ARTIST INTERVIEWS

Armand Wachelder: In the Studio

Armand Wachelder is currently based in Brussels, Belgium, which he finds an inspiring place to live and work.

Armand Wachelder

Armand Wachelder

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.

Breaking News  (November 2018)

Breaking News (November 2018)

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?

Winter Solstice  (2013)

Winter Solstice (2013)

Red Horse Love  (2015)

Red Horse Love (2015)

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?

The Painter’s Garden  (2016)

The Painter’s Garden (2016)

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.

Armand planting new vegetation in the jungle (2010)

Armand planting new vegetation in the jungle (2010)

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?

Jungle  (2012)

Jungle (2012)

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.

Ashes to Ashes  (2018)

Ashes to Ashes (2018)

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

Urzsula Gogol: In the Studio

Urszula Gogol is a Chicago-based Digital Artist.

She has developed a unique approach to making art. Fascinated by complex surfaces and colors, Urszula uses 21st century techniques to create original digital paintings. She starts by taking photographs as she makes her way through the city on foot.

2.2 MM Steps Later

2.2 MM Steps Later

Several of her Prints are now part of a permanent collection at Sophy Hyde Park Hotel in Chicago and Historic Railway station in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, recently converted into a public space.

We asked Urszula to share with us her experience of being an artist – what she does, and how

Picking the right route for today. Occasionally stopping to chat with post carriers and people walking dogs. Each route is 2-5 miles.

TVG: Urszula, it’s great to have this opportunity to connect with you. Let’s start with what many people are wondering: what is Digital Art?

Thanks, for taking your time to talk to me.

Digital Art it’s a new emerging art form that falls under category of New Media - it’s still in its early stages.

To explain I would draw an analogy to the onset of Mixed Media art which emerged in the mid-20th century and defined as such when artwork could no longer be classified as one traditional pigment painting, or handmade collage, or darkroom-processed photography, or found-object sculpture.  It combines more than one technique or medium brought under one umbrella of Mixed Media Art. Its final product is a multilayered art piece, created by physical manipulation and application of materials by hands, onto a solid surface.

Urszula takes picture

Urszula takes picture

Similarly in 21st century a new Fine Art - Digital Art category, is formed that combines different techniques under one umbrella. Its final product is also one-of-the-kind art pieces but the output and production differs. A digital art is a multilayered art piece created by manipulation of image through digital techniques and software on a digital devices, that becomes an extension of your hands and it’s then outputted by a printer. The software options for digital artists are many. And just like Mixed Media, it runs across all gamut of techniques that can produce a 2D art piece.

TVG: To create Digital Art, how do you work? What is your process?

I don’t have a physical space that I call my art studio. I am a 2D Digital Artist. I work remotely. My whole city becomes my studio, so, it is more an art practice. I walk 2 to 3 miles a day, taking pictures, collecting inspiration. Then, I edit and paint on my laptop in the neighborhood coffee shop that I happen to be walking in. 

All my artworks are a computer generated paintings and collages. My Digital Art Studio Practice combines: Digital Photo - both capturing and editing, pixel based image manipulation and layering, creating vector based patterns. Also I use a Fine Arts background as a references for composition and color, employing a graphic design software, using Fine Art brushes in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.

At the cafe

At the cafe

The final step is a visit to a local Fine Art printer for color tests. My final output comes out as a 2D Fine Art Inkjet Print called Giclee. Today’s printing technologies are able to achieve an Archival/Lifetime Warranty - prints on substrates, like paper and canvas, that are similar in durability and collectability to traditional created art. My Prints are always true in color to its onscreen digital paintings.  

For me and many artists like me, Digital Arts are is still uncharted territory. That is what I find so exiting about it! 

I do experiment a lot and I love the exploratory aspects of this new medium. I am constantly adding more tools and techniques to my current art practice.

TVG: Tell us about your journey to become a Digital Artist.

At heart I still consider myself a “Fiber Girl.” I studied Fiber Art Material Studies for 6 years using traditional textile/fabric components to create non-functional sculptures. While the techniques of hand weaving, sewing, plaiting, embroidery and silkscreen were seen more as a domestic endeavor or a craft, I was determined, by exploring, to be part of new movement to elevate the Fiber Art to the Fine Art status that it deserves.

Printing

Printing

There is always an asterisk to my all art mediums.

It’s never as easy to introduce yourself as Fiber Artist or Digital Artist without a paragraph-long explanation.

Coming out from the Department of Fiber/3D Sculpture/Installation at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art), I arrived at SAIC (the School of the Art Institute of Chicago) with the expectation of continuing my labor-intensive fiber practice, but I caught the digital bug.

Looking through photos. Starting by drawing, referencing shapes and colors from photos and working on patterns and textures. After that, picking out a color palate. Then, working back and forward between Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.

I experimented with different outputs, video, photography, digital and graphic design software. I quickly realized and embraced the idea that I can use a computer or other electronic device to produce art. After grad school, I took an internship in a branding agency. There, I learned graphic design and worked on the commercial level for a while

TVG: Tell us about a project that has clarified things for you.

I guess it would be “Cross Sections,” a photo series that I started last year as a blue print, for a project that was going to be 2D tree rings, handwoven from reclaimed paper. This project took on a life of its own, and after a month of taking photos, I decided to continue and keep it as photo series. It is now 500 images large.

Leaving “Cross Sections” in its original, digitized, raw-documentary format, with some processed components, has become my final leap from Fiber Art into Digital Art.

TVG: When you visit a museum or a gallery, what do you most enjoy?

I love 3D and Installation Art and Video Art.

I always get too close to paintings in museums, walking around trying to touch them, to feel understand its spacial references. I found that is simply easier for me just to experience 3D/ Installation Art without getting in trouble, alarms going off.

But I enjoy 2D abstract art a lot. My first autobiographical art memory is Kandinsky’s “Composition VIII” (1923). As a child I always wanted to live in that painting.

I still do.

The new sieries  Axial

The new sieries Axial

Working with local Fine Art printer, ordering printing samples on 5 different substrates. 4 kind of paper and canvas.

Each of art series contains at least 20 digital paintings. However one number can go from A to F so series can end up with 40 variations.

In this way, being a Digital Artist allows me to be able to freely move around a separate components of my painting, as I move around layers on the screen and rearrange them as I see it fit.

Today I really enjoy the freedom of not having a physical studio space with actual art objects.

I enjoy a compacted, non-invasive-to-environment art practice. I enjoy exploring my immediate eco-system and having my work outputted/printed to order.

For a while I thought, I will miss the material-manipulation aspect of art-making, but how I work is liberating.

The labor-intensive component that I always enjoyed is still there through the physical scouting on foot and long hours in front of screen.

Bruce Blanchette: In the Studio

Bruce Blanchette

Bruce Blanchette

Bruce Blanchette is known in the New England area for his large, multi-media wall sculptures. Though his works are sometimes confused as paintings, Blanchette has said, "I've never considered myself a painter. I really am a three-dimensional guy". We met him at his Walpole studio. Surrounded by scattered woodlands and an assortment of bonsai trees, (an unusual sight for a New Hampshire home), Studio 8's outer appearance is anything but telling. Once we entered, we were confronted with what looked like an apocalyptic hardware store. Paint cans, spray paint, brushes, rollers, stirring sticks, boxes of screws, and power tools were strewn about the room, stacked on every surface. The three of us each found a seat, and soon enough, everything made sense...

So let’s talk about your upcoming show at the AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH. You’ll be unveiling some new work, which you must be both excited and nervous about?

[Hesitantly] Uh... well, the first thing they want, aside from the work, is for me to give a talk at the opening [laughs].

Why the laugh?

Well… talking is not my forte. In fact, the other night when I was practicing for this talk in front of my wife, she said my mind was like a runaway train! I’ve decided to use that line early on so that the crowd knows when to pull me back in. The key really is to not talk too much. Look- I’m an artist. I like to make art. I don’t want to over-explain what I’ve done. I’m leaving it up to the viewer to decide how they feel about my work.

But you don’t leave it up to the viewer completely, do you? You do leave something for them to bite into…

Well, yes. What I do is title the pieces, you know, to give viewers a little snippet or starting point with which to view the work. Calling them “Untitled” doesn’t help much in that regard.

“ I want viewers to understand, even if just a little, what mindset I was in when I created these.”

Ah, so that’s where you stand on the title debate! You know, many artists, including myself, are hesitant to give titles to the work for fear of influencing viewers too much. Now, your titles are sometimes quite explicit. You don’t worry you’re giving away too much information?

Well, no, because my work is communicating a message and it’s important to me for viewers to [from the title] know where I’m coming from. An example is my new work for the upcoming show, which I’ve called Dead Earth Allegory (the river remembers). I want viewers to understand, even if just a little, what mindset I was in when I created these.

That makes sense, especially for work that’s as pointed as yours. Now, speaking of this new work, what has your process been like? How did you begin- with a sketch, or no plan at all?

You know, these pieces have undergone many, many transitions… I did sketch on the panels initially, but before that even took place, I knew I wanted to get away from regularity in my work. I’ve done a lot of square and rectangular pieces, very formal looking, very nice on someone’s wall… but I wasn’t interested in accommodating someone who wants a painting over their couch. I wanted to create a series that held interest beyond that, that lingered beyond those formal qualities.

Sure, but how did you even start something like this?

Chance. I cut out shapes in paper and kept rearranging them over and over until something clicked. I mean, I want to get away from my work being seen as paintings, because I’ve never considered myself a painter. I work in relief. So part of that, for this series, was to change the shape.

Discussing artwork

Discussing artwork

So what materials are you using?

Hollow-core doors, for one! Normal house paint, styrofoam, tape, used paint rollers, caulking, gesso, ink- you know, mostly household items or things I can get from the lumberyard or hardware store.

Really? Is that because you’re trying to create ambiguity for the viewer regarding your process? As in, you don’t want the viewer to understand how the artwork was made?

No, not at all. I don’t care whether the viewer knows what I used to make the work or not. My work is materials, and it starts with materials. I see fascinating objects in my every day- on the street, around the yard, in my local hardware store- and I adapt them for a different purpose than they're intended for. I push them to their limits. I cut them, manipulate them, combine them with other stuff...

“ I collage, I assemble, but I don’t know where I’m going when I start. And that’s key.”

Well whether intended or not, this process you’ve just described creates mystery in the work- and I’m saying this as a viewer- that draws people in. Your work is like a myth, because it looks as though it’s just appeared and there’s no explanation for how they got here. They just are.

Well, [grinning slightly] I don’t go out of my way to tell an audience how I’ve made something. I just love to manipulate materials, and that has always been the case. Even as a child I was building things, putting things together, and that’s been a uniting factor in my work. I collage, I assemble, but I don’t know where I’m going when I start. And that’s key.

You just try to work autonomously?

Yes, because as I’m working, things creep in from the outside world without my knowing and influence the work. Politics, nature, just everything in your world, and these all expand in your work somehow.

“I want these pieces to suggest what our civilizations might look like in 300 or 500 or 1000 years.”

You do, however, start with a kind of base idea or feeling, right? Where do you find these?

Well, I’m often inspired by things I’m reading. The Lost City of the Monkey Gods by Douglas Preston is a book about finding buried South American civilizations, places completely overgrown and underground. They were discovered by using laser photography. Basically, lasers are fired at the ground and reflected back, and scientists can use these reflections to create a topographic map of the area. Isn’t that fascinating?! I’m using this idea to create these sort of fantasy-scapes, an idea I started to explore with the Rift Series-

The same Rift Series that’s showing with us?

Exactly. And it’s still an idea I’m exploring, especially in my new work. I’m always thinking about what will our planet look like in the future? Will it be a glacial-scape, will it be desert? I want these pieces to suggest what our civilizations might look like in 300 or 500 or 1000 years. After all, our past was once someone’s future!

And what other artists have you looked at in order to find inspiration?

In the past; Motherwell, Rauschenberg, and Kline are a few. Currently, David Maisel, the aerial photographer, and Anselm Kiefer, whose work is amazing! I really enjoy the tactility, the lusciousness, in their work.

Well you and Rauschenberg certainly share many similarities where your process is concerned. The layering of household items, the thick surfaces, manipulating and experimenting with materials…

Yes, absolutely! And you know, he was quite controversial in my day. In fact, the painters I studied under were often offended by his work, though they were quite conservative. Actually, I have sort of a funny story on one of these guys. I’ve never been a painter, and that’s just because my mind doesn’t work that way. I don’t deal in fussy surfaces. I really am a three-dimensional guy. I have to put things together, I have to assemble. In fact, I never touched oil paint until I started college! So, we were asked to go home and paint a still life of an apple. Me, not having any painting experience, made this thick, gross interpretation of an apple with a palette knife. The next class when I brought it in, it was ripped asunder by my professor. I was so embarrassed, I ended up writing a poem about the experience... and the professor... to work through it.

[Laughing] No! Well, the Cubists rejected Duchamp at first too. Though you’ve been experimenting with different media and aesthetics your entire career, your work has drastically changed in the last couple years. Why is that?

B: Well, I’ve finally found me. The work I’m making now feels like me, and although it’s eclectic, it feels right. I do some photography, a little writing, drawings, but they all feed each other and are different parts of the whole me, the whole me as an artist.