I think being an artist is rooted in my having a very bad childhood. I had to spend a lot of time hiding in my room, and I started to make drawings when I was four because when my father was angry I knew that if I showed him a drawing I have made he would calm down.
I also started writing stories when I was really young, for the same reasons. I wanted to make up imaginary worlds where I could feel safe and I have control over what was happening. So my work is really rooted in trauma, and I think that’s why much of my work still addresses trauma and how it affects and changes people.
I would call myself an artist, I just hate when people call me a painter because it conveys a horrible cliché. And it’s only one of the many things I do: I also publish writing and make photographs and videos, and for me it’s all part of the same project. Being an artist isn’t special. It is important that people understand this: it’s just another job. I feel grateful to be able to do it, because I make things that nobody needs and sometimes they give me money for it.
I would say the word ‘practice’ is funny. Sometimes, I’m asked to give talks at universities and I always ask NOT to use this word. e only professions where people refer to what they do as a ‘practice’ are surgeons and psychiatrists, and I think they do that so that, in case someone sues them, they can say they were practicing. Practice implies that you’re still learning. For me, I know what I’m doing, and I’m not practicing. I’m working. How would I de ne my work? I don’t really care about materials, I use whatever material best suits the idea. Mostly everything is just my intuition. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I can just tell if an image will make a good painting or a good photograph quickly, and then I make it. I don’t like art that has messages. I like art that is ambiguous. I don’t like to write press releases and I don’t really like to do interviews because I don’t like to say what my work is about for me. I believe that as soon as I let my work out into the world, it no longer matters what my ‘message’ or ‘idea’ is. I don’t want to limit people’s interpretation of my work by saying what it’s about. Whatever reaction people have to my work, that’s the right reaction.
I want to leave space for people to have feelings and ideas about my work that are personal, which sometimes are very different than what I was thinking about. I can say that I am more interested in an emotional reaction than an intellectual reaction. I would like people to FEEL something when they see or read my work, not THINK something. inking is a big problem, people need to think less and feel more.
People should be able to understand my work without any explanation, but they should’nt understand what I might have intended, they should understand what the work means for them. Titles are very important to me though and they do activate the work to some extent. Because titles are good for manipulation and for misleading people. A simple painting of flowers can be very different if the title refers to something other than ‘roses’. For instance, ten years ago I did a painting of a bouquet of flowers stuck to my wall with a knife. It could just be a painting of flowers, but the title is Still life with hard feelings, which makes it more complex than just flowers. So, the most information I am willing to give is in the title. After that, I wash my hands of all of it and people can think whatever they want, and whatever they think is right.
I don’t know if I want to transmit anything. I mean, I have a small ideal audience – my wife, my best friend, and that’s it. I guess what I want to convey is that we are all suffering. If someone is suffering and they see a painting of mine that is sad or vulnerable, I want them to know that they are not alone. I want to connect with people who are hurting or traumatised and make them feel like the world is less of a lonely place. I have the clichéd idea that art can be therapeutic. I want people to know that life is hard but not hopeless. ere is beauty everywhere.
I am in love with painting from 1895 to 1912, but you would never really know that from my own paintings. I have always said that my influences are more literary than artistic. For instance, I’m inspired by confessional poets such as Anne Sexton. More lately, I became interested in fake biographies, hoaxes, Clifford Irving, people who manipulate their stories, exaggerate and lie in their autobiographies. My wife Cristine Brache – who is a very good artist – has had a big impact on my work. She has encouraged me to write more, and I have a book of short stories coming out next year which wouldn’t have happened without her. Our personal life is something that in influences me. I like the idea of showing the intimacy in a relationship. Also, I think that I’ve become more interested in portrayals, in art and in writing, in things that are taboo, in showing for example the ways that people can be in loving committed relationships but be sexually atypical, live in an unconventional way, be married but be non-monogamous. I always explore my own life, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. And meeting Cristine was like meeting the missing part of myself, so she and our marriage have had a very large impact on what I make and what I write. I like pushing the envelope and going to taboo places that make people uncomfortable. Many stories in the book I have coming out are about Cristine and I, but fictionalised, such as a brother and a sister who are in a romantic/sexual relationship. All the material simply exists in my mind and my daily life, I don’t need to look anywhere else.
I believe that if you aren’t committed to what you are doing, you should stop. You have to believe in what you’re making, what you’re putting in the world. If not, you’re wasting your time and you’re wasting the time of everyone who looks at what you do.
What I search as a viewer – in all forms; poetry, literacy, fine arts, theater – is Sincerity. Vulnerability. Risk-taking. And willingness to fail.