We talked to Claus Peter Stoffels, one of the rare artists of the steampunk genre, about the philosophy of steampunk and the construction of his interesting works.
Interview by Ummuhan Kazanc
Claus Peter Stoffels, do you always wear these outfits?
I wear my self-designed outfits, all in memory of the writer Jules Verne, only on occasions that fit, such as for photoshoots, steampunk events, and when I'm out and about on my self-built electric bike. I don't wear outfits in everyday life or at work, but I do use homemade items daily, such as cell phone cases, cigarette cases, lighters, wristwatches, electric cigarettes, rings, and pens.
How do people react to that?
They are amazed and think they have never seen anything like this before. They ask me why I'm wearing these clothes or if I'm from a movie set. They also want to know what steampunk is, and when I tell them about Jules Verne and Captain Nemo with his Nautilus, their eyes light up and they immediately recognize it and are happy to see something like that in real life for once.
You are one of the rare artists of the Steampunk genre. You transform high-quality junk into unique works of art. What is steampunk?
It describes the time of the steam engine, the Industrial Revolution. A time of expeditions and explorers, tinkerers, and inventors like Tesla, Westinghouse, Bell, and Edison - just to name a few. This time era is also called the Victorian era from 1860 - to 1910. So many things were invented during this time; things that many of our current technologies are based on. Furniture, fixtures, appliances. All these things were very expensive at that time and some of them were decorated with ornaments by the manufacturers.
And many things were handmade - had a soul. I have things from that time that still work today and then when I look at the year of manufacture, I know what that item would have to tell if it could talk.
But it is also the time of writers, who were inspired by this era, wrote novels and fantastic stories. One of them is the author, Jules Verne. We all know the stories with Captain Nemo and his Nautilus, but also the writer H.G. Wells who wrote the time machine.
Even today, people are fascinated by these often very martial inventions, and not infrequently these sometimes-comical devices are used in film and television. Most viewers are just not aware that it is steampunk. Examples of this are movies like Wild, Wild West, Edward with the Scissor Hands, Hugo Cabret, The Time Machine, The Star Wanderer, The Golden Compass, Hellboy, Van Hellsing, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Rocketeer, etc., which should be well known and of course not to forget the film adaptations of Jules Verne's stories: Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in 80 Days, etc. For every person who looks at this time era, in connection with these novels, a special image is created in the mind, specifically his image. This image is once stronger or weaker than one or all catchwords that circumscribe this genre.
For me, it was indescribably strong to all the keywords and thus it was not a question of whether I would follow this genre of art. It was clear to me from the beginning, when I knew what steampunk was, that I had been one all my life, without knowing what it was called. Because even as a little boy, I was building things that always kind of leaned in that direction.
This image in my head, about this time era, is very much influenced by Jules Verne and so I build objects that could always somehow fit into his novels as well - that are timeless because Jules Verne is timeless.
They use these three keywords to describe this retro art genre: Adventure, Romance, and Science. What do these words mean to you?
Adventure: I think of the explorers and expeditions from that time - how I would have loved to be there to discover foreign countries and peoples.
Romanticism: I immediately think of the great dresses from that time and the beautiful houses, ornate furniture, and furnishings. This decelerated time, without cell phones, television, Internet, and fast cars. Time was taken for everything, and traveling was still an enjoyable slow experience.
Science: So much was invented, researched, and experimented with during this time. Many of those inventions from back then are things that many of our current technologies are based on. A Truly Exciting Time.
Let's talk about your artwork. How do you create your artwork? Do you have to do a lot of research? How long does it take to create a piece of art? Where does your inspiration come from?
I go to flea markets a lot and often search eBay for old devices, cases, and apparatuses, if possible, from that time. When I discover an object, I usually immediately get a picture in my head of what story this object tells and what kind of object could come out of it. On the one hand, I am happy to have discovered this object, to be able to save it and bring it back into the present, and on the other hand, to create something unique, which is 100 years will still be looked at and admired with pleasure. Then, when I get it home, I usually research its history. I want to know more about what it was used for and why.
After I have gathered all this, I start in my workshop and begin to get to know the object with my eyes and hands.
I need to know what condition the materials are in. Cracks or decomposition must be considered. All in all, this process can take several days. The time I then spend until the object is finished can be up to 700 hours or more. Whereby the time is not important for me; the way is the goal.