Alpha: Andreas Klier's new art exhibition
Sports director Andreas Klier speaks about his artistic journey
Andreas Klier is still astonished by his art.
He was a bike racer — the kind of bike racer who would attack down the cobbles on the Kemmelberg. He won Gent-Wevelgem and a stage of the Vuelta. He finished second in the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Belgium’s toughest bike racers count Andreas amongst their ranks. Although he is German, they call him a Flandrien, the title they reserve for their grittiest cyclists. And now he is showing an exhibition of his paintings in Mallorca’s most prestigious art gallery. Andreas’s show Alpha runs until April 28 at the Gerhardt Braun Gallery in Palma, Mallorca, where Andreas has made his home since his racing career.
Andreas got into art by accident. He is not, normally, a man who can welcome accidents. As our sports director and head of technical operations, it is his job to prepare our team for races. He will study every meter of a course to find the best spots to resupply and attack. He’ll study the latest developments in bearing design or rubber manufacturing to find advantages for our riders and demand the very fastest material from our partners. Our mechanics answer to Andreas. Each evening during a stage race or classics campaign, he will send out a logistics plan for the next day, so every rider and member of staff knows exactly where they need to be before, during, and after each race. A cycling team is made up of many moving parts, and it’s up to Andreas to make sure that everyone does their job, so the whole machine runs well and fast. When decisions have to be made, our team turns to Andreas.
But then, a few years ago, he was in Boston, on his way home from some business meetings and had a few free hours in the city. On a whim, he rented a bike and rode to the Museum of Fine Arts. Andreas was not a man who often went to museums, but when he walked into the galleries, Max Beckmann’s paintings just about floored him.
“I literally fell in love,” Andreas says. “You can’t say that they are nice. You can’t say that they are perfect. You cannot even say that the technique is perfect, as far as I can judge it, but they are just so good. The colors he uses are phenomenal. That showed me that there is no right and no wrong in art, because the people he paints are as they are, as ugly as they probably were in the real world. You just have to accept them.”
Andreas got home and started painting. He’d return to Mallorca from a race, or close his computer at the end of a day of work, and go out into his garage and start covering canvases. He taught himself to paint, following his own instincts and using whatever materials he had on hand. He never thought that anyone else would see his art.
“I use the paint I have in my garage,” Andreas says. “If it is yellow, then the background is yellow, and if it is blue, then it is blue. I don’t like white canvases, so if it is sunny, I carry them out of the garage, throw them onto the grass and start painting the first layer. I let that dry, carry it back to the garage, and then, the next day, I go in and think, hmm what can it be? And then I just start with something, and while I paint, I think, ah that could be, whatever, a boat. Sometimes, I just turn the whole canvas upside down. The second day, I work on the first idea. I wouldn’t even call it work. I paint around the first idea, and the third day I go in and I see if I should do something else on that canvas, or if I should keep on going. I do not have an idea.”
When Andreas paints, he is unconstrained by calculation or what any other person thinks. He just turns his music up to 11 and starts making marks with the brushes he buys from a hardware store.
“When you go and paint, there is no right and no wrong,” he says. “There is no must. There is no need to do it. There is no anything. I can just do it whenever I want to, and if I don’t do it, I don’t do it. And if I don’t like something, I just paint over it, and nobody can tell me which color I need to use. I think my big advantage is that I literally have no knowledge about technique or colors and that is why, even if I am using the wrong technique, or using the wrong colors, I never think about it and say, oh now I made a mistake. I never have that feeling that I made a mistake. I just paint, and the next day I go in the garage and I think, oh that looks pretty crap, and then I just paint over. The moment that you have the feeling that the work that you are doing in the garage is starting to get boring, you know it is finished, whether it is ugly or nice, or whether you're happy with it or not.”
Through art, Andreas has discovered a whole new mentality. It’s as if he can access another part of his brain. He did get his start riding bikes in artistic cycling, a discipline he compares to slow-motion gymnastics, but that was never a matter of free-thinking.
“It is so slow and so aesthetic at the same time,” Andreas says. “It takes so much work and self control for your body. You have to be very, very, very precise. Otherwise the bike just goes out from under you. It is not a form of art. If the world champion does it in front of you… it is breathtaking. But to do it, to learn it, has nothing to do with creativity. Zero point zero. It is basically hardcore drill work. I would even say that it is the opposite of creativity.”
When Andreas was 12, his artistic cycling coach died in a mountaineering accident. He didn’t like his new coach, so he started road racing, like his dad had done before him. Andreas was good — very good. He started winning right from the start.
“When you’re young and you win and you get a bit of money for it, and can buy your own pizza, you know — that’s it. And I just got better and better and better. I didn’t train too much. I trained often, because I liked riding my bike, but not much, and I also wouldn’t call it training. It came so easily and so naturally, and you got ten German Marks here and there twenty.”
Andreas turned pro when he was 20 and could compete with the best in the classics right away. Racing over the cobblestones, elbow-to-elbow, with the likes of Johan Museeuw and Peter Van Petegem, he realized he could win the Ronde van Vlaanderen. He moved to Belgium to better learn the race course. On cold winter rides through the Flemish countryside, he mapped every corner, ridge of cobbles, and drainage ditch into his memory, so he could win the fight to the front of the peloton. De Ronde became his obsession. He wanted to prove himself in cycling’s toughest race.
“My dream always was to win this one race: Flanders,” he says. “I always wanted to win, and I was, whatever, fourth and seventh and sixth and eighth and ninth and second, but I never won it. Post Flanders was basically, for me, before Flanders the next season. I was just thinking, what did I do wrong? What should I do next year?
After 17 years as a pro, Andreas hung up his bike and ended his racing career. All of the knowledge he had accumulated as a racer made him very valuable as a sports director. He knows the key points of all of Belgium’s classics and can predict what’s going to happen based on what he sees in the peloton. Riders look up to him. Andreas threw himself into his new job — and excelled. Cycling was his life. It was another four years before he discovered painting.
“I sometimes ask myself why did I not start before?” he says. “Why did I not make a thousand paintings or drawings? I think that art is for everyone, if you allow yourself to be creative, and you don’t limit it, if you don’t have a picture in your mind of how it should look, and you just paint as you feel in that moment, and you allow your creativity out. The difficult part is that everybody is afraid of society in a certain way and the judgement of the society. Even if people are doing everything the best they can, they still sometimes have the feeling, am I doing it right? What will my coworkers say? Hopefully, this person is happy with it. What will so and so think? And so on.”
For as long as possible, Andreas wants to ignore what anyone else thinks of his art. For him, it’s a release from his daily work, from the rigors of professional bike racing. Cycling rarely appears in his paintings, but it is essential to it.
“Without my work, I couldn’t paint,” Andreas says. “I can’t really explain it, but if someone would take my real work away, I can’t see myself going into the garage and having a three-meter-tall canvas in front of me and starting to paint something. I think cycling is, and always will be the biggest part of my life. Even if I would hang in the MoMA in New York, I cannot deny that the biggest thing in my life is cycling, and you could not make an art exhibition in the biggest museum or whatever or gallery on the day when they show Roubaix on TV, because I would love to watch it. Cycling is my life, but I am so happy that I found art for myself. I do not think about what Van Petegem could say or Johan Museeuw. I really don’t.”
Now, Andreas’s art is on show. The canvases that he had piled up in his garage are now framed on the walls of a gallery. Before the exhibition, Andreas was unsure if he really wanted people to see his work.
“Showing a painting you painted while not knowing any sort of technique is a very private thing,” he says. “If you make drawings from childhood onwards and sit at your desk and either throw them in the bin or you just lay them by your bed, that is something personal, and you never think about showing them to someone, but from the moment that you start painting — even if you say they are going to end up in your garage and forever be there — you somehow have the feeling that if someone will see them, or if you get the feeling that you actually want to show them to somebody, you are nervous about their reaction. I was proud. I was excited. At the same time, I had this huge question mark above my head. How would the people react? I was a little bit afraid if people would laugh behind my back.”
Since Alpha opened at the Gerhardt Braun Gallery, Andreas has been overwhelmed by the reception. Critics have lauded his post-impressionistic style, his feel for composition, and original use of color. Crowds have come out to see his art. Friends from the cycling world have complimented him.
Still, Andreas maintains that he always wants to just paint for himself.
“I believe the best artists are the people who allow creativity without thinking and the people who don’t have that talent to just switch off without caring what the environment says will only get worse,” he says. “Once you try to do it ‘better’, that is then the beginning of the end, and I hope I never get there. I hope I can just do it in my garage out of a feeling out of my stomach, and still make myself happy and maybe also people around me. I love to be able to paint. I love that I have space to paint. I don’t want to say it is my real me, because I don’t want to say that I have never been my real me, but when I paint I don’t have to act at all.”