Teacher and Graffiti Artist
3. December 2015
What may seem incompatible at first glance is commonplace for Andreas Ernst. As a math teacher and graffiti artist, he is equally versed in stochastic theory as he is in spraying techniques, and in the Stühlinger district of Freiburg, he has found a way to combine the two disciplines. Apart from the from abstract sketches on the wall, clean lines dominate his apartment. And as colorful as his occupation may be, his top floor apartment remains a place of tranquility. His USM shelving underscores his appreciation for quality and consistency; though he likes to travel the world, he is happiest at home.
How long have you lived here?
I have lived in this apartment for four years. I am originally from Bühl, not far from here. In the mid-nineties, I came to Freiburg for civil service; somewhere in between, I lived in Gaggenau, but since university, I have been here. I have traveled a lot, spending nine months on a trip around the world, but I have never wanted to move away from Freiburg.
What is the oldest piece of furniture in your apartment?
The table is from my time as a civil servant. The bed I built myself, and the armoire belonged to my grandma. I lived in roommate situations for a long time, and for this reason, I had very little furniture when I moved in. I have developed an interest in it since having my own apartment, though, and I keep adding new things. The tiled stove, for example, is a piece from the 18th century. I used to keep the USM shelving in the bedroom, but it is vast – it looks better in the living room.
How long have you had the shelving?
I bought the parts piece by piece. I have had the left half for three years. At first, I stored file folders there, but now I would like to start using the shelf in a more unusual way. I really enjoy the wood – it loosens up the strict linearity without destroying it. The right half is completely new. Originally, I had wanted to put my stereo system there but the amplifier is too big. Now I am using the space for records, books and games. That works as well.
“I want to cater to a certain aesthetic and stay timeless. Others might find this boring – but it is me who has to like it.”
How did you acquire a taste for USM?
Every day on my way to school as a child, I rode my bike by the USM headquarters in Bühl. The green lettering left an impression on me. I just never knew what they did. I enjoy having a different relationship to USM now. High-quality furniture is important to me, not just for functionality or as storage space. The USM shelves will certainly stay with me my whole life, no matter where I move. To me, they are like a little treasure for which I worked especially hard.
The shelves are very classic and discreet, much like the rest of your interior design. Your graffiti, on the other hand, is much more explosive.
I like to paint with colors but sometimes in monochrome as well. What’s important is that it fits. But to have everything in my apartment be colorful is not my thing. I don’t run around in bright yellow pants or a blue shirt. I just like things to be more discreet – I want attention for my images, not for myself. In my apartment, I consciously decided on contrasts: a black shelf with gray elements in front of a white wall. But in painting, too, I like to work with clean and straight lines. This is difficult because inaccuracies are more obvious there. The wilder the image, the less you notice mistakes.
So you stay true to your style in interior design as well as painting.
I want it to look good, and this way it does. Others may find it boring. I would like to appeal to a certain aesthetic and remain timeless.
Do people ever ask you about the USM shelving?
Yes, people who are familiar with USM do. When it was still in the bedroom, it didn’t attract as much attention. It has a better effect in the living room. It may be subtle, but it holds its own. That’s a pretty good combination. It doesn’t have to be orange, yellow or green to achieve that.
“My USM shelves are like a small treasure for which I worked especially hard.”
If there were a fire, what would you rescue from your apartment first?
There are certain images and sketches that are meaningful to me. I have a sketch by a graffiti artist from New York – you can’t buy those. Their material value may be low, but the emotional value is all the higher. I met the artist in Frankfurt in 1994 when I was brand new to it all. I approached him with my sketchbook and asked him if he would paint something in it. He did. Another sketch is from a friend in Basel with whom I used to spray a lot. He shot himself a few years ago, so the sketch means a lot to me.
You have traveled a lot and done graffiti in all kinds of countries. Are there specific places that are particularly memorable for you?
Santiago de Chile was exciting. There, you can basically spray wherever you want. Vietnam was great as well, but I didn’t find a place to spray until my last day there. I try to leave something behind in every country.
You not only spray yourself, but you also lead all sorts of workshops. Is that how you discovered teaching?
Yes, exactly. I often teach workshops, even at schools. This has always been really fun for me. When I came back from traveling the world, I knew without a doubt: I have to find something new. I am trained as a goldsmith but realized after a few years of practical experience that I can’t sit still and make jewelry all day. As a result, I studied secondary-school technology, chemistry and math at the University of Education in Freiburg. My first internetship was so much fun that I knew I was doing the right thing.
When you compare an empty wall to be painted with a student to be taught, is that a similar process?
Not at all. I can’t just fill an empty student. That doesn’t work. I can explain all I want to the students, but that doesn’t mean that anything will stick with them. You have to engage with students and try to motivate them. If that succeeds, it’s half the rent. The wall, on the other hand, will do what I want in any case.
“Many of the pictures and sketches mean a lot to me. Their material value might be small, but their emotional value is so much bigger.”
Thank you for the exciting insights into your apartment, Andreas! More of Andreas’s work can be found on his website.
This portrait was produced by the international interview magazine Freunde von Freunden. Find more USM furniture for your home and workspace here.