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    Christoph Niemann’s “Highway and Byways”


    One of the great joys of downhill skiing is carving fresh tracks. The slopes are a skier’s canvas, one he returns to again and again, open each time to the distinct set of challenges and possibilities every new run offers. In his cover for the January 30, 2023, issue, Christoph Niemann plays graphically with the white spaces that skiers and snowboarders so covet. I talked to the artist about creativity, rejuvenation, and the unexpected twists that bring us someplace new.

    Can you talk about the process of physical action that gives rise to your creative thoughts?

    I always draw when I travel. I enjoy it, and it has the added benefit of keeping me from wasting my holiday doomscrolling on the hotel bed. Usually, I draw in pen and ink, because there’s no Undo command and the ink has a mind of its own. This forces me to be rather receptive to whatever the drawing decides to be.

    But the idea for this image came just after returning from a ski trip; I looked through my sketches and saw that there were none playing with the graphics of tracks. Ink wasn’t the right medium for this visual; I went digital, because I needed an infinite number of Command-Zs. (As one of my teacher in art school used to say, “It takes two hours to have a good idea, and then another ten hours to make a piece look like it was done in five minutes.”)

    You have always explored the cutting edge of image-making technology. In what ways are you like a computer, and in what ways are you different from one?

    Just like a computer, I think a human brain also has a sort of RAM that determines how many thoughts one can have simultaneously. This changes from day to day, but it is crucial to making art. The physical process of drawing already uses up a considerable amount of mental capacity, but at the same time I need to be able to see beyond whatever detail I’m working on and to think, Is the over-all composition working? Is it getting too tight or too loose? And most important, are there any good mistakes happening that spark a new direction—because those unexpected twists usually end up being exactly what make a piece compelling.

    Do you get out in winter? And do you ski or snowboard?

    I like skiing, but I’m not obsessed. We do it as a family, which is the biggest joy. And, obviously, I love looking at the mountains.

    Some of the artist’s recent sketches while on a ski vacation.

    Which artists or musicians do you regularly turn to for inspiration?

    There is a book of drawings by Rosemarie Trockel that I keep close to my desk. Many of the pieces can be brazen and rude; then, on the next page, they are tender and poetic. Perhaps she’s full of struggle and doubt when she draws. But for me, this suggests that while the artist is working she just thinks about the art—and not about anyone’s reaction to it. I find that very inspiring.

    See below for more covers that celebrate skiing:

    Find Christoph Niemann’s covers, cartoons, and more at the Condé Nast Store.

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