New interview by Claudio Parantela (01 September 2009)

Find the original interview, and the rest of Claudio’s blog and interviews HERE

q)Please introduce yourself.

A: Bonjour, ich heisse Tobias Feltus. Not that I speak either language, but this combination sounds better than either of the languages that I do speak.

q) Where do you live and work?

A: I live between Edinburgh and Assisi. My black & white darkroom is in Italy, and my colour work is done in the UK.

q) How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it?

A: I generally avoid this situation by making an odd face and handing them a card. I make photographs. No, I don’t do weddings. But I guess if you are reading thus far, that you already know what my work looks like, therefore I could describe my work as a kind of instant painting, a sort of post-divisionism, implemented with a contemporary medium by using the inherent grain of photographic film.

q) How did you start in the arts? How/when did you realize you were an artist?

A: I never did. Personally I am not keen on the label because of how dire I find the art world. But I was born of two American figurative painters, Alan Feltus and Lani Irwin. Thus I grew up amongst artists and other creatives in an eclectic environment where I learned that there is nothing unusual, and the fabric of the world need not remain mysterious. Bones, insects, taxidermy, art, erotica and design are all constituents of what I have been from the very beginning. My dad gave me a Pentax ME Super when I was about 10, and I had my first darkroom then too where I played with pinhole cameras following notes given to me by Emmet Gowin… But I had been painting and sculpting as soon as I could hold the weight of my head. I never decided anything. I am simply caught up, handicapped and bound to the plight of the creative class.

q) What are your favorite art materials and why?

A: I am not really that picky, I don’t think. I am a big fan of fiber based bromide paper. I love a good fountain pen. A simple watercolour set. A block of clay… Or is it the tool that I am more dedicated to? A sharp scalpel. My collection of old dental tools. My Leica M3 or my Hasselblad 500c. I like to use things that do not cause me grief nor stress, thus my preference for simple and mechanical tools. I struggle to use matrix metering and auto-focus, in preference for a rangefinder, guestimation, and a handheld meter.

q) What/who influences you most?

A: Probably myself. I am my worse enemy; I am the thing and person who stops me from working the most. But that is not the answer you are looking for. I like to take small parts from many places, and rarely appreciate the whole of one object, person or place.

q) Describe a typical day of art making for you.

A: I am not sure if there is such a thing. My routine generally involves breakfast and correspondence or paperwork in the morning, followed by struggling or procrastinating in the afternoon. But routines and habits are best broken, so I do this as often as possible.

q) Do you have goals, specific things you want to achieve with your art or in your career as an artist?

A: I would like, one day, to be known and respected by many people whom I do not know. I would like to be one of the names listed here in someone elses interview. But the irony is that I do not want this for some selfish satisfaction or greed, but rather as a form of validation, of repeted validation of my work, as I am rarely able to judge what I do on any grounds that are not purely technical.

q) What contemporary artists or developments in art interest you?

A: The last books I looked at were of Guy Bourdin, Jan Saudek, Sarah Moon, Joel-Peter Witkin, Pierre et Gilles, a book of erotic photography from the 1850s to 1890s, and then of course yesterday’s accidental visit to the Ugolino di Prete Ilario frescoes in Orvieto (as well as the Pozzo di S. Patrizio). But as I said, I take small pieces from each. I am utterly fascinated by Terry Richardson, even though I know my work will never look like his. I am incapable. Maybe in his case it is my reaction and fascination with his work which interests me. I love the colour and magic of David Lachappelle, which is again something I am unable to achieve… And looking at my books I can see his close relationship to Saudek, Pierre et Gilles and Bourdin. I have been a long time lover of Cartier-Bresson, and more recently of Diane Arbus, finding the differences in their ways of representing life fascinating, as well as their photographs beautiful. Erwin Olaf excites me, as does Gregory Crewdson. But I am also teased by old Fellini, Buster Keaton, Wertmuller’s Love and Anarchy, Giotto’s perspective, Balthus’ space, Bernini’s marble skin and Emin’s uncensored honesty.

q) How long does it typically take you to finish a piece?

A: This is almost an unfair question. The time it takes to finish a single piece varies greatly, but so does the time inbetween shoots, and the time between the shoot and the need to finish a print for a show. So sometimes a piece may take years, even though the frame was exposed in a fraction of a second. Sometimes a shoot will last less than an hour, and sometimes a shoot will last several weeks, with trial an error, change and evolution. My general rule of thumb is that everything takes twice as long as I would expect, plus one.

q) Do you enjoy selling your pieces, or are you emotionally attached to them?

A: I love the idea of selling things, though I still struggle to not feel that receiving money is like receiving a favour. I really have never grown up. One thing, however, is that I cannot deal with limitation. If I were a painter, I would have no problem selling my work. But as a photographer, I cannot deal with the idea of limiting an edition. So at present I have been making two artist’s proofs at each printing session, and if colour, I intend to destroy the print file so that a subsequent print would be different in size and grading.

q) Is music important to you? If so, what are some things you’re listening to now?

A: I go through fases. Right now I am listening to nothing. Sometimes I listen to Vivaldi, earlier today it was Tegan & Sara followed by Antony and the Johnsons. Sometimes CocoRosie, and sometimes just shuffle and skip skip skip.

q) Books?

A: Yes, I own many, though most are picture books. Being somewhat dyslexic I am a bit slow at reading, so often only read novels when I am traveling. Most recently read some Angela Carter fairy tales, A. L. Kennedy short stories, Boy Racers by Alan Bissett, and I am currently reading How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall. Sarah is a friend, and I love how she can write fiction in the way that my memory remembers things, rather than the Hollywood approach of action followed by action.

q) What theories or beliefs do you have regarding creativity or the creative process?

A: I do believe that Picasso’s “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child” is the right approach to art. So much of the art world is full of ‘ideas’ that are put out by people who haven’t the technical skill to represent them. And art-schools are not really helping, as they are moving further and further from teaching technique, giving ever more importance to the idea, yet I continue to reinforce the fact that an idea is useless if you cannot convey it. And the Visual Arts must, in primis, satisfy the need for a visual element of communication, as this is intrinsic to its name. I believe that visual art should be able to stand on its own, without a written manual, to be appreciated. I think that it is only when one is capable of perfect representation that one should be allowed to abstract. I believe that justifying one’s work should involve describing choices or emotions, and not building workarounds and excuses.

q) What do you do (or what do you enjoy doing) when you’re not creating?

A: My life is a full time job: even if I am food shopping, my mind is still grinding part of the process. Again, it is part of the plague of the creative class. I do, however, spend time tinkering. I don’t know if this is a symptom of not having the money to purchase equipment in the condition that I would like to use, or whether it is a foolish disease, but I often will restore a camera, adapt a lens, or try to improve a light. Silly really, but it keeps me in trouble.

q) Do you have any projects or shows coming up that you are particularly excited about?

A: I am currently working on an album cover and a music video. I have been planning a large project in my head for a few months now, that will involve a collaboration with my girlfriend/costume designer and incorporate a level of collage, painting and re-photographing. There is also a small chance that this project may expand into becoming an Opera, collaborating with a composer. I am also part of a collective of self portrait photographers called Seven Selves, with whom we are working on scheduling several shows around the world. And I am starting work on a cross-media collaboration with Hayley Lock, who has created a series of characters that revolve around the idea of hierarchy and secrets. Her work is generally collage, and we plan to develop her images into DADAesque semi-narrative film, probably something like our HZ-Kino.

q) Do you follow contemporary art scenes? If so, how? What websites, magazines, galleries do you prefer?

A: No, I have friends, and live in a present. I tend to lean towards the past, and wish I were part of the DADA movement, or maybe an outcast of it, but regardless, living in that period between the wars.

q) Any advice for aspiring artists?

A: Well, if you are studying, the likelihood is that your tutor is wrong. If you are most comfortable drawing on the floor, then don’t use an easel. If you are most comfortable taking photographs out of focus, then quote Sugimoto’s use of “double infinity”, or Carson’s trademark bokeh-all-the-way. Remember that each year, as technology ‘improves’, and the saturation of film and photography produced hits the web, the actual ratio of good over irrelevant becomes less balanced than it was twenty, fifty or even a hundred years ago, thus it is clear that technology does not make work better. It is a tool. That is all. So given the choice between buying a mediochre dSLR or a Hasselblad 500c/m for the same price, I still would advise getting the machine that has been top of the line for the past 40 years, and not one that will be a doorstop in 4 years.

q) Where can we see more of your work online?


Tobias Feltus: