An Artist of All Trades

With a keen eye for art and photography, WKWSCI advertising lecturer Sven Pfrommer shares how he made the transition from print to digital.

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Born in a family with three generations of artists, it is not surprising that Sven Pfrommer picked up his first film camera at the tender age of eight

Today, the 52-year-old German is not only an accomplished photographer, but also a visual artist and an advertising lecturer at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

Pfrommer’s artworks have been featured in various gallery exhibitions around the world, such as The Other Art Fair in Los Angeles and SAATCHI art exhibition in London. But this year marked a significant milestone for him as he held his first Manila-based solo museum exhibition, “Indistinct,” in June.

Pfrommer’s foray into the arts began after he graduated from Germany’s HAWK University of Applied Sciences and Arts in 1994. He decided to further his studies as a British Council scholar at the Royal College of Art in London.

There, he started out as a freelance art director specialising in design, branding and advertising. Pfrommer eventually seized the opportunity to set up his own agency during the multi-media advertising boom in 1998.

But running his own agency was not all smooth-sailing as Pfrommer’s business was hit hard by the dot-com bubble crash in 2001.

“Before (the crisis), clients such as start-ups, software and film production companies were knocking on our doors. In 2001, we had to go knocking on doors instead,” recalled Pfrommer.

But Pfrommer kept his passion alive and remained undaunted.

“When you’re following your talent and passion - you don’t (consider whether) it’s safe or not,” he said.

This mindset and belief carried him through his 15 years of running the agency.

In 2013, he closed the company and moved to Manila where he taught visual communication at Raffles Design Institute Manila for four years. Pfrommer now teaches advertising modules at WKWSCI and curates his personal art exhibitions.

“It was time to start something new. I enjoy teaching in my field of expertise and passing on my experience to the next generation,” he said.



The Digital Age

Having worked through the print era in the early 1990s and the digital era after, Pfrommer noted some stark differences between the two.

The first difference is that clients expect more from the advertising industry today. In the past, pitches made to clients were incomplete so that clients could use their own inspiration and imagination to visualise the final product, he said.

But today, expectations for a pitch are much higher as clients expect a polished and finished piece.

Pfrommer added that the shift to a digital era also beckoned a change in the advertising medium.

Magazines were a popular medium for entertainment during the print era and advertisers could count on a strong readership. But with the advent of mobile usage, advertisers have to adapt accordingly to capture the shorter attention span of a digital audience that can now scroll away with a single swipe.

Pfrommer noted that the digital era triumphs the print era in its ability to churn out precise and useful data, which helps evaluate target audience and access a project’s success.

But ultimately, he still prefers the traditional print.

“Every creator, copywriter, art director and photographer wants to see their work large,” he said. “It gives you more satisfaction than a tiny screen.”


The Perfect Mix

In his own personal artwork, Pfrommer employs a combination of digital and print art forms. His favourite and most well-known style is a mixed medium method, in which he paints or draws over photographs.

“Inspiration doesn’t only come from Google but rather the real world, or even your own dreams at night,”


“Whenever I do paintings, I feel like something is missing. If I do photography, I feel like something is missing,” he said.

He incorporated this technique in his “Human Blur” series, where he photographed ordinary people in the streets when he was visiting different cities.

Pfrommer intentionally takes overexposed and out-of-focus photos, then adds layers of paint on them. This form of abstract photography appeals to him as only the basic shape of a human form can be seen, so it is neither photo-realistic nor too detailed, he explained.

The “Human Blur” series was first exhibited in 2002 but has since become a recurring series in London-based art gallery SAATCHI. The countries featured in the collection include Myanmar, Saigon and Singapore.

His advice to students who are taking their first step into the advertising industry is to derive inspiration from different means. “Inspiration doesn’t only come from Google but rather the real world, or even your own dreams at night,” said Pfrommer.

He also urges students to always strive to do better, and not settle.

“We think that the first idea is the greatest one - that we don’t need to look further,” he said. “But ultimately, quality comes from quantity.”