2010, 230 x 75 x 60 cm
Wood, metal, plastic, PE, gloss paint, cables, mixed media
The word "Laboratory" is painted in large letters on Willi Tomes’ studio door, and it's not a misnomer. Tomes, based in Berlin, is an alchemist, turning the debris of everyday life into gold, and a modern day Dr. Frankenstein who breathes new life into that which was once dead.
Looking at a Tomes sculpture, one can't help but notice that it is comprised of familiar objects: A Mickey Mouse head, part of a toy boat, broken records, a Christmas decoration, a kitchen utensil. Cast off from some previous life, they are all there in parts and pieces, reassembled to create something new.
"Finding new materials and techniques is something I'm interested in," he says of his work. "I find things without searching for them. I feel that's part of an artist's job – to find – not only to do. It feels good to not think about it too much, to just do it and surprise myself."
The Animal (biped or quadruped?)
2008/2009, 130 x 110 x 54 cm
metal, textiles, plastic, leather, vinyl, plaster, acrylic paint, gloss paint, mixed media
While his process of creation may be fluid and intuitive, the narratives he weaves are deeply thoughtful. He retells the ancient tale of Good vs. Evil through his art, and calls his particular version of the story the Blimperium Zyklus.
"There are always three main parts: The invasion of the evil, the triumph of the evil, and the destruction of the evil – because it has to be destroyed. It destroys itself." He has also assigned colors to these three epochs, and uses them throughout his work: Silver represents the invasion, gold is the triumph, and black is the defeat.
"They are monsters," he says of the misshapen creatures that wreck havoc in his work. "They are like gods, but they are also the heroes that people have created. And so they are made of 'hero stuff': Mickey Mouse, Masters of the Universe figures, toy turtle heads...it's all man made. I wanted to show that this isn't an 'outer space' story like in War of the Worlds – these monsters come from us, and they're doing the things that we want them to do."
The battle plays out in a series of wall-mounted dioramas he has created to showcase the rise and subsequent fall of his monster-god-heroes:
2007 - 2009, series of 10 dioramas, wall installation, size variable
Detail of one of the dioramas, showing the battle between the
giant golden monster (only the feet are visible here) and the tiny people below.
While not all of his work is as literal in depicting the Blimperium Zyklus as his dioramas, it is a theme that is nevertheless ever-present. His demented busts and statues – constructed from the objects we work so hard to purchase and then discard – represent our true idols and dictators. They are monuments to a world gone wrong, led by greed and consumption, and even the pedestals that hold them up have been crafted from neatly stacked trash, spray painted in stately grays and blacks.
2009, sunglasses, acrylic plaster, metal, PE, wood, gloss paint, synthetic plaster, 39 x 27 x 26 cm
|Bäh, Bäh, Bäh |
2008, plastic, acrylic plaster, PE, glass, metal, textiles, 22 x 13 x 17 cm
It's no surprise that the plastic bag – the most ubiquitous of all trash – has become a key material in Tomes' work. "Plastic bags are interesting things," he says of them. "You buy things in them and then you throw things away in them – it's a transporter – and aside from that it's useless. I was looking for something that I always have around that I could use to make art out of, and it was perfect. It's a material that everyone knows – even in Africa, where they have nothing, they have plastic bags."
Stretching plastic bags onto stretcher bars like canvas, he forms new compositions from the juxtapositions of the printed images on the plastic, and applying heat, he manipulates and distorts the surfaces.
2010, PE, mixed media on wooden frame,
51 x 49 x 3cm
But Tomes doesn't limit his use of discarded materials to the man-made. The remains of animals are often featured in his work as well: the corpse of a frog, a mummified rabbit, a stuffed pigeon or pheasant, and even – occasionally – a little bit of mammoth ivory. "In nature a thing can only grow if another thing dies. It happens slowly, but it’s a necessary cycle. That’s why I like to use these animals – because they have actually been something. They're not just packaging or toys, they're real things that were once alive and have a history."
Through his art, Tomes crafts a poignant yet poetic statement about the fate of humanity: if we continue to worship our plastic idols and create massive amounts of trash, we will destroy ourselves and end up going the way of the mummies and mammoths. It's a clear message, yet the work never comes across as preachy, condemning or self-righteous. It merely points to one of many possible futures and leaves us to ponder our destiny.
“This is only one version of the story,” Tomes says of his work. “It is open and evolving, forever continuing.”
Willi Tomes is represented by Galerie Gerken in Berlin, Germany.