Books & Shit: Complexities of an Artist
Talking with Michel Pretterklieber by Jen Bracewell
I was first introduced to Michel’s work on Instagram. I stumbled upon his feed somehow. His username was @booksandshit. My first impression was that I was looking at something dreamy, confusing, lonely and surreal that begged a second look. He quickly became one of my favorite artists. I wanted to know more about the images and the man who made them. What I found is that Michel is a complex, brilliant, and incredibly kind person, a very dedicated artist and I’m thankful to have gotten to know him and to call him a friend.
J: Jen M: Michel
J: It’s been great getting to know you over the past few months. Thanks for agreeing to answer some questions for me!
M: It’s an honour. And fantastic to get to know you too of course!
J: Okay so let’s start here. Tell me something about where you live: The people, the culture, the weather, and how does it affect your art?
M: I live in the eastern part of Switzerland, 45 minutes away from Austria and Germany. I listen to many German and Austrian Rock bands singing in German. Their lyrics influence me a lot.
The town of St. Gallen where I live has a population of about 70’000 people.
It’s very mediocre. Except for those two or three clubs, which get very interesting bands from all over the world to play Swiss-exclusive live shows. Although the government is trying to get the nightlife to be very low.
With young art itself it’s mostly about music here. It rains very much here. This influences most art-interested people. I’m no exception.
But I think personally what influences me the most are or were situations/incidents I experienced.
J: What kinds of things did you experience that influenced you, if you can or want to talk about them?
M: Oh there was some heavy stuff. I was born in 1982. When I was in 1st grade we had a boy in class who had a heart failure, which made him think and talk a little bit slower. But he was a very kind and lovely person. One day he couldn’t answer as fast as he was supposed to I guess. So the teacher ran to him got his arm and pulled him down on the floor and dragged him around several times.
That was the first time I realized that if there were more of such monsters like that teacher this world would never become a place for me.
A few years later my twin sisters were born dead. My parents wanted to give them a funeral because they deserved to have one. On their search for a priest one of whom they asked answered “I don’t have time for such little stuff.” That was the first time I got really sick of organized religion.
That’s shit which fucks the mind of an eight-year-old boy up very much.
If I see a ball game for example or a boxing fight I’m always helping the outsiders. I still can’t understand why only the meanest with the biggest egos and the hardest punches are considered to belong to the “good” people while the sick or shy or slow ones are just human trash. I’m not interested in the “Übermensch”
J: That is awful! I can’t imagine. You had to grow up really fast. I learned that some people were monsters at an early age too and I think that affected me a lot, in all aspects of my life. People always saying, “Smile! Why so dark?”. Do you think that, as you mentioned knowing that you were different and the world wasn’t a place for you, made you lonely? I ask because I sense loneliness as a theme in your work. It’s in your self-portraits especially but all of your work has a kind of quiet despair.
M: Kids can be the cruelest assholes in the world. But it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of parents not teaching them to be open-minded.
I realized that I don’t belong here only in these certain moments I felt injustice or stupidity of others, when I was a kid. I didn’t think further until I discovered music where the lyrics made me think about it. But I did realize I couldn’t be together in groups. For my whole life I only had one best friend at a time. I wasn’t very good at being with two or three guys – there was always that feeling of being that third or fifth wheel.
Around the age of twenty-five I remembered my mother was saying I was “melancholic” when talking about me in my childhood. It became manifested in the last seven or eight years that I feel alone although being in a room with dozens of people.
I tried to find ways to get rid off that feeling but I promise: there is no such way.
Well, about to have to grow up fast: I really had a wonderful childhood: caring parents, lovely sisters, etc. It was everything outside my family that damaged me. On the other hand I could have become the exact same person without all that crap happening. And just to make sure: I wouldn’t want to live a different life. Of course I’d change this and that little thing but all in all its how it is and shouldn’t be changed. It’s ok to be and feel different. I am definitely not a religious person – but I think I am who and how I am and I’ll do my best and work with the material I’ve got.
The self-portraits I make are very interesting to me, too. I think everything a person experiences or doesn’t experience has effects on her/his life. It’s obviously what makes the difference between this and that person. It’s a wonderful concept if you think about it: what makes me feel lonely makes another one may feel completely different like wanting to be told he’s the best in doing something.
To me the self-portraits are a) great to try new technics with apps and themes. and b) pure self-reflection. I can look at myself or how I think others look at me. What I see is in then more than just loneliness but I believe if you see despair or someone else sees just an ugly guy with a scarred face it is as good as my own opinion.
J: I love them for the same reasons. It’s a great way to express an emotion, a concept, or whatever. You’ve always got your own face to use as you please and if the work will offend anyone, it won’t be the model. You’ve talked some about music, so I know that is a force in your life. What art and artists and art movements influence you, including literature? I see some David Lynch when I look at your work and that’s a huge compliment in my opinion. He’s insanely good and I could go on about my love for him for days. I remember reading other’s compare you to him in comments on your now defunct @booksandshit Instagram account.
M: Yes, music is important, always and everywhere. Since I started to make pictures I got into many kinds of arts – as a viewer only, of course. It all plays with each other. Like paintings and photography. I really started to get to love paintings. Tiny little ones the same like those ten x ten feet big colossi.
I am since a long time very fascinated by the surrealists and Dadaists. They made so much in their “careers” like writing plays and books, making sculptures and photographs, paintings.. Man Ray is the big one, Dali’s writings, André Breton’s “Nadja”, Jean Cocteau’s writings, too.. I could go on for a while but there are also other very impressive artists: like Edvard Munch with his wonderful painting of the ‘Madonna’ and Francis Bacon.
But literature itself was equal to music my biggest influence. Bukowski, Henry Miller’s “Big Sur” or “The world of sexus”, Kafka’s love letters to Milena, Sherwood Andersons “Williamsburg, Ohio”, “Franny & Zooey” by Salinger, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Michel Houellebecq..
So many great philosophical writers..they all left deep wounds in my brain, guts, body, eyes. We will never reach a peaceful existence. We have nothing to do with peace and love: it’s only about greed – getting richer and lazier these years.
The music: Conor Oberst’s lyrics in his solo-projects or with his band “Bright Eyes”, “Tocotronic”, “Ja, Panik”, they all have so much love and great ideas in their songs. One has to think about his life more often or he’ll die – if he’s not dead, yet.
About David Lynch:
Thank you for the compliment. It’s an honor to read something like that..
Although Lynch is on another level. Another planet than every other living being. I love his artistic work very much. Most of all his films. “Inland Empire” is like reading a book by Dostojewski. You feel different after you experienced it. It moved you to a point where you know there can’t be anything beyond. It’s the ultimate maximum.
I was or am still obsessed with his work: Twin Peaks! Lost Highway! His latest solo-album “Crazy Clown Time”. The guy has also his own Coffee! Incredible.
Sadly, I haven’t seen just a very few of his paintings and his photography.
And what can I say about Eraserhead? The sounds, the graphic sadness of everything in it – poetic.
He must have influenced me like Bright Eyes, Pizza or all the other things I love. Or hate. But it’s really just a coincidence if one of my pictures slightly touches Lynch’s unbelievable Universe a tiny little bit.
J: I adore Bright Eyes as well as most of the other artists and authors you mentioned, especially Bukowski and Bacon. (Sounds like a weird law firm) I remember us talking about doing image transfers in the past, something I like to do. I wonder if you’re working in other medium now. Writing, painting, etc.?
M: At the moment I am working on a project together with 12 other European people from Sweden down to Italy, Spain, etc., who are making pictures. We plan to have group-exhibitions and other activities/projects. The group’s called “nolimetangere”.
What I do is to write down issues I think about a lot – personal & non-personal, general things which consider all people or just a few – and dreams, thoughts I remember I had (at least I think I remember).
Maybe I’ll publish them together with pictures as a book some day. Who knows?
I made a great deal with a fantastic band called “Missing Teen”. They use two of my pictures for two of their following 7″-records and I get some of those records.
I’d love to do more record covers because it’s such an exciting field of art. And as a music-obsessed person it’s also very important to me how a record design looks.
I am very new in Bacon’s world. Still exploring, exploring,.. When I get to see a picture painted by him I am wondering for hours. Last time when I was in Paris I found a book about his triptychs. Well, it’s in French – which I haven’t learned nor spoken since years. I try it every time I am in Paris – the citizens are so kind to answer in English.
We already mentioned Bukowski. It seems like people have forgotten what he was really about to say. Sure, it’s fun to read his stories about drinking and fighting and fucking but he was so much more than that..
He was one of the good ones.
Oh and yes: Conor Oberst is changing his style with every record – more or less. That’s something I really adore about artists. Progress. So important: never stand still for too long – it kills everything you did before.
I try to paint every now and then but I just can’t draw! I am very bad at it – so I try to find out more about techniques and artists, history..
J: So tell me about the exhibition you had in Zurich earlier this month? How did that come about? It sounds like it was a very exciting and dynamic group of artists.
M: The show in Zurich was the first public presentation of my work I ever had. A friend and former co-worker in my last so-called “serious” job at a record store told me about it after I asked her about where to start here in Switzerland. I knew she became an artist after moving away to Zurich. The funny thing is: the deadline to send in pictures was the next day. So I was a bit in a rush, chose my favorite pictures, which I thought, would show the different styles I was posting. Selfies smoke and fog, masks, etc. I had to write what I have done before (nothing), what my work was about.. But they took me in.
It’s a very big yearly show with a new visitors-record each time this time there were 17,500 visitors. There were so many talented and different photographers. For an international known example: the guy who took the world famous portrait for Steve Jobs’ book.
About iPhoneography: There was one woman using Hipstamatic for taking wonderful intimate portraits of “normal” women with “normal” beautiful bodies.
Being part of the “photo13″ was really worth the stressing days before. I enjoyed it very much. I could finally see how people’s faces acted when they saw my stuff (like tinfoil coming out of my mouth or a little girl sitting in front of a grill like watching TV) for the first time. Most walked away.
I would definitely go there again, it was extremely good organized, the works of the artists are superb and the people who made the show were all so very nice.
J: That’s so exciting. I am sure that will open lots of doors for you in the future. Let’s end with this question, maybe it’s silly and hard to answer but I would like to know. Where do you see yourself in five years as far as art/mobile photography/writing is concerned?
M: I plan that picture/text-book for the next years. Maybe there will be some stuff included which those right-wing folks here in Switzerland find offensive like they always do when it’s not done by some religious against-everything-that-is-new-pervert who’s dead since 200 years.
I don’t know. Things were going very fast this last year for me. Never too fast though. So much can change within five years..
I am sure I’ll keep making my pictures no matter if people like them or not, write about what I experience or where my imagination leads me to. Keeping the romantic idea of a change that might happen overnight – inside my own head or in those of earth’s population in general. Who knows if there’s a need or place for someone like me in five years? Maybe I’ll sell some of my pictures? Be able to have some solo-shows? Make more record covers?
However, I’ll keep trying to learn and hope and to live life how I feel it needs to be lived. Travel to foreign countries, learn other languages – not everything within five years though – I hope I’ll have more time left than that.
So, yes I’m very excited and looking forward and wondering about what will happen in the future.
Maybe living in a foreign country or travelling, all I need in a big oversea suitcase.
J: That sounds wonderful. I want to get us all a big group show here so we can meet and have a great party! Okay, let’s wrap it up now, my friend. Anything else you’d like to add?
M: A facette – in general – which fascinates me very much about photography: the question about what the viewer actually does with the feeling he receives..
As the photographer you make a picture, post it, delete it, put it on the side, whatever.
You can find Michel’s work here:
Flickr / Eye’Em / Tumblr / Website