Everything no one ever wanted: in conversation wit...

Everything no one ever wanted: in conversation with Tobias Spichtig

Kusthalle Basel hosts “Everything no one ever wanted”, a new solo show by Swiss artist Tobias Spichtig curated by Elena Filipovic. The artist lives and works in Zurich and Berlin, and participates in the creative scene of both cities obtaining inspiration from music, fashion, photography. Spichtig usually works with different media like oil painting, sculpture, photography and installations, and he doesn’t hesitate to display them together. The Basel exhibition focuses specifically on his paintings on canvas.

Tobias Spichtig, Everything No One Ever Wanted, Kunsthalle Basel, 2024, Ausstellungsansicht, photo: Philipp Hänger, courtesy Kunsthalle Basel

The show takes place in the upper spaces of the Kunsthalle: entering the first and bigger room you will immediately be surrounded by most of the paintings, that you can admire closely by walking on a big stage set up for the exhibition. On this structure, some of Spichtig’s “Gheist sculptures” are also on display: they are clothes with nobody wearing them, made stiff with a special resin used in aircraft manufacturing. The pointy hood of their sweaters makes them also look like monks of a present time, drained of their body and religion: they act like presences, something between life and death. For the Basel opening musician Ocrilim (Mick Barr) was invited to perform on the stage. The music coming from his Steinberger guitar ranged from deep and slow sounds to frenetic melodies. As his hand starts playing faster the suspense grows increasingly. The sound is loud and immersive, feeling like orchestra and metal with a tragical energy. It resonates in the room creating the atmosphere of a contemporary monastery and a theme for the show.

Tobias Spichtig, Blackhaine, 2023, oil on canvas, 120 x 80 cm, courtesy the artist and Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin / Basel

The second room may appear like a sort of passage to the last one: cupboards and wardrobes heaped in the middle forces you to walk around. Just a mirror and one portrait are here, depicting Tom (Heyes), a musician and performer known as Blackhaine, recently collaborator of rapper Playboi Carti for his live performances. The route ends with three metal tombstones on a red floor, one of which reads “All I never wanted”.  Spichtig’s sculptures, objects ad paintings coexist in a shared space creating dialogues with each other. Blurred strokes, drips of colour and a predominance of black define Spichtig’s paintings, whose uncertain spaces are populated by pale edgy creatures. Colour finds its way out of darkness taking over the foreground or otherwise serving as a setting for his portraits. In works like “Sorat” and “Please stop haunting me” the strokes get thinner and struggle to make their mark on the canvas, recalling drawings made with chalk on a blackboard. It feels as if you could hear the strident noise coming with the gesture. The pictures were often compared to “Die Brücke” experience and to Expressionism, as his paintings undoubtedly recall Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and the atmospheres of the films by Robert Wiene and Friedrich Murnau. Still, he isn’t necessarily quoting them as main influences, as he makes clear in the interview here attached.

Tobias Spichtig, Everything No One Ever Wanted, Kunsthalle Basel, 2024, Ausstellungsansicht, photo: Philipp Hänger, courtesy Kunsthalle Basel

The subjects of Spichtig’s portraits offer a wide variety, ranging from the iconic designer Rick Owens to singer Eartheater and to visual artist and filmmaker Michella Bredhal. The colour-block backgrounds suggest a timeless space but are also anchored to the present, as in the case of “Martina” (Tiefenthaler), Balenciaga’s chief creative officer, with a red background that clearly recalls the Maison’s red carpet from the Spring 2022 collection. Spichtig collaborated with the brand several occasions, working as a photographer for campaigns and as a runway model for the visionary Winter 2020 show. His “Gheist sculptures” were also installed in Balenciaga stores around the world. The artist’s fascination with fashion dates back a long time and clearly emerges in his oeuvre through a specific interest in silhouettes and proportions and in the use of clothing for his sculptures, where outfits stand by themselves without their wearers, becoming crystallised attitudes. Identities nowadays are put under labels, nouns and hashtags, codes that algorithms try to understand. In a world obsessed with commodities and objects are we all becoming clones or are we hiding ourselves behind the same uniforms? Spichtig says this is nonsense, and that algorithms will never replace our self-determination and understand our complexity. Just as with clothes, one thing can be good for someone and bad for someone else and there’s nothing wrong with it.

Tobias Spichtig, Sorat, 2023, oil on canvas, 120 x 80 cm; Berge / Mountains, 2023, oil on canvas 180 x 120 cm; Michella, 2024, oil on canvas, 120 x 80 cm, courtesy the artist and Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin / Basel, photo: Philipp Hänger, courtesy Kunsthalle Basel

Enrico Boschi: What is the thing that no one ever wanted?
Tobias Spichtig: It comes from the tombstones back there. I’ve got a connection with them, it’s kind of a Vanitas thing. One of them says: “all I never wanted”. That’s the thing you don’t want, dying, and then it happens. It began from me and then it moved to “everything”. It also means the stuff that you don’t want but happens anyway and it is actually good. The artworks are non-believers. It’s about the struggle: you don’t wanna die but you actually get bit and you love it.

I find your art both seductive and unpleasing at the same time. I’ve shown your work to a friend of mine who’s not into arts and he was just disturbed by it. What would you say to him?
Oh really? It’s good that he was feeling something.

I wanted to ask you about the subjects of your portraits: do you do live painting or prefer working with photographs?
It’s kind of a mix. I don’t really do live paintings. No one has the time to sit for me because I’m slow. I work from several pictures or from live drawings and stuff like that, live painting is more of a Renaissance thing.

Tobias Spichtig, Martina, 2023, oil on canvas, 120 x 80 cm, courtesy the artist and Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin / Basel

Are you subjects comfortable or in a state of unease?
It depends on my day, on my daily mood.

Which layer of the subject is depicted? I see the black eyes… does it mean they’re empty like your sculptures or it is another thing?
There’s a weird thing about when things are not there… they’re also right there, right, mean, they have eyes, they look at you.

I think you are definitely into ghosts but you’re not haunted by the ghost from the past. I still wanted to ask you about your idols and obsessions.
Ti Andy Warhol, the “Resurrection of the Dead” by Luca Signorelli, Jackson Pollock… who else… Louise Bourgeois, Mark Morrisroe, Picabia… especially his later work his portraits are my thing, The Italians in early Renaissance, I’m also a huge fan of swiss drawer and painter Urs Graf. Then Richard Prince, Sigmar Polke and David Hockney.

It feels like your objects are lying in the streets ready to go to waste… they’re physically discarded but are they also abandoned?
I think to a certain point that objects are always a bit abandoned as soon as you don’t use them. I think that objects have their own lives, their own stories and autonomy. Different materials come with different qualities, they’re like complex materials and have a specific meaning by also being charged with memories.

What do the furniture other room mean to you?
They’re empty cupboards, objects that come from an insomnia walk. I used to have sleep problems. I would get up, go to the kitchen and sit on the table or go to my desk, try to draw, get hungry, go to the fridge, then go back to sleep. Again, I would go back on the couch or sit on the floor until I switched the lamp on, so I saw all these objects.

Are the statues related to this in a way?
No, they kind of come from another place. I mean, now it’s funny they are together because it could be as if the clothes had walked out from the wardrobes in the other room.


Everything No One Ever Wanted, a Cura di Elena Filipovic
19/01/24 – 28/04/24
Kunsthalle Basel
Steinenberg 7
CH-4051 Basel


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