martin Köster, he takes up the challenge. Using expressive brushstrokes and a colorful palette of oil paints, he manages to capture the intricacy of architectural detail and the buzz of city life when it shines best, at night. It is in the dark that the magic of these places is revealed. “Lights and reflections dance on buildings and cars,” Köster says of his work. “The viewer is drawn into the vanishing point of the images. “
Although Köster started with cityscapes inspired by places in Germany, his success has allowed him to create paintings across the world. This includes other European countries, Asia and the United States. While architectural styles may change from place to place, the artist always gravitates to how cities transform after dark. “I have always been fascinated by the light in paintings,” he explains. “When rays of light shoot out from dark corners and bring cities to life, I feel the beauty. This passion for life is seen in the way the headlights of passing cars are reflected in the dark streets and how the lighting of indoor stores and restaurants spills over into the outdoor environment. “I like the idea that every light source in the city tells its own story,” Köster continues. “When I walk in a new city, I always walk slowly and discover these stories. “
We had the chance to speak with Köster about his great work of cityscape paintings and how he approaches each piece. Read on for the exclusive My Modern Met interview.
How did you start to make art?
I have drawn in pencil all my life. But never with colors and never a city. I can’t say exactly why, but I always wanted to keep the color until I found the right pattern. In my twenties, I made a to-do list. At the top it was written: “Paint a city with color”. It was the beginning. That day is now five years ago. Not a day has passed since that date that I haven’t painted a city with colors. Maybe I’m so obsessed with this pattern because I kept it on for so long.
You specialize in urban landscapes. What attracts you to this subject?
This is a reassuring reason. You can watch it for hours and immerse yourself in it. At least one of my photos hangs in almost every room in my house.
What are you trying to achieve or express in each room?
I like the idea that each light source in the city tells its own story. If many lights meet, a sea of stories emerges. When I walk in a new city, I walk slowly and I feel these stories. People who live together in a confined space but also remain solitary. I try to capture these feelings in my paintings.
Most of your cityscapes seem to take place at night. Is there a reason for this?
Yes, I need the darkness of the buildings to let the light shine. This is how I create the maximum contrast.
Tell us about your creative process. How do you choose which city to paint next?
Often times, collectors ask me if I can paint a particular city for them. I did it once and I didn’t like it. It was then that I realized that I had to look for my motivations on my own. I am fortunate to be able to exhibit internationally. This is why I often see foreign cities. Then I take pictures in the city before the exhibitions and later I paint these pictures. I now have a large collection.
Do you have a favorite place that you described?
I really like all cities with tall buildings. New York and Hong Kong are the biggest attractions for me right now.
How has your artistic practice evolved over time?
The colors have become stronger over time. The edges are more abstract. The light is more intense. I manage to concentrate better and better on the essentials. I don’t destroy as many photos as I used to. So I feel like I’m doing better.
What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
I build a lot of my tools myself. My favorite tool is a spatula that I made from sheet metal. I hope it will hold a little longer and not break.
Is there a work of art that you are most proud of?
These are mostly my new works. These are then replaced several times with new ones. An eternal cycle, but the best motivation for me. So I never tire of painting the same motif over and over again.
Which artists, or works of art in particular, inspire you?
Romantic era painter William Turner, who also specialized in the glow of light.
How do I know when a job is finished?
It is a very difficult time. Sometimes I don’t know for sure. Then I work too long on an image. Then, at the end, I realize that I should have stopped earlier. Sometimes I’m disappointed and I don’t sign the job and put it in the far corner of my studio. There is already a considerable collection there. Because the timing is so difficult, the joy is greater when I stop at the right time.
What’s the best about being an artist?
See more Köster cityscape paintings: