Klaus Enrique: “Sometimes People Think It’s Photoshop – For Me It’s Even A Compliment”

Klaus Enrique speaks on what is more important in his work – photography or sculpture - and what happens with portraits after shooting

The heroes of Klaus Enrique’s photographs of are vegetables, fruits, haulms, egg shells, flower petals, quail carcasses and other raw materials that are not typical for sculptors. Some portraits are literally reinterpretations of paintings by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, an Italian painter of the 16th century. Bird In Flight learned from Enrique how he decided to apply the creative method of a classic painter of mannerism, discovered how such works are created, and who gobbles them up after shooting.

Klaus Enrique, 39 years old

Grew up in Mexico City, currently lives in New York. Studied genetics at the University of Nottingham, England and received an MBA from the Columbia Business School in New York. Most of his working career was spent as a freelance IT consultant before he got interested in photography, which he studied at Parsons and the School of Visual Arts. In 2011 Klaus Enrique won the prestigious Curator Award/Emerging Artist of the Year for Still Photography.

Six years ago I was working on a series, photographing different parts of the human anatomy masked among hundreds of organic objects. When I was taking a picture of my sister’s eye, I covered her in thousands of dry leaves. It looked like a face was appearing even though there was just the eye. Then I thought it would be interesting and cool to make a sculpture completely out of leaves. I started searching on the Internet and came across the work of Arcimboldo. Until then, I had never seen his work. When I first saw it, I said “It is incredible that somebody that lived 400 years ago created such an amazing piece of art. What’s the point of reinventing the wheel?”. Then I remembered somebody’s words that there is no such thing as perfection and you can never say that somebody has already covered this subject. I could not exactly formulate my creative idea, but it most definitely stood out from what Arcimboldo did. Initially, I made a rough draft of the ancient god of the four seasons, Vertumnus. I found a sponsor and he gave me $5,000 for this project. For an entire year I tried to make a portrait, but nothing worked out. Then I hired assistants and told them that we had only three or four days to get the job done. All of them offered their ideas and in the end everything turned out great. That was when I understood that everything I had planned worked out.

{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/klaus_15.jpg”, “alt”: “Klaus Enrique 01”, “text”: “Flora (left), Diana (right)” }

I began making portraits of Arcimboldo to achieve a certain level of proficiency. I decided that if I could repeat his work I would be able to do anything. And I began learning from his work, painting after painting and lesson after lesson so that I would have the skills that would guide me and allow me to gain the required experience. I then decided to do portraits of Gandhi, The Terminator and Darth Vader. I like Arcimboldo’s portraits from which I started, though I prefer my own creations. In my opinion, they are more enticing.

{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/klaus_14.jpg”, “alt”: “Klaus Enrique 02”, “text”: “The Terminator (left), Darth Vader (right)” }

Everything starts from the initial idea. I make a lot of sketches. Then after some time I go through them and choose the one I want to go with. If to speak about ingredients, imagine that I have many centipedes and how will they be useful, even if I do not know exactly what for. Then I watched, for example, the film The Mommy and understood that I want to create a mommy from these centipedes. In short, I don’t walk through supermarkets and look at products that I can make something of, more often I have specific materials in mind although I have not yet chosen a particular character for them.

In order to form a sculpture, I use many elements, for example, sand or mounting foam. I often mold the basis of a sculpture from plasticine. If this will be a portrait of fruits and I need apples, then I buy not just one but four or five, one of which will definitely be suitable. If it does not fit, then a substitute must be found as quickly as possible before the rest of the fruits rot. I generally go to one particular grocery store in New York – the Manhattan Fruit Exchange. Vendors recognize me immediately and every time they ask me to show them the new portrait.

{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/klaus_12.jpg”, “alt”: “Klaus Enrique 03”, “text”: “Titian” }

{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/klaus_13.jpg”, “alt”: “Klaus Enrique 04”, “text”: “Summer (left), Autumn (right)” }

{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/klaus_11.jpg”, “alt”: “Klaus Enrique 05”, “text”: “Dmaniss Skull” }

Though this process sounds like fun, I often get upset because when I start working with a sculpture it’s difficult and I don’t exactly know what I’m going to do. I get angry, because something is not working. It’s very stressful for me. And then when you finish, there is an amazing moment when you look at your work and it looks back at you. That is then when you feel that it has its own personality. When that moment hits I know that I’ve accomplished my mission and the next few days I am in heaven.

I don’t think there is a problem finding a part of a face. You keep working and always find something. You make compromises. It is very much like life – sometimes you should simply finish the picture because everything else is dying. The stressful part of the work is when I begin working on what I have sketched on paper. Recently, I made a commission for a guy in Slovakia and I was building it up according to my creative plan, but it simply was not working. It was a disaster. I was looking at it seeing a cabbage in one place and pears in another place. I looked at my work and saw that it was a complete disaster – the cabbage was pointing downwards, though it should have been pointing upwards. The pears were going in one direction, though they should have gone the opposite way. All of sudden, after I made some changes, it all worked out. Then I could put the eyes and everything else in the right place. It’s almost like a puzzle. If you are a missing just an ear, it’s as if you are missing one piece of a puzzle. But when you start putting together a puzzle and you don’t know where the right piece fits, you go crazy.

{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/klaus_07.jpg”, “alt”: “Klaus Enrique 01”, “text”: “LHOOQ – Mona Lisa with mustaches (left), Mona Lisa (right)” }

Usually, I make my sculptures on my own. The last time I had an assistant was four years ago. I am not opposed to having an assistant again, though I haven’t needed one. I am currently working on a new piece. It’s going to be two people together, but that will be a tough job because making one is hard enough in itself. I may need an assistant. Maybe as I build one person, my assistant will sculpt another one. We may have enough time to get the job done before it all begins to fall apart.

I use huge amounts of sand. I start building the entire composition with sand with all the elements together. I can put more sand into the sculpture and then put in the pear one place and move it around until I see that it looks right. I don’t like using glue, because it will be visible. I like the feeling that Arcimboldo conveyed, when everything seems to be held together by some kind of magic. I want to feel the same thing, so that nobody will ever see things holding on to something else. Sometimes people think that it’s Photoshop, because there is no other way you can do it. To me it is a genuine compliment because it’s not photoshoped at all.

Sometimes I leave the pieces to rot a little bit and I continue to take pictures of them as they rot.

There is a subconscious level to the choice of products. For example, I did a piece about Trayvon Martin, a black American teenager, who simply went to buy a pack of Skittles and was killed. I thought I should make the whole piece out of Skittles, although I knew that this was the obvious choice. I crushed every single one of the Skittles to signify the loss of life. In that regard, every single piece of the material had a very significant meaning and I think some of my other pieces like Gandhi also have such meaning. I think the eggs were the reason why I picked Gandhi for that project. Even if I think it’s just about the form, there is a subconscious level as to what is going on. Darth Vader, for example, is made entirely out of butterflies, scorpions and spiders. I think there is a lot of meaning in the materials, though I don’t know if every single my piece is about the material.

{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/klaus_16.jpg”, “alt”: “Klaus Enrique 15”, “text”: “Ghandi (left); Trayvon Martin (right)” }

In order to use one apple I normally have to buy four or five apples. When I finish one sculpture I am normally left with about 60-80% of the ingredients that I bought. They are there and I haven’t touched or cut them. So, I throw away anything that I have touched with my hands. But 80% of the ingredients that I don’t use, I give away to the guys in the restaurant downstairs where I eat every day. Sometimes I leave the pieces to rot a little bit and I continue to take pictures of them as they rot. Sometimes they look good and sometimes not. But I just keep them for memory, but eventually they start to get too smelly. I use coffee when the pieces are done. I put coffee beans there and when I come in all you smell is coffee. But eventually you still smell the pungent odor of rotting vegetables. A lot of people say that I have to photograph them as they rot. I tried doing this a couple of times even if the objects don’t look so appealing or aesthetic. The worst element is fruit flies. One day I walked in, turned the lights, and the cloud of grey took off. That was it. Another problem is that fruits and vegetables rot at a different speeds and then the piece of work does not look that good, because one part is still fresh and another is completely rotten and it begins to fall apart.

I’ve already made some self-portraits. There is one made completely out of bananas and I think that’s me. It didn’t start as me, but I was making something out of bananas and then I looked at it and saw myself. I also made one work completely out of eggs and it was also me. I’m just realizing more and more that a lot of these portraits are me. It can even be a portrait of somebody else, but there is a lot of me in them. I think there are three pieces that are entirely me. One is made out of white eggs, one out of bananas, and another one out of screaming white lilies. The reality is that every single piece of art that you create is a self-portrait.

{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/klaus_091.jpg”, “alt”: “Klaus Enrique 06”, “text”: “Portrait of a man” }

{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/klaus_10.jpg”, “alt”: “Klaus Enrique 07”, “text”: “Agony” }

I did the front cover of the cook book for the renowned vegetarian chef Martin Rausch from Slovakia. Half of the picture is his face and the other half is my sculpture. I do commissions, but not for restaurants. Luckily, it’s too expensive for anybody to do it. I want people to appreciate my photographs as art. Many people buy them for their art collections.

{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Klaus_01.jpg”, “alt”: “Klaus Enrique 08”, “text”: “Portrait of Martin Rausch” }

I am doing a commission for one guy – two portraits of him and two of his wife. The next piece I am going to do is “Portrait of a Painter (El Greco).” It’s a painting that El Greco made and Picasso copied it in his style. I have been hiding a little bit of my work from the last time, though I have been working very hard making new portraits and I also want to do a show. People have seen the Arcimboldo stuff, but they haven’t seen my latest works.

I create all my works from a photograph. Some people suggested that I should transport one piece to the show. Somebody was looking at my Darth Vader one time and asked me to make a real sculpture so he can look around it and see what is behind it. But that’s exactly why I should not make a sculpture because with a photograph you look at it and you want to see more and how it’s made. With a sculpture you give away too many answers to the secret behind it. I will not put a real vegetable sculpture in front of people because then they will see a tooth pick or something else holding everything together. That’s not the point of this form of art. Sculpture can be interesting, but my works are fun and unique because they are in fact photos.

{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/klaus_17.jpg”, “alt”: “Klaus Enrique 09”, “text”: “Verthumn” }

I am really lucky that I work with Arcimboldo. I even didn’t realize how much meaning there is inside this work, for example all this stuff about our relationship with the natural environment. My friend told me once that he likes the fact that I make a historical reference to a painting that is 400 years old using materials that will only last a week, maybe three days or maybe two minutes and then record them in 1/100 or 1/10 of a second using photography. My pieces are non-stop talking about time, life and history. And it’s true. It goes forward and backwards. This is the time we experience today, but in a way it also reaches out to the future. And then people say that they love how in Darth Vader I have taken beautiful things and I have made something that is a lot scarier than the real Darth Vader. It’s all butterflies and one spider, but everything is so creepy. I like the fact that we can talk about human nature and duality and construction and colors. There are so many layers to art.

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