Despite being one of humanity’s oldest artforms, you don’t see a ton of tattooed portraits hanging in the Louvre. Call it a sign of the times as the Old Masters weren’t commissioned to paint portraits of many folks sporting tribal arm bands. But—hear me out here—what if they were? That’s what Patteef has imagined throughout his five-minute collages. What started out as a little fun on his personal Instagram snowballed into a full-blown art project. In the conversation below you’ll learn how the project came about, why he can’t quite consider it 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 household with a high focus on art, but somehow the arts were always there. There were some paintings on the walls in our house and my father could draw beautifully as a student, so I remember going through his sketches in the attic. Foremost, we had some books about Rubens and other Flemish masters lying around, and maybe that’s where the love grew. As a child I loved browsing through all those drawings, admiring the skillful way painters would portrait the human body in all of its forms and in different settings.
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 sculptor would be. I create these collages and upload them on 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 the real artists—the painters and tattooists.
Do you remember the first collage you made?
Patteef started as a personal account where I shared pictures from daily life like most people do, but I soon varied the gallery with little image manipulations. Mixed media stuff like videos over photos, distorted pictures, etc. So it’s hard to tell what was the actual first collage, maybe it got deleted somewhere down the line. It doesn’t feel like there was a clear milestone where things changed from that personal account into an artist’s page.
Can you walk us through how you became 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 on, I wanted to combine fine arts with pop culture, so incorporating more pictures of tattoos seemed to come naturally, as a tattoo collector. I had always been looking at galleries from tattooists, admiring what they do and making choices on who to get tattooed by next. So there was an abundance of input and it was a fun way to differentiate myself from other collage makers. The way in which tattoo models display the ink on their bodies and thus create their own small community fascinates me enormously. No doubt many of those portrayed in classical art would have loved the possibilities that apps like TikTok, Facebook and Instagram now offer us. Low-cost visibility across the globe, from your own management...
I know you say that all of these take five minutes... what made you want to put a limit on it like that? Do you think about potential mash-ups all the time, or do they just come to you on the fly?
The five-minute timeframe, in combination with the tools I use, is essential to set a playing field. Every collage is created on an iPhone XS Max, using only a few simple apps. I think that if you do it differently, for example by using a computer, you are more of a “Photoshopper.” More resources and more time would undoubtedly also result in other and probably higher expectations. Narrowing the process down to the minimum results in a sort of “what you see is what you get,” which suits me better. If Patteef can excel within those boundaries, then to me, the assignment is more than successful.
The term “five-minute collages” doesn’t do the work enough justice, though, because a lot of time goes into the preparation of each collage. Matching the stance in both pictures really is essential and the hardest part, so it can take hours of online browsing to find a match that will work. After that, putting the two images together has to go really fast. In the beginning I used to put the pop culture image as a square over the classic work. Nowadays it happens that I take some time to remove a number of things, so that the images flow into each other in a more natural way.
Who were/are some of your biggest influences?
A lot of collages happen 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 on my mind. I am more than proud of the 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 with that. If anyone is an influence, it’s the numerous tattoo collectors and tattooists out there, showcasing their work.
Many artists just post an image and let it speak for itself. Why do you feel the need to include a written element and how do you believe it adds to the total piece of art?
It may be because when I take to the museum and watch some 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 a must 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.
Because, all in all, not much has changed over the centuries. People still want to be portrayed and to portray others. And whereas rich churches once were the main platforms, there is now big tech, where you can showcase yourself or your artwork to the community. To me, those background stories about the classical works can therefore somehow help to understand the present as well.
Are there certain subjects you go back to over and over? Do you have a favorite painter you like to pull from, for example?
In retrospect, there are a number of painters whose work is often used, but that may be because certain themes are more present in a specific era or with a number of artists. For instance, in the late eighteenth century, when the advent of Neoclassicism had many painters turning to subjects inspired by ancient Rome, the ability to render drapery on the human figure became an essential skill. So for me there is a great source of inspiration for half-naked bodies. Ideal to mix with tattooed bodies. I often need images of naked or semi-naked people to cover them with tattoos. So many Adams and Eves are to be found when scrolling down my feed...