Christoph Niemann

First Manhattan, then Berlin

Artist Christoph Niemann has illustrated for The New Yorker and The New York Times, among others.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The artist has the unique ability to encapsulate important issues in his illustrations. In a conversation in his Berlin studio, he reveals the secret of his success.

  • Facts


    • Mr. Niemann’s illustrations have appeared in the New Yorker, Zeit Magazin, and a New York Times visual blog called Abstract City. He also illustrates children’s books.
    • In his 11 years living in the United States, he became an insightful observer of American politics, business and society. His experiences there are reflected in his illustrations.
    • German President Joachim Gauck presented U.S. President Barack Obama with a Niemann silk screen during Obama’s 2013 visit to Berlin.
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What’s the secret of creativity?

It’s very simple, says Christoph Niemann, who once used a pie diagram to illustrate his answer. In fact, he gives me a silkscreen of it to take home after our visit. In the diagram, a drawing of a scientist explains Mr. Niemann’s formula for success: 87 percent effort, 7.5 percent luck, 0.5 percent “talent and divine inspiration,” and 5 percent “staying off the Internet for 90 minutes consecutively!”

The award-winning artist is famous for his ability to incisively condense weighty issues into a few lines that exemplify his unique and self-deprecating style. His illustrations have appeared in the New Yorker, Zeit Magazin, a New York Times visual blog called “Abstract City”, and a number of successful children’s books.

Now the Mercator Foundation is honoring the 43-year-old Berlin resident with an exhibition that opens today.

Mr. Niemann, with his three-day beard, light-brown horn-rimmed glasses and alert gaze, is passionate about the theme of the exhibition. “I’m a politics and news junkie,” he says during our conversation in his studio near Torstraße in the trendy Mitte neighborhood.

“My pictures aren’t just there to illustrate, but also to encourage reflection.” The walls are covered with dozens of examples of how he successfully achieves this goal. One is an image that attracted great attention around the world last year.

It shows two hands playfully putting together the Brooklyn Bridge with a piece of string. When U.S. President Barack Obama visited Berlin last year, German President Joachim Gauck gave him a silkscreen of the image, which Mr. Niemann had belatedly titled “Diplomacy” – and suddenly the illustrator was on everyone’s lips.

He opens a folder that contains many other examples of his relaxed way of putting important issues on paper: a New Yorker cover image on the Fukushima disaster, in which the traditional Japanese cherry blossoms have been replaced with radiation warning symbols; weapons made of U.S. tax forms, to show where the U.S. government’s budget goes; U.S. generals watching explosions on screens and almost declaring World War III when they mistake U.S. Independence Day fireworks for an attack.


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