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Christopher Kadetzki paints skateboarding in oil

There is this joke. How many skaters does it take to screw in a light bulb? Just one, but you need three more to film it and take pictures… So skateboarders are used to document what they’re doing. But as far as I know there hasn’t been anybody so far to document skateboarding on a canvas with oil paint. Now there’s Christopher Kadetzki from Berlin who loves to be at the spot with brushes and paints to cover what’s going on there. For sure the result is different from what you would see on a photo. We wanted to know Christopher’s view on skateboarding and talked to him while he is preparing an exhibition in Copenhagen. If you’re going to CPH Open, you might want to swing by and have a look at Sidewalk Skateshop.

For those who don’t know you, can you pleace introduce yourself.

My name is Christopher Kadetzki and I was born in Frankfurt (Oder). I trained as a painter and varnisher and became self-employed after my apprenticeship. I've been working in construction for almost 13 years now, mainly restoring restaurants. That’s why I moved to Berlin two years ago. Six years ago I got myself an easel and went out to paint. I sat down on vacation at the Baltic Sea and got to grips with the place. Then I painted my first skate scenes in Berlin, and that’s a great combination. You can go to spots with friends, skate a bit yourself and then paint another picture. I also painted club scenes in Berlin. A month ago I painted my first nude party at Kit-Kat, where you’re not allowed to take photos. I had to stand naked myself. I’m not a party person at all and I was completely sober. In the pictures I want to show the culture that people don’t usually take so seriously. My focus is on the older generation of skaters, because they have a lot more to say. And in Berlin, the younger skaters are often so wasted from the party that they show up two hours late, when we’ve arranged to paint a picture. Last year my sister moved to Copenhagen and I met Nicky Guerrero and have since painted eleven pictures of him and learned a lot from him. That’s always more fun, exploring the culture.

I think it’s cool that dialogue is important to you.

It's super important to me. In my third year as an apprentice, I had to repair water damage in a huge prefabricated housing estate. I was in all the apartments. I saw everything. The most exotic people lived there. That’s where you learn about life. You see all the layers and learn how to deal with them. I also had that in Berlin, painting at Cottbuser Tor or talking to the junkies. Everyone is always averse to them, but I want to establish a dialogue. They’re also easy-going and have great stories to tell. A lot of painters want to be left alone, but I think it’s super important to paint outside. I’ve also painted homeless people, and that makes them much more visible than, for example just photos.

What can a painting do for skateboarding that a photo can't?

Definitely hustle and bustle. I have days when I paint at relaxed spots and the details become really good. Last years Copenhagen Open, on the other hand, was really intense. You have 300 people around you and you can’t see anything. That changes the brushwork, the style. That’s what makes it so important to create a picture live on location, where it’s hectic.

"It’s not about the money, it’s about the people, and they gave me a great time."

How do you choose your subjects?

It’s a matter of feeling. I met Evelina Söderberg in Malmö. She had just started skating and said she could rock to fakie, and I was like: let’s do it! I go by the people, which trick they want and where. Then we went to Malmö to this awesome adventure park with two mini ramps, an artificial snow winter landscape and flashing hearts in the background. For me it’s also a study of people and how they experience being captured in oil. I also write text to go with the paintings because it’s important to me to capture that. Now for the exhibition we created a book, with interviews and stories. Also to show the locals from different cities and the working class, that was important to me, because I myself come from the craft. For example, I accompanied the guys who built the new bowl in the skate hall in Berlin at work for three months. Justus Koch, a friend of mine makes boards himself, Berlin Board Brewery, with whom I created the iconic spots series. I pre-sketched the motifs, he then removed a layer and I painted the oil paintings in the milled off part.

So these are quasi reliefs?

Exactly, that has more depth and a slight shadow gap. And now I’m currently accompanying the guys who are building for CPH Open and paint their work. That is always underestimated. People get up at six, work all day and then at twelve the first skaters come and ask when it will be finished.

How is your workflow when painting?

Most of the time I arrive at a spot, set up the easel and then need two to three hours. I used to sketch the movement of the trick with a sketchbook, but that’s total nonsense because I don’t have time for that. Now I film or photograph it with my phone and pick out the frame I like. But it’s not just about painting tricks, I think it’s nice to be together at the spot. I’ve now painted Nicky at home in his room with all his records. He also makes music. I find the connection exciting – the process of skating and how he creates new beats at home. We also had a great symbiosis – him making music, me painting – that inspired each other.

How many skateboard paintings have you done by now?

There are about 150, all from the last two years. For the exhibition we picked about 70.

Have you already sold many of your pictures?

I’ve already sold some of them, but I’ve also given many away, like to the workers in Copenhagen. It’s not about the money, it’s about the people, and they gave me a great time. I sold a few paintings at the exhibition in Berlin. I had a Petersburg hanging there, too. The nice thing about it is that people take their time, because at first they are totally overwhelmed, but then it’s an adventure. The hanging alone is a work of art.


Photo: Gerrit Piechowski

Has your style changed over time and is it impressionism that you do?

Exactly, it’s impressionism. If I had more time, I’d probably do hyperrealism, but that was never my goal. You have to be able to recognize the ductus and everyone needs their own signature. I change a little bit about the colors, they get better over the years. This gives the pictures more depth.

Because you paint on location, where it’s hectic, does a lot happen out of a flow, a feeling, rather than overthinking stuff?

Yes, everything happens according to feeling. After two or three hours it’s enough, then the picture must be ready. I also tend to do smaller formats. The largest format was last year at CPH Open finals, 120 x 90 cm. That was five hours of work.

Our time is characterized by an overabundance of photos and videos that get about a second of attention on Instagram. How do people react when they are painted in oil?

Always positively. They’re happy about the document of time. They say they’ll look at the picture in a few years and remember the time. Photos eventually disappear on the hard drive, but an oil painting is there. People are excited about it and tell it to other people, which means I already have some plans for what I want to paint.

"I went to Berghain at one o’clock at night and painted the queue there. It was 250 meters."

It’s probably hard to pick highlights, but what are some of the stories, that happened while painting, that have stuck in your memory?

The first time I painted in Berlin, I painted Heinrichplatz in Kreuzberg. Then a resident came who was on drugs, and he was pissed off because the tourists have stopped and looked and he became paranoia that everyone would now know where he lives. He then threatened to get his kitchen knife to cut off my fingers. I then said, you’re right, I’ll quickly finish this and then you won’t see me again and then he loosened up. But that is also important for the painting process. With such a threat, the ductus of the picture changes. On the same day – that was in 2019 on Christopher Street Day – I went out again, because after what had happened I had to paint something again to get rid of the frustration. Then I went to Berghain at one o’clock at night and painted the queue there. It was 250 meters. People started coming to me, some wanted to give me money for the picture, others just stood by me, another one took out his dick in front of me and asked if I could paint it? You can only get something like that live on location.

When you’re not being offered money from the Berghain queue for your paintings, where and how can they usually be bought? Are you represented by a gallery?

I’m with Culture Room now, they’re friends of mine. For them it’s not really about money, but much more about giving people a place to make art and get something going. On their website, you can see almost all my works and 30x60 cm pictures cost 500 – 1200 euros upwards.

How did the connection to Copenhagen come about and what is there to see?

Now Friday the 10th is the vernissage at Sidewalk Skateshop, and on Saturday is party at Wonderland, where Culture Room will also be with DJ’s, and the pictures hang a whole month. I’ll probably also do an artist talk, together with Nicky Guerrero and the workers from the bowl in Berlin and the guys who are now building CPH Open. Building bridges between people who are otherwise not in the spotlight. In the end, everyone gets something out of it, even if it’s just a good time.

Do you already have new projects planned?

There is the idea to go to Sweden, through Nickys’ friends, to Örebro, where this summer camp was in the 80s. They also wanted to buy my paintings for the city hall, because the importance for skateboarding is so high in the city. They’re just such a historical place. I keep hearing new stories from Nicky and it’s all gold dust. If at some point those people are gone, where are you going to get the information anymore? I would also like to go to events and paint a picture there in small and then transfer that to a large format in the studio.

I can imagine that would be great, if you had a scene from CPH Open on ten meters wide.

That is one of my goals. My background is in landscape painting. At home, there is an old swamp that I painted in all seasons, and from this I created a work that took me about 700 hours to complete over half a year. Since I painted super detailed. That was for my first exhibition. Some people came and wanted to buy it, but now it hangs at my parents place. If I would calculate my working hours, I would be somewhere around 25,000 euros or so. But that’s just the way it is, you feel an emotion and then you have to paint it big.

It sounds to me as if you’re already a full-time artist. Is there any time left at all for the craft?

Yes, I have to earn a living somehow. And when I sell a painting, most of the money goes back into materials anyway.

Do you sometimes think about doing only art or do you enjoy doing it on the side and thus being able to be free in your painting?

I think it’s important not to disguise your art. If I were a full-time artist, my paintings would look very different. I could not imagine selling a painting under pressure. You just have to have an awesome time and not just see the money or all the brands that are behind it. In Berlin it’s just such a huge bubble and everyone wants to be seen. At my exhibition there were so many people I didn’t know at all and one even asked me for cocaine. Often it’s more of a brand event than an exhibition.

And especially in skateboarding exhibitions are not very experimental. So mostly there are just a few pictures from a tour and there is free beer. There could also be scultpures, for example.

Yes, or a reading. A photographer telling stories. Then every picture has a much broader horizon.