Donde El Arte Vive: Filip Ćustić

An exclusive image and interview with one of the present day’s most sensational young artists.

For our brand new digital V Spain issue, Digital Director Mathias Rosenzweig spoke with the Spanish-Croatian, multi-disciplinary artist Filip Ćustić about his new self-portrait, balancing life as an artist, existing in a limbo between your digital self and your true self, and how his dog helps to keep him calm. 

To read the full interview, continue on below. To see the shortened profile, heat to the V Spain issue

Could you tell me what this new image you’ve created is meant to illustrate? 

Basically, I’m portraying myself in a fictional situation. It’s a self-portrait but there is also someone, the model, who represents a defeated warrior, a warrior that has lost. Because I usually portray situations that are lighter, and this is a bit dark. It inspires me a lot because I think that in the worst situations, that’s when you learn. You never really learn from good things. You mostly learn from the harder times in your life.

It’s like the classic situation of Fine Arts where a model comes and all the students make a portrait, except I’m the entire class. I’m all the stunts. And the situation is not real because I never paint. I’m a virtual painter, because I take photos and I reshape, I redo, I repaint them with Photoshop. Painting is sort of how I imagine my work, but it’s not the reality. 

At this moment in your life, why did you want to portray a defeated warrior instead of a “happier” topic? 

Everyone has lost something in their life, but I personally never admit it. I never shoot that part of myself. I used to only show my successes. As a lot of people do. On social media, people don’t show that they’re not okay. But of course, I’ve had loss in my life. I’ve been heartbroken, I’ve felt like a fraud because I didn’t achieve a goal. But again, in these situations, you can learn. And for me, it’s fresh, because I never touch those topics. 

People who follow you online might feel that they “know” you, but this is of course just a part of you. So as you said, they don’t necessarily know that you’ve experienced heartbreak, for example. 

Exactly. I live in the real world. Online it looks like I’m always in my studio, with a very minimal background, and I only talk about deep concepts. But I’m a human. Sometimes people might dehumanize me because of the limited view they see. But I make jokes. I love memes. I’m just another millennial,  you kn0w? Or Gen Z. I don’t know who I am [laughs]. I want to be the youngest.

And I describe myself as an early adopter. It doesn’t say how old you are. 

In reality, we are always somewhere in between our true selves and our “online” selves. Like a hybrid. 

The other day, I published a Story on Instagram and someone asked if I liked Uncanny Valley, because I was wearing a mask of my face. It’s the idea of being between a robot and a real human, being in limbo. I like to play the role of being between a robot, or a sculpture, and a real human. 

What types of ideas or things are you often exploring with your art? 

I just ask myself, “What do I need to be happy right now?” That’s the first question I ask myself. I’m very into psychology. I’m obsessed with knowing who I am, who are we, what are we doing here, what is this place, is this real, is this not real? I think those questions are always on a loop in my mind. Everything I do, I’m trying to answer those questions. I really want to find the solutions to these questions. 

Do you feel that your art is actually bringing you closer to the answers? Or do you ever think you are getting farther away? 

Both at the same time. The question gets bigger and I’m understanding more, but also in talking with people, it gives me different hypotheses on things. And then I have to think about it all over again. 

In that case, what is something you feel more certain about as you continue on with your career? 

The other day, I tried for the first time a virtual reality game, where you are dressed in a VR costume and you’re in a room. And you put these glasses on, and you are in a sort of spaceship. It was incredibly real for me. I felt like I could really kill these robots I was seeing. Who can tell me that we are not in a simulation and that we are not actually in space traveling in to another planet? I think this idea of simulation could be real. I am far from the solution but I love to think about that…it makes me feel that I’ll be able to see more colors than the colors I see now. 

How did you develop the artistic tools to explore these concepts? 

For real, TikTok is a school for me. I learn so many things from there. 

But in real life, I studied and I had great grades, it just didn’t help me achieve what I’m doing now. I studied science, chemistry, so I went to a science high school. But now everything I do is creative, and I learned it from the Internet. I used YouTube to learn Photoshop, I read articles and some books, I watched videos about artists that were explaining how they worked. 

How did lockdowns reshape your life? 

I’ve played a lot with isolation, but no conscientemente. Unconsciously. I spent a lot of time investigating things on my own. But lately, I want to be more social. Because in your social life, you can also learn other things. I learn so much through conversations with people, like their input and their mentality. When I’m isolated, I only have myself and my computer. And my dog. 

You are a writer, and you spend a lot of time alone with yourself thinking about what to write. And the same happens to me when I retouch a picture that I have to spend like, twelve hours a day on for a week or two. I look at pixels all day and think about the color and am just in my own mind. 

I read a quote about how a creative person’s life is like a trichotomy. You have your art, your social life, and your love life, but you can only really exceed at two. Do you find this to be true? 

I can understand this. In the last year, I think I learned this. For a while, I was only focused on working, and that’s super toxic. You need other people to be happy, I think. 

There was a time that I was upset because I didn’t feel saccade, or satiated with my creativity. My mind was full of ideas and goals and I didn’t achieve them. So I thought all the time that I was wasting my time if I was not working or creating, because I would forget ideas. But at some point, I was satiated. I realized, “Oh my God, I isolated myself for my work, but I want to be social. I want to love someone.”

But you have to find the right balance, and maybe the balance you need at the present time is not the balance you will need later. You have to try to redesign your own life all the time to be perfect, or as perfect as possible. 

But it’s interesting to think about, that life isn’t a duality. It is often a triangle. 

How do you balance your art with commerce? How do you stay true to what you want to do but also face the reality that we need money? 

We live in capitalism because it often feels like the only option we have. But once we have another option, an option B, I will be the first to try that, because I don’t like capitalism, this idea that we needed everything materialistic yesterday, or as soon as possible.

My mother works in economics, with numbers and spreadsheets. But when I see an Excel page, I want to vomit. I hate it. It’s the opposite of inspiration for me. I feel so super blessed to be able to explore creativity, to explore my mind. I can design my house, design my surroundings, and be in my own world, my own creative bubble. All day, I’m with my dog, listening to music, creating and talking to people. My reality is super. It’s perfect for me. I am so grateful. 

When all else fails, you have your dog there to keep you company. 

When I look at him, he’s not worried about anything. I try to connect with that and worry less myself. It’s absurd. 

And you have yourself! 

And I am more okay with that now. Because before, I was a super anxious person. I was super focused on working. It was so much anxiety, because I was telling myself that I had to be perfect, I had to be the best, I had to be the most innovative, have the strongest technique, to be the most complicated. But I am better now at just focusing on what makes me happy in the present time. Because now, I really do know myself. 

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