Arte Mondadori (old press 2009)

Arte (Mondadori) February 2009 pp. 124-128

They take photographs built like paintings. Caravaggio-esque references and light in scenes that seem film sets.
Sons of the painters Alan Feltus and Lani Irwin, Tobias (1979) and Joseph (1982) Feltus were raised on art from birth. Surrounding the brushes, paints and canvases of their par- ents – figurative painters close in sensitivity to Balthus and Casorati – finds its ideal ground- ing when, in the mid eighties, the family moves from Washington to Assisi, where Italian art forces its way into their lives. Leonardo, Beato Angelico, Piero della Francesca, Filippo Lippi, Paolo Uccello, Caravaggio are constant presences in an education that culminates in opportunity, after the earthquake in 1997, to spend a month in the rescue site for the fragments of the Giotto frescoes of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. Tobias, at the age of eleven, had already been given his first camera, a Pentax, with which he had started teaching himself through experimentation.
The overdose of art, breathed inside and out of the walls of his home, almost pushed Tobias towards complete rejection. “When it came to choosing what direction to take my studies in, I chose Design”, he explains. “I had the desire to create something that was not only pretty, but also useful”. He graduated from Edinburgh College of Art, Joseph following shortly behind having studied Animation. “I was intrigued by the idea of being able to con- trol every frame of a film with the same precision of a painter on canvas”, Joseph says. Their first real collaboration with Solo Duets [2005] marks the beginning of the brothers? ongoing artistic collaboration, and evidence of Tobias? destiny as an artist. When the group is joined by the playwright Caroline Bliemel and costume designer Elizabeth Krause, the Feltus? work becomes increasingly complex, varied and narrative.
Metaphysical mannequins and Papier-mâché warriors
From seventeenth century lighting to metaphysical mannequins, from the women of Tamara de Lempicka to Leonardo da Vinci, from neorealist cinema to the carnality of Fellini, from the silences of Bergman to the sumptuous decadence of Visconti, thousands of suggestions find their way into their images that are created with infinite patience and a spasmatic attention to detail. Images for which the creation of the set, the choice of light- ing, costumes and the pose of the subject take hours upon hours of work, with the exact purpose of reaching the refined quality of painting though the mechanical means of the camera. “We never need the camera to capture the moment”, Joseph explains, “but rather it is imagined and built with precise intentions”. Firstly, to communicate emotions and feel- ings. They are always the stars of their work, the Feltus brothers, who alternate roles in front and behind the lens, together with their two partners. Because they believe that art has to be a bit autobiographical. Ultimately no emotion is more familiar to us other than ones that we feel ourselves.
There is not a specific division of roles between Tobias and Joseph. Ideas are born and developed from either of their suggestions. If anything the difficulty is in the beginning, in finding the right soil for one?s idea to be allowed to germinate by the other. But when this happens, once the lights are decided upon, costumes and background, they don?t even need to speak any longer, their common genes allow them to work in a synchronous man- ner. And the action is ended with the shutter release, because they work exclusively with film. Digital could almost not exist for them, if not purely as a challenge to surpass its ef- fects in-camera. They love the organicity of film, its true essence as an entity, the same way they don?t love the potentially endless possibilities that digital could offer, which could push them to feel that a piece is never finished. A touch of arrogance, maybe, as is their
Arte (Mondadori) February 2009 pp. 124-128
desire to keep their work as directors separate from that as photographers. They don?t want that their short films – which are highly acclaimed in film festivals worldwide – get con- fused with video-art. They are something else, they explain, something that is a whole in itself, with a script and a plot. They are only now debuting with a video created purpose- fully for a gallery. It is on show in London, together with their latest series of photographs Heimischer Zirkus, inspired by the nineteenth century circus.

Written by Alessandra Redaelli, Published in Arte, February 2009 Translated by Tobias Feltus

Tobias Feltus: