The scene could be straight out of a film: Mrs Erni leads me through a modern, bright living room, through a narrow corridor into a studio. The ceiling is very high, windows go from floor to ceiling, big canvases lean against the wall, sketches and plain paper are piling up on tables. In the very far corner of the set, awaits the maitre himself: 105 years old Hans Erni. Shaking his hand feels magic. "Only an hour", reminds Mrs Erni before leaving.
You have experienced a whole century. Has the way society perceive art changed since you started producing art?
Hans Erni: It changed like the behaviour of men.
Was it easy to become an artist in the 1920's?
The obstacle is the opposite of the flow and the flow is life. But obstacles are the things that make you grow. Like Hegel already said: Only a thesis contradicted by an antithesis will result in a synthesis.
You studied in Lucerne and Berlin. How important were art schools for you?
Schooling only makes up a small part in anyone's live. After overcoming school, you can start having a life of your own.
What is the secret of becoming 105 years old?
Spend your days doing something that fulfils you. For me that's painting, which I do every day.
I point at the sketch in front of Erni. It shows naked men and women running.
True to Erni's typical style, the lines are dynamic and determined.
Did you draw this today? Where are the models?
I can draw by heart.
Over the years I've learnt to refine my skills. Any form of artistic expression starts with observing. But my own presumptions are just as important.
Naked people are a frequent motif in your work.
I create the figures to convey an attitude and I want them to look natural, because naturalistic imagery is what people understand. Also, the human body is most beautiful when it is naked.
Another frequent topic in your work are pictures about peace and saving the environment, with titles like 'Save the Forest' or 'Nuclear Poem'. Does art need to be political?
Most definitely! Any artist does what drives him. Caring about our world has always been a key motivator for me. I want to transmit the idea that happiness and peace is achievable. Art, by portraying turbulent society, fights turbulent society.. If art doesn't change social circumstances positively, it doesn't have a purpose.
How important is it that people understand your message?
It is essential. My ideas have to be recognisable in my work. If I create a painting saying "no to war" and nobody...