Franz Burkhardt collaborates with Klaus Littmann to realize his largest art project

Arlesheim. Standing there in the enormous hall, he looks almost lost, even though he does not cut a small figure. Franz Burkhardt looks across his street, which grows every day, is constantly changing, “and will also never be finished,” as he himself says. Canal Street Part 1 is the name of the temporary art intervention from Littmann Cultural Projects, and it will be open to the public starting on June 12, in an old factory in Arlesheim. Even though there is still a great deal to do beforehand, and other artists, such as Brad Downey, Fabian Monheim, Oliver Sturm, Markus Wirthmann, and Danful Yang, are working with him, Canal Street is still primarily the work of Franz Burkhardt—“the largest I’ve ever made,” he states drily.
Actually, Burkhardt draws. He is brilliant with a pencil, producing incredibly detailed drawings. Old magazines and photographs serve as source material and inspiration. Often he takes erotic motifs out of the closet of dirty little secrets by adding witty sentences to them. Such as the one with the half-naked woman putting on her stockings, while a speech bubble saying, “Why is Victoria Secret?” creates a sense of irritation. Suddenly the drawing takes on a completely different dimension. The seemingly trivial motif becomes cryptic and amusing. Burkhardt’s phrases and sayings—often, altered versions of familiar quotations—are at least as original as his drawings.

Sentences as Stylistic Elements

These creations are also found in Canal Street. For instance, at the scuffed bar where the artist ruminates: “Actually, there are only two sorts of people. One stands behind the bar, and the other in front.” Or the phrase, “very quickly do nothing” casually scribbled on a wall. Again and again, one discovers these kinds of sentences. In Canal Street they are a very deliberate stylistic element, just as they are in the drawings.
“Actually, the whole thing is one big painting,” says Burkhardt. He is not interested in building a reproduction of any particular street. “It would’ve been easier for me, but fiction is far more complicated.” Thus, he will repaint the wall of a house several times until he finally achieves the desired dilapidated effect. And he constantly invents new details, such as utility boxes, radiators, or sinks, all of which look deceptively real and therefore require much effort. “The precision of a pencil drawing can be transferred into the three-dimensional,” he explains, and he is a master in both dimensions.
It started when Burkhardt put his drawings in old picture frames. And this frame grew larger and larger over the course of time, turning into entire rooms and parts of buildings. In Klaus Littmann’s 2010 exhibition, Chamber Music, he showed his works in a room he designed. His collaboration with Littmann goes back several years. Burkhardt was featured in Punktleuchten (points of light) at the Schifflände, designed a truck in 2006 for the project Move for Life, and converted a Chinese bicycle into a mobile street kitchen for the 2009 exhibition, Chinetik, at the Museum Tinguely.
Born in 1966 in Wolfenbüttel, Burkhardt studied at the art academy in Braunschweig. He has received several residency grants, including one for the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, one in Togo, and another in New York. Today he lives and works in Montzen, Belgium.

Art and Craft

As an artist, Franz Burkhardt also considers himself an artisan. “Nowadays, this term sounds so negative, but art is often poor craftsmanship and involuntary dilettantism.” The craftsmen who look into the hall occasionally also have their difficulties with this. “They can’t imagine something being made to look ugly and dirty, deliberately and elaborately,” laughs Burkhardt, once again painting over a wall that looks too nice. On the wall of a house opposite it says, “Sometimes I just like to make things.” In Franz Burkhardt’s case, this applies to more than just a few moments.