Albrecht Behmel, Almost A Renaissance Man
Albrecht Behmel has a talent for canvas and paper. Novelist, historian, best-selling non-fiction author, essayist, screenwriter and award-winning playwright, the multidexterous and creative Behmel leaves a strong mark on all his media.
How did you become an artist?
When I quit my job as a business consultant to become a full time artist, I went broke. Before, I used to work with big companies; they paid well, but I wanted to make art. What Afraa, my wife, and I soon learned was that I had to give my art for free. We needed a strategy. So, we donated and gifted my art, sending free works to people we admire, like Guy Kawasaki, whom I didn’t know back then but Afraa did. We sent him a signed print and he loved it and put it in his bar in a beautiful frame and sent us a picture of it by email. That was huge! Then I knew I could win. Guy was the second chief evangelist for Apple and is now evangelist for Canva. Top-tier stuff. Today, I am selling my art all the time and I don’t even have a regular gallery or showroom. Give, give, give is what works for me. Paradoxically, this is also good for pricing. I sold my first painting for € 50,000, a huge work I miss very much.
Where do you live and where do you create?
We couldn’t decide between country and city life, so we chose both. But our home base is in the country. I spend a lot of time in London, Paris, Berlin and other major cities but I work in our Black Forest country home. Great nature and great food. This is where I am most creative. When I paint, I go to my studio but I never lock the door. Sometimes, my kids come in and discuss art with me. It is hilarious. For 20 minutes. Then I kick them out and get on with my work. I work at night and get up at five in the morning. During the day I meditate at least once. In the mornings, I get my writing done; then I return to the canvas.
How do you see yourself as an artist?
It is not enough to be creative, as an artist: I also need to be a good networker and marketer. I believe in hard work, learning, numbers and social contacts. These are my vitamins. I am not happy if I cannot reach out to people and build great relationships.
What is in your art?
In my art, I like to play with shapes and silhouettes. When I was a teenager, I worked as a technician for theatres and learned a lot about light and shade. This fascinated me and still does. Overlapping shadows in colour: this is what my work is all about. My paintings resemble abstract art, even though each painting is full of figures and silhouettes. Before that, when I lived in Berlin, I used to paint portraits and graffiti-style designs.
How do you do keep so active and so driven?
I always create stuff. I wrote books, I was a puppet maker in Paris and created board games and computer games with my Chinese friends. Painting is my passion, like long distance driving. It is like meditation for me. Charity and philanthropy are important for me. Each year, I donate to organisations that make a difference. My focus is on children's education and health. Usually my paintings get auctioned. I never ask for a percentage; all the proceeds go to the charity. I just like to be there and meet people. Networking is the best way to market. Contacts are for me what diesel is to my car: without them I can’t get ahead. I have a brother who is handicapped. This is how I grew up. For me, it’s normal to take responsibility and to give back to the community. Martin is okay now - one of the happiest people I know - but there are many others who need help. This is how I pick the charities I want to support.
How do you price your artwork?
Pricing art is rather difficult. Here is my way to do it: I come up with a sum that makes me feel okay to say goodbye to the painting. (Sounds heartless. But I still miss every painting I ever sold. I have photos but it’s not the same.) Then I put these numbers into groups according to sizes; small, medium and large, and more or less three prices. But I rarely say no to a deal or a good barter offer. I am Swabian, my wife is Syrian, so we love a good negotiation about money. Sometimes I give a discount or additional paintings or prints. What I don’t do is contract work but I do like it when buyers tell me what they like.
Can you tell us about your unusal home life?
You can’t succeed by yourself. I am blessed: my wife, a bestselling writer and entrepreneur, supports my art. When the war broke out in Syria, we brought her mother and her brother to Germany. They are safe here. We all live together in our home in the Black Forest. It’s a big place, which is good, because we have two young boys. So we are a three-generation household. The boys have no idea how privileged they are to have a granny at all times. They speak three languages. I like to live in a big house full of life and with a lot of people. We always have visitors, friends from all over the world; this is because I come from a very international family (Australia, Canada, all over Europe).
Who or what inspires you?
As a kid I was fascinated by Albrecht Dürer’s work (probably because we share the same name), later Kirchner, Kandinsky, Keith Haring and El Greco. I love rock ’n roll. I follow James Altucher’s blog, Robin Sharma, Seth Godin and am currently reading former FBI hostage negotiator-turned-entrepreneur Chris Voss’ book, “Negotiate". I enjoy movies and film, too; mainstream stuff like Star Wars. I even wrote scripts for films and TV shows for a living. Now, I just write novels. I like to be in charge of my creative output. Film is important in my art as well. I like to create movie figures like Batman and The Hulk. I don’t know if my paintings actually tell stories, but they certainly evoke great legends and inspire thought, also. Everybody likes Batman.
What is next?
These days, I am working on landscapes: huge canvasses about mountains, forests, horizons and oceans. I like to develop my style. This means more detail, more composition and more storytelling. I experiment with materials a lot. Currently, I am using China ink and acrylics on canvas. I must admit: I love the smell of oil colours. I am looking forward to designing a series of wine bottles in 2017 for a winemaker friend. I love their Riesling. We are currently discussing ways to design labels and boxes and to turn them into collectors’ items. I also look forward to working with my new partner Neuschwansteiner.com who supported my Paris exhibition most generously.
And the "Magic of the swarms“?
The Magic of the Swarms is relatively new. I worked on the style for a couple of years before I went out to show it. The first exhibitions were modest; one piece or a couple of pieces in showrooms where I live, in the historical town hall of Backnang, and such places. This was the end of 2015. Almost a year ago. Then it went exponential. University of Mannheim and Brandenburg Parliament were the next steps; then came Carrousel du Louvre in Paris this October, Miami Art Week with a Swiss gallery in December and Piers 92/94 in New York City, next April.
We've heard you are a people person. Would you agree?
I have mentors and students who might become young colleagues or even friends. Friends are so important. I am currently founding a business-type club for my collector base. I want to introduce good people to one another. These are mainly entrepreneurs, founders, CEO and CxO levels, dealers, collectors, investors, etc., mainly out of Silicon Valley, Miami, New York, Berlin and London: the places to be in the art world. They love the idea of meeting, looking at art and networking in a relaxed atmosphere. I invite my guests to special events, previews, and help them to meet new like-minded people. This adds a new level of meaning to the term “Magic of the Swarms”. Maybe we are the swarm that does magic.