Armand Wachelder is currently based in Brussels, Belgium, which he finds an inspiring place to live and work.
He has traveled quite a bit, which he believes has evolved his perspective and provided many fresh ideas. Armand attempts to capture his experiences in paint. He says, “I like to challenge myself, artistically, to go beyond and to step over my own shadow. It takes a bit of courage, but this is how I grow, both as a human being and an artist.”
Armand made a series of 18 drawings for a recently published book of poetry, Camps of Death, by Dick Gebuys, about the death camps of World War II. One of Armand’s works, Ashes to Ashes - a small tushe and ink drawing - is the front cover of Gebuys’ book.
At the tail end of a busy month, we were able to connect with Armand, to hear about what inspires him.
TVG: Armand, help us to get to know you. When did you first consider yourself an artist? What led you toward the path of making art?
At home we had a bookshelf full of art books. Michelangelo, DaVinci, van Gogh, you name it. My father taught me the basics of drawing and painting. I used to help him out whenever he was doing a paint job in the neighborhood. That is how I learned how to paint a door, a radiator, letters on a wall. Paint has been available to me for as long as I can remember, as a means of self-expression, but also as an application.
As I grew up, I became fascinated by the graffiti murals popping up all over the neighborhood. So, I started sketching up my own designs. I completed my first ´piece´ when I was 11 years old.
TVG: On your website, you describe being inevitably addicted to the paint and the brush. How can the addictive pull of the raw materials of art be both a challenge and an inspiration for you?
Painting never gets boring. It is an extremely peaceful activity. I used to dislike aquarelle. But later on, I figured out why: because it is difficult to get a good result. A spray can is much easier, faster, more direct.
Nowadays I am more patient.
TVG: With regard to colour, it seems that you paint with caution and at the same time abandon. How do you think about and apply colour, when you work? Or, is your effort more intuitive than rational?
I use a limited selection of pigments, which I can transform into any natural colour. Light is an unlimited material.
People tend to think that colour originates from a tube. But of course this is not so. Just turn off the lights and you may understand that it is a real science.
I do not believe there is an ´end´ to artistic expression. As a person who has spent quite a few years to discover, develop and improve his skills, I can now say that the only true limitation I encounter whilst creating, is my own imagination.
TVG: Two works, especially when considered side by side, are particularly striking. On one hand, Red Horse Love (2015) is colored deeply and vibrantly, and the composition gently touching. On the other hand, Winter Solstice (2013), while juxtaposing summery green leaves against the cool greyness of December, the composition feels both busy and eerily empty. Tell us about these two paintings - where were you, what were you thinking or feeling as these artworks came to be?
I was studying the behaviour of horses, observing them, making drawings. Noticing subtle details. They are curious, but they dislike noise. Even the sound of my pencil touching the paper makes them quite nervous already. Friends taught me how to befriend them; how to approach them, where to touch them. When two horses like each other, they bite each other’s backs. That is the observation where the Red Horse Love originates from.
Looking out of the window of my factory studio in Maastricht, contemplating on the absence of light on that mid-winter day, I found meaning in that greyness, in that absence of light, that Winter Solstice´intends to represent. The seasons are always present in my work, mostly unintentional, as it is a logical consequence of working with natural light as a material. As a small, quick work, it may be the first piece in which the absence of light becomes a thing. There is a lot more to explore along that path, but as with most of my creations, the right place, the right moment, the right context is needed.
TVG: You have created a series of works on paper titled Flowers. What's behind this series?
They are studies for a larger work. I grew all those flowers myself; I love gardening as a contrast to the hectics of everyday life. One day, in 2007, I visited the grave of Marcel Duchamp. ´It is always the others that die´ has been written on his stone. It is this experience that gave me the idea to do a large work that ultimately became ´the painters garden´.
However, I strongly felt that I was not ready for it just yet. So first I created a wonderful community garden. After that I spent a full season sitting in the garden making these flower aquarelles, documenting everything. Then I stretched a large canvas, painted the grave, and let all the flowers overgrow it.
Life is transitory.
TVG: And yet, life is a series of experiences. Experiences that inform perception. In your view, what aspects of our global culture, in the Age of the Anthropocene, are the most fundamental, the most important to consider?
I have always been interested in language. And it can be quite beautiful, too. ´The limits of my language are the limits of my world´ - a well-known quote from the late philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein - is exemplary for the way that we define and understand the world and each other through language.
What used to be the exclusive domain of philosophy and the arts, is now being extended to a field of psychology that is called ´experimental aesthetics´. It is an emerging field of research that I am very interested in. I am studying their discourse, primarily to gain a deeper understanding of why people find things beautiful, or disgusting, for that matter.
Secondly because I understand that beauty is essential, both in our culture, and in nature.
That said, I do believe that art conceives a universal language.
Back in 2006 I was asked to participate in the international drawing project DINA4. These drawings were the start a concept which I have been developing on and off since then. I used actual images that appeared in the international media, and as I perceived these images to be absolutely horrific, I decided that I should first destroy them, as they were destroying me, and reconstruct them, adding an aesthetic element to them, making them beautiful.
TVG: There is much reference to nature in your work. In the work Jungle (2012) it is apparent that you have worked from an experience. Where did this the inspiration for this work originate from?
Through my work for Caretakers of the Environment International, I had the opportunity to travel to Indonesia in 2010. There I visited and resided in the mountainous rainforest of Malang, Java. We tend to see the jungle from a romantic perspective, but it is nothing like that. It´s a hot, moist, inaccessible and dangerous place. You´ll have to dress up properly, fully covered, wearing gloves and a hat, to not be eaten by leeches and mosquitoes on the spot. You can´t just sit down to make a drawing, or stop for a selfie, because you do not want to disturb the wildlife - getting attacked by an Orangutan is the last thing you would wish for. I met the indigenous people living in these mountains and took part in their rituals. I am unable to describe it, you would not believe me! But they live by a different set of rules, and your abiding by those rules is essential for your own safety and well-being.
I feel no empathy whatsoever for those that are destroying these natural habitats. It´s not only about trees, about deforestation, but also about biodiversity. We are losing species, destroying the homes and identities of the people that lived there for generations, and there is no justification at all for that, just short-term profit.
After I returned home from this adventure, I attempted to capture my experiences in paint. My memory was the only thing I could relate to, as I had little opportunity to draw or make pictures. As I tried multiple versions, eventually the work Jungle stood out. It shows the beauty, the inaccessibility of that place. And maybe a bit of the hostility, as well.
TVG: You’ve just wrapped up a collaborative effort with a well-known Dutch author, Dick Gebuys.
Tell us about the image, Ashes to Ashes, that decorates the cover of his recently published book, Camps of Death.
What did you feel was important to communicate, in this work?
I made a series of 18 drawings for this book of poetry.
This specific work, Ashes to Ashes, a small tushe and ink drawing, is the front cover of the book, which is about the death camps of World War II.
In the poem, “A Shaved Head,” Gebuys explains what has been one of his deepest shocks in the treatment of the Jews, the Roma and the Sinti by the Nazis: the elimination, step by step, of any own identity. Like heads of the girls were shaved, they lost the essence of their identity.
So, yes, Ashes to Ashes wants to communicate, though it should be viewed in context; these poems are so bitterly true, reveal so much inhumanity, that I struggled to add drawing to them.
As I felt humbled by the poetry, there had to be a sense of beauty in the drawings, to make the historical truth of the matter a little less unbearable.
“With bowed head, she walks along the path full of mud, ashamed she looks left and she looks right, she feels the pain, that she cannot be herself no longer, that she cannot be no longer, that she is no longer. She feels the pain that like she looks now, in that striped pyjama, walking on that old scuffed slippers, without her own beautiful hair, she doesn’t want to be herself no more.”
— Camps of Death, Dick Gebuys