THE 22 MAGAZINE: Where did you grow up and what lead you to pursue art and filmmaking?
Tobias Stretch: I grew up in the hills of northern Appalachia, northeastern Pennsylvania. I’m not sure if it was a choice that led me to art, but I feel like the world in my head had to be made real, otherwise I’d go mad. Art is like a pressure valve for me: once my head gets too full, I have to let out all the wild thoughts. It’s like opening the gate to let a pen full of acrobatic, rabid children roam about the countryside creating mayhem and beautiful chaos—much like nature.
22: You describe your work, using the words of Antonin Artaud as “a cinema which is studded with dreams.” Are many of your works dream-inspired?
TS: Most of my dreams are more like nightmares, and I usually wake up shaken by all the weirdness. No movie can really approximate crazy dreams, although many an artist/filmmaker will try. I think the best thing to do is to be true to the tone of your dreams, not so much what actually happens in them. I think cinema, although limited to its 2D rectangular canvas, can at least capture the feelings had in a dream. I think someday we will be able to upload the data of our dreams and visions into the brain implants of others over a network. Hopefully, all the joy and horror in my head can be relived by others via a simple download!
22: Many of your costumes seem to have an aesthetic that is based on repetition on and pattern. What is the natural versus urban dynamic in your work?
TS: Nature is repetition and pattern in many ways, and so are aspects of urban design. Living in a city for the last ten years has introduced me to a whole other kind of surrounding, mostly artificial, that is starting to infiltrate my work. I like the bright colors displayed by many insects and birds in the rainforests and elsewhere, but I also like the bright colors worn by people in different cultures. I try to work with every kind of texture, pattern, and color I can. My newer works will hopefully be even more different. I have a nine-foot tall puppet in the video I am working on now, and it will travel through the countryside into the city over the course of the video. I am also working with life-sized humanoid puppets.
22: Do you think the nature of stop-motion helps to add to the surreality and other worldliness of your films?
TS: Stop-motion is really making an awesome comeback in ways that I saw coming at least five years ago. I think it is here to stay, if only because it can get artists out of their fat-ass harvesting office chairs and away from computer screens. Anything is possible with stop-motion and I aim to prove this.
22: Are there any characters you’ve created that disturb you?
TS: They don’t disturb me; real life disturbs the spirit much more.
22: Who is the character you feel is most successful?
TS: None of my puppets are very successful; they have terrible work habits. We are all very poor here in my little apartment, but a couple of them do buy lottery tickets from time to time, so fingers crossed.
22: In other interviews, you mention a history of family psychosis. How has this influenced your work as an artist?
TS: Well, let’s just say I have been witness to far too much mental illness. Suffering of the mental kind is probably the most overlooked and misunderstood [of illnesses]. My dream is to be able to help folks who suffer with mental illness. Whenever I see a schizophrenic or bipolar person pass me on the streets, I shiver through my soul. Were it not for my art, I would most certainly be out there with them. I am grateful for every day that I am alive in a safe, quiet home.
22: What is the relationship to animals in your work?
TS: Animals are in us all, for we are animals. Some day, through genetic reconstruction, we will bring back the woolly mammoth and the brontosaurus, so we can ride on them like Fred Flintstone. It will be possible to create creatures like a “peguinostrich” or a “foxopotamus” in labs through genetic hybridization, or perhaps even create part man, part whatever kind of animal you choose. I’d love to become part lion or coyote through genetic engineering.
22: What are your future projects?
TS: More music videos, for the near term at least. When I get my script done, I plan to do an epic/fantasy/stop-motion feature in the magical, transcendent tradition of films like The Wizard Of Oz.