Purple Magazine
— The Future Issue #37 S/S 2022

tobias spichtig


interview by OLIVIER ZAHM

berlin-based artist tobias spichtig envisions a haunted future. he combines paintings, sculptures, and corporate furniture into postcapitalist installations and ghostly scenes of consumerist desolation, abandoned workspaces, and luxury relics.

OLIVIER ZAHM — My idea for this issue is that we all have such an apocalyptic vision of the future that we are not really able, on an individual and artistic level, to face it. What interests me is to hear from people who — through their attitude, their work, their art — have already entered a different space, from which they can adapt to a chaotic or unpredictable situation. So, how might this apply to you? You’re a painter, but you also make furniture, right? At the Swiss Institute, I saw what looked like tables and objects by you…
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yes, I have a series of assemblage sculptures that are mostly made out of furniture. It started with mattresses: if you assemble them, obviously they become sculptural. But yes, it’s my way of using material. I like to have stuff that’s already around. The furniture in the Swiss Institute show is empty vitrines from diamond shops. The story behind it was that before Covid-19, I was in New York with a good friend of mine, and he took me to the Diamond District. So, I thought, “What would capture this mood?”

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you make these sculptures yourself?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — No, they’re found. They were all bought on eBay.

OLIVIER ZAHM — We used to call that “ready-made.”
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yeah, the ready-made is one thing, but I think we’re in a time when it’s more that when you assemble it, the ready-made becomes this material thing.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, basically, artists use whatever they want in the world.
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yes, definitely. I mean, whatever makes sense. [Laughs]

OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you have in mind when you paint or do an installation? Because you go from very abstract painting to very illustrative painting. I’m thinking of the sunglasses…
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — It’s true, yes. But I think it’s always the middle ground, right? Of course, there’s a discourse of abstraction and figuration, but in the best case, they meet.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Or fight. [Laughs]
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Or they fight. The abstract ones I’m working on now come from ornamentation and so on, but in the end, the idea is to make a good painting that transfers a feeling or a mood. That’s important to me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What is important for young artists today? Because we’re living in a very chaotic world, and your artistic world is pretty dark, right?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — That’s what people say. I don’t find it so dark, but I don’t know. It’s the material around me that I find attractive. And then to own it and bring it somewhere where it makes sense… But it can make sense in a lot of different directions.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Because as long as we see something, there’s still a source of light somewhere. What is the source of light in your work?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — I think there’s a thing where you transfer something, and someone else can understand it on a really basic level, like in a song. If it takes the right tone, it can be transferred, and that can also change over time. It’s very philosophical.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your sunglasses in the middle of a canvas: are they a metaphor for stardom or anonymity?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Maybe both. I think it’s more how they’re painted. I think that’s the interesting thing: they can be both, depending on who is looking at it. I just happen to like sunglasses a lot in these paintings. I’m still fascinated with them, maybe because they’re so simple, but they’re also complex — how they’re made.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Because people who wear sunglasses pretend to hide behind them, but they actually attract more curiosity.
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Like you: you always wear the same sunglasses, so that’s a pretty specific statement, where you already reveal a lot that you’ve thought about.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Possibly. But how did you come up with this motif?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — I photographed a pair of sunglasses belonging to a friend, and I really liked the photos and thought they would work well as a painting. And then it continued. I started to collect sunglasses myself. But I like it when it’s really in between — between the object that’s painted and the whole thing, which becomes its own thing but really has a specific mood that’s conveyed.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And your more abstract paintings look cosmic.
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — They have something in between. It’s this thing that I’ve worked on for five or six years. I made a lot of drawings, and suddenly I hit a point where I was like: “Okay, that’s kind of what I want. That kind of works for me.” I just wanted to do abstract painting, but not in the sense of only sitting in front of the canvas, and not in a modernist way.

OLIVIER ZAHM — More in a funny way because these works have a sense of humor, right?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yeah. But I never try to make a joke. I think when things are serious, they have the best humor, in a way.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is your work a sort of self-portrait? A self-portrait in the future, after your death, or a self-portrait as a digital version of yourself?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — I don’t think of them necessarily as portraits or self-portraits. It’s just my work, I guess, that looks at how I do things. This idea of a trace… As with a lot of artists, you see who made the work. I think it’s important to stand behind it. I don’t like to hide my presence.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You like big formats, right?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — In painting, I did more large formats in the past, but I’m slowly getting into smaller formats. They’re kind of in between, more of a…

OLIVIER ZAHM — Human size.
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yes. I think that’s also one great part of painting: they have a one-to-one relationship to the body.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And how do you see the importance of painting today, in the digital age?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — I think it will always be important because it’s such a simple and humane medium. It’s like a voice. Even movies are still projected onto canvas. It has this potential to…

OLIVIER ZAHM — Transport emotion?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yes. It’s a really simple thing for humans to grasp.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And how do you see the digitalization of the world today?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — I think it’s a tool that kind of runs our world, but it’s nothing more than a tool, and it depends on how you use it. It’s a complex thing, and it changes a lot, but also, it doesn’t. Its power is, in one way, super relevant, but then it drops drastically.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But you don’t use anything digital in your work.
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — I use a lot of digital imagery.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you use pictures from your phone or laptop?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — All the time. It’s just another thing that one uses. I use digital printing and all of that. It’s part of it, but it’s not the subject I’m interested in.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you use your phone while you paint?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yes, to look at the painting.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s very surprising to me that young painters do that: they paint, and then they take a picture of their painting to look at it.
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yeah. Sometimes, I also use mirrors to look at it. You look through the mirror or the phone at the painting. It gives this distance to things. Or you take pictures and print them out and work later on the thing.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you paint mostly with acrylic or with oil?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Oil. It’s mostly photo prints and oil on canvas.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Digital prints?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yes. On raw canvas.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you paint, you photograph, and you reprint?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — No, mostly I just print photos on the canvas, and then I paint it. Or vice versa: paint it, put canvas on it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you go from something very flat and technological to oil, which is the opposite.
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yes, in a way. But it also has its own materiality, right?

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you work on different paintings at the same time or just focus on one?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — I usually work on three to five paintings in parallel.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Let’s speak about the future because, to me, this is connected to your work. How do you envision the future? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the evolution of our time?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — I don’t know. Sometimes, I’m really scared, obviously, like everyone else — when you see how fast nature is changing and how we live. But then again, however things turn out, there’s always the space to have a good time. I don’t really believe in these grand ideas, like it’ll be like this or that. Things will be the way they will be.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is there a connection between your work and any idea of the future?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yes. I think art always has a thing that is coming from the past and projecting into the future. That’s one thing I love about painting because it’s not like next season or grand ideas of the future. It’s this conversation that’s not so bound to time but can bridge time. Also, images can take us out of time, which I really love.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Because with images, in a way, we are stuck in the moment.
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yeah, exactly. But for me, there’s not such a difference between photography and painting in the sense that they’re bridging time and can have this conversation about the past and the future.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your work — and art, in general — is like connecting different moments in time.
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yes, and this can change. Also, different things can mean different things in a certain time.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But isn’t it depressing to see some painters whom we used to like 10 or 15 years ago, then we suddenly realize that they don’t mean anything anymore?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yeah, that’s super sad. [Laughs]

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are there any artists from the present or past who particularly resonate with you?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — I’ve always loved Luca Signorelli, for example. That’s Renaissance. And Francis Picabia… The paintings, specifically, always mean a lot. I also like Sigmar Polke and, more recently, Emily Sundblad and Eliza Douglas. I also like Anne Imhof’s work a lot. Obviously, they work together. In terms of painting, I find them super interesting.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did Polke live in Berlin?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — At a certain point, yeah.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, how would you describe Berlin in terms of inspiration for the art world? Because you’re Swiss, and you chose to move there.
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Well, yeah, it’s also a life thing — a lot of people who mean a lot to me live there. And it’s so vast in the way that you can work without being in the whole machine all the time. I can just imagine if you’re in Paris or New York or another big city, it always involves a lot of…

OLIVIER ZAHM — Social aspects. Yes.
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yeah, not even. The streets are dense, it’s hard to live in, and it’s fast, which is super nice. But what I like in Berlin is that the pace is a bit slower, and it’s not a part of the machinery. You can step out if you want to, which might not be so easy in Paris or New York.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Solitude is important for distance.
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yes. Isolation is bad, but solitude once in a while is good.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you dream a lot?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yes, I even sing when I sleep…

OLIVIER ZAHM — What was your first job before becoming an artist?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — The only job contract I’ve ever had was as a flight attendant. [Laughs] It was my first job, when I was 20, for a year.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Where were you based?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Just Europe. I mostly did London because I discovered I could go party in London and then get straight on the plane…

OLIVIER ZAHM — And when do you tend to get nervous or emotional — when you have to show your work?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yeah. Wow. Hold on, let me think about that.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Okay. Take your time. I’m lighting my cigar like an old editor from the ’40s.
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — I think I get nervous when I’m under pressure, but that’s also a good thing. Or when things are too much. When things are beautiful, then I get emotional. With people or things that mean something to me…

OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you think about love? Do you fall in love a lot or rarely?

OLIVIER ZAHM — It must be rare because you can’t remember.
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — No, no, I think I fall in love a lot with things that happen or general things. Like, “Wow, I love this.” I couldn’t say if it’s a lot. I like to love. I think that’s the answer.

OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s a good answer. What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — When I really want to do something, then I’m happy.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What would be your greatest achievement? Is it always your last painting or your last show? Because becoming an artist is a big achievement, right?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Maybe… I think to be able to look back and have the feeling something was good, to look at something you did and be like, “Oh, not bad.” Maybe it’s the same thing as with the painters — like if you still like yourself after 10 years, if you’re not too embarrassed. [Laughs]

OLIVIER ZAHM — And what’s your relationship with fashion? You modeled for Balenciaga, right?

OLIVIER ZAHM — And also for Vetements at the beginning?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — No. My girlfriend, Theresa Patzschke, modeled for Vetements. I’m a fan of fashion. I like it a lot and admire great designers. And in today’s society, it has a new relevance. I don’t know what it is specifically — maybe it’s also just the people who work for fashion brands now. I like it from a distance.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Let’s talk about sex. Do you think that everything is sexual, or you don’t care about it?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — I don’t care, really. I mean, not that I don’t care about sex, but it’s a hard question.

OLIVIER ZAHM — In the ’70s, we used to say that sex was the source of everything or the unconscious motivation for everything.
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yeah, but that kind of became an industry, right? Maybe it’s the erotics of things that I like, more than sex itself.

OLIVIER ZAHM — With your work with the gloves, with all the black, there’s an S&M connotation, right?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — There are a lot of connotations, but that’s what I mean: there’s always a fetish aspect to everything, but I think that has more to do with erotics than this ’70s thing of sex.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Or pornography. I’m fascinated by the way the body disappears in your work. It’s like, where did the body go? Did it go into a machine, a hard drive? Because we can really feel the presence of a soul in your work.
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — Yes, but the body itself becomes these two things. Maybe the body will come back [laughs], but it’s also there more in an immaterial sense.

OLIVIER ZAHM — To come back to the future: for you, is it naive or totally utopian to think that art could be a possibility for tomorrow?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — I think it always is.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, art perhaps is a form of politics. Or is it just a community of people?
TOBIAS SPICHTIG — I think art is a thing by itself that has its own powers and informs everything. I just think it’s the most relevant thing. For human society, it’s one of the most important things. It really shapes how the world looks, in the end.




Dustan Petrovich, grooming
All clothes by Balenciaga

[Table of contents]

The Future Issue #37 S/S 2022

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