“I would have preferred to get away further from home — I grew up twenty miles north of Stuttgart —, but it’s a really terrific school, and so I decided that instead of studying abroad, I’d have to find other ways to become more knowledgeable about the world“.
Christoph Niemann studied graphic design at the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design because it wasn’t possible to study illustration per se. In 1995 heapplied for a summer internship in New York, and spent two months at Paul Davis’s studio. The following year, he “hit the jackpot”: an internship at Pentagram, with Paula Scher’s team. After he graduated in 1997, the obvious choice would have been to go to Hamburg or Berlin, but he felt that this was the only time when he had nothing to lose and — like a million other illustrators from Europe, Asia and the United States — decided to give New York a shot.
It was surprising how easy he found working in an American context. “I work so much with cultural references and metaphors that I was concerned that I would have to acquire a whole new visual vocabulary. It turns out that the US and Germany are much closer in terms of visual and cultural references than, say, Germany and France“.
The difficulties came from different areas: he lived and worked in very uncomfortable circumstances, which he is reluctant to discuss. “It’s tempting to romanticize those days in retrospect, but after a year it became a bit much, and I spent two very unpleasant weeks at Beth Israel hospital, with a slipped disc and other ailments“. Despite these early hardships, his stay in New York lasted more than a decade before he returned to Germany to make a new home in Berlin. Lately he has added children to his audience — he has three young boys of his own, too —, which is probably a more fundamental pictorial and linguistic adjustment than any he has made up to now.
His most recent book is Hopes and Dreams, about a trip to meet an artistic hero in Los Angeles…