Mar. 29, 2022, by Roz Morris
Inside the Floating Spaceman: A Portrait of Cornelius Dammrich
Roz Morris and Cornelius Dammrich discuss the processes and experiences that bring out his creations.
Devices are one of his big motifs, and he uses them to create an epic sense of entropy. A cat sits beside a clock radio a few minutes after Armageddon. Space men visit old telephone boxes.
He laughs. ‘It’s just what I like. Creatives are a product of the things they’re inspired by. So if you like a book, you’ll be inspired by it, even in tiny bits. And I am inspired by dirty or used stuff. The really clean stuff without fingerprints and scratches is boring. Of course, I appreciate new when I’m unboxing my new iPhone, for example, but when I create an artpiece …. If I build a water bottle, it’s boring if it’s new. It should be banged up and worn.
‘I was always like that. When I was 9 or 10, I found a book in the rubbish bin of a neighbour. It was by HR Giger, who designed Alien. I was like, holy fuck, this is a thing? There are people painting aliens and biomechanical worlds, all gory and creepy? Everything that was a little bit fucked up I was interested in. Also morbid stuff. I read about serial killers and medieval execution methods. But I’m not a psychopath, I find it super-interesting. Why do people do things? History is violent and history is interesting to me. I like knowing things from the past.’
On his website he mentions a period when, as a kid, he painted the sinking Titanic, again and again, in MS Paint. That, he says, started after he saw the James Cameron movie.
‘I was obsessed with that movie,’ he says. ‘I drew it obsessively, the boat sinking and the bodies floating… I did like 20 pictures of it. I was a weird kid.’
He found an answer – in smaller-scale projects. These are vignettes – a heap of syringes or graphite pencils, beautiful in their simplicity and love of shape, light and detail. He enjoys this new direction.
‘Sometimes the big pieces can be stressful and draining. Sometimes I just want to do a quick experiment to keep things fresh and have fun. It feels safer, more fluent because I only work on it for a week or two and it’s done. And if I focus on smaller things I can still keep up the quality. If I create one object in a black void it’s easier to focus all the details and craftsmanship. And the language the image speaks is different from the big images and I enjoy that. If I do a schoolroom with 50 computers it’s a lot of work and hard to focus on just one thing.’
What else feeds his imagination? Music is important. He’s close friends with electronic musician Lukas Guziel. Lukas has created soundtracks for his tutorial videos, and also for short, 1-minute videos Cornelius makes of the details in his still pictures. They riff off each other. ‘I create the video, show it to him, he creates music, I change the cuts in the video to work better with what he does in the track, he changes the music, cuts faster, or puts more space in the beginning. We influence each other. And Lukas makes music that pushes me to create.’
I ask him which artists or other creatives influence him. He cites the American electronic musician Lorn (‘he does really dark music’). Also Martin Stig Anderson who created the music for the games Limbo and Inside (‘these games also inspire me’). The illustrator and graphic designer Ash Thorp, a personal friend. The illustrator Piotr Jablonski (‘his technical abilities and the atmosphere of the images are perfect’). ‘I also like the old war photographers, and the street photography of Henri Cartier Bresson at Magnum. Because he can capture real moments.’
And since you’re wondering, the software he regularly uses is Adobe Photoshop and After Effects, Maxon’s Cinema 4D for 3D modelling, Otoy’s Octane for rendering, Marvelous Designer for cloth simulation. Other favourites are ZBrush, Substance 3D Painter, DaVinci Resolve and Fusion 360.
I ask what he’d say to working artists who want to start creating personal work. His answer: follow your interest. And experiment.
‘You start with art because you have drive. Something or someone inspired you and you thought, that’s cool. I want to do that too. So copy them. Get inspired and do whatever you want, it doesn’t matter what. Even if it’s too hard, try it out. Just do things.
He says it’s also important to think long term. ‘Remember the whole art thing is a marathon. So enjoy the moment. Also take breaks. It’s okay to. If you feel like taking two weeks off to play video games and that would be better for your mental health, do that. The judgement of whether your career was a success won’t be done by you, it will be done after you’re gone, and it will look at your whole body of work. It won’t matter if you had a break of three days because you wanted to play a new videogame.’
Also, don’t be fooled by the personas you see on social media. ‘There’s a work culture on social media that everyone has to work all the time. You see someone working 24/7 and you think if you don’t do that you’ll fail. Actually, everyone will fail all the time. Always. I would never trust someone who didn’t fail. I don’t think anyone’s perfect and we fail all the time and that’s how it should be. Especially in art. You try and try and try and sometimes you get it right and that’s the cool thing, then you’ll make progress. That’s okay, you fail your way up.
‘And also be humble. Don’t be a dick. There’s nothing worse than an arrogant artist. Know that you’re failing all the time and that you try and you don’t know the answer. It’s cool if you’re really good at what you do but still try to be humble about it because there’s always someone better than you.’
If you want to watch his mind in motion, look at his mood and concept boards on Pinterest. Many of the images there, he says, are cornerstones for artworks he will eventually make.