Editor’s Note: This piece features various images of the nude/ full frontal male body. Please experience this interview in appropriate spaces, i.e., probably not at work or other related professional environments.
Varian Viciss is an artist.
His canvas is his body.
During a Skype interview with The Writer’s Bloc, we discussed Viciss’ eccentric passion, the naked body and self-perceptions of maleness.
Q: Can you start off by telling me where you’re from?
A: Well originally I am from Germany, so I am from Neuss, which is just north from Cologne, Germany, so that’s where I am originally from. But I have been living in London for almost the past 12 years now.
Q: Why did you make the move?
A: I met my girlfriend here and, after a while, I was sick of traveling just for weekends and stuff, so I made the move. My girlfriend is from France originally, so it’s kind of interesting. By now, I just love the city. It’s such a wonderful city to live in.
Q: Do you know any French or German? Just English?
A: I know enough [French] to order a coffee or a glass of wine or something. That’s as far as my French goes. German, of course. I grew up in Germany and, yeah, I’m still talking to a lot of German people.
Q: When did you learn English?
A: I learned English in school first, and then I spent a year in Minnesota because I have relatives there. I had the opportunity to stay there for a year. I did my American high school graduation – a fake graduation. They gave me a certificate, but one that was invalid. So I did my senior year there and that’s where I picked up most of my bad English, I guess.
Q: If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?
A: I am now 39 years old.
Q: Where did your inspiration to take your daily self portraits come from?
A: I didn’t study art, I studied philosophy with a focus on aesthetics and art, so I always had an affinity to art. And then I started taking up photography, I don’t know, seven years ago or something like that – just learning with a camera, just doing all kinds of things, just seeing how does that work. I started taking self portraits – nude self portraits – about two, three years ago when I had a period in my life where I was rather depressed and down for various reasons. Somehow, from out of the blue, this thing led to some nude self portraits. They were outdoors mostly. So I thought, first of all, when I looked at them, it was kind of a process of anchoring myself during that period. It was like almost anchoring my identity through this work of nude self portraits and also being in nature and things like that. I continued doing self portraits, but just once in a while whenever inspiration struck me.
And then, literally just three weeks ago when I started this project, I thought why don’t I do that daily? I had researched a bit more about the history of the male nude in art and read a lot about all of that. Then I saw what is done in photography of the male nude nowadays, and I’m also very interested in all of those topics: gender, sexuality, nudity, so on. I just had a flash of inspiration. I just thought that day of taking a nude self portrait project. I thought about that for a few days, kind of wrote down the concept I would have for that so it wouldn’t just be a narcissistic undertaking. It’s also a narcissistic undertaking, I guess it always is if you take a lot of self portraits, but I didn’t want it only to be a narcissistic undertaking. And then I just started the project. So that’s how that came about.
Q: Do you feel that these pictures have helped you with your depression? Did they help you come out of it?
A: Back then, yeah. Two or three years ago, I think they were part of coming out of it, yes. I think they helped me a lot. They were my creative outlet then. I didn’t really feel motivated to do other work during that period, and so that was like finding my strength to do something again. I think that was part of.
Also, I think because, obviously, I don’t represent the stereotypical male body type. Usually you see the more six-packed, muscular types, and so it also helped me with self-esteem, in a way, and a more positive self-perception.
Q: A lot of things you see in the media today are about having a positive body perception. How did you become so comfortable with your own body?
A: That is a good question. In the beginning it was weird, kind of, posting those self portraits and then looking at them afterward because you have this thing where you always find fault in yourself – yes, everyone has that. Especially the extremely narcissistic people always find fault in themselves. Continuing to do it and then, this sounds strange with self portrait, but not so much seeing myself as the center of the picture, but more seeing the shape and the surroundings and the idea of the self portrait as central to the picture.
That helped me to become more confident about myself. It’s not that I suddenly thought, “Oh, every part of me is wonderful!” and I still don’t think that. When I do the self portraits, I don’t think of it as exhibitionism, I also want to try and support other ideas via the medium of my body. And then the other thing I did for a little bit, but not much, was some live modeling for art classes.
You are actually in front of other people who draw you or paint you or whatever. So I did that 10 or 15 times. It’s a totally different process than self portrait where you get in touch with your vulnerability. It’s sometimes not for the faint of heart because it can have people in those classes who point out every problem with your body, like how you’re holding yourself, how there’s a bit of fat deposit there. But that actually helped me to feel more comfortable with myself, with my body.
Q: Do you ever get recognized when you’re out and about?
A: I just had that once, just a week ago. There was someone who actually also saw me as a model in a drawing course. He also saw the Huffington Post article. He walked past me and then he turned around and said, “Hey! I know you from the life drawing and I saw you in that article. I almost didn’t recognize you because you’re dressed!”
That was funny.
Q: You have your Tumblr page. Is that the only outlet where you post your pictures, or do you have an Instagram or Twitter or other forms of social media?
A: Mostly I use the Tumblr for this Daily Project. I have a Twitter, as well, where I post that and some other things I do. On the Twitter I also retweet a lot of art that I find interesting or articles about art or other artists’ work. So I use the Tumblr, really, for my own work, and Twitter to share my own work but also look into what other people are doing and share what I find inspiring or interesting. Then I have my website where there’s just some of my different series that I did and a blog, which I just recently restarted. There should be more of that in the coming weeks.
Q: Is your website different from your Tumblr?
A: Yeah, on the website the Daily Nudes Project doesn’t even feature, just a blog on it I have written is there. Otherwise, the pictures from this Daily Nude Project aren’t on there yet – just a link to the Tumblr. There are some other nude self portrait series which I did in the past; some flower photography; London at night. Some other works as well that I did.
Q: Do you have a large following on your Tumblr and Twitter accounts?
A: I don’t even know. I don’t know how large the following is, at the moment. It’s 200 people? 300 people? I don’t know, it’s not that large. The Huffington Post article did a lot. I had a lot of requests for interviews, podcasts, for other media, which is all coming up. I see following numbers increasing now, after that.
Q: Do you think media attention is good?
A: [Pause.] I would say it’s a two-edged sword because … It’s good because I still think mainstream media multiplies – it magnifies attention. I still think you can achieve the same effect through social media now without mainstream media and without newspapers, it just takes a lot longer. I say it’s a double-edged sword because, if you look at, for instance, the comments on the Huffington Post article, if you read that and you don’t have a thick skin it can throw you off course a little bit because everybody has an opinion.
Most opinions aren’t that positive, let’s put it that way. So I think that’s what happens when you get media attention: you also draw a lot of people who just want to vent their opinion and what they don’t like and their frustration.
Q: Have their comments at all influenced you? Or are you not really paying attention to them?
A: No. I mean, I read them and I found some of the comments quite insulting. I thought, “Geez, why even bother to write a comment like that?” I was a bit taken aback by it for, I don’t know, half an hour or so after reading it, and then I just dropped it. If you pay too much attention to that, I think it would drive you crazy. Like I said, everybody has an opinion. You don’t know the background; you don’t know how valid their opinion is because you don’t know who those people are. Maybe they have eaten something wrong just before they wrote that comment. I don’t think it makes sense to pay too much attention to that.
Q: Other than your followers on Twitter and Tumblr, do your family and friends look at these pictures?
A: Yeah, I mean most of my family and friends know about that; it’s not something that I’m hiding. My father, for instance, he does know it, but he’s not really into art and all that. He kind of shrugs it off. He doesn’t judge it this way or the other. My girlfriend, for instance, she’s the one who really got me into photography. I was very much into art but I didn’t know too much about photography when I met her. She actually sometimes gives me valuable feedback to some pictures. I value her opinion on it. I don’t always agree with her opinion and end up doing what I want to do, but it does help me to have another perspective on it sometimes, on the work that I do, from her.
Q: So where do you want to take this project? Where do you want it to go? How long do you plan to continue and do you think you’ll ever do an exhibit or just keep it online?
A: I’m definitely going to do it for a year, so 365 days. It’s like a year-long project. And I’m definitely going to turn it into a book at the end of those 365 days. In terms of exhibitions, I don’t think about that too much. I’m not going to actively pursue exhibition opportunities. So if something happens, something happens. Like now, some people ask for prints and some people write me emails saying they have a good location for me. So I just let that kind of happen. I do my work, promote my work through the social media channels and just see what happens. The only goal is complete the project and then do a book.
To be continued …