TOMAK – the Posterboy of Antikunst does not seem to believe in relaxation. After several exhibitions and collaborations in the last year, he now presents his current drawings at the Bruseum in Graz in the exhibition “The Marked Self”, publishes his next book in September and still keeps on working fanatically. Daniel Lippitsch sat down with TOMAK to discuss the boringness of contemporary art, why art students have to show resistance and why galleries take themselves far too seriously…
Looking at your body of work, one thing that stands out is the ever-expanding range of media you use. How does working with sculpture, collage, painting, drawing, etc. influence your creative process?
My work is always based on a some form of specific, existing image, or on reality in general. For the sculptures, I had busts made of myself. The way politicians used to, since antiquity. Sculptures always served as proof of a person’s existence. These existing images or subjects are then processed, disturbed, fragmented, or approached through a variety of media. I burned one of the heads, cut another bust into cubes, to others I added metal elements like huge steel teeth. I caricatured myself, transforming the solemnity of the political bust into a richer, more artistic, more aesthetic approach to the subject.
So it’s more about self-destruction than self-glorification?
At first glance, people who don’t know me notice a certain bathos when looking at the self-portrait drawings or the busts. At second glance, and this second glance is crucial, you become aware that the topics are addressed in a very substantial manner: I, the EGO. The EGO is the basis of every artist’s work. We all see the world differently; we express the things that affect us, transmit them out into the world. This act of “transmitting-into-the-world”, for example by self-portraits, certainly bears the risk of coming across as bathetic. My interest in the self-portrait was sparked by Frida Kahlo. I saw one of her drawings. I hadn’t drawn since I was thirteen, and then I went to an exhibition where suddenly this work by Frida Kahlo stood out; as an incredible beacon of light. It was a small drawing, in a style similar to her paintings, on which she wore a heart on her forehead,. That picture inspired me to start drawing again. Until that point my drawings had actually been texts.
What do you mean by that?
They consisted of text. Sheets of drawing paper that only had text written on them.
And why do you see them as drawings?
Because they’re pictures. Because as soon as I frame it, a sheet of paper with writing on it becomes a picture. Then I started to add drawings to the text. I would draw in very small things. The content always provided the framework. The content made the pictures. Then the themes got bigger. I started making series. There were five text sheets with lines drawn on them, five millimeters apart. Here the Vienna Group with Gerhard Rühm, who also uses text-based work with added drawings, had a crucial impact. These pieces evolved into series. That’s something I always really liked, because with a series you can manage to achieve a theatrical effect. One thing builds on another. The text sets the tone. Then the image follows, then another text, and then maybe a larger image.
Was literature the origin?
My origin is in the act of writing. But also literature, because when you go out on the street and look at people, it can be hard to capture this experience solely with pictures. You do need words as well.
Is that why you integrate a lot of writing into your work?
The writing is crucial. Because the text describes what I’m feeling, and naturally you also try to develop a style. To make the texts readable. So that the texts can also be published in book form. At the same time though, I’m a very visual person. The visual impressions that I get on the street, in the supermarket or in the countryside … When I see all these morons, at some point I have to start writing. A person needs an outlet, and it’s the writing that constitutes my actual outlet, not the visual arts. Otherwise I’d just have to set certain people on fire…
Would you agree that in the pieces that incorporate text, the text itself is the primary medium?
You have to get people’s attention with nicely drawn elements, which at second glance – and maybe it is all about the second glance today – end up getting stuck in their throats. These nicely drawn things. Of course, you can also paint brutal things. There are also forms of painting that manage to get things stuck in your throat. But these days not even the curators are capable of judging painting anymore. You can see that on the art market. You can see that at art fairs. Finding art there is like mushroom hunting.
Do you see art fairs more like shabby sales events?
They’ve become design fairs.
In my opinion, art, especially when viewed from the perspective of the 60s and 70s, has largely become rather an aesthetic accessory than a medium of criticism.
That’s right. It could also be a medium of aesthetic criticism, if we’re talking about „just“ painting. But look at Picasso’s late pictures. To me, late Picasso is the greatest there is. It’s always incredibly refreshing, to step into any museum anywhere in the world, and to come across one of his monsters. Wild. Raw. Brutal. Colorful. Insolent. Fresh. I don’t see that at art fairs today.
The art is becoming too tangible. Too simple, to some extend.
That’s slick, polished design …
Things become beautiful, aesthetic, pleasant. Digestible.
Nothing sticks with you. There are certainly a few exceptions. You can also club the recipient over the head once in a while. That’s the purpose of art, after all. That’s my opinion. That has always been the purpose of literature. I’m an Austrian. And Austria has produced some tough bastards. Hypersensitive people who are exposed to this society and have to find a way to deal with it. Because they can’t help it. Otherwise they’d have to go home and do something drastic to themselves. If you go to the local bar somewhere in the countryside, you’ve only got two options at the end of the night: either to punch someone in the face or to go home and write about it. Or you punch them in the face, take a picture of it, and write something underneath. And that brings us to my drawings.
That already explains the process.
Yes, exactly. And it’s not just like that in the countryside, it’s the same everywhere. People aren’t just idiots in Austria, but also in Germany. They’re idiots in England as well as in France. Basically, people are idiots all over the world. We could perhaps contemplate why they are idiots. Most likely we would find out that it’s the various moral constraints or child-rearing measures that keep people stupid, and make them stupid on purpose; unfortunately also socialism also has that effect on people.
Watzlawick has addressed that.
That’s just how it is, humankind is kept stupid. Then an artist comes along and criticizes that. Art exists to sharpen the senses. That’s why it’s about the second glance. As head-on as my pictures in part may seem, there’s also a lot of content in that directness.