Walking into the Tollmann studio you feel like you are walking into the laboratory of a mad scientist. Paintings cover every wall. Sculptures and eccentric looking lights are scattered around the room. David stands in a corner talking with one of his collaborators. We are introduced and from that moment on, his presence lightens the mood.
How to describe David Tollmann? In any other setting, he would be described as extroverted, restless, and all over the place. But in this setting, he is simply an artist. You can see from what he says and how he acts that art is more than his way to make money. He breathes and lives art. “I’m seeking to create a painting that makes people react in amazement. I’m trying to improve my skills so I can transport what I have in my head unto the canvas. I want to create goosebumps in people,” he says to me as I admire one of his latest creations.
You soon come to notice the tension he lives in. “I’m searching for a bigger meaning. When I was young, painting was like being a child on Christmas morning. I have a raw wooden plate here. To turn that piece of wood with nothing on it into something with meaning, with your hands, that’s amazing!” He is in search of that feeling; that excitement he had as a child. With the politics of the art industry, you can see that at times he is not completely at ease with his work. “I called a big gallery for the opportunity to have an exhibition. They thought my work was good and showed eagerness to work with me. Then they asked about my educational background. I told them I’m self-taught. They said they could not work with me because I don’t have a piece of paper. When you have no master degree or education, then you have no value.” In spite of those criticisms, there is still a bit of that child-like innocence in his aspirations within the art world. “I want to be immortal. I want what I do and what I’ve done to last longer than I do. I want to be immortal with my art.”
I want to understand why Tollmann chose art as his life purpose, so I ask him about his beginnings. “I was born into a dynasty of artists. My father is an internationally recognized artist and my grandfather even worked alongside Pablo Picasso. In my youth, I pursued other passions, though. I worked in gastronomy. Did an apprenticeship as a cook. I had a start-up as an event organizer. I organized parties. I did so many things. Then I moved to Hannover. I had time to think about what I wanted to do. It was during this time that I started painting in my apartment. Over time I created my own workspace. After my first exhibition, I quit my job and started painting full-time.”
His latest obsession is with faces. “I like painting faces. The most convincing way to transport expressions is through faces. When you watch someone’s face you can read so much information. I acquired the ability to paint clearer, fine and intricate eyes, face lines and emotions. The expression is deeper.” Particularly in the eyes, you notice the detail and effort he makes to transmit his vision into these paintings. It is as though the paintings have a life of their own. You almost feel like you could ask it a question, and it would respond.
Who are you inspired by is my next question. “I’m inspired by Picasso. I have him on my leg. Picasso said, ‘if I knew what art is, I would keep it to myself.’ Art doesn’t need to make sense in a realistic way. Eyebrows can be placed wherever you want. I love children’s paintings because for a child an apple doesn’t have to be round. It can be square or triangular, and that’s perfectly fine.” It is this type of thinking that distinguishes him from others, but it is also why he is often misunderstood. “People think I’m crazy. Non-creative people don’t understand my life. They want me to adapt to their way of thinking and living.”
That discussion leads us to the topic of money and its role in his life. “Just having money doesn’t make us happy. Don’t take it so seriously. I don’t want to look at my life and say ‘I’m old and I have money but I have no health.’ For the moment I just want to enjoy. If you have security then you lose your passion. You don’t know why you do what you do. When I have money I spend it. It’s arrogant to say, but I don’t need money. I don’t care about money.” Some people may take exception to that statement, but he clearly lives it out. His attire is comprised of a black sweater, black pants, and no name black shoes. At one point he mentions that his cell phone contract is about to be canceled because he hasn’t paid his bill, and he hardly shows any care. “If I could,” he says, “I would live in this studio and sleep on the couch.”
As we prepare to say our goodbyes he mentions, “I won’t sell one of my paintings to someone who doesn’t love what I do. I’m not interested in the money. The money is a bonus. I just want them to love the painting. Art needs to have a value but it’s not why I paint. The money I make I reinvest in my painting materials. To be an artist is lonely and expensive.” With this in mind, we say goodbye and bis bald.