“eroticism and voyeurism only exist in the naked state”
"the yak" march issue
Federico, Tomasi, paint the picture.
Born in Stockholm, age 37, lived in Sweden until I was 13 years old. My parents moved to Italy and that’s where I grew up, basically. I studied at the Institute of Art in Riccone, Italy, for five years.
On first meeting we guess most people think you’re Italian – your mannerisms, accent, speech?
Yeah, I feel more Italian than anything else.
Did you ever pick up a brush before going to art school?
No, it was probably my father, Mauro’s, influence. When he was 35 and I was five or six he was doing cinematography and he introduced me to that world: taking me here and there, introducing me to the art world – a very creative environment. I always had room to create, which my father always encouraged, so when it came time to make a decision – university or not – I chose art school, although I never thought about becoming an artist. I always admired artists but I thought they were in a dimension that I really couldn’t understand. After five years of art school I thought fashion would be my future … living in Italy, there was a lot of influence in that direction, lots of work, and lots of opportunities. I realised that wasn’t something I wanted to do. After that I did ordinary jobs for a couple of years, as a bartender, etcetera. That was around the age of 26. I came to Asia in 1996 on holidays for a month: Bangkok, Singapore, Malaysia, then Bali for a week. Coming back from Bali something happened to me.
Here we go, you got the Bali bite?
Yeah, let’s say the Bali bite. I got this beautiful energy from Bali, the people – I saw this proudness in their souls, the way they lived. Even though there wasn’t much of a materialist world (nothing like where I came from) I started to have something I wanted to express and I had the capacity to paint, so there was my tool. I lost my fear of expressing myself. Artists are very passionate and intimate, and putting it out in public is hard sometimes. Sure, it’s your baby. Opening yourself up, and then you have critics – people like or don’t like it and you have to face that and Bali gave me that power. I had to go back to Italy because I had army problems, but I was sure I wanted to move and live here. Also my father was living here for six years.
Up until that time, did you sell any of your paintings?
No. It all started in Singapore, my first show was in a restaurant, that was in 1998. After a year exhibiting I got a phone call from London from The Fine Art Gallery – they loved my work, came to my studio in Singapore and offered me a contract. I signed, the prices went up and that gave me the freedom to live where I wanted to live … two-and-a-half years in Singapore, but for years Bali was always on my mind. I really didn’t know what to do in Singapore, I was not a painter then in my mind, so I moved to Bali in 1999. Since then where have your works been shown?
A little bit everywhere: my agent, who I’m still with from the London gallery, pretty much takes care of everything. I have started to collaborate with galleries in Milan and shows in New York. strong>How would you define your art? I think it’s very difficult to define any kind of art, but when people ask me, I say contemporary. I’ve been painting only faces and bodies for 12 years, still doing it, so maybe a portrait artist? I would say more avant-garde? Well it could be described as action painting; there is inspiration from (Jackson) Pollock a little bit, with a technique of letting go while maintaining total control.
Oddly enough for someone who was so influenced by Bali, nothing in your work represents Bali?
During the first year here the culture inspired me directly – the ceremonies, the strong spiritual aspect; I kind of lost it, though. It doesn’t have to be connected to the subject. I can paint something where the inspiration is there, for example, thinking about the love I have towards my son. That doesn’t mean I have to paint the face of my son. I’m doing a completely other thing, but the spirit is inside. The process of work contains a lot of elements.
You’re going abroad shortly, are you doing anything there with your art?
I received an e-mail from this gallery in Chelsea in New York City – I don’t want to say the name because I haven’t signed the contract – and they want to represent me. Actually I had a show in New York in 2002, then something went wrong. I fell into a very deep depression for a year.
The artist’s dilemma of not living up to expectations: confusion, insecurity, the whole mess?
Yes, I gave up Singapore, I gave up with everybody, gave up painting, then my son was born two days before the Bali bombing of October 12th, 2002. The day after he was born, I woke up to visions of 30 paintings I wanted to do.
Do you see yourself heading in a certain direction as an artist?
Goals, no. I had it, maybe a couple of years ago but now I think art has to be very honest in one way, there’s so much speculation around, so much in the art business that doesn’t have a connection with an artist. Strange, I’m an artist and must make a living, but I feel like I don’t fit in the art scene.
There’s no true artist that doesn’t feel that way – you’re not alone: you are a reporter of life and so you’re subjected to its anxieties on a deeper scale.
I know, you do it because it’s instinct. It’s not about selling, but nowadays if you want to be a successful artist you have to take into consideration those elements, which means, don’t show your art there, because if you do you’re going to burn yourself; be careful, just show in the good galleries, don’t do this, don’t do that. I don’t sit down and start a painting thinking about this.
Never sell your soul, just do it, doesn’t matter afterwards. If I don’t create for a month, there’s emptiness in my life. This year I discovered that once I finished a painting and put it on the wall, I felt death.
Let’s end this interview with the many faces on paper looking up, an inside perspective?
Well, it’s been four months I’ve been working on papers, hundreds of them. For some reason I see a spiritual connection without asking the reason why, one day I woke up remembering reading the Puputan mass suicide of the royal families of 1906 in front of the Dutch. So here we are with your philosophy of painting, variations of necks and heads looking up? Unconsciously I have this work on silver and gold paper, each of those, which I wanted to do a thousand of them. The Balinese didn’t have guns, so they threw coins and jewellery. So there’s the connection of silver and gold paper, but I cannot sell this work that has feelings inspired by a mass suicide – bad karma for me. So I’ll do this show and have a big cremation of my work. This connects the fact of what really matters to me – it’s already been done, finished, disappear, it really doesn’t matter. I work on the floor, so I really don’t have a perspective, a chance to see the paintings properly in the process. The emotion I had while I was doing it disappears. I can’t go back. I want to start another one, get back to that state of mind when I paint, that’s what matters to me. S.B.