NUMÉRO: What’s your background? What did you study?
TOBIAS KASPAR: After secondary school, I went straight to study art in Hamburg and Frankfurt. I like classics: Herman Melville’s novella Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street is one, it also explains to a certain degree my approach; I prefer not to, but then he (Bartleby) is also not leaving but somehow remains present. This book, other literature – for example, the German Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin –, but also the giant Barnett Newman painting [White Fire II, 1960] in the Kunstmuseum Basel, one of the oldest public collections in the world, remain everlasting influences.
How much did your background influence you?
Recently I read I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett. The book’s main character is called “Not Sidney,” which of course creates a grand confusion and many frustrations. Refusing who you are, what you represent – you can’t really escape it but you express a certain discomfort, unease and will for change. Already at school we learned about artists like Hannah Villiger or Cindy Sherman.
“I like dressing up, jumping into new roles. I also like to be able to change a signature style drastically.”
At what point did you decide you wanted to be an artist?
I never wanted to be anything else. When I grew up, art wasn’t linked to money as it is today. The artists I knew through my parents and the house I grew up in had nothing to do with money. In the 90s, everyone lived on a small budget. The fact that I grew up 500 m away from Art Basel always impresses everyone, but it really didn’t matter. It’s only now that everyone starts to expect you to buy an apartment and houses… It’s so sad. But on the other hand it pays my rent – like in the rest of the world, money is not distributed equally in the arts. Since I grew up in an artistic milieu, the art world never represented to me an escape zone from certain bourgeois patterns. It’s a “reflection zone” where we all can take a step back and look at the world through the glasses of art, since our globalized art incorporates just about everything and almost no free spaces are left to contemplate art which, for obvious reasons, plays an ever increasing role.
Do you remember your first encounter with art?
At home. And my godfather’s studio definitely left a lasting impression. He studied with Joseph Beuys in Dusseldorf, painted like Blinky Palermo, lived with a mattress on the floor in his studio – quite romantic in a way. Today he lives in Croatia on an island. Basel, as open as it is, can be simply too small, especially if you’re interested in practising a non-heteronormative lifestyle, no matter how liberal the city is. He was able to somehow explain to me or make me understand what Beuys wanted in general; the Kunstmuseum Basel has, among others in its collection, Beuys’s Feuerstätte II.