Monday, June 29, 2015

Exclusive to The Style Saloniste: Painted Worlds, First Look — Michael Duté’s Bold Brushstrokes

This Week: The Artist to Watch Now, The Photographers to Know

Artist Michael Duté Spent More than Six Years Creating His Dream-world Studio and Home in Berlin. Magical Realism Adorns Each Room. Every brushstroke is his.

Michael Duté's residence was photographed by leading European photographers, David Hiepler and Fritz Brunier whose daring world-wide photographic exploits include massive cargo ships at sea, terrifying industrial complexes, Capri island escapes and romantic landscapes. Their everyday goal: to photograph projects of bravery, boldness and imagination. (Read their biographies, and see their portraits below.)

Please pour yourself cold glass of handcrafted German beer, or make a bracing pot of Assam tea—or fix some strawberry lemonade. It’s a long detailed post (an artist’s biography, really) and I want you to take it all in. 

This week we are celebrating six years of writing/editing/producing THE STYLE SALONISTE. Each week’s post from Day One is crafted exclusively by a team of two. I’m the editor, the writer, the photo editor, the fact-checker, the copy editor (sorry for errors), and burner of the midnight oil. The brilliant Brian Dittmar is art director. Watch next week for more about ‘SIX YEARS OF THE STYLE SALONISTE’. Both Brian and I thank our fantastic readers, our followers and passionate fans. It has been a grand and great adventure, global and far-reaching and at the same time very intimate. 

For more than six, seven years, decorative artist (and fine art painter) Michael Duté has been transforming the walls and ceilings of his Berlin cottage into realms of his imagination. I’ve shown you earlier versions of this work in progress on THE STYLE SALONISTE over the years. Now it is almost complete. You are seeing it here first.

The living room became a Schloss, his studio a temple of Chinoiserie, with each world and narrative and architecture detail finely hand-detailed. Images of wit and charm—and drama—spiral and leap and dance across each surface. He awakes and he’s in Imperial China, or Catherine the Great’s retreat, or Ludwig’s Bavaria.
“I say hooray! Kinda can't believe it. Then again, running off to Berlin has been soooo inspiring. My apartment is far beyond what I had imagined, and my paintings are a direct result of all things new and challenging and amazing.” 

“I’m willing to put in years of effort to make these paintings exceptional and timeless. This way of working is very fulfilling. I never tire of these paintings. There’s always a detail, a color, or scene or an implied interaction that captures my attention.”—Michael Duté

Painting for hours a day, and often for weekends at a stretch, Dute executes his murals, ceilings and painted woodwork in the minutest detail, down to the frothy waves on lively seascapes, the belts and ornamentation on Chinese robes.

“My vision is to suggest the residence of an 18th-century French or Italian philosopher/scientist who was crazy for the idea of China or Paris ,” said Dute. “He had never actually been to China or France or the Veneto. But he’d seen paintings and porcelains. They were the inspiration.”—Michael Duté

At Home with Michael Duté

Come with me for a chat, the inside scoop on his work, his life in Berlin, his wit and charm. And for my many readers who have stacks of my books on their shelves…please check the pages of ‘California Country’ and ‘San Francisco Interiors’ and others (Chronicle Books) for earlier summer tents, apartments and Michael’s painted worlds.

DDS: Michael—it is great to chat at such an exciting time in your life. I’ve known you for…can it be twenty years…and you’ve never been happier. You are so successful in Berlin, and you’re a European TV star and magazine star, and so admired. Let's look back several years. You were a decorative artist in San Francisco, and all the top designers loved your work. And suddenly you split. Berlin. And you didn’t speak a word of German.

Thanks Diane! Yeah, lots happening for me in Berlin right now. I scored my Euro-digs house in 2008, thinking I'd spilt my time between San Francisco and the German capital. My original goal was to simply enjoy a bit of the European lifestyle, to expand my horizons, play American artist abroad, that kind of thing. Before I knew it however, I was hooked! Hayes Valley in San Francisco had lost its edgy artsy appeal and the craving to shake things up a bit took hold. I wanted action and adventure, found myself bouncing off my beautifully painted walls, decided to take drastic measures. So in August 2009 I got rid of everything I owned, hopped on a plane, and jetted off to start a new life in a new city. Amazing to think back. Wow. New life indeed! It has been a fantastic experience and just keeps getting better.

DDS: You found a house in a garden neighborhood. Was it the bare walls that were calling you?

I now reside quite happily in Wilmersdorf, central Berlin, in the former West. I found an apartment in a straightforward German Wohnhaus, which is painted a sunny yellow, built at the turn of the last century. I was drawn to the place immediately. Outside charming, inside as simple as simple could be. Bare white walls, massive windows, not a stick of molding to hinder my artistic efforts. It was perfect for painting. Lucky me. I have a beautiful balcony overlooking a charming Kleingartenkolonie (little garden colony) right on the Volkspark. My neighborhood is basically one giant garden. The constant chorus of songbirds is an added delight. It's old school, nice and quiet, the opposite of trendy. I paint away happily there with my big sky view. It's the ideal European hideaway.

My home is modest in size...66 Quadratmeter. I've no idea what that is in square footage as I've gone metric by now. (DDS: It’s 710 square feet approx.) Fourth floor, though you would say fifth. Nearest landmark is Rathaus Schöneberg where John F. Kennedy gave his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. Looking north from my balcony I can see the broken spire of the Gedächtniskirche and the rotating Mercedes Stern (star) on Kurfürstendamm in Charlottenburg, the bustling heart of former West Berlin. I’m just a quick bike ride away or three stops on the U-Bahn. I bike everywhere in Berlin. It's one of the reasons I love living here. 

DDS: You set to work to transform your dwelling into your own fantasy. Day and night you are painting. The dream comes to life.
You said it...transformation...turn a modest, stripped down apartment into a fabulous eighteenth-century folly. I wanted to take it a step up from my place in San Francisco. I wanted to put my skills to the test, to see what I was capable of. I started with blue. I didn't have a blue room in SF. Seemed logical, especially as I was influenced by the light and the colors of the European sky. I started with my blue & white ceiling...simple, fresh, and the floral motif a nod to the Gartenkolonie below. Then I moved on to Chinoiserie. Hmmm, I'm not sure if that was before or after I started studying German, but things were getting more complex, a bit more intense, I was going for it. Turns out I was a terrible student but my painting skills sure had improved. Something to do with brainpower, acquiring knowledge, discipline. While attending the Goethe Institute, I coined the phrase "In einem Gemälde zu leben", to live inside a painting. For that I felt accomplished and called an end to my formal studies. It was time to focus on my art and enjoy meine Freiheit, my freedom.

DDS: And you were becoming, indeed, ‘a Berliner’.

Berlin has so much to offer...a vibrant art and cultural scene, a mind- boggling history, a slew of mostly reconstructed Palaces, nightlife. Wow. As I got to know the city and really get the hang of things (the language included) its influence grew on me. My artwork took on more depth, acquired more layers, as if to reflect the complexities of this fascinating place.

I had to paint more and more...more intricate details, then faster, simpler, and as simple as possible even...a series of autobiographical paintings. In them, amusing, often anguished characters tell the story of my new life, of getting rid of everything I owned and running off to Berlin, of making new friends, of language and love, the highs and lows of everything I experienced outside of my (four) walls. Quite funny. Quite the opposite of my hard-core interiors. I’ve been mixing it up lately. 

DDS: In the living room you created a masterpiece.

Thank you. It’s one giant painting, absurdly complex and finally coming together. I started with a much simpler scheme but Berlin got me all hopped up, brought out my best, my desire to not just succeed but to excel. I decided to go for Baroque. I started painting over the simple architectural elements that I had laid in previously. Swirling purple marble columns were suddenly in order. Then they had to be taller, everything taller in order to emphasize the high ceilings. I elongated the wall panels and marbleized the dark Tiergarten green, added curvy inlays, accentuated them with brightly colored shields and semi-precious stones.

Gilded palms and obelisks, romantic landscapes and the “Green Scene” followed. Though I insist on saying no to faux, there was no way around it, everything had to be marbleized...the heroic crown molding, bold red door and window surrounds, massive corner brackets that will one day support costumed much still to be done. 

As work progressed, everything came into balance...the scale, the rhythm, the architecture and the colors. The grisaille door-surround and handsome troll opposite provide a bit of relief from the saturated palette. When I removed the door to the entry hall to paint around it I immediately realized that it had to go. I constructed a delicate frame and added mirrors to transition into the Chinoiserie...a neat trick. The room is far more ambitious than I had ever imagined it to be. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve toiled away on these four walls or how many more I will have to dedicate in order to see it through to completion. For now though I’m satisfied.
The room has power, mystery, romance and reads as fairly complete. Also important to me is it that it seems authentic, an actual treasure of a room from the eighteenth- century. It has become my Denkmal (monument/tribute) to the lost architectural treasures of Berlin.

DDS: Tell us about the materials you use. Your colors of the beautiful Chinoiserie murals and the soft palette as well as the drama—just magical.

I use artist’s acrylics. I mix them with high-quality wall paints. Nothing fancy, just a matter of manipulation, of getting the paints to do what I want them to do. 

DDS: You have great delicacy and technique for the finest details. Leaves, faces, pagodas, up-close, the refinement of your paintings is glorious.

Again, thanks. I think it’s just a matter of practice make perfect. I’ve always had a pretty good grip on concept and color, of architecture and composition...the basics. Over the years my detail work has gotten much more refined. I try to keep it loose. I obsess. I loosen it up again. Figures and faces as simple as possible. They need personality of course, as much as I can endow with a few brushstrokes. I alternate washes and solid applications of color for landscapes. Fantasy buildings, easy. Leaves...every stroke counts!

Techniques, I keep as simple as possible. Styles, inspiration...anything eighteenth-century, kooky Baroque. 

DDS: Then there is the woodland fantasy. It looks as if you're living in a country chateau (or Schloss, since you are in Germany).

Germany offers lots of inspiration. Folly, pleasure pavilion, little hunting lodge in a wooded Prussian park. Mine happens to overlook the Gartenkolonie so I painted flowers on the ceiling, tossed in Prussian domes and an antler or two, then six, eight, twelve, a couple more large ones. I hung a couple of my paintings in there for added fun. Berlin is forested, so green. There are bunnies and foxes and wild boars running loose all over town. 

DDS: You've spent years and it is all painted directly on the walls.

Yes. Well, mainly...layered with works on canvas or wood panels...the furnishings too, all painted.

DDS: It's the artist. Your dream and dedication created this beauty.

It has taken me six and-a-half, seven years so far. It finally comes together. And now that I have a new painting studio, I’ve gotten my scaffolding, tools, supplies and paints out, replacing them bit by bit with auction house finds...a chest, a chair, a pair of lanterns. I enhance them. I paint them. They become a part of my world adding even more depth to the murals. 

DDS: You look to Italian Renaissance painters for their technical expertise. Which artists have inspired you with this project and other work?

Yes and yes. The Italian Renaissance artists, architects too... unbelievable...I strive. Otherwise I haven’t needed much inspiration for this project. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to achieve and dove into the work without hesitation. Then it’s up to the work. I just have to pay attention and follow along, see what it calls for, what it needs...and make it bigger, taller, more color, something funny here, there. 

DDS: What about the Chinoiserie?

Must have Chinoiserie. I love it. It’s witty, full of detail, and has its own quirks. So many artists in 18th-century Europe, from France to Sweden to Denmark and Germany and Poland, even Brazil and Ecuador—loved the charm and flourish of Chinoiserie. So influential.

DDS: Where else do you look for inspiration? Berlin is full of art.

The crazy genius amazing friends here. 

DDS: When you are not painting what museums do you like to visit. I love the Egyptian collection, and the Altes Museum, and everything on the 'museum island'.

Berlin has amazing museums. I like to have cake under the dome of the Bode Museum and I often ride my bike to the Neue National Galerie just to hang out on the terrace of the Mies van der Rohe pavilion, there by the Calder with a view onto the sunken sculpture garden.

DDS: You are so lucky to be able to head over to the Pergamon, and other treasuries of art. Which are your favorites?
I also love bike rides to palace Schloss Charlottenburg in Berlin or out to Gruenewald to the Hunting Schloss on the lake. I dig the grotto room at the New Palace in Potsdam and find Schloss Koepenick perfectly charming...the stuccoed Wappensaal is amazing. 

DDS: You love to laugh and create wit. And then there are your dog portraits.

Right. Life is an adventure, full of surprises, best not to take things too seriously. I include all kinds of amusing details into my wall paintings to delight my more observant guests. There is humor in everything, in the struggles of day-to-day, in language. Words can be hilarious. I love to paint about these things, the funny and the absurd. The dog portraits are from the series ‘Heroes & Strays’ 2009, which chronicles my story of running off to Berlin, of an unsure yet hopeful future in a new city. In 2010 I painted ‘You Can’t Go Wrong’ a dark-humored take on another (more difficult) year in demented. 

DDS: Artists you admire?

Edward Gorey...his Gashleycrumb Tinies especially. You know...A is for Amy who fell down the stairs... love that! Rock music inspires me. I like poetry and in-your-face lyrics. Words play a big part in my recent work, each painting a story.

DDS: What are your next plans? I hear you are going to Barcelona, and working on projects in California, having an exhibit at Erin Martin's Martin gallery in St. Helena, California.

Wow, 2015 has been a great year so far. I scored my Atelier and got right to work on a new series of paintings. I put quite a bit of effort into my apartment, and had a massive photo shoot documenting all my Berlin work to- date. I’ve appeared on TV (I secretly aspire to become a German Television Personality) and had nifty stories in the Berlin press. I’ll be in AD Germany in October.

I kicked off my acting career, playing three roles in a brilliantly twisted art film. Great fun. I am debuting my Berlin Paintings. I brought seven of them to California with me. They now hang at Erin Martin’s oh-so-stylin’ gallery in St Helena. Mark you calendar...I’m having a big show there in September and it’s going to be really good!

 I’ll be in Berlin for a relaxing summer. I’ll ride my bike and paint in my studio. I do have a couple of collaborations in-store, a photo thing with a Spanish musician friend. I’ll be painting for my show in September at Erin Martin’s. I’m really excited about my new work. The latest series is called Really Off the Guest List! It’s about meeting new people, making new friends (or not). 

Speaking of friends, it’s always great to have this conversation with you. Thanks, Diane. 

DDS: Michael, thank you so much. Your work is thrilling and I admire your dedication and artistic expression. Continued success and joy and pleasure with everything. I can’t wait to see what’s next. 

Portrait of the Artist

Michael Dute’s artistry would have done Louis XVI or Gustav III proud. It is all the more impressive to discover that Duté has never formally studied the techniques of fine art.

“I arrived in San Francisco in 1989 from Philadelphia and I didn’t even know I wanted to be a painter,” said Dute, who had previously designed fabrics and crafted ceramics.

“I answered an advertisement for an ‘artist’s assistant’,” recalled Duté. “I needed a job and knew I could rise to the artistic challenge.”

Fortunately for Duté, the artist was the magnanimous Carlo Marchiori, a world-renowned master muralist and decorative artist who lives in Calistoga. I’ve published his work, and Ca’Toga, his famous villa in northern Napa Valley here on THE STYLE SALONISTE.

“My first assignment was to paint murals in a Las Vegas hotel,” said Duté. “From Carlo, I learned how to render in 3D. It was a crash course and Carlo was a great instructor.”

Today, Michael lives in Berlin and works on decorative arts projects around the world. In the summer, he often works on mural/decorative art projects throughout Northern California for top designer Erin Martin.

What’s next?

“I was able to kick off my acting career as well. Impromptu screen test last summer and I got the part! Recently twelve hours at the theater filming a couple of outrageous scenes for a genius art piece. Amazing,” he said. “All fun and fascinating. Most enjoyable. Berlin. And upcoming in the fall is a painting show of my new work at Martin Gallery, Erin Martin’s great space in St. Helena, Northern California.”


Photographers David Hiepler and Fritz Brunier


All photography by leading German photographers, Hiepler Bruner, used with express permission of the photographers.

Fotografie berlin – architekturfotografie, landschaftsfotografie, interiorfotografie industriefotografie werbefotografie interior magazine photography. Landscape photography. Industrial photography.

Kreuzbergstraße 30, 10965 Berlin, Germany
+49 30 61303370

David Hiepler was born 1969 in Düsseldorf, Germany and raised in Basel, Switzerland. By the influence of his father, a successful creative director and one of the key figures in the early years of German advertising, David got in touch with photography in his early age. When he was 17, David had a year abroad in England, where he bought his first SLR and learned to develop and print in B&W. After his return he started to work as a lightning technician in the well know theater of Basel.

Fritz Brunier was born 1972 and raised in a tiny village in Bavaria. After receiving his grandfather’s old camera as a birthday present he was infected by the virus of photography in an instant. He spent the first money he earned during his school holidays as a construction worker for a brand new Nikon-SLR and improved his skills as an photographer from there on. By the age of 16 he was establishing the photographic laboratory at his secondary school.

After receiving his A-levels Fritz spend some time working at a small-town photographer's studio were he first came in contact with commercial photography.

In 1992 they both moved to Berlin to study photography at the venerable Lette-Verein Academy. As fellow students David and Fritz immediately started to work together on a couple of projects including their first exhibition in a little gallery in Berlin.

The cold war had just ended and the city was in radical transition. David and Fritz early recognized the need of highly professional architecture photography. In their personal work they questioned the traditional ways of this field and pushed the borders of architecture photography.

After receiving an award at "architekturbild", the European architecture photography awards, they started to do business together as hiepler, brunier, and worked for several architects and some influential magazines.

In the following their work has been shown at many galleries, museums and festivals all over Europe.

Very quickly their unique and objective style where brought to advertising companies where they were within the first photographers who where specialized in the field of architecture photography. They became competent consultants for architectonic topics of all kinds within advertising.

Over the years they have expanded their portfolio with landscape, interior and industrial photography. Also in this segments they remained and even emphasized their unique, laconic, objective, and wittingly constructed handwriting that has influenced many other photographers.

Hiepler, brunier, worked for International clients like David Chipperfield Architects, AD Architectural Digest(Germany, France, Russia, China), Vogue, Glamour, Vanity Fair, VW, Audi, Siemens AG and Telekom.


Harrison Howard said...

The scope of what Michael has found the time to paint is an amazing and unforgettable effort. I have been waiting to see this post. Each room has its own mood and in some cases several moods depending on where you look. I'm above all partial to his blue and white chinoiserie design and wish it were possible to be transported there for a visit. Aside from his mural designs the room with the canvases of varying images with largely blackish backgrounds would be impossible to forget. What a great writeup because of all the detail that has ghone into speaking with Michael and gathering so much interesting information! I think he ought to take a rest.

Beauty Follower said...

Amazing job... loved the blue china style paintings!

Karena said...

Diane my dear friend Harrison has said it all. The Chinoiserie is so stunningly gorgeous; however I am just as impressed with the small paintings of his animal series. A life well lived indeed!! Thank you for an amazing profile and interview.

The Arts by Karena

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Friends-

You are seeing a work in progress…and loving it.
It's not finished…and it is very inspiring.

my New York friend Tania Vartan…herself a fantastically talented artist…commented with a little with:

"Everyone should live tike this!"
tania Vartan

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


I love hearing from you.

I received many emails about Michael Duté--and lots of 'shares' and likes and comments on FACEBOOK…

and this morning heard from a dear friend in San Francisco:

Dear Diane-

Another fascinating read. Another fascinating artist.
Thank you!
Warm Regards,

peggy braswell said...

stunning way to live + he is sooo talented.

Benjamin Dhong said...

Dear Diane,

Having seen one too many bad contemporary murals in my lifetime, I confess I'm absolutely smitten with Michael's work! His chinoiserie is especially fresh! Love it Diane!

What a wonderful post.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

So fantastic! I always appreciate the European practicality of leaving useful, not-beautiful things (such as the hot water heater above the sink) out on display - a certain honesty. Here in America we would house it in a bulky cabinet. He has an enviable furniture collection as well!

Lynne Rutter said...

I so admire Michael's energy and I have really enjoyed seeing the progress of his apartment, and I really adore the Chinoiserie room and the pale lavender running up the wall onto the ceiling. I am a envious of my friends who have made the leap to expat life in a city where being a full time artist is not only possible but encouraged. Berlin has become such a vibrant city full of artists (the fact that it's so affordable being a great draw) with incredible flea markets and so close to so many inspiring places. Visiting there always makes me think about doing the same.
Congratulations to Michael for living this life so fully.

Brooke said...

Wonderful post, amazing artist!