Part of the KLUB7 art collective, Otto Baum has made a name for himself in Berlin and beyond. We linked up to geek out about brushes and lettering and found out that Berlin is not all it’s cracked up to be.


How do you introduce yourself when you get to a ‘networking-party’? 
I often find it difficult to describe in short crisp sentences what I do for a living because I do so many things. Handwriting is definitely one of my biggest interests: I see myself as a type designer. Besides, I established the Make Your Own Sign Workshop together with Rylsee, a good friend of mine. We hold workshops and show interested people how to design fonts and customize their own signs with brushes and colours like a professional sign painter. In addition, I am part of the artist collective KLUB7 where we paint murals and do exhibitions. In the end, I am an artist and a designer.


Is there a good story behind the Otto Baum name? 
Yes, there is a story: my real first name is not Otto. My parents called me Ludwig, but were also thinking about naming me Otto. So I decided to use ‘Otto’ as my artist name. ‘Baum’ means tree in German and I really like trees. Before my artistic career, I was a professional gardener.


Have you made yourself any artistic new years resolutions?
I want to keep improving my skills in the field of handwriting because working the Writing Brush has many facets. Based on this, I want to develop new alphabets and ligatures. I would also like to work more with lino cut.


Da-Rein---Da-Raus_CollectionsOfShapes_OttoBaum_KLUB7_2016How did you get into painting and the whole ‘being-an-artist’ thing? 
I would rather say that I kind of slipped into the creative scene. In 1996 I first got in touch with graffiti, and it wasn’t bombing but the tags I was interested in. At that time I wouldn’t have believed it was possible to be earning my livelihood as an artist.


You’ve been part of KLUB7 for a long time as well, right? 
Yes. KLUB7 was founded 1998 in Halle an der Saale (Germany). KLUB7 now consists of 6 artists—5 guys, 1 girl. Most of us have known each other since the very beginning and we maintain a close friendship. At the moment 4 of us live and work in Berlin and the other two have just opened their own atelier in Halle.


What is it exactly that KLUB7 does?
KLUB7 is purely art related. We all have our early roots in the graffiti and street art scene and further developed our style at different art colleges in Berlin and Halle. We have shown our work at international exhibitions and are engaged in interdisciplinary projects. KLUB7 works at the interface between fine and applied arts. Our large-scale murals and site-specific installations are graphical, picturesque, abstract and figurative at the same time. Depending on the size of the project, we sometimes work in smaller groups or on our own but the trademark KLUB7 style is created when all six of us start working together and join our individual artistic identities. Usually there is no specific plan. We combine our distinct approaches and react spontaneously to each other and to the space, resulting in our very playful and handmade collective style. Since it is quite difficult to make ends meet as a free artist, we founded another label called OLD YELLOW to work commercially as well.


Regio_CollectionsOfShapes_OttoBaum_KLUB7_2016Usually collectives have a certain time span. After about a couple of years they stop working together and go their own ways. KLUB7 has been together for a very long time now. What is the strength of the KLUB7 collective? 
We get this question a lot. I’d say that it’s all based on our good friendship. Also, each of us has his or her own style and interests so we don’t get into each other’s ways.


You work with a lot of different mediums. Are you playing favourites with any of them?
I like to work analog. The brush is the essence for me, but less in order to illustrate than to write. It fascinates me to see all the things you can do with something that is just a wooden stick connected to a tuft of hair. The dynamic and shape of the brush stroke allows me to visualize my own style. I use special lettering brushes with soft long hair.

Aside from creating original artworks you also work a lot with lino printing. What is it about the lino print that resonates with you?
I am fascinated by the simplicity of lino print; transferring the design onto the lino plate and cutting out the shapes. The imperfection, a certain coarseness and the print structure underline the analog work. In my current work “Collection Of Shapes”, a screen printing series, I connect analog and digital surfaces. In my drawings I experiment with basic shapes. Out of these I create analog lino cuts, digitize them and assemble the black printed shapes into new abstract shapes. Through this approach the formations gain an apparent perspective depth. I feel deeply fascinated by simple shapes and the feel and structure of materials such as wood and paper, as well as the unpredictability of working with analog printing techniques such as lino cut or mono type.


What are you looking for in your work? Is there a certain goal you’re striving towards, or progression?
The creation process is most important to me. I would say that my artworks carry no specific content, but the content is more likely to be transmitted through the technology which in my understanding contributes a high value in itself.



What’s happening in Berlin these days? We all know Berlin as the mecca for artists. Cheap rent, cheap food, cheap whatever-you-need. How is the artist community in Berlin doing? Is it still an easy life to be an artist in Berlin? 
This is indeed the reputation Berlin has and it sounds very tempting. However, as an unknown artist it is everything but easy to earn a living with art in Berlin. Rent and everything you need to live in a big city like Berlin has become quite expensive. I witnessed the transformation of Berlin since it was divided. The Berlin wall fell and German reunification followed. So the development of the last 30 years was super intense. The hype about Berlin feels like a mask to me, far from reality.


What about the money? Is there any money in Berlin still? 
Selling your art in Berlin is really hard. Of course, it all depends on how famous you are. The good thing about the Berlin hype is that ‘made in Berlin’ has become something like a seal of quality, which increases the value of the artwork outside of Berlin.


What’s next? Any new projects on the horizon?
Among other things, I want to create my own brush script. Also, I became a father last year and I think that’s one of the most exciting projects.


If you’re as down with Ottos work as we are, you should check out his booming Instagram right here!