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Interview with the artist Kaspars Groševs and the curator Edd Schouten about the exhibition "Café de Paris" in TUR_telpa

For his exhibition “Café de Paris” Kaspars Groševs turns the cube of TUR_telpa into a version of the cozy bar he likes to frequent. The familiar atmosphere - with its yellowed, laminated paper menus, dim table lamps and the mostly worse-than-right paintings on the walls - plays an important function in Groševs life. This second living room - familiar to many of us - functions as a place to meet our confidants, laugh at bad jokes and forget our heartaches. It was in Café de Paris in Vilnius where Groševs first heard the music of Omar-S and in the collective murmur of people’s chatter mixed with Detroit techno he might have started a conversation that continues to this day. A place of dimmed lights and flowing drinks, where, floating in different fields and frequencies, all worries could disappear. At TUR_telpa Groševs seeks to continue the conversation after returning to Riga from a month in Paris where he sought the comfort of bars and cafes, finding inspiration for a new series of paintings and an escape from the everyday. — Edd Schouten, Viktoria Weber


Conversation between the artist Kaspars Groševs, curator of the exhibition "Café de Paris" Edd Schouten and RLT Project Manager Assistant Veronika Bátfai.



Veronika Bátfai

How did the idea of this exhibition come about? What were the first steps of making it reality?


Kaspars Groševs

I guess TUR_Telpa inviting me was the first step. Initially, I had a bit different idea but at the very last moment of last year, I got a note that I am going to residency in Paris for January and February which would be months when I prepare for the show, because I'm not the type of artist who can make work like five months before the show. I don't think anyone can but like I'm definitely not the type of artist. 


So basically it meant that I needed to paint in Paris and I had a studio that was bright enough. I had an easel and I bought some canvases in Paris and basically, that's the second step. And then throughout all these steps, we had this conversation about the ideas behind the show.


Edd Schouten

Yeah, I just want to correct you there Kaspars about not being productive because I think you're an incredibly productive artist. It's just that it's not all put into painting. You're doing so many things on top of that, whether it's making music or running your own art space, 427. Teaching, and having your drag babies, I would almost call them, your art drag babies. Because you have a lot of young artists who really look up to you as their, yeah, I’d call you like a drag daddy almost. It's like a house.


VB

Love that!


KG

Damn, that should be a title of a group show.


ES

There you go. So, I feel like you are an incredibly productive person and I don't know how you managed to fit all of it in but perhaps as a painter, you would always like to do more.


KG

I even feel like I didn't paint enough in Paris. I should have done twice as much. It's always like that. I was so busy enjoying Paris.


ES

But that also came back into the work because the theme of the exhibition, so to speak, or of the paintings in the exhibition were very much about, you know, drawing inspiration from the cafe life in Paris. And I think that for you being away from your regular environments, be it 427, be it teaching, be it your drag babies, it helped you to be able to focus a little bit more on just one thing, or maybe not just one because I'm sure you were doing other things anyway.


One of the things that I thought was very interesting was that from an early moment in the process towards the exhibition, Kaspars wanted to go inside of the cube rather than outside of the cube, which for me was quite a radical departure from what I would have usually wanted to do because the inside has very much a function of being a meeting place, la-di-da, and then outside is the space for the presentation. But I really liked the idea. It corresponded very much to that idea of a meeting place. 


Also, one thing that we both don’t like, this idea of a bar with art on the wall or a restaurant with art on the wall where it's for sale, you know, you have to lean over somebody's dinner in order to see what the price is. And it's just the most atrocious way to present artwork. It was really fun to be able to present the artwork in that way, almost as a tongue and cheek reference to that world. I think you were at the opening, it was almost impossible to see the work because people were sitting around and it was very crowded.


So this going into the interior and perhaps Kaspars, you can tell a little bit more about that because you have this tendency to almost cube, you know, to do things in smaller spaces. 427 is quite a small gallery. But also, you had this work in Blue Lagoon House, which was a reference from what you did at Vagonu iela, where you bring it all into a confined space, which is very interesting… it's not your first cube, let's put it that way.



ES

Why was it so interesting for you to go on the inside rather than do it on the outside like everybody else?


KG

There was a work that is called "Different Room" that I made in 2020, and that was around the time when I changed the way I paint. I started going more intuitive, more figurative, and more poetic and maybe dark sometimes, and a bit also self-ironic and post-ironic and whatever, different levels of irony.


This work was basically kind of embodiment of my teenage room, where I first felt the creative urges to create something, not just for school work because I studied in art school, but something for myself that I enjoy, and I started experimenting with sound, like just using whatever came to my mind.


That's also when I got the studio, and I didn’t have a studio space before that just for myself. I always worked from my home, and then finally I had a studio, and it was kind of like having a playground, also my man cave, because my studio looks basically like every other space I occupy. It's just loaded, full of stuff. And so I think it was just kind of this emotional, I don't know, like returning to these teenage years and to this confinement of this limited room without internet, where you're forced to be creative because there's nothing else to do.


You can either read a book, play some shitty computer game, or just be creative. And then that's kind of what I wanted to return to because I think in 2019 I was really burnt out, and then the COVID time kind of came together with just trying to heal myself, and I think in a way I'm still in process of that, and maybe this kind of small space gives me some kind of comfort, because it returns me to just teenage phase, even though I wouldn't say it was happy teenage years.

It was very traumatic and crazy, and I also played in a hardcore band at the time. But I don't know, it was something just like kind of trying to find this joy of making art for the sake of making art. But then, of course, I have this academic education, which teaches you a certain way of thinking (especially the visual communication department). And so always when I do something, I kind of have this conceptual framework in my mind. 


So also this inverse situation at TUR_Telpa, where everything happens on the inside rather than on the outside, I think it also kind of comes from this interest in just playing around with these different elements that create the show, like the text, like the presentation. You have a very nice touch, the Café de Paris printout, not the printout, but the sticker. The title of the show on the entrance. So all this, in the end, it falls into really, I can explain it in conceptual terms where it becomes boring.


But at the same time, I think I also wanted to keep this element of surprise even for myself. So I was very happy that Edd was involved in curating it and actually placing the work, which I luckily didn't have to think about. It's one of the rare occasions where you can just enjoy the process where Edd is working and I'm just enjoying it.


VB

Actually, my next question is about that.

Kaspars, as a curator yourself, how involved were you in the organization of the exhibition?


KG

We had this document where we basically exchanged some thoughts about ideas. I shared some images. This is actually, I think, not that likely for Latvia, and even I myself am not working that kind of way.


But this felt like a show where we really collaborated and talked a lot. So during the process of painting, I was already kind of trying to imagine it, which is maybe different from other cases. It's oftentimes working, especially in Latvia, with curators.


The curators are kind of almost scared of artists. And then Edd comes from a country where people are interested in artists. So that was also a difference, I guess, in this case, that I could somehow… you always have these thoughts about how you want to make the show, but you mostly keep them to yourself, or the curator asks you for formal sketches or something like that. It’s often very formal. And in this case, this dialogue between me and Edd also helped me to shape the idea of what the show is and how it should be presented or what would be the ways, how to talk about it and etc.


VB

Edd, the next question is for you. 

How do you curate an exhibition for a curator?


ES

It's a very easy question. I didn't curate for a curator. Kaspars first and foremost, is an artist. And we invited him as an artist. I curated, worked, and collaborated with an artist. I'd almost say it was another artist collaborating with the artist that we invited. Because I do have the artist's eye. I'm not a curator. I really am not. And I also wonder sometimes what curators do. I really don't know. I genuinely mean that.


Because I think it's just about having the conversation, listening, and understanding how things work in space, visually, and aesthetically.

What is the artist trying to say or get across? And as long as you're listening to that, and you have a little bit of spatial insight, a little bit of artistic creativity yourself, then the exhibition tends to find itself, to be honest.


For me, I approach curating as I would making an installation. The difference is that the material you work with is the work of another artist. And the space speaks, and the work speaks, and the artist speaks. And you find a way to bring it all together into something that's exciting for the audience.


KG

I think I have a similar approach as a curator. Because I was also forced into being a curator just because I couldn't find any curator I liked. I didn't have a space, a tiny artist-run space where I could go and see stuff that I would see in Berlin or Paris or London or whatever.


So that's why I started this whole thing (427), and it's been nothing but trouble. But it's also very much worth it.


ES

Tell me about it, man.

Nothing but trouble, boy.


KG

Yeah, I just had art academy students, and Maija was guiding her students to 427. She was like, can you give some advice on how it is to run the space every day? And I was like, you know, it's like from one fire to the next fire, from one emergency to the next emergency.


It's like working in an ER.


It's a great space, an important space also for Riga because it really gives artists an opportunity, I feel, more than other spaces. But I think there can be... Well, I think that what's kind of cool about Riga is there are quite a few good spaces, and they all kind of cater differently to the artist but also to the public.



VB

The next couple of questions are for Kaspars.

How did your residency in Paris influence you?


KG

For me, it was the novel The Magic Mountain. Going to heal myself, but at the same time not really heal myself. But it definitely felt like some kind of healing moment, because I felt really depressed in winter in Riga, and last autumn was pretty hard.

So I think Paris just gave me a chance to breathe a little and enjoy some art in museums and galleries and see some openings. You know, the beautiful life of a big cultural city. I don't know if it changed me, but yeah.


Maybe after this series, I'm going to stop painting bars for a while, even though I can never predict. It's a thing that just happens. Sometimes I meet someone at the bar, and the next day I paint them.


But I decided that I would try to return to a bit more poetic stuff and go into my deep fantasy world. I think this bar life felt too real. Now I'm back in Riga, and I even kind of try to avoid bars a bit.


VB

Oh, really?


KG

I mean, I'm not very successful. I got drunk at a house, and today I'm going to Bolderāja, but I'm trying. 


Paris was a nice experience. Yeah, it's also nice to be in a big city where there are a lot of people. So, yeah, I could reconnect with some old friends and meet some new people, and that's also kind of beautiful because, you know, there are not so many people going through Riga as a transit point. So you're stuck with the same people, which is also nice. They're great. You choose great people, but they're always the same.


It's also beautiful, like watching how people grow up, like also my drag babies. Like Smiltis, I've known this kid since he was like 14? And he's now 21 or 22. I've known him for most of his life.



VB

What did the process of making these paintings look like?


KG

I guess in a way, I tried to keep it as intuitive as possible. But there was also, as I mentioned, this conceptual framework that I was working within. So, in a way, that defined this a little bit. It was nice. I didn't have that many things to do for Riga and Latvia. Everything was kind of taken care of. 


So, I could just wake up, sit on Twitter, drink my coffee, paint a little, go to a museum, buy a baguette, and paint again a little. It's kind of like a dream artist's life, but it was very short. Too short.


ES

You weren't painting in the cafe, but you were kind of taking mental pictures… it was impossible to capture it in a photograph. And you'd go back to the studio, and then kind of from memory, you would paint kind of the feeling and the image of what it was.


KG

I made some really, really brutal, like primitive sketches in the bar, just like composition. Like a couple standing at the bar. Actually, that painting, I didn't show, I didn't finish it, but there was like a painting of a girl standing at the counter and a bartender leaning like… I'll finish it someday. Yeah, so I sometimes just sketch some things, but mostly I tried to recreate this feeling of a certain place.


It was also interesting that at the time when I was in Paris, there was a big retrospective of American artist Mike Kelley. He has worked a lot with this reconstructed memory idea, for example, he had these architectural maquettes of every education building he has ever attended. His high school, but then he would only make the parts that he remembered and the parts that he didn't remember, he just left blank.


So he was working a lot with trying to remember something that you have kind of forgotten or dealing with the gaps in memory and subjectivity of memory. So in a way, there was something of that in the paintings, where I was also just thinking about the subjectivity of memory.



VB

How did you compose the sounds for the exhibition?


KG

Oh, the sound, yeah, it was kind of like the way I often come to ideas. I just kind of combine really different references that are seemingly not connected at all. So in this case, Café de Paris, for me, the first thing that came to my mind was a cafe in Vilnius that's called Café de Paris. And it's a place where some time ago and still today artists like to meet.


ES

I have some bad news. It's closed.


KG

Well, I mean, it wasn't that great, but like, yeah. Anyway, it was one of those places where artists were meeting. So I was kind of also thinking about this idea that a cafe is really a place where often you come up with some kind of crazy new ideas that often you forget the next morning, but also sometimes those ideas stick.


One of my memories from Café de Paris was hearing Omar-S, which is this Detroit musician who's active for 20 years now. And I really started loving his music. And then I just started playing around with the idea that it could be just like a ambient version of this techno track that was one of the first tracks that I heard from him (Omar-S - I love you Alex). It has this really kind of beautiful, almost symphonic melody. So I turned this melody into a soundscape and then removed all the techno part and all the dance parts. And basically, I removed most of the thing except for one loop.


That's the way I guess I create sound, which is different from painting. In painting, I used to restrict myself for a long time. And at some point I thought, fuck it like you can do whatever, you know, you can use acrylics, watercolours, oil at the same time. And if it looks good, it's great, whatever it's made from.


But with sound… when I was in my early twenties, I was making a lot of sound that was very intense, I used every possible thing. And at some point, I decided that there's too much of everything in the world for sound making.


And for some reason, I thought about TUR_Telpa that, you know, you say it's not a white cube, but it has four corners. So four corners, of course, for me, immediately led to the idea that the sound could be quadraphonic, in four channels, because I've always enjoyed sound as a spatial thing. I decided that I could use the big space of TUR_Telpa that's usually meant for visual works, for sound, and you can move around this white cube and you can hear really different details of the soundscape. So in a way, every speaker is playing a little bit different thing.


Something that I really like about sound is that it lives in space. And when I use sound in my exhibitions, I always think about this factor of space, where, what is the space where you can listen to the sound?


That's why it was so crazy and incredible, when the concert happened that TUR_Telpa organises for every show. With Robert Fleitz, and the saxophone player was Aigars Raumanis. They played inside of the café, of the cube, but then they also invited people to walk around and listen to how it changes when you walk around the cube and they play inside of it. 


This concert was really the most beautiful experience of my creative musical life, of what I've done sonically. I think it was a really beautiful moment where I kind of felt that, yeah, actually, I'm not just amateur, like, it works also with professional musicians. Because I don't have, unlike visual art, in music I don't have any theory at all. I don't know anything about notes, chords, and like everything, like nothing, like zero, zero information. So with the sound, it's always different. It's like, yeah, it's a bit, yeah, it's my approach to making sound with limited sources.



VB

The next question is to Edd.

There are many different trinkets and knick-knacks on the tables. What was the idea behind adding them to the space?


ES

There are always generic trinkets or knick-knacks on the tables in these cafes. It would have been nice to find even more. It was like a finishing touch, just something to bring it home, I think, more than anything. It just takes a little bit of the attention away from just being paintings, it becomes a cafe because of these little personalities. It takes the exhibition from being a presentation of paintings to it being an installation.


And each table represents a slightly different personality, because there's not a single knick-knack the same and they're all from different functions or non-functions or different levels of kitsch or ugliness. I think that's also one of the catchwords of Kaspars's was saying he wants it to be a little bit cheesy. Cheesiness is represented in these knick-knacks.


In reality, when you go to a bar and there's shit on the table, you mainly want to get rid of it because it's just in the way and serves very little function, maybe a little bit of light or ambiance if you have a candle. 


So it was just a finishing touch to complete it and to bring the focus also a little bit on the cafe part and just to balance out the space a little bit more in that sense, the coziness and the cheesiness, a little extra cheese.


VB

What was the thought behind putting only the painting “Dope Smoker” outside of the “café”?


ES

Well, I mean, that was also in conversation with Kaspars. It's a slightly different painting. It's a self-portrait. Also the technique is different. And we felt like it could be a very nice introduction to the show.


If you come in, I don't think most people will recognise Kaspars there, maybe through the title. But no, it just invites you in and it's a little bit on the outside and then it needed a different space to the inside of the cafe. I think that's the main thing.


One of the ideas was to have a bench and ashtray outside of the cube but because there was too big a chance for the visitor to misread that and actually smoke, we brought in a more abstracted version of that idea with the painting of someone smoking. It's the last quick cigarette before entering the bar, an introduction to what is happening inside.


The dope smokers standing outside on the corner, outside of the bar, smoking a quick cigarette before or other things before going back into the safety and the warmth and the coziness of the cafe. Yeah.


VB

Okay. And the last question, it's actually not about the exhibition. 

What is the latest thing that you learned or realized about your artistic practice?


KG

Yeah, I don't know. It's in a way, I guess every day I'm realising something a bit different.

Some days I feel like it's all just nonsense and then some days I feel like it's all amazing. I guess the last thing, that's what I said, is that I want to try some other paintings, and painting motifs and try to go away even from remembering reality and instead go into remembering fantasies or something like that. I realized that, yeah, I enjoy creating these strange characters that seem very unusual.


I draw inspiration from urban subcultures, medieval paintings, and also clumsy bad paintings that people post. I'm in this Facebook group that's called Awful Art at the charity shops. I really love most of the works that people post there that are supposed to be bad.


Sometimes I find them really beautiful and there are so many works that I would love to just own. And it's kind of the kind of art that you can find in thrift store, where hopefully you'll never find my works, but who knows. But I kind of like this thrift store art.


So yeah, and then I thought that maybe my strong side is this kind of weird imaginative world that I, in a way, I live in. But it's some kind of mental world that I like to occupy with my visual art. Real life is different, but the visual world that I live in, I want to dive deeper into these more unconscious and intuitive aspects. So I guess that's my current revelation.



VB

Is there anything else that you guys would like to add?


KG

Oh, I don't know… 

More money for art!


On Saturday, for those who are not leaving town for the holiday weekend, be sure to go to TUR_telpa for the finissage of the exhibition.


Also, don't miss the chance to see this exhibition at Riga Last Thursdays event on 28th March from 18:00 till 22:00!


Kaspars Groševs' website -  https://kasprsg.com/?availableworks%2F...


Interview by Veronika Bátfai



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