Miron Schmückle, born in Romania in 1966, paints large-format pictures that at first glance are reminiscent of illustrations from plant encyclopaedias. His pictures, characterised by a seemingly scientific-botanical approach, are in fact creations of the imagination. Schmückle's hybrid creatures from the world of plants and animals combine fragrance and poison, beauty and transience to create a timeless oeuvre between truth and invention. His artistic career has been characterised by his interest in art history and the flora and fauna of distant lands. Having grown up in Romania under Ceausescu, his unique work unfolds a fascinating fusion between fine-painting hyperrealism and unadulterated escapism.

In conversation with author and art historian Simon Elson, Miron Schmückle talks about the origins and aims of his art and his fascination with the plant world.

Simon Elson: A critic once said that the merit of Jeff Koons’s art was that it beats us over the head with kitsch whether we like it or not. In that spirit: What is your art’s merit? Looking back from some point in the future, what will have been its achievement?

Miron Schmückle: Perhaps my art will cause us to question our anthropocentric worldview with a bit more courage and fantasy, to push human beings—the supposed crown of creation—out of the spotlight and then take another, closer look. I don’t think human beings are always the measure of all things, which, incidentally, can be quite a relief. Nor do I think that humans should continue to subdue nature; that millennia-old recommendation has long lost its validity. I’ve been drawing and painting plants since the end of my studies and I’m very happy about the fact that, as motifs, they don’t lend themselves very well to personification. For as long as the study of art begins with nude drawing, the human body will be the point of departure and yardstick for artistic thought and action, and it’s extremely difficult to free oneself of that. Is it any wonder? The human figure of Greek antiquity in whitewashed marble continues to make as deep an impression on us as ever. Animal figures made it into the rank of divine romantic dramas because gods liked to take on the guise of beasts to seduce innocent young shepherds and nymphs. And the plant? At best it represented what remained of a human being who wanted to escape the love of a deity—a laurel tree, a patch of reeds, an anemone—or, if not that, a mere attribute, symbol, or background ornament. Rolled up acanthus leaves on the capitals of Corinthian columns. And that’s the way things have remained. These days the plant is nothing more than a potted philodendron in a nondescript interior in which not much is said anyway. I try to turn that around.

SE: You give us a new look at the plant kingdom, at a different form of growth?

MS: Maybe I manage to make headway against a term coined by contemporary biology educationalists: “plant blindness.” But before I go into that, let me return to your question. I draw plants; I invent myself. In the process, I avail myself of an internalized repertoire of forms, colors, and surface textures I’m familiar with from nature. Everything that takes shape on my paper is based on observations of nature and my conception of nature—a never-ending process. That’s why my plants look as if they existed in similar form in nature. They possess a certain plausibility. Many of them might almost have a slot of their own in the botanical classification system. In that sense, what takes shape in my work is a new plant world, or a new outlook on the existing plant world, a different form of growth. In nature, most plants are fixed in place by roots and, in very different ways, grow toward the light or the water. In my pictures, they develop according to compositional principles. I set them in a motion of their own; they might float freely in the air, be suspended, grow from within themselves, intertwine, depart from the pictorial space altogether. I once titled a work: Nach meinem Belieben und auf ihre Weise (As I Like and in Their Way).

SE: What distinguishes plant life from human life? For example, human life is characterized by mobility, plant life not at all.

MS: Plants can create their own food; animals (including us humans) can’t. That’s perhaps the most fundamental difference, but of course there are several others. Plants existed long before we did, and it was they that made our life (animal life) possible in the first place. Plants created us, so to speak. It wasn’t me who came up with that thought, but it’s a thought I embrace—that primordial plants (unicellular organisms capable of photosynthesis) are the gods of creation of every other form of life. That’s the argument Emanuele Coccia pursues in his natural-philosophical texts. Plants alone can produce organic material from inorganic compound. From simple molecules containing carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen and with the help of solar energy—that is, by means of photosynthesis—they produce complex molecules (hydrocarbons) that are essential to life. Oxygen is a plant excretion. The “blue sky,” the air we breathe, and everything we can assimilate as food is created by plants. In a nutshell: plants can exist very well without us, but we can’t exist without plants. What’s more, the supposed immobility of plants is not always accurate. As a rule, plants are sedentary beings, but they continue growing throughout their lives and they spread. By way of reproduction, they even go on trips and colonize new habitats. In our latitudes, the ice age brought about veritable plant migrations quite like human migrations. Plant populations also migrate when the living conditions become unbearable. On the Baltic coast in Holstein there are relics of Pannonian flora and in the Basel railway yard there are Balkan plant species whose seeds “took the train.” But there’s also mobility on the level of individual plant organisms. For example, every form of asexual reproduction in the plant world is at the same time a form of mobility. When a plant produces rhizomes, tubers, brood buds, or offshoots, it moves from one place to another. This process is even more fascinating in plants than in animals. Because as a plant travels it theoretically renews its organisms indefinitely. The offshoot is not a child of the plant, but a branch capable of independent life, of forming roots, blossoms, fruits, further shoots, et cetera. Mobility is also implicit in sexual reproduction. Fruits and seeds are usually constructed in such a way that they can set out on their own and go as far away from the mother plant as necessary to be able to develop as an independent individual. Coconuts can cross oceans until they find a sandy ground to germinate on. On the banks of the Elbe we find wild tomato plants whose seeds come from our cities’ sewage treatment plants. It took a few centuries to make it from South America to Lower Saxony, in this case with human help, but plants also manage journeys like that on their own, and unlike animals—and above all, unlike us humans—they’re in no hurry.


You can find the unabridged interview in our publication Miron Schmückle - Flesh for Fantasy.

Miron Schmückle – Flesh for Fantasy | Hatje Cantz

Veröffentlicht am: 22.02.2024