Despite being one of mankind’s oldest art forms, you don’t see a ton of tattooed portraits hanging in the Louvre. Call it a sign of the times because the old masters weren’t commissioned to paint portraits of many people wearing tribal armbands. But – listen to me here – what if they were? This is what Patteef imagined throughout his five-minute collages. What started as a bit of fun on her personal Instagram turned into a full-fledged art project. In the conversation below, you’ll learn how the project came about, why it can’t quite be considered art, and much more.
Do you remember the first time you fell in love with art?
It’s not like I grew up in a family that emphasized art, but somehow the arts have always been there. There were paintings on the walls of our house and my father knew how to draw very well when he was a student, so I remember going through his sketches in the attic. Above all, we had books about Rubens and other Flemish masters lying around, and maybe that’s where the love grew. As a child, I loved going through all these drawings, admiring the skilful way in which the painters represented the human body in all its forms and in different contexts.
When did you know you wanted to become an artist?
To be honest, never. Even now, I don’t consider myself an artist like a painter or a sculptor. I create these collages and upload them to a big tech platform for others to enjoy. And in my opinion, it’s really not much more than that. The collages refer to the work of real artists, painters and tattoo artists.
Do you remember the first collage you made?
Patteef started out as a personal account where I shared photos of daily life like most people do, but quickly varied the gallery with small image manipulations. Mixed media elements like videos over photos, distorted images, etc. So it’s hard to tell what the first pasting was, maybe it was deleted somewhere down the line. It doesn’t seem like there was a clear step where things went from this personal account to an artist’s page.
Can you tell us how you were inspired to make the tattoo/fine art collages?
At first, I did these contemporary-style collages, like the ones you might see all over the Gram. Later, I wanted to combine fine art with pop culture, so incorporating more tattoo photos seemed to come naturally, as a tattoo collector. I’ve always looked at galleries of tattoo artists, admiring what they do and making choices on who to get tattooed next. So there was an abundance of contributions and it was a fun way to differentiate myself from other collage makers. The way the tattoo models display the ink on their bodies and thus create their own little community fascinates me enormously. No doubt many of those depicted in classic art would have loved the possibilities apps like TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram now give us. Low-cost visibility around the world, from your own management…
I know you say this all takes five minutes… what made you want to put a limit like that? Do you think about potential mash-ups all the time or do they come to you on the fly?
The five-minute time frame, combined with the tools I use, is key to establishing a playing field. Each collage is created on an iPhone XS Max, using just a few simple apps. I think if you do it differently, like using a computer, you’re more of a “Photoshopper”. More resources and more time would undoubtedly lead to other, probably higher, expectations. Keeping the process to a minimum gives a kind of “what you see is what you get” which works better for me. If Patteef can excel within these limits, then for me the mission is more than successful.
The term “five-minute collages” doesn’t do the job enough justice, however, as a lot of time goes into preparing each collage. Matching the position in the two images is really essential and the hardest part, so it can take hours of browsing online to find a match that will work. After that, the stitching of the two images should go very quickly. In the beginning, I used to put the pop culture image as a square over the classic artwork. Nowadays, I sometimes take a while to remove a number of things, so that the images blend into each other in a more natural way.
What were/are some of your biggest influences?
Many collages are done on the fly. Others are the result of months of searching for the perfect image to match. I want to create one collage a day, so it’s kind of always in my head. I am more than proud of Flemish masters such as Rubens, Bruegel, Van Eyck and others from the golden age. But overall, I like most art movements, especially classical painting. Modern art lends itself less to making Patteef collages, so I’m less involved in that. If anyone’s an influence, it’s the many tattoo collectors and tattoo artists showcasing their work.
Many artists simply post an image and let it speak for itself. Why do you feel the need to include a written element and how do you think it adds to the total artwork?
Maybe it’s because when I go to the museum and look at works of art, the first thing I do is read the accompanying text. And only then do I step back to look at the work. Instagram works the other way around and the explanation is certainly never necessary to understand what you see on my feed. But it will hopefully provide some nice background information that will help the viewer. At best, it makes the user experience on the platform a bit more fun, I hope.
After all, little has changed over the centuries. People always want to be represented and represent others. And while wealthy churches used to be the main platforms, now there is great technology, where you can introduce yourself or your works to the community. So for me, these background stories about classic works can somehow help to understand the present as well.
Are there certain topics that you come back to again and again? Do you have a favorite painter you like to draw inspiration from, for example?
In retrospect, there are a number of painters whose work is used often, but that may be because certain themes are more prominent in a specific era or with a certain number of artists. For example, in the late 18th century, when the advent of neoclassicism caused many painters to turn to subjects inspired by ancient Rome, the ability to render drapery over the human figure became an essential skill. So for me there is a great source of inspiration for half-naked bodies. Ideal for mixing with tattooed bodies. I often need images of nude or semi-nude people to cover them with tattoos. So many Adams and Eves are found browsing my feed…