I had a chance to speak with artist Toby Malek recently to learn about his fascinating art. Toby is an artist, thinker and a film maker. Mostly he paints using a variety of mediums, but also does video and sound installations, and conceptual art.
He saw a revolution in Iran, moved to Austria then London. Self described as a world citizen he is now living and working in Canada.
In this interview he spoke about his life experiences and how it influences his art. You’ll begin to understand what inspires Toby Malek, and what he hopes his art brings to others.
Interview by Alaina Coyle
1. How do you describe yourself?
I am an artist, using mostly the media of paint at this time, a film maker and a thinker.
2. What do you mean when you say “thinker”?
I use “thinker” not “philosopher” because of the difference in the way philosophers view their questions. They want to find or provide answers; while a “thinker” usually introduces the questions or issues of their time.
3. How did your art training begin?
My family recognized my talent for art and my wonder for science ever since I was a little boy. For my eleventh birthday I received a very special gift from my older brother. It was a book instructing how to draw portraits. With a great love for art, it fuel my interest and I used it to self teach.
When I was fifteen, I transferred from my regular high school to a fine art school which offered four additional hours of art training each day. There were only three or four such schools across the country. My professors were influenced both by contemporary and modern art from the US; while others were influenced by Russian artists.
After years of training at this school, at twenty one, the most important part of my art training was completed.
I continued to study in Austria at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. In 2003, after 5 years studying Digital Arts, I graduated with a Master Degree in Art. After graduation, I decided to pursue my PhD in cultural studies.
4. When was the turning point that you saw yourself as an artist?
It has always been difficult for me to recognize myself as an artist. I had (and still have) high expectations from artists, including myself. Being an artist is not just mastering the techniques or being highly trained. You need to let it affect how you think, how you connect to your environment, and how you respond to your society. The most important responsibility of an artist in my opinion, is what you can give to others.
In art training, there is something that no one can teach you – originality and your point of view. Realizing this was a turning point for me in 2003, as I said to myself and my professor: “I am an artist.” I’ve become aware and conscious that I’m not just good in technique, but I also have my own perspective, point of view and originality. I had realized that being an artist was a state of mind, a state of being and a way of living.
5. Why have you chosen art?
I could also say that art has chosen me as well. I could be a great medical doctor, or a scientist. I have the necessary talent for that, but my life brought me in this direction to be an artist. I believe that in life one part is your wishes and your plans for your life, on the other side is life itself – and what life will give to you. My life gave me the gift and the chance to be an artist.
6. Tell us about your family.
I come from an intellectual, talented, middle class family. My father was a self-made, religious man, who made everything possible by working hard. My mom is a talented, beautiful woman. Even though she didn’t have any academic education, she learned much from life experiences. I find the most inspiration for my life from my family; however my mom influenced me in art more than anyone else. One of my sisters is a sculptor living and working in Austria. My older brother plays classical guitar; he is also a remarkable guitar-maker and handicraft. My younger brother plays classical clarinet in an orchestra in Austria.
8. Where do you draw your inspiration for your art?
My art is inspired by my life. I am influenced by my family, my society, my history, my time. Most importantly, by issues of our time.
9. In a time of digital and pixels, what would be the position of painting?
It is true; we are all surrounded by a new world of digital information. Having studied digital arts at the University in Austria for five years, I am able to use new media besides painting, such as installations or film.
I believe it’s important to understand problems exist with digital art as well. For example; digital art doesn’t live forever and there is always new technology developing. We are living in a time where information is exploding around us. You can make something in digital format today, and if you’re lucky someone will read about it. Tomorrow, new information will become available and what you have created yesterday will be forgotten forever. On the other hand, with regard to traditional media, you can visit museums where you will see 600 year old paintings – and they are still alive.
The question is always what idea you are transferring to your audience with your art.
10. What do you hope your art brings to people?
I hope my art inspires people to think – about our time, about problems of our time; to make them think about taking responsibility. We have only one planet to live – our earth. We need to work together for peace, freedom, and right of life for all humanity. I also believe in the need to control human popularity. Our earth is already overpopulated. How many more humans can our earth host? This is the type of question I hope my art inspires people to think about.