An interview with the Düsseldorf artist Roman Klonek in his studio


Surrealism meets comic-strip – the world of Roman Klonek

Düsseldorf-based artist Roman Klonek has a distinctive style, as can be seen from his woodcut prints depicting strange creatures and featuring unusual writing symbols. The surreal, comic-inspired works are created in bold colours using intricate, traditional woodcut techniques. Klonek exhibits in Hamburg and Copenhagen, his clients are based in San Francisco and New York, and his studio is in Flingern-Süd. There, he reveals what he appreciates most about living in Düsseldorf.

Düsseldorf artist Roman Klonek with one of his woodcut prints. The design consists of striking colors and comic-inspired figures.
Roman Klonek with one of his pieces.

Roman, you studied graphic design at Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences, now known as HSD. Was print design a major focus of the course?
No, not really. The course was more focused on typography and film back then. Some of my fellow students went into advertising after graduating. But we were still able to practise our skills because the university had a number of workshops, such as for screen printing and etching. A course in woodcut printmaking was also offered during my studies. That was my first experience of it, and I loved it so much that I’ve stuck with it.

You grew up in Hanover, moved to Düsseldorf for university and stayed there once you’d graduated. Why?
I’ve always felt very at home in Düsseldorf. During my studies, I built up a circle of friends and felt that the city was more interesting than Hannover, where I come from. I can’t imagine moving back there.

And what is life like as an artist in Düsseldorf?
Great. There have always been strong networks, even when I was at university. One example was the group of cartoonists led by Tobi Dahmen, who initiated the Herrensahne project at that time. That was a comic anthology that was published collaboratively for almost two decades. After I graduated, I set up Galerie Revolver in 2000 with another group of artists. For many years, it was a hub for artists, illustrators and people from the street art scene. We’ve had many international artists exhibit with us, such as Jim Avignon and Os Gêmeos. All those connections have been fruitful to this day. Just a few months ago, a new group of printmakers got together at the instigation of Inessa Emmer, a graduate of the Academy of Arts. Ink & Pressure is the name of the group. The first joint exhibition started on 6 August and runs until 24 September 2023. The Kunsthaus Bocholt will show nine print collections, including some of my work. As you can see, it’s so easy to network in Düsseldorf.

A piece by Roman Klonek, featuring a comic-like illustration in bright blue on a red background.

Are you represented by a gallery in Düsseldorf?
Yes, my gallery in Düsseldorf is called Pretty Portal. My work is regularly on show there in individual and group exhibitions. Klaus Rosskothen, the gallery owner, regularly organises street art events. Last year, for example, some international street artists and I got to do a makeover of an underpass at Bilk train station.

Your work can be seen on the street as well as in museums. Where do you feel most at home?
I really do move between worlds. I love street art, comics and prints, but I have a strong affinity for all kinds of visual arts. There is a huge amount of overlap.

Despite the growing use of digital technologies all around us, you still work a lot with woodcuts. What draws you to this intricate technique?
While at university, I just realised that woodcut is the medium for me. It almost feels as though the woodcut enhances my drawings. I don’t work with greyscale or shadow effects. Instead, I use clear strokes and bold areas of colour. That’s what makes the technique such a good fit for my style.

Your works are populated by strange creatures, often half human, half animal. You throw Cyrillic and Japanese characters into the mix, which accentuates the other-worldliness of your motifs. Where do you find inspiration?
I keep a kind of diary-cum-sketchbook which I add to every day. My doodles are a chaotic mix of lines and elements that run into one another but they are a constant source of ideas. It’s like prospecting, I find shapes that I can synthesise into something new. At times it feels a bit like composing music, like creating a harmonic chord by bringing the right pictorial elements together.

You've lived and worked in Düsseldorf for 24 years. What do you like most about your adopted city?Düsseldorf is a lovely place, and the air is pretty clean here. You can get around easily by bike. There are lots of places along the Rhine where you can meet people, and the whole city has a special kind of charm.

Roman Klonek and Ilona Marx look at a print he made during the visit to his studio.
Düsseldorf artist Roman Klonek in his studio with Ilona Marx.

Have you got a favorite place?
I love the Zoopark and often go there, but I also like the Volksgarten park. And my neighbourhood too of course, Flingern. I always bump into people I know when I go for an evening stroll.

Tell us about your most exciting commission.
That would be one that came via my US agent: the brief was to design characters for a soy-based bar (editor’s note: Soyjoy). Later on, commercials were made too and the characters were animated – that was exciting to see. This gave rise to another job that was a lot of fun. I was invited to LA Fashion Week in order to paint live during the event.

A stack of woodcut prints in portrait format.

Are there any museums or galleries that you recommend to friends or colleagues when they are in town?
Loads! I think the film museum is great. So is the Philara Collection, where there’s a nice café. And the Julia Stoschek Foundation focuses on time-based media art.

Where do you go when you want to switch off?
To Grafenberg Forest. It only takes me a few minutes to get there by bike and leave the city behind me. It’s the perfect place when I want absolute peace and quiet.

Interview: Ilona Marx

Photos: Markus Luigs

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