This German artist will make you question consumer culture
A social commentator with an ability to unpick evil forces and reinvent them as humorous art pieces, or simply turning Natalie Portman into a fashionista hipster, Tony Futura's wit is what makes him so winsome.
The Berlin-based artist is an Instagram sensation for all the right reasons. His artworks are deep, topical, and raw, alongside being highly entertaining and loveable. He is proof that the pen is mightier than the sword–here the pen is a digital arsenal of weapons such as Adobe Photoshop. His work is designed to make you question modern society and materialism. Still relatively new to the art-world, Tony works as a Creative Director at an advertising agency whilst developing his visual concepts.
One look at his work and you'll be right in thinking he is a pop culture reference expert. We put this to him and he replied by laughing, before saying, "Well, I think this would fit a lot of my works I guess. I really like to play around with those, since these references are a good way to give the viewer an easy entry to my artworks." He says this gives him the opportunity to "twist expectations and turn them in a different direction." Although he refutes that pop culture is the main focus of what he does, instead the aim of his "creations has always been to challenge the assumptions."
Born in rural East Germany, the former German Democratic Republic before 'The Wall' fell, Tony moved to Berlin at age 20 to study Communication Design. He was a graffiti artist growing up, mixing this with painting and different brush techniques, he felt that he could use these skills to do so much more than just decorating buildings. Even at that time, he wanted others to see what he was creating and recalls that being the start of the direction he wanted to take his art.
During his early years in Berlin, he worked in nightclubs, spent time in the army, and eventually fell into advertising. His background has definitely left a mark on his style. He says that "advertising is like graffiti somehow, just on the legal side of the game. You try to get the attention of strangers while being creative and making them remember your name. It‘s pure competition and this always gave me the drive for my creative work."
Looking through his advertising lens has helped him discover that an idea can make anything better, bigger, and more valuable than just a plain visual. "Ideas are the very core of everything and will always be," he says.
Tony grew up during a time when Banksy was taking the world by storm and cites Maurizio Cattelan and Brock Davis as other sources of inspiration. We asked what it was about their style that he found interesting. He told us, "Conceptional artists had a huge influence on me when I was younger and still studying. A clear and strong message is so much more impressing to me than the visual execution."
Banksy was the perfect example of this for him at the time. "His work was a huge inspiration to me when I was younger. Thought, the visual style is not unique at all, he perfectly showcases that it is the message that really counts," he explains. Tony was drawn in by his anti-capitalist and against pop-society works, which opened his eyes toward this subject area.
He then goes on to say how Maurizio Cattelan and Brock Davis were great sources of inspiration too, both who have a renowned witty conceptual outtake on life. He thinks they are "genius minds that understand how simple images can evoke strong feelings in the viewers." It's no coincident that those artists had a similar background to him, he believes, coming from graphic design, street art, and advertising.
Like any artist of recent times, Donald Trump is a source of inspiration driving Tony. Mocking the President's relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is just some of his signature work. Tony also fictionalized how Facebook has become the modern day Bible, savagely outlines society’s determination for instant gratification on social media, plus the dominance of conglomerates such as McDonald's and H&M in Western consumer culture. Tony's artworks make you stop and question what humans have become in modern society.
Less than three years into exploring his creative artistic side, Tony is adjusting to a life split between a consuming advertising role and finding the freedom to work on new pieces. We asked him how he finds the time to do both?
"Honestly, I have no idea how this is working out since I started. The main reason I wanted to do this kind of artworks was to give myself a new challenge next to my everyday work. I was curious to see how far I can get with that and how much I can do."
He believes this is a good impulse for doing artwork as it drives him to search for more and to lift himself to the next level. Tony recently stepped into this next level after three years of designing digitally, his creations are now taking on sculptural forms. His first exhibition opened last month in Parma, Italy. He told us the presentation took months and got him adding another eight hours of work to his other eight (at least) hour a day job at the agency. It was painful but he's sure lots of other creative people understand this process, the sacrifice is worth it in the end. "It’s pure passion that keeps me going," he told us.
'The Way Out' is the name of the exhibition in Parma. Tony was approached by the curator of the gallery, Giorgia Ori about connecting on this project. She just started at the new gallery and wanted to focus on contemporary art for the opening show. She told him, "Parma is a quite classy city and doesn’t have any space for contemporary arts at the moment." It was an interesting proposal to him, being part of a selective few trying to offer something completely new to the city.
Working with Christian Kage, Tom Palluch, and Franz Xaver Sin, the group put together a show with contemporary paintings, photography, sculptures, and installations. The exhibition opened at The Mori Center on 21 September and will run until 15 November 2018. Before the exhibition, Tony said this was a big step for him as an artist, evolving from digital concepts to sculptures. We asked him if more of his work in the future will be designed to have a physical element?
"Yes, that is what I’m aiming at for the future. Honestly, it has been about two years now but I needed to get the right opportunity and time for this. Parma was perfect. Also, I have never seen myself as some kind of digital artist. I look at myself more like someone working on visual concepts and taking these ideas to the real world is just the logical step for me. I think I will always be doing images somehow. But from the start until today, I have always seen my work as a kind of blueprint for what will be following."
Tony has over 185,000 followers on Instagram–the equivalent to a small city of politically charged people who enjoy looking at society from his perspective. We wind down the interview by asking him about his Instagram bio, which reads, 'Deep thoughts and flat jokes.’ He says it was a statement that evolved from his last one, which was 'creating simple images with a twist.' He felt like he wanted a new statement for his work and thought this was perfect because it doesn't take itself too seriously but also points out the most important thing about his work: contrast.