Man Stealing Books Reads by moonlight. Postcard. Artist: Teun Hocks.

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Man Stealing Books Reads by moonlight. Artist: Teun Hocks.

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For well over a quarter of a century, the Dutch photographer and painter Teun Hocks has been making his highly characteristic pictures: large-scale, single-figure studies of a middle-aged man caught in variously absurd circumstances. Hocks plays this character himself, and the finished works seem to sit somewhere between newspaper cartoons and history painting.

Teun, let me ask you about this character that you portray in your pictures. He’s nervous, somewhat self-obsessed, and his attention is always in slightly the wrong place. Is that you? No, I’m quite different than that. Of course he comes partly from me, but these are not self-portraits at all, and I’m glad about that because I hope that I’m smarter than he is. But I’m not even sure that he’s always the same person. Sometimes he’s more afraid, and sometimes he’s more self-assured.

Sometimes he’s too sure of himself, such as when he thinks he can shoot stars down. That’s one of my favorites. That picture-frame photograph strikes me as particularly apt because in practical terms, you are actually in your pictures, aren’t you?

Yes. There’s a big backdrop that I paint or build, or whatever’s needed, and I stand in the middle of that. Then I take a picture of myself in black and white and enlarge it. I do it myself in the darkroom with a little bit of help. Then I tone the picture sepia. And later I add oil paint. I color everything, but it’s transparent, so that you can see the picture underneath.

Published by Art Unlimited, Amsterdam.