The “virtual reality” of Christoph Niemann | the new yorker


On the cover of the Innovation & Technology issue, Christoph Niemann captures the eternal showdown between the appeal of the outdoors and the joys of technology. Even for a prehistoric cave dweller, the tablet could prove powerfully absorbing. The dilemma has only grown as the number and variety of technological gadgets have proliferated. We recently spoke with the artist about the place of digital tools and good old paper and pencil in his creative process.

You are very proficient with digital tools, but many of your images celebrate the magic of simple line art. Do you like to brainstorm ideas with a pen or on a tablet?

Pencil and paper are always my first choice. Drawing ideas is closer to writing than painting, and a pencil allows you to slowly search for a shape, while markers and pens have too much contrast right away. Tablets are a wonderful invention for the kind of work I do, especially animation, but the sheen of a drawing on screen, especially when you add color, can help mask a faint idea. And I wouldn’t want any of those to survive, would I?

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You often work in series, like the one above that you recently posted on your @abstractsunday Instagram account. What led you to create characters with hammers and nails?

It’s the kind of exercise we did in art school: take a metaphor and make as many iterations of it as possible. Usually these are just playful riffs. Like so many others, I was obsessed with the war in Ukraine. These drawings became a release valve for the mess of confusion, anger and fear in my head.

If you had the choice between staying indoors on a sunny day to work on an idea or going out and enjoying the spring, what would you choose?

Of course, I would go out! Although, usually after eight minutes I get anxious and think, “OK, that’s good. Thank you.” And then I go back to my office, where I belong.

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