The Artful Codger
Alex von Moltke Hyper Modern “Old” Guy
When did it become a “thing” that everybody has to go to university? When did it become the norm that you have to have a master’s degree in economics to wash dishes in a restaurant? Obligatory with a PhD to work at McDonald’s? No, the last one’s actually a bad example, for McDonald’s is one of the few big companies where you can work your way up without studying for 25 years and putting yourself in debt for the next 100.
But you get my point.
Alex von Moltke never went down this enforced road to academia. Is that why, although he calls himself an “old guy”, his brain is now firing on all cylinders, and more? He is on his third and probably most lucrative major career shift, without having wasted his youth “studying”, and is relishing every moment of it.
“This is only the beginning! This thing, the applications of it, is absolutely limitless,” he enthuses, pulling out some glossy brochures of his latest project, cubism-inspired bronze art, or “digitised portraits in bronze”.
All by himself, and after a hell of a lot of trying and failing, von Moltke has invented a high-end vanity slash console table decoration slash must-have item for the mid to seriously rich: A rendition of themselves – or someone else, like the founder of their company, say – cast in solid bronze.
The human heads are stylised to the point where “you see no wrinkles or eye bags, but you still can see clearly that it’s you” – and although it seems perhaps quaint nowadays to have a bust of oneself in one’s living room, there is nothing old-fashioned about the bronze portraits themselves. In fact they look like the next hyper modern thing for people who are bored with selfies and are seeking permanence over GIFs, quality over quantity.
The process is this: Von Moltke makes a 3D scan of your upper body. To turn such an image into a lifelike rendition of you, complete with the aforementioned wrinkles and eye bags presumably, would normally require more than 225 000 polygons. Polygons are tiny triangles that, put together, create a smooth surface, like pixels on a TV screen, von Moltke explains.
“But I have reduced the number of polygons by 99% , which causes the triangles to get much bigger and make the image semi-abstract; cubistic. But at the same time you can see right away who it is!”
He shows me busts of himself and his father in various sizes and I marvel at their simplicity and timeless beauty while idly wondering when we stopped making statues of people. Probably about the same time we started forcing everybody into going to university.
“It took a while, but the process is now in the bag. I’m ready to start producing!” von Moltke smiles, stroking his dog Yoda.
“And look here, you can choose between various base inserts; the blocks the portraits are resting on – in semi precious stone, exotic wood veneer or Porphyry! The footing block at the bottom of the bust fits snugly within micro-millimeters on all sides into the trough in the base and it’s all held in place by gravity.”
“I’m also working with a ex-modeller from Madam Tussaud’s to be able to create busts of a dear departed relative or someone else you think is worth immortalising. She models a portrait in wax working only with photos and I then scan her model to continue with my process. I’m even toying with the idea of making the ensuing bronze bust of the person into an urn!”
Indeed! Why trek out to some godforsaken cliff to scatter your father’s ashes
when you can keep them at home, safe inside an urn that looks exactly like him,
but without the wrinkles etc?
Alex von Moltke came to Mallorca only two years ago after 10 years in India where he found fame among the wealthy as a restorer of old houses and interior designer.
“My clients were rich Bollywood actors; nouveaux riche people who wanted a trophy European designer for their newly modelled homes. I did everything from restoring and amending old structures and old window frames to designing mosaics in the floors and making bespoke furniture.
Sometimes my clueless clients would make suggestions regarding brash elements that they wanted included, to which I had politely to decline. It was my way or nothing. And no one complained when they saw the final result.
The last project I did there was restoring a 700m2 mansion which was featured in Architectural Digest.”
He shows me the before and after photos on his phone. What looks like a set from The Jungle Book, an old stone temple or something, black with rot and overgrown with plants, has been transformed into a stunning palace where everything is designed and restored by the same steady hand.
So why did he leave India, and why not continue this much needed restoration work here in Mallorca?
“India changed too much and too fast for me. I mean, it seemed to jump from the 19th to the 21st century even in the short time I was there. The first few years there was a lovely balance between a rural, simple living and just enough modernity, but then… I woke up one morning and thought, ‘do I want to get old here?’ I started looking for an ‘out’. “
15 years earlier, von Moltke, born in London to a Russian mother and German father, had been living in London, restoring and selling 20th century design.
“I had my own shop off Pimlico road, and was one of the first in London to sell mid-20th century stuff, calling it ‘vintage’. What we think of as ‘antiques‘ had already by then gone out of fashion, as everyone wanted minimalism.”
Although business was good, von Moltke took heed when, in 2002 and 2003, people in the financial sector started warning him about the future.
“Actually, I remember three different clients, all bankers, warned me separately of ‘A big black cloud looming on the not too distant horizon’”.
When the economic recession started to bite in 2008, von Moltke remembered the warnings.
“I thought, f*** this! We sold everything and took our two sons, seven and nine years old, out of school. At the time, India was the only country going up, so we went there. And for many years it was great – until it wasn’t.”
Von Moltke found his ‘out of India’ when a fellow interior designer suggested they set up a business together in Mallorca.
“I had never been to Mallorca but was convinced to move here after a short recce trip. I eventually bought two properties here to start restoring, but now, two years later, I still haven’t got all of the many licences required for restoring houses here. Also, people in Mallorca didn’t want to know about my successful business in India. They said: Well, what have you done HERE? So I thought f*** this! And started thinking what I could do that no one else was doing instead. I needed to reinvent myself, to change everything.”
I needed to reinvent myself “
Von Moltke had been interested in bronze and cubism since stumbling across the works of the now largely forgotten English sculptor Kim James, a contemporary of Henry Moore, 20 years previously. He was able to buy the late artist’s whole body of work, bring it to India and subsequently to Mallorca.
It so happened that the Palma building the von Moltke family moved into had a 3D scanning studio on the ground floor.
Peering through the shop window, von Moltke started musing about bronze casting, cubism, 3D technology… and how to combine these into reinventing himself. The eureka moment came while he remembered the 1980s cult comedy Max Headroom, a computer generated talking head.
Thus began his rebirth into Alex von Moltke, digitised portraits in bronze. Von Moltke is used to having naysayers say nay, and his latest endeavour is no exception.
“When people say it can’t be done, I reply: No, it can’t be done by YOU.”
“How many times have I heard people tell me ‘it can’t be done!’ To which I reply: it just means it can’t be done by YOU!’
Me, I like challenges. Of course there have been many hurdles, but I overcome them by thinking out of the box. The ideas just keep coming; when I’m out walking the dogs, when I’m in the shower, everywhere. Now I spend my time networking to find clients for my bronze art.”
It shouldn’t be difficult to find clients. I, for one, would love to have one of these beautiful pieces of art in my house. And with all the money I’m saving by self quarantining at home, I can now afford it too. But, while fairly narcissistic, I think I’ll choose someone who isn’t me. I’ll probably go with Winston Churchill. Or my mother.