Self-Portrait as a Postman is a postcard thought as a self-portrait.
It is a performative object constituted by a photograph, a message and their journey from Italy to Amsterdam.
The postcard was conceived as response to letter 515 of Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo (Nuenen, Tuesday, 14 July 1885) for the exhibition titled When I Give, I Give Myself in Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam), featuring works by contemporary international artists in response to Van Gogh’s correspondences.
The postcard presents an image portraying Diego Tonus while actually working as a postman and a letter which text refers to the relevance of that experience for his artistic practise.
TEXT IN THE POSTCARD:
I send you this letter after reading your words, believing that we are connected by a form of collective mind in which words resonate in different times and spaces, even very far from each other. Thinking about your attachment to the question of the ‘figure’, I send you this Self-Portrait as a Postman that was taken years ago – I think 2010 – while I was working as a postman in my hometown. I’ve never shown it to anybody, but I kept it with me because I’ve always thought it had potential. In particular it has something to do with my artistic work. I still can’t explain it though. I look at it as a character study. A studio case thanks to which I’m still discovering how that experience was revealing for my practise and I’ve realized I didn’t need a studio as base to develop my work, but the city itself was my atelier. Apart from raising some money, this experience was important because it carried a message in itself. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but a lot of artists worked as postmen. I think this has something to do with the practise of creating objects containing inner meaning. By being an insider of that system you get to know how mails are sorted and carried to an addressee. You learn how a message has been sent and how to deliver it. You get to know hidden stories, correspondences and unusual habits of people you thought to know very well. Maybe it comes form here my idea to be an intruder, a figure always ‘out of place’ but still ‘in place’. A chameleon changing dresses without being noticed, mirroring status and forms of authorities in order to discover hidden stories.
It’s difficult to paint everyday figures more then models; it’s even more difficult to be an everyday figure. It costs a lot in term of expenses and even more in time, effort and drawbacks. As you tried yourself, wind and weather change you, form you and affect your ideas especially when you transfer that in your work. But these inconvenients are part of the process, are part of the work. Suddenly they become the work.
Experiences such the one of the postman could give you chances to discover stories you would never thought to encounter; the unexpected. While I was a postman it was such inspiring to meet characters as the ‘engineer’, a man who once was a math professor and then became fool for love … everyday he used to walk with a shopping bag full of technical books, screaming and limping when the weather was rainy; a real gentleman when instead it was sunny.
Or the man who used to run throughout the city with a basket filled with water on his bike and when I asked him why he was doing that, he answered he wanted to empty the main river by bringing the water from one part of the city to the other. He also tried once to buy the public cemetery by going to the major of the city, asking him the proper documents for the concession. I also delivered post to a man who was presenting himself as a painter. He used to pass all his time at the bar of the train station selling his cryptic drawings to the barman to eat and drink. The taxi driver would buy a drawing of his every day. I think at the present time they have an amazing collection of his works.
Labour is a rich experience. A platform to move in, to explore and to use as a tool for the research, especially nowadays. It’s even more important because when you work, you’re active in an environment. You cannot talk about something you’ve never experienced, as you cannot paint something you’ve never seen. That’s why is so important to experience contexts and situations before operating in them; before reacting to them. A worker is a ‘figure in action’ and work is a form of identity the worker dresses with. I fell that doing art today means being the ‘character’ you were referring to when you were talking about the figure of the future paintings. What if a person may dress different identities and pass from one figure to the other in order to express himself? This could make of him a ‘figure in action’ able to escape the ordinary. What about his ‘doing something’ then?