Joachim Seitfudem is a Bavarian sculptor, currently living and working in Bristol. We randomly met during his solo exhibition at 44AD Art Gallery in Bath, and a few weeks later we had the pleasure of catching-up with him at his city centre apartment, where we met his wonderful partner, Anna Schwaeble, brewmaster at The Bath Brew House and had a chat about their travel adventures, Joachim’s passion for surfing and the creative community in the city. Later in the day, we went to his studio at The Island, where we talked about Joachim’s creative practice and artistic ethos, ending our get-together with a tour of his favourite areas in Bristol, Stokes Croft and the harbour.
How did you two meet?
Anna: In my aunt’s kitchen about nine years ago.
Joachim: Exactly, I was eating there because I knew her family, I was friends with her cousins and I also love to eat. Everybody kept feeding me as they thought I was too skinny.
Were you living in the same town?
Anna: No, I was living in a small town up in the mountains some 30 km away. That day I was visiting my aunt.
Joachim: She walked in and I asked my friends who she was. They said she was their cousin and that we would make a really nice couple. I told them that unfortunately I would be leaving for Australia in a few months, so…
Anna: So we got together and nine months later I graduated and we decided to go to Australia together.
Joachim: We lived in Sydney for a few months, then we went to New Zealand and returned to Australia.
What did you do there? Just travelling, or did you work as well?
Joachim: Yes, we were travelling and working. We didn’t really make plans before leaving Germany and once the money ran out we had to sell the campervan. It was a white Mazda E2000 with blue waves painted on the sides that belonged to a French couple. It came with a guitar and fishing rods which we thought might be really handy. We travelled for three weeks through central Australia and the campervan would break down often, the water would run out… like a proper adventure. After that we had to buy a smaller car, we worked odd jobs, fruit picking, construction… I even worked as an excavator operator and I also sorted waste for recycling... A few months later I became really good at that (laughs).
Anna: I always wanted to leave Germany and work abroad. I worked in a brewery in Sydney. This is where I realised how lucrative the beer making industry is and my grandfather loves beer, too, so… I became a brewmaster.
Did you make any art during your time in Australia?
Joachim: I had all my tools with me because I thought I would like to sculpt there, but…
What did you think about Australians’ relationship with art?
Anna: I think Australians like a completely different kind of art, like the aboriginal art with dots on the plates and very smooth wood carvings, not rough like this (she points at the statue of “Virgin Mary and the Child” that Joachim sculpted when he was 16 years old).
Joachim: I would say that Australia is not really an arty place. They seem to be more for going out, drinking, barbecuing, outdoor sports…
How long have you lived in Australia for?
Anna: I was there for nine months and after that I returned to Germany to start my apprenticeship in brewing, but Joachim stayed for another two months because the money was good and the people were nice.
Joachim: My excavation job was paid really well, therefore I could afford living in a penthouse in Sydney. I earned a lot of money, but I also spent a lot. We only live once so we might as well enjoy it.
What did your families think about your decision to leave your home country?
Joachim: Sometimes they think that because of me Anna changed everything. When I met Anna, her grandfather he asked me what was my occupation and I told him that I am an artist. He wasn’t very impressed... (laughs) but never mind, they thought we were still very young…
Anna: He was my first boyfriend so everybody thought that it wasn’t going to last anyway. But it did last so far…
Can you tell us about your favourite wood?
Joachim: It depends on the work, but I love all of them. I like oak, but at the same time I hate it because it means that I have to work really, really hard. Lime wood is good, or maple…
Is there a type of wood that you would stay away from if you could?
Joachim: That is difficult to say... pinewood? I really like its smell, but I don’t like to carve it. When you carve it it feels different, sometimes it feels like I’m carving butter because it’s so soft, but on the other hand it cracks easily. I don’t know... pinewood is not my thing (laughs).
Anna, what is your favourite wood fragrance?
Anna: I cannot tell, actually.
Joachim: You like the smell when you come to the studio, but the thing is when she’s there I cannot work (laughs).
Anna: I don’t go there too often because no matter what I do, even if I just sit there, have a nap or something, it annoys him (laughs). So I am not allowed to go there.
Joachim: I like being on my own when I work. Even with my dad, I can’t really work when he is in my studio. He visited me a couple of months ago and while he was working with me in my studio, I was just sitting there. He asked me: “What is wrong, my son?”. I didn’t know what to say and I think he said “You can’t work because I am here.” I said: “Yes, exactly.”
Anna: Sometimes he’s standing behind you and tells you how to do things.
Joachim: Even when I am preparing for an exhibition and I think my work is perfect, he tells me that he would do it a little bit different and I have to tell him that that’s him, but I do it my way.
When you start a new work, are you looking forward to see the end result, or do you enjoy the process more?
I really like the process. Sometimes I don’t want to finish the work. I have an idea at the beginning, but it changes all the time, even the materials… that’s why I have to sometimes tell myself “That’s it!” And I really like my studio. But sometimes I hate my work (laughs). Once I had this piece for two years sitting in the corner and I couldn’t look at it. I had to get rid of it. Sometimes, destroying your own creations feels really good. You create something, you build something, but at the same time you want to destroy it.
Where do you get all these parts and pieces from?
From old pocket watches and old clocks. Most of the time I’m getting them from people who like my work. At the beginning I had to buy them all, but now I have many fans and they are happy to give them to me for free.
So they don’t need to be old, as long as you can dismantle them?
No, but I prefer them to be old. They have more character. I like it when they have this patina on. Some people would say “Oh, but they are too expensive, how can you destroy them?” (laughs).
What is your current project? What are you working on?
I’m working on a new skull, a character for a future animation, a few fairy tale creatures, also this devil…
Is there any connection between your father working for the Church and your style?
I think it has been a great influence, but I wouldn’t say that this is the reason why I am now doing what I’m doing. I like to do work that you have to think about, or that I would have to think about. To me my work is like therapy. I am trying to incorporate into my art all my experience I had so far. Sometimes I like to be melancholic… I know that some people don’t like it, but I enjoy listening to good music, working and being angry, or sad. And I like to do work that you don’t really see anywhere else. I think that’s the main thing, to enjoy my own art.
How did you arrive at bringing together metal and wood?
Hm, it’s difficult… I always liked the idea, I really like watches, I like the subject of time…
Why is that?
Because time doesn’t exist? We created time and it is always behind us. We always think about time and that’s the only thing that we cannot control, or buy, or sell...
According to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, time is a transcendental structure, we are born with it…
I don’t really know, there’s a natural time and there’s a ticking time…
What do you mean by natural time?
The day and the night, the cosmic time that is so important to us.
Do you think there’s a connection between the clockwork universe theory and your work? You say time doesn’t exist, but you always connect parts of human bodies using clock parts.
There is time inside ourselves, we have a clock inside and that’s the heart, the beating time, the natural time. And what I like about clocks is that every little part has a reason to be there and perhaps this is why some scientists and philosophers think that the universe is a clockwork, because everything works together, isn’t it? Take away one piece and the whole thing would stop working.
Going back to wood, do you ever to use models or moulds?
Sometimes, especially when I’m doing something for the first time. First I do a few drawings, then I make a model in clay and after that I start carving. Like this skull here… You can see it cracked already and I put a little bit of glue inside so that it doesn’t fall to pieces and this way I can carve it. Then I can remove the glue and I can do whatever I want with it. This wood dried out, the oak I used to carve is more than four thousand years old and it took years to dry out…
Are you working on more than one sculpture at the same time?
I’m always working on two or three pieces at once, because sometimes I feel I’m losing the focus on a figure and before that happens I am moving on to another. This is one of my old works, I don’t know, I should finish it, but then I don’t want to (laughs).
In your earlier stages you were mostly focused on carving wood. When did you start incorporating the metal parts, the clock parts?
That happened after I travelled to Australia and after I ended up here in England. I thought that from now on I could do whatever I wanted because when I was by my father that was difficult… he has such a strong character.
So the moment you realised you were out of your father’s influence…
Exactly, then I started to be myself. It sounds hard, but my father has such a strong character. He is a great master though and he told me to go and explore the world and become an artist or to find myself as an artist. Actually my father always said that I could do something different, that I could be an artist as a hobby, but he knows how hard it is for full time artists…
Did you follow his advice?
I am a full time artist now. I followed my mother’s advice. She always knew that I had this inside me, this… sickness? (laughs) Being an artist is not a choice, you have to do it. This is what I think. When I was a teenager I wanted to be an archaeologist, then I wanted to be in the army, then I wanted to be a policeman and nothing worked. Nothing. My mother always said: “No, you are an artist. You have to be an artist.”
Do you see yourself as an established artist?
I don’t really know. Since I arrived here three years ago I’ve been doing really well, but it could be better. It could always be better. I’m hoping that in another two or three years I’ll be truly established in the art world, that people will know me better…
Do you think you could still do what you do if you had to keep a full time job? In an office, for example.
Uhm… I don’t think I could work in an office. I really enjoy the freedom of deciding when I want to work and what I want to do because inspiration or creativity are really hard to control. When it comes, it comes and then you have to start working. I am here almost every day, but it doesn’t mean that I am working every day. Sometimes I just clean my studio, or I do my paperwork… that’s the worst, doing the paperwork.
You have quite an impressive range of tools. Do you ever take them with you and work outside, or do you work only in your studio?
I work in my studio most of the time. I go outside when I want to do a large sculpture. One of my friends lives outside Bristol on a big wood yard and over there I can work with the chainsaw.
What does your father think about your work?
He really likes it. It is completely different, but he likes it.
Where do you store all your finished pieces?
Up there. I keep everything up there.
Did you build this elevated storage space, or was it here when you moved in?
No, it wasn’t. I had to build it myself.
You mentioned that you are making sketches before starting to sculpt. Is this one of them?
Yes, but I normally have sketchbooks that I think I left at home. That one is the drawing for the piece you saw in the exhibition in 44AD Gallery in Bath. Here’s one of the sketchbooks…
We can see sketches of surfing boards. Did you ever consider designing them for a living?
There are quite a few people here in Bristol making surfing boards out of wood, so I think there isn't a big market anymore as they already have their customers and… I don’t know, I just enjoy surfing. To me it’s just a hobby, a sport and if I tried making a living out of designing surfing boards that might change how I feel about it. I’m happy with the way things are at the moment. I’m doing my sculptures, my art. I’m happy with this.
You also mentioned that people showed interested in learning from you...
Yes, maybe I should do it, maybe I should organise some workshops, get in touch with colleges to find out if people would be interested in this.
What is your take on the relationship between master and apprentice?
I think that it would be a good idea to go back to this, to live very close to the master. My father had many apprentices and they lived in our house, sometimes even three at a time. They lived, worked and travelled with him to exhibitions, churches and he showed them the importance of our sculpture. They were a mix of religious artists and people who just wanted to learn wood carving, to improve their skills and techniques and to become artists. My father always said that you need to be a very good craftsman before becoming an artist. I think this is the right way. Learn everything that you need or everything that you can and then find your way into art.
Have you ever thought anyone?
In Germany, yes. There was once a man who came over for a three weeks course and my father wasn’t there so he suggested that I could teach him. I really enjoyed it. It depends very much on the student, of course. I realised this working by my father, for example, when people came to his workshops and you see straight away that some of them don’t have any talent…
Why do you keep it wrapped in paper?
I think it’s the most expensive book that I have ever bought. I don’t normally spend so much money on books. I usually go to second hand book shops in Germany where I find really nice old books, but this one was quite new and it was a limited edition. It is a huge photography book where I can see the muscles, the human bodies that I use for my sculptures. The pictures are really good. I made so many figures out of this book.
What music do you listen to while you work? What inspires you?
I like many genres of music, classic and hard rock, heavy metal. Grunge is my favourite, but when I work I prefer classical music. I also enjoy jazz and blues, but classical music is more of what I need. The only genre that I am not listening to is R&B. For some reason I cannot listen to it. Anna and I have very similar tastes in music. She is even more into heavy metal than I am. You wouldn’t expect that from Anna, but yeah, she is very into it (laughs).
Where do you source the wood from?
I buy it from farmers because I can go and ask them to cut the trees I need when the time is right for the work I have in mind. This is what my father taught me, to look at trees and imagine how their inside is. It’s not always right, of course, but most of the times I do get it right.
Where do you get your tools from?
Most of them are from my father and some of them are bought. In recent years a few old masters that I knew have passed away and their wives came to me and gave me their tools saying that they would be in good hands with me.
Do you have a favourite tool?
I have quite a few favourite chisels that I use most of the time. They feel very nice in my hand and I love how they carve.
Do you work on any other projects outside your studio?
Yes, one of my friends asked me if I wanted to build tree houses around England with him and another person and I said yes, why not. I go with them to different locations and spend four or five days working on various projects. My friend is a graphic designer and the other person is a tree surgeon. But it’s not just work, it’s also a lot of fun.
What art period do you feel closest to?
That’s difficult… Renaissance, maybe? They used a lot of vanitas reflections. Also some aspects of the gothic style. I like so many episodes of art history, but not the Rococo. To me that is too much. I like a bit less.
You show a very keen interest in creating bodies in motion, contorted and twisted. Do you think that a human body in motion is somewhat surreal?
If you look at Salvador Dali, then yes. He is one of my favourite artists.
Have you ever offended anyone with your art?
Yes I have, and I think that offending the audience is very important because then you can talk to those people and find out why that is. The best comment I ever had on this note about my art was: “This is the worst thing I have ever seen and you could do it better.”
Do you feel responsible for the objects you create and for the effect they have on people?
I don’t think that I have sole responsibility for the viewer. I like to touch people with my art, be it in a good or a bad way. It doesn’t matter as long as it touches them. I am responsible for myself and for the art that I make. It may sound very ignorant and selfish, but I think an artist has to be selfish. Not completely, but in a good way.