Andreas Tomoiaga drawing circles
Andreas Tomoiaga and Dominika Kieruzel in Conversation
What was your first contact with art?
After my parents divorced, my mum worked at school and I was staying in the flat with a nanny. She printed out images of Spiderman and Superman for me and I coloured them in, that was the first contact. We were the only family in my block of flats that had a computer, in the early two-thousands. Computers were really expensive at the time in Romania.
Then, when I was about twelve and I was in grade five, I had some new friends and we used to walk part of the way home from school. I lived in a small town called Dumbravita, but I went to school in Timisoara. My mum used to pick me up on the edge of the city. One day, one of my friends said that he knew a shop where we could get markers, it was a shop that did only street art stuff. The only problem was that we were too shy to go in, we were twelve years old... It took a couple of days until we actually got the courage to go inside. But they didn't care, as long as you paid, they didn't care. I remember it was a really cool shop, it was in a basement, spray paints on the walls, markers, skateboards. I never thought it would exist in my city. I paid around £2, that was the amount I had for food every day. I remember everyone bought one marker, that was the best we could get for the money. One of my friends said 'you know what, in this graffiti world you have to have your own tag, your own name, and it has to be made of four-letter words'. I still don't know if that's true... My tag was 'dark soul'. In Romania we have yellow gas boxes outside of every house, by the entrance. That was where we decided to put our tags. Every one of us had to do it on their way home. We made it into a game: 'how many did you tick today?'... I couldn't even draw. We did this for a while. I told my mum not to pick me up from school, so I'd have more time to put tags on. I think it was a trend at the time. There was one other guy in my town, he was really famous. He was everywhere. He was doing spray paint so he was advanced, and I was the one to follow. I knew who he was, but I was too young to talk to him. There was a spot in the center of the town where he hung out with his friends. I never had the courage to go and meet him. He was very popular. I think that he was riding a BMX also, which was a cool thing to do. Long story short, we advanced to spray paint. We put money together and we bought one spray can. Again, we were coming from school. In the market there was a wall. We did that quickly, because it was in the middle of the day. People didn't understand it and it was illegal. I started to do it on my own then, I was buying markers, I put my tags under the tables at schools. It turned into a virus. I bought one spray paint. In my small town of Dumbravita , graffiti was very unusual. One day I walked back from my friend's house, I saw a wall and I thought, I'll use that wall. So I did that. I was tagging everything in my area. It wasn't a big deal with yellow boxes because people painted them over. But when I did this huge wall and I did a tag with spray paint, after a couple of days I heard that there was an angry old man looking for who did the tag. There was this guy in my friendship group, not really a close friend, but he hung out with us sometimes. Every day there were new people around. I was a bit of an alien in my town with this dark business, so they all knew that it was me doing the graffiti. I think that this guy snitched on me. My luck was that the old man didn't know who I was or where I lived. Then I realised that maybe I need to grow up a little, I can do it later on, when I'm older. So I stopped this saga of tagging.
How did you get from there to photography?
There is a big gap. I kept doing drawings, mostly graffiti, that was really cool, urban art, I listened to the music too, it all connected. The only problem I encountered was that I didn't stick with anything, I did one thing for a while and then moved on to another. I did some painting too. My mum got me canvas when I was twelve or thirteen. I did all sorts of things. My mum bought a compact camera once and I used to take it out and take pictures of my friends. At the time there was a trend of putting the name of the photographer in the corner of the photo, 'Andreas Photography', I did that too. That was very short, just one month. Then I was painting bikes, and with some friends we started customizing and painting our bikes. We disassembled the bikes, painted the parts and then put them back together. I copied this from the Discovery channel, except they did it with cars.
We used to build huts. We did that for a very long time. We lived in the city that was developing. Half of it was an old town and half of it was new. We used to take materials from people's skips and then we made huts out of it. We found everything we needed.
What would you do then? Would you hang out in a place like this?
There was a lot of open area, fields and some forests. Now it's filled with houses, but back then it was all empty, it was perfect for us to hang around. We would just go there and hang out. Do a barbecue, have fun. Basically we were spending time there outside of civilization. We did this in a lot of places. I did this even when I was five, six. The last one I did was when I was fourteen, just before coming to the UK. We would just find a remote place and we would just make it our own. I have lived in a few different places in my life and in every place, before London I built at least one or two huts with friends I've met there.
My mum did tapestry so I think she influenced me. She used to do it a lot, almost every night. They would have those number and colour charts. My mum had a husband who is my sister's father who is an architect, and I would see him work on a computer when I grew up. So that pushed me towards art too. But the problem was that there were not many people interested in art seriously. One should be a doctor or a lawyer, being an artist is not a way of living. But my mum and my father have always supported me. My mum knows about the graffiti, and everything I did. At least that's what I think.
Now you're at Ravensbourne College?
Yes, I study photography. This is the most recent part of my life. A year and a half ago I started doing photography. Long story short I was doing access to higher education and that's where I did digital and creative media. I like the idea that you go there and you can study a little bit of everything: photography, film, drawing, 3D modelling and then you can choose. We had two months for photography. We went to the Photographer's Gallery in Oxford Street and I saw this documentary photography project from some remote island and I just fell in love with the composition and the story - it looked nice but it also had a content. Not just design. I like to think that that was the moment when I said: 'ok I think this is what I'm gonna choose, that's what I like'. I also had the luck to have a good photography teacher, his name is Steve Mepstead and also a tutor, Phillipe who played a big role in helping me get to the University. I think that Steve saw that I liked photography, he somehow saw the flame inside of me and he proposed that I apply to UAL. My problem is self-doubt. I thought, no, no way. But he said that I should apply for photography courses because I didn't like anything else. So I did. We had to do a project for a portfolio and I came up with an idea to go and see my Grandma in Romania. I spoke to the teacher and he helped me a lot. So over the holidays I went to my Grandma's with my dad, I took a couple of pictures. I didn't know exactly what I was doing, I was just trying to make something of it, without a plan, just freestyle. All I knew was to shoot in a raw format - that's what my teacher told me. I shot, I came back, showed the pictures to him, he helped me do a layout, he taught me how to use the InDesign, I'm grateful for his help. We used to meet up at school, he was giving me advice, showing me what to do.
I managed to finish, I applied and I got the positive answer from UAL and Ravensbourne. I had to choose, which I never thought was possible - to choose from two universities. Three months ago I would have never believed that I would get accepted even to one, and now fast forward and I have to choose between two really good universities. I think the main reason I didn't choose UAL was because I heard that people are really good, really advanced there. I knew I was a beginner and I didn't want to find myself carrying more weight than I can. I still like Ravensbourne and I like it that people in my class are all on the same level and we learn together. Going back to my childhood, we used to have one hour of art per week at school, but it was very basic. Art wasn't too popular, I was learning mostly by myself. So I really enjoy learning with others now. When I came here, I joined Shooters Hill college, where I did art and design and somehow until I was 19 I was just trying things. I tried to be a blogger when everyone was blogging in 2015-16.
I found photography a very good medium in which I can express myself. The projects I make, I see it as a portal to what I feel right now. Say in 10 years I can look back at it and I will know exactly what I was feeling.
Your proposal had an idea of being a self-portrait and it changed into something that was more universal, drawing circles.
Hmmm.... it’s actually hard to tell why, I guess it went from the self portrait theme to a more universal one in a natural process. I did not know exactly what I wanted to do at the beginning but one thing I considered using some photos of myself. 'Drawing Circles' is inspired by one of my favourite artists Mac Miller who’s made a set of two musical albums connected to each other that also looped. He was struggling with depression, drug use, and a failed relationship… every time he was getting better, things would get worse again, as he said “It’s like a circle, I go back to where I am from”. Well, I wanted to adjust this into a life-cycle illustration, I like to see our lives just as London Eye, we get in, we have the ride and at some point when the circle has been completed we leave and let space for someone else to join and so on. There are three phases in the piece: childhood, adulthood and old age. There is a photograph with the apple which relates to Adam and Eve. There is also a portrait between childhood and adulthood parts, it is a bit personal, I think that between these two phases we actually get to realise what in life is for real and get a much clearer view of it, not a hundred percent though.
The photo of a little kid on the snow. I stood there in the park for about half an hour, just observing people. And this kid, he played on his own and he reminded me of me. As a child, I had friends, but I spent most of my time alone or with my mum. This little kid, his parents took him out to play and he was just alone, and other children were playing in groups.
You mentioned Banksy and The Residents, you like artists who hide their identity?
I like the idea of being known but at the same time anonymous.
You told me a few times that you don't like thinking about money. What is it about money and art that you find problematic?
I like money, everyone likes money, it's a tool. You gotta have money to shape your life. But I hate that sometimes money becomes the boss, the ruler. If you let the money rule you, that's bad. I think that my parents divorced because of money. In my family we've always had a good lifestyle, my father is a businessman, he has a garage together with his wife. My mum has a retail business with her husband. I was always around people who had money. Not that I was spoiled, I don't think I was... I am not sure why they divorced, I don't want to find out, but I think money was a big factor. In the end I am happy and I am grateful that they divorced, otherwise I wouldn't have been here. I am also really lucky to have a new set of partners, a second mother and father figures in my life which is rare.
How do you and your peers experience art?
Somehow it's all digital now. I like it but at the same time I love having a physical print at home. I'm afraid that art moves more and more into the digital sphere.
A screen cannot beat the experience of going to a gallery. When you go to Tate Modern for example there is the vibe you have around. The big walls, the people around, the whispering the photo clicks. Last year I watched a lot of documentaries about art. I remember one with Jean-Michel Basquiat. I watched the recordings from his private views... The vibe of it, you would never be able to get that on Zoom or in virtual reality. I never actually experienced anything like this but I can imagine it.
What are your influences in art?
I like William Eggelston. The father of colour photography. I like that he was interested in red. I always try to have a nuance of orange or red. I do it intuitively.
What direction do you want to go to in the future?
I have lots of ideas. For now my dream is to do something that I'm known for. A good thing. Maybe build a brand, something to do with art. One of my dreams, if I work hard enough, I want to work with famous musicians. I want to photograph them, or make album covers. I love music. I want to contribute to the process of making music, it’s always been around me since a very young age and since then I kept it in my day to day life.
You do think a lot about design in the way you work...
I like this idea of making the product, let's say a book, try to give a feeling to whoever gets the book. To have something special that you will remember. I love the moment when I open the packaging. I love clothing, I have lots of clothing from independent brands. I think that packaging something nicely, adding something extra to the experience, it's a way of showing that you care about what you did.
I don't want to do just photography, I want to do design too. My dream is to be a creative director, I don't exactly know what it means but I know that you have people around you and you produce something together. That's how I see it now. Andy Warhol, he had the Factory. You know when you have people working on something alongside or working together, that's good.
Andreas Tomoiaga was born in 2000 in Romania, he moved to London with his family in 2015.
He is currently in his first year of his BA in Documentary Photography at Ravensbourne University. He is the winner of Kosmoss Open Call for young artists funded by Thamesmead Community Fund.
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