In looking at Andreas Claussen's latest series, Flood, we see an astronaut trying to survive a flooded Earth. With bold colours, strong textures and a dash of humour, there's a slight melancholy to the German artist's oil paintings, as they're supposedly inspired by "the crazy times we're living in".
One would assume that Claussen's protagonist had entirely given up on life, given the nature of some of the artworks. In one painting, Too Prepared, the astronaut is floating helplessly on children's pool inflatables. In another, Going Down, they hold a lit flare above their head, treading water, surrounded by darkness. It's as though they've wandered far and wide to search for human life but have slowly realised they are very much alone. "The flood represents all the environmental challenges ahead of us," Claussen explains. "At the same time, it symbolises the fear and uncertainty that flood our minds when we go online and check the news. It's a humorous and ironic response to a world that often weighs so heavily on our shoulders."
A particular concern of Claussen is climate change. For half a decade, he painted seascapes and became increasingly aware of the potential risk of rising sea levels. "I was and still am deeply fascinated by powerful waves crashing against our coasts. There is no deeper thrill than hearing the thunder of breaking waves. Nature is spectacular. I knew that the water level would rise in future, and the waves would flood our streets. But I was wrong. The world is already flooded. It is flooded with water, trash, fake news, stress, fear, uncertainty, and doubt."
It was this realisation that changed his focus and led to Flood. "You could say that I try to tackle climate change with humour and irony, spreading a feeling of 'we can make that' or at least we can survive this," he adds.
As for his choice of protagonist, a lone astronaut, Claussen wanted to get across immediately that something might be wrong. "If I had used normal clothed or nude people, it would not have had the same impact. Water is not the expected environment for an astronaut. So this is the first point to wonder about. I also love the reflection of the visor. It allows me to have a picture in the picture and show what's in front of the character. But the more important reason is that it represents a symbol of humanity."
In fact, in most of the Flood paintings, Claussen dresses his astronaut in an Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES). "The international orange colour allows rescue units to easily spot the astronauts in the case of an orbiter bailout over the ocean," he says. "The suit also includes an inflatable life raft. In my case, the astronaut just found an inflatable flamingo in his backpack. So something unplanned and unwanted happened. The suit helps to be rescued. I think that this is what a lot of people hope. Someone, maybe Elon Musk, will solve this climate change problem, and then we can stop worrying about it."
Each oil painting features a rich spectrum of mark-making, including thin washes, thick impasto, broken patches and scraped away passages. "I like to have fun with paint, experiment, throw the paint on the canvas and use my fingers. I have the fluidity of the Impressionists and like to paint fast and bold. Some areas are rendered with more care, but a lot gets abstracted and just indicated. So my style lies on the edge of realism and abstraction," he says.
Although the overall theme might make us feel helpless, its underlying feel is one of irony and humour. It has also changed the artist's way of thinking entirely. "A year ago, I would have called myself a cheerful pessimist, someone who smiles while preparing himself for disappointments by expecting the worst all the time," Claussen explains. "With this series, I try to be an optimist full-time. To be honest, I will never make it to the euphoric optimist, but a realistic optimist that also has the problems in mind is achievable for me."
He points to a quote by Andy Weir from The Martian: "At some point, everything's going to go south on you. You're going to say, 'This is it. This is how I end'. Now, you can either accept that, or you can get to work. You solve the problem, and then you solve the next problem and the next, and if you solve enough problems, you get to go home." It's this mindset that Claussen hopes to spread with Flood.