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Crude oil painting

April 21, 2011

Artist Ruppe Koselleck creates art from crude oil and sells it to buy shares in British Petroleum. It's an idealistic scheme he says will take generations to realize.

A work by artist Ruppe Koselleck
Crude oil paintings can also be colorfulImage: DW

Ruppe Koselleck started collecting balls of tar and oil when he was on holiday with his family at the Dutch resort of Julianadorp in 2001.

"It was my daughter's fault," the 43-year old artist explained during his exhibition at the Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg. "She came back to the towel where we were sitting in the sand and she had some tar under her feet and I remember that when I was young and we went on holiday in Denmark, I had some tar under my feet so I think it's the birth of a trans-generation project."

Sitting at his desk surrounded by jam glasses full of tar he has since collected from the Gulf Coast, Greece, Corsica, Northern Ireland and the German island of Norderney, Koselleck said that back in 2001 his hostile takeover plans for BP were primarily motivated by ecological and aesthetic reasons.

He singled BP out as a takeover target because of the eco-friendly image it cultivates.

Ruppe Koselleck holds up a crude oil painting at the beach
It will take 250 years for Koselleck to sell enough paintings to buy out BPImage: VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2011 Foto

"If you see commercials from BP with wind power and sun energy, they have very good public relations with ecological ideas but in fact they have a 99-percent crude oil business and that's why I think it's more interesting to take over BP," explained the artist.

Deep Water spill was pivotal

But the Deepwater Horizon oil spill last April - the largest in US history - was a turning point for him. He visited beaches along the Gulf Coast three months after the disaster and found millions of pellets of oil washed up on the beaches of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

"Oil was everywhere," he recalled. "After the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, it became a full-time job for me; I had to go to the Gulf area and I couldn't finish the work - there were too many oil colors at the beach."

Koselleck found so much oil that he was able to paint right at the beach, mixing the oil with sand to create patterns before writing where he found the oil and scrawling "Takeover BP" across his canvases.

At the end of his trip, Koselleck crammed sticky brown lumps of oil into empty jars and filled plastic bags with jet black tar. He returned home to Germany even more determined to take over BP, but his motivations had changed. Anti-globalization became the focus and his project took on an increasingly political tone.

Artist envisions split-up of BP

"When I was in Florida, the American president was at the sea with his daughter to tell everybody that everything was alright," he said. "That's not true and the president knows this. But you can see in this point that BP and the other oil companies have so much power that the American president has to go to the beach to swim with his daughter and that's bad."

That would all change if BP were to come under Koselleck's management. He says he would split up BP into 100 small companies.

"BP is too big to fail," he explained. "Such a big power can pay all the politicians to do what BP wants, not what the people want. We cannot live with this power as a democratic state. We have to cut the power to make them smaller."

Artist Ruppe Koselleck at work
Click below on the link to the picture gallery for a look at Ruppe Koselleck's artworksImage: DW

'Completely utopian'

Koselleck's plan to break up BP has won him support from Claudia Thuemler, head of the Lehmbruck Museum's art outreach program.

"I am a huge fan of this campaign," she exclaimed. "It's completely utopian, but it's a wonderful idea and it's a very nice political statement. I think that this campaign and the idea that we have the power to break up a huge company - even if that's not possible in practice - are brilliant."

Koselleck has said he would like to "generously" compensate the victims of various oil spills if he succeeds in taking over BP, but he admits that he resorts to filling up his tank with BP's petrol when he's on holiday and can't find another gas station.

For every type of oil he uses in a painting, Koselleck charges the equivalent of two shares in BP, so the price of his artwork varies from day to day. He uses the value of one share to support his family and invests the value of the other in new BP stock.

A trans-generation project

Koselleck currently holds 1,493 shares in BP out of a total of nearly 19 billion, so it will be some time yet before he can call himself the president of BP.

"It will take maybe 250 years to take over the whole company," he said. "I hope that I can live more than 250 years, but it's nearly impossible. That's why I think it's a trans-generation project. It needs more than one life to beat BP."

But his crude oil artwork has been selling rapidly during the show at the Lehmbruck Museum; he says he'll be adding at least another 500 shares to his stake in BP by the time his week-long exhibition ends.

If he manages to sell enough paintings to buy just short of another 19 billion shares, one of the world's largest oil companies could find its own waste has made it the subject of a hostile takeover bid.

Author: Michelle Martin

Editor: Kate Bowen

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