Tjalf Sparnaay takes the subjects of his oil paintings from the ordinary and everyday. Trivial items such as a fried egg, breakfast, a bag of chips with mayonnaise, a Dutch raw herring with a little flag, a bunch of tulips, still wrapped in cellophane, play the lead roles in his pictures. FOUR interviewed him recently to hear about the vision behind his deliciously realistic fast-food paintings, and to find out what makes spectators so greedy for his pieces which sell for around 45,000 euros, each. Whilst based in the Netherlands, Tjalf has a number of exhibitions worldwide, including one at Bernarducci Meisel, New York, later on this year.
What is your take on the boundaries between reality and art?
I never thought of that in particular, considering my work means everything is reality but not everything is art, I re-use reality creating a new one.
Where do you take inspiration from for your work?
A subject needs to have daily life quality and metaphorical/allegorical quality as well. It also has to be filled with light and shadow, contrast and a kind of architectural value.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am doing four works at Bernarducci Meisel, New York in June. The Milkmaid by Vermeer wrapped in cellopane, a Crushed Coca Cola can with a fourties-girl called Cola Girl, a Supersandwich and a Fried Egg.
Describe the vision behind your work?
Utilising trivial or mundane items, I let reality run through my fingers afresh. My intention is to give these objects a soul, a presence. Times stands still when I place these objects in a classical art arrangement, removed from the context of their day-to-day surroundings. Ideally, this sense of timelessness is the way in which my technique is close to the 17th century Dutch tradition. I hope my paintings will allow the viewer to re-experience reality, to re-discover the essence of the thing that has become so ordinary from its DNA to the level of universal structure, in all its beauty. I call it the beauty of the contemporary commonplace.
How important is detail to you in your work?
Enlarging means more details, so I like them! Hidden worlds are shown, the DNA of the subject is spread.
Food has a large presence in your work. Describe your relationship with it?
I really am not a foody, how contradictory!
But this ordinary subject comes along with my desire to show people their own common world.
If any message, I can bring it better in this way. I love to show people light and dark, metaphors which can be seen in all my paintings. And I like to show beauty in its purity. There is no beauty without a beast, so irregularity is important to me too. All those aspects can be found in (fast) food from which temptation is actually the most important quality. To induce people to buy my images, my work needs to become an object of temptation!
You started out as a photographer. What inspired the change in your career to becoming an artist? What part does photography play in your work now?
It actually happened the other way around. I always wanted to be a painter and it happened one day that photography was able to help my ambition
You categorise your art as Mega-realism. Define Mega-realism and how you fell into it?
Megarealism is a self-invented movement, the feeling is: contemporary, lifesize and even bigger, ultimate close to reality.
Describe the relationship spectators should feel when they view your work?
They should have a Aha Erlebnis – an aha-experince – being confronted with their own unseen-before world. Potential buyers should get greedy.
What techniques (equipment, materials) do you employ in your work? What effect do you think these give?
When I look at the work of some Photorealist painters they do not add anything to the photo than just translating it into paint. That could and happens to be a statement too of course but I don't think it is interesting. Printing the photo is much easier! To me photography only is my sketchbook and it helps me to zoom in and to re-centre. My oil painting starts where the photograph ends. I want to add a new dimension, making new choices, reorganise photographic pieces and of course giving the work the brilliance of glazing layers of oil which always gives the image far more depth and timelessness than a print or an airbrushed painting in acrylic ever could do. That's why I use oil paint and brushes in a very traditional way like the old 17th century Dutch masters. It brings far more soul and depth. It is all about the looks!
What part does humour play in your work?
Oh yes, it is very important! Humour teaches us more beyond the serious story and makes it very easy to understand your goal.
As a realist artist, would you describe yourself as having an obsession with the mundane?
Sure, the mundane contains everything I need to tell, it's allegorical quality is strong when using very contemporary commonplaces.
Describe the reception you get from your audience and the press?
We called it like a warm bath, worldwide acknowledgement is essential to me and my ambition. Mostly they understand right from the images what it is all about so it works!
Do you have any plans in the pipeline?
Not any particular plans, just getting better and closer, moving from food to another subject perhaps?
Any last words?
Sometimes I wonder why nowadays people spend so much money, time and attention on food (paintings). Actually I still do not understand why people spend a tenthousandtimes more money on a painted sandwich than on a real one. Is that perhaps the difference between reality and art?
For more information visit Tjalf Sparnaay's website