ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS & REVIEWS
Dennis Tyfus - 2008 - Grandpa Pisshead Exposed with Can Opener [EN, interview]
Grandpa Pisshead Exposed with Can Opener
Conversation with Dennis Tyfus
The exhibition contains three new drawings by Dennis Tyfus (b. 1979) that range from large to enormous (one of the works was slid into the space on the diagonal and rests like a sloping surface against the farthest wall; it was the only way it could enter the gallery), approximately twenty animated films that can be viewed on monitors scattered throughout the space, and an entire series of gigs and performances by artists and bands (see www.dennistyfus.tk).
The danger when looking at beautiful things is that one will eventually become accustomed to them and, as a result, be deprived of a sense of wonder or awe. Fortunately, there are still people such as Tyfus, whose attitude to life and his work never ceases to reinforce the astonishment. Above all else, he falls into a category of artists that it is hard to write about without feeling that you’ve sold them short. This is because he is not engrossed in art, let alone the art world. Rather, he is endlessly preoccupied with the hundreds of beautiful and well-made things that he considers to be vitally important: music, drawing, magazines, posters, vinyl records, radio programmes, gigs and performances. Not as a narcissistic maniac who considers every homemade fart to be of global significance, and not as a mere spectator or collector: just as someone who is busy with these things as a colleague, bandmate, organiser, musician and draughtsman, as an admirer of Jef Geys’ Kempisch Dagblad, as a companion of the soft Guy Rombouts, as an ally of Ludo Mich, as a friend of John Olson or as someone who, if need be, calls upon the thrifty thoughts and artistic-technical skills of a fellow artist like Vaast Colson.
A trail of litter
This is why Tyfus, like Panamarenko, for example, does not have an ‘artistic activity’ in the sense that he isn’t constantly wondering how he can make something that resembles art or could be considered as such by a hypothetical viewer, buyer, gallery owner or, heaven help us, a theorist. The result of this impressive and tireless activity is a stream of beautifully created images that meanders and spreads through the world like a trail of litter. An exhibition such as this is a tour de force, because it is about not imitating your own work and avoiding the trap of falling into a ‘presentation’ of the ‘real’ objects. This is the fourth time that Tyfus has succeeded in such a feat. For this exhibition, he has once again created work specifically for the occasion, yet it loses none of its power and authenticity.
Tyfus makes drawings with black Posca paint-markers on coloured backgrounds. In the past, this surface consisted of painted spots in various colours, but today we only see yellow or pink monochrome ground-layers. In 2004, I have described drawings by Tyfus in which pores, tears, beads of sweat, acne, stubble, pimples, lumps, veins and hairs appear as the pixels of a vibrating grid. An austere shift in form can be identified in the current works, which are now predominantly composed of non-identical narrow stripes. The drawings are usually smooth and shadowless, although a realistic bear’s head suddenly makes an appearance in one canvas – with shading around the eye sockets and under the muzzle – which makes it seem as though a grisly nightmare is penetrating the flimsy wall of a cartoon-like world. A contemporary drawing turns into the texture and atmosphere of a centuries-old engraving: the sleep of reason still produces monsters. We see how years of training have enabled him to create forms that are as ominous as they are liberating.
Tyfus has been drawing continuously since he was five years old. When I recently met his parents (dear people), his father told me that he would smuggle paper home from his job at the printing works so that his son would be able to keep on drawing.
The Stella Lohaus Gallery is one of the few galleries in Belgium with its own face. You don’t have to be a universal admirer of all of the artists represented in order to feel a deep sense of admiration for their mutual diversity, which is linked to the idiosyncratic choices of Stella Lohaus (who is known for never being influenced by anyone). Which is why I was curious to know what motivated her to work with Tyfus.
‘In 2002, I saw an invitation card for his solo exhibition in Luchtbal,’ she says, ‘and I was immediately fascinated. We were living in a cultural climate that was determined by news about a child murderer. Suddenly, I discovered someone who depicted children who were not innocent. I was already familiar with the work of people like Yoshitomo Nara, but I found Dennis’ approach very refreshing. I looked him up and it clicked immediately.’
- Why is this work called ‘Splendid Eye Torture’?
Dennis Tyfus: It’s the title of a skate film by Blockhead from 1989, a film that is full of fluorescent colours and spinning spirals.
- Another work is called Chewing Gum Balls Tree…
Tyfus: It’s the title of a song by Elly and Rikkert, two former cabaret hippies who have since turned into religious fanatics of sorts. They deny that the pink sticky balls in the tree of which they sing are the result of an LSD trip.
- Are all the women in these works portraits of your friend Narelle?
- They remind me a bit of the stocky women drawn by Robert Crumb. Was that the intention?
Tyfus: I don’t know Crumb’s work. I’m not interested in cartoons or comic strips. He once drew a good record sleeve for Big Brother and the Holding Company, even if the record itself wasn’t up to much.
- You wear a homemade badge with the inscription ‘Morning Yooghuurt’.
Tyfus: Delicious, warm man-porridge.
- Where does the word ‘Grandpa Pisshead’ come from?
Tyfus: He’s a total pisshead who is propping up the bar and sulking because he can’t get another drink. It’s based on a basketball trainer I used to know. I gave that man so much grief, but then again, I was an unbearable kid.
- What are you going to do in the coming months?
Tyfus: I’m looking forward to releasing about forty records on my Ultra Eczema label. Among other things, music by space_cactus, who will be playing here in the exhibition. Other people will be joining us: John Olson and Wolf Eyes, Spencer Yeh and Chris Corsano, together with Orphan Fairytale. We’re going to sell tequila at the opening. I’ll pay the musicians out of the profits… Do you know what the problem is with apples? They all have a different taste. A Balisto, on the other hand, is always a Balisto. And it doesn’t give you stomach ache. Fruit and animals: they’re as bad as each other. I draw a lot of animals, but if an owl flew in here by accident, I’d immediately get Stella and Lore to shoo it outside. Wait, I’m going to fetch my Polaroid camera. Then we can take a picture of ourselves as an illustration for your text. I’m going to draw something on your forehead, but you mustn’t look in the mirror until this evening, after you’ve finished your lecture in Ghent…
Montagne de Miel, 11 May 2008