Berlin artist and Prague native Martin Roller has become somewhat of an internet sensation, thanks to his clever and playful brand of still life photography. Leveraging an extensive art background with years of prolific work with his camera, Martin fuses the concepts and functions of common household items, all in the name of fun and surrealism. Whether it’s turning bananas into shoes or dunking grenades in chocolate sprinkles, his body of work exists to challenge the idea of the mundane and provide a fresh perspective, one of child-like wonder, to the world that we inhabit every day.
We reached out to Martin to provide a bit more insight on his philosophy and work process. He was kind enough to enlighten us.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions Martin. Let’s start with your roots - where are you from, and how did you get started in the art business?
I was born in 1977 in Prague, grew up in Munich where my parents settled after their escape from the CSSR (Czechoslovakian Socialist Republic). I studied fine arts in St.Helens (UK) and graphics and illustration in Berlin (Germany). Since finishing my studies in 2007 I live and work in Berlin.
How would you describe the evolution of your career, from illustration to photography?
_Well I started very early with drawing and painting. You can see some of my early works on this blog: http://pigsandpencils.blogspot.de/
But after 20 years of working in this business I think art is not only about taking a pencil and a paper and producing a nice pictures but expressing your ideas. And this can happen in any way. And I think there doesn’t even have to be a product at all in the end. An artist only needs to provide an idea._
Food is a very dominant theme in your recent work. When and why did you begin to put your focus there?
When I started in 2013 working with food I did it because this material is really a pleasure working with. Even when you have a bad day and you do not succesfully finish your work you still have a banana or an apple left you can enjoy as a snack instead. Food is colorfull, it’s easy to work with and above all food was already presented in so many ways throughout the centuries that it is also a challenge for me to search for new methods of presentation. People do not tend to give food images a second glance because they have seen so many bananas or apples photographed in the same way. I want to create pictures which work like small eye traps. Which try to show you the most boring things in a different light and make them the most interesting things for a couple of seconds.
With that objective in mind, how do you go about it? What is your creative process like?
In my way of working I consider everything as a part of a “visual alphabet”. I do not make any differences while looking at the various objects. A banana has the same value as a key or a cup. I developed this view while I was working on icons and information signs/symbols for traffic and public buildings. There I realized how strong this “visual vocabulary” consisting of different signs is. And I wanted to know what would happen if somebody used this optical grammar like an uneducated small child by making all kinds of senseless combinations.
You mean like putting a shoe together with a salami or an apple with a burger?
Precisely! And the result was really interesting. Every picture I produced developed new and unspoken words which are corresponding with our imagination. There is no exact meaning or notion. And this is something which keeps our minds busy and extends our viewpoint while looking at these pictures. It’s a refreshment and gain for the mind.
So, the million dollar question is, just how much Photoshop do you use in these images?
Although the photographs of the objects look as though they were digitally developed and put together like photomontages, I built each work of art by hand. Some of my works took several days to emerge. One important feature of my work and probably the most important one is that all the combined objects are realistic. That they all fit together in their dimensions. For instance I would never put a cow on the moon or an elephant inside a bird cage. The reason lies in the vast majority of pictures done like photomontages ignoring any rule. This leads to images which are arbitrary. I try to combine two different viewpoints in the observer. On the one side we have this strong surrealistic moment while looking at the pictures and one the other side one can see the fine and passionate craftsmanship which enhances my work not being simply a digitally generated picture.
How would you categorize your work right now? Is it photography? Design?
I actually get this a lot. Is it art? Is it design? Well I think it’s both. It covers some features on both sides. But above all it’s definitely produced for our every day living spaces or simply said for our kitchens, living rooms, workplaces, offices, cafeterias, … or wherever you want to place it. It’s not being produced to hang only in an art gallery on a white wall to let people search for the artist’s abstract ideas. It’s a picture. Don’t think too much. Enjoy it!All images courtesy of Martin Roller