photo by Constanze Suhr
Enda O’Donoghue - an Irish man in Berlin - is used to living parallel lives. Enda pursues his painting passion while continuing a career as a web designer. However, his balance is gradually shifting towards art creation. His recent paintings, for which he uses images randomly found on the Internet, embody all the ideas that have been hunting him over the years of diligent work in his studio located in an old piano factory: throwaway moments, everyday randomness, “in-between” spaces, places and situations. Enda saves facts from the lives of total strangers from being forgotten. By the paintings he makes them reappear in time with completely different consequences.
“The process of painting from these images is slow and methodical, firstly dissecting the image into sections on paper and then working over periods of weeks or months to reconstruct the image section by section as a painting. Echoing and playing with the nature of digital image processing and compression algorithms, the painting process is highly analytical and methodical and yet filled with randomness and inviting of errors, misalignments and glitches.”
sm: I would describe your art as digital impressionism. Alike impressionists, you picture brief everyday moments and capture same dynamic range of light on the canvas. The use of pixels instead of dots is a brilliant modern reinterpretation.
eod: “Digital impressionism” is an interesting take on what I do and certainly there are very strong connections there, as you mentioned. As you see the paintings are built up in block-like sections, a bit like a jigsaw puzzle or, maybe more appropriately, a game of Tetris.
sm: How do you filter the photographs to single out the ones used for paintings?
eod: The filtering of images is an ongoing and continuingly evolving aspect of the work. I collect images that I find interesting online, most recently a lot of them are coming from Facebook. I am not looking for any one thing in particular and I like that there is a lot of chance and randomness in what I find, but I do have themes in mind, which guide my selection or at least offer a starting point. With the most recent paintings the main theme was of people photographing themselves and at the moment I am looking at wedding parties.
From the selection I find online I narrow these down by printing the images that seem to offer some potential to be painted as regular sized photographs, this is purely based on my experience of what types of images seem to work best for the treatment of my process. Then these photos are pinned to two walls in my studio, which at this stage has been wall papered with hundreds of photos. And as I spend the days and weeks working beside and looking at these walls of images, I again narrow down my selection by pulling out images that I would like to work with. I tend to select them in groups of 2 or 3 rather than individually.
sm: At present you live in Berlin - it seems that Berlin has become the European mecca for young art. What is life for an artist like yourself there? What are your relations with galleries?
eod: I’ve been in Berlin 8 years now and yes it has over those years truly become a magnet for artists. The rent is cheap here and there are a lot of empty buildings which make great studios. My own studio is in an old piano factory which has been populated by about 30 artists for the past 15 years. The city is also full of museums and galleries (maybe too many) but also some really great artist run galleries and project spaces. I have been working with a gallery called Hunchentoot here for the past 3 years. In September I had my most recent solo show with them and they have also been very supportive of the exhibitions that I have curated outside the gallery. I’ve been involved in organising and curating about 3 or 4 group exhibitions in Berlin so far, the most recent one was in 2009 called “der Prozess” and is written about here.
sm: One more reason to visit Berlin… And what made you move here? What were the beginnings? How did you balance artistic activities with your web-designing career?
eod: Good question, why did I move to Berlin. I ask myself that a lot. Actually it is very hard to answer that. I must admit that I knew very little of the then growing reputation of Berlin as a city full of artists and galleries. So I didn’t move here for the art world. I think at the time I naively expected Berlin to be a good place to find work in web and multi-media development and I knew very little about how bad the employment situation was in Berlin. So it was a very blind move in retrospect. When I came here I worked with one Internet marketing company for about 6 months and then worked freelance first as a web designer, some teaching of video editing and web design and then more on the programming side of web development. Finding a balance between that work and getting to the studio has not always been easy but the balance has shifted more towards making art these past couple of years and also the web work has informed my art work a lot and not only from the point of view of the images that I work with and the internet as a source but also the actual painting process, which plays with the idea of programming.
sm: How did you come across the piano factory?
eod: My studio is in a former piano factory called the Atelierhaus Mengerzeile, which has about 25 artist studios and a quite nice gallery space called the Kunsthalle M3. I discovered the place about 5 years ago, when I went to an exhibition opening there, got talking to one of the artists who had a studio in the building and it turned out that there was a free space there at the time. I had been working in a small studio in an empty ground floor apartment of the building where I was living but I wanted to make bigger work so the space in Atelierhaus Mengerzeile came along at ideal moment for me.
sm: Your studio space is great and the whole Kunsthalle idea is fantastic; we do envy you here in Warsaw. I wish there were more Thomas Henrikssons (one of the founders of AM) in the world.
Some of your topics seem a bit peculiar. What draws you to wedding parties? What is the thought behind picturing queues, waiting rooms, subway stations…? Your older topics tended to be a bit political. Then you switched to anonymous individuals..?
eod: I don’t have any political intentions to my work and I don’t see any of the older topics that I chose to be more political than the newer ones but I can of course see how it could be read that way. The topics that I have worked with have been guided partly by following or tracking the things that people are photographing from their daily lives and attempting to make sense of the recurring themes or trends that I see within that chaos. So yes, I think there are some peculiar topics within that and maybe that is also guided by my own desire to paint things which have never been considered before as fodder for painting. Also I am very interested in the idea that because of the possibilities that digital photography offers people take more photos and are maybe less precious about what they choose to photograph so the result is a huge amount of unedited throwaway moments.
My interest in images from spaces such as subways, waiting rooms and queues could be broadly grouped under the idea of “in-between” spaces, places or situations. These are all places that people spend a vast amount of time in, very much part of our contemporary landscapes, but in these places people are always in a state of waiting. I find this very interesting and also that these are all communal spaces and public yet anonymous and cold. From what I have seen looking at photos online for the past few years it has become very common for people take photographs when in one of these “in-between” places, maybe just to pass the time, maybe to document the situation and share where they are going or what they are waiting for and I suppose it is due to having cameras in mobile phones.
My recent interest in wedding parties as a theme has come from a fascination I have with the way the photo tagging system in Facebook works. If a Facebook “friend” of mine gets tagged in a photo then, depending on the privacy settings, it often gives me access to view the full set of photos in that series, which are the photos by a stranger and filled with other complete strangers. I have found that this has led me to see the photos from many strangers’ weddings, birthdays and other similar events.
sm: Your process of creation seems complex and labour intensive: it is interesting how you recreate the brief, passing moments into ones heavy with meaning. Now I look at them with a more physics-related frame of reference: timespace, relativity theory, elsewhere – reoccurrence of alike phenomena that have completely different consequences.
eod: Yes my process is very complex and labour intensive, what is quite interesting is that a friend of mine, a musician and composer, who visited my studio recently, described my process as a bit like the way jazz works, they create ridged structures and within them they improvise, which I suppose is what I am doing. Each of the sections that I work on in the paintings is completed in one go from start to finish and it is treated in isolation from the rest of the image, I try to divide the image into areas that can be dealt with just as abstract shape and colour so painting each section becomes almost like creating an abstract painting and within that it becomes about playing with the paint, indulging in the very material of paint and colour.
I am really interested in what you said about physics-related frame of reference, timespace and relativity theory. The idea of time is certainly an element in the way I work as these are painted over periods of time with no effort to conceal that, in fact the differences in the way I might paint one day to the next become exaggerated in a single image. The idea of “elsewhere” is great, what a great word, other places, other peoples’ lives. I’ll have to think more about that.
sm: Finally, what was your Shanghai affair this year? What are your observations on the art market in China?
eod: I had some work in an exhibition at the Expo in Shanghai in the Irish pavilion. It was a group exhibition presenting the work of about 20 contemporary Irish artists and was organised and curated by an Irish artist who lives in China and runs a gallery there called the 411 Gallery. Over the past few years I have been part of 3 other exhibitions in China with this gallery but this was their most ambitious project to date.
I’m not really sure what chances are there for me, I actually didn’t go to China this year for the Expo exhibition and I really don’t know much about the art market there but I have been greatly fascinated by a lot of the contemporary art that I have seen coming out of China over the past few years, especially the painting.
Enda O’Donoghue was born in 1973, Limerick, Ireland.
Selected Solo Exhibitions:
2010 “Is Feeling Lucky!” – Galerie hunchentoot, Berlin
2009 “Fragments” – Irish Arts Center, New York
2008 “after JoeBlogs” – Limerick Printmakers Gallery, Limerick, Ireland
2007 “after JoeBlogs” – Galerie hunchentoot, Berlin
2005 Kunstsalon Wilde Gans, Berlin
Selected Group Exhibition Biography:
2010 When a Stranger Calls a Friend of a Friend – Project 165, Toronto, Canada
2010 An Éire of the senses – Shanghai Expo, Irish Pavillion, Shanghai, China
2010 genre – Kunstraum t27, Berlin
2010 Die Rückkehr des Abakus - Fly, Görlitzerstr, Berlin
2009 der PROZESS – hunchentoot goes out 2, Leipzerstr 63, Berlin (Curator with Gregor Stephan)
2009 The Grid – MP5³, Milepost 5, Portland, OR, USA (curated by TJ Norris)
2009 “Unbegrenzt?” – Kunsthalle m3, Mengerzeile, Berlin
2009 Tease Art Fair – Cologne (with Galerie Hunchentoot)
2008 “Wagnis Wirklichkeit“ – Galerie Epikur Wuppertal
2008 “Presence 08” – Limerick City Gallery of Art
2008 5.Berliner Kunstsalon – Berlin (with Galerie hunchentoot)
2008 “Ein Platz” – Platz der Vereinten Nationen, Berlin (Curator with Gregor Stephan)
2008 Berliner Pool zur Lange Nacht der Museen – Berlinische Galerie, Berlin
2008 Gedanken zur Revolution – Universal Cube, Leipzig
2007 KIC Nord Art 2007 – Büdelsdorf, Germany
2007 “Television as Art”, Art Channel Galerie 13Sévigné, Paris
2007 Open Source Shorts screening, Darklight Digital, Dublin
2007 “Cead in China” in Shanghai, Hangzhou and Beijing, China
2006 Alternative Art Fair, Fabrikken for Kunst og Design, Copenhagen, Denmark
2006 “boulevART”, KunstHerbst Berlin 06, Kurfürstendamm, Berlin
2006 “Better than the Real Thing” – Four Gallery, Dublin
2006 Netfilmmakers at Overgaden – Institute for Contemporary Art, Copenhagen, Denmark
2000 Masters of Arts in Interactive Media, University of Limerick, Ireland
1999 Bachelors Degree in Fine Art (Painting), Limerick School of Art & Design
interview by Kate, text by Just | sublimotion
In the most general sense, Viktor Timofeev’s works are about analyzing systems. His first drawings came about when, having been skateboarding for 9 years, he developed a condition that for some time prevented him from skating and forced into a kind of isolation. Then he turned to his new hobby: art. In his works he creates a first person perspective allowing the viewer to embody his work, his limbs and his thoughts as he says. Born in then soviet Latvia, educated in the US and settled in Germany, Viktor gained a wide perspective, which, together with his curious mind, results in sharp statements proved true with his own life and work.
"I guess it’s also this balance of being in your world while being able to step back and acknowledge, think about its relevance, accessibility. Otherwise it’s like, “hey, I’m so into making this world of mine”, but then you think “well, why should anyone care?”
sublimotion: As far as the art is concerned, I noticed three particular themes of creation: 1. artists about nothing, 2. artists about themselves and 3. artists about something. You clearly contribute to the third group. I’m surprised by how conscious you are of what you’re doing. You’re quite critical about the arty art world but at the same time it feels like you already belong there. Don’t you?
Viktor Timofeev: Your comment on art… art about nothing in my experience can still be about something. I guess it comes down to how much about nothing it is. Nothing is a very loaded historical word, right? John Cage said “I have nothing to say and I’m saying it”… or was that someone else. Anyway, he was saying multitudes by maybe not saying literally too much. On the other hand, it’s also easy to gauge certain figures and their manifestos after they already entered the canon of art history and were deemed relevant. It’s much harder to say who is important now and why and if their work will age well or badly. I like a lot of ‘trashy’ art, work perhaps closely tied to the Unmonumental show at the New Museum in New York, though I think people that see my own work don’t expect that. I think it takes a lot of guts to make “trashy” sculpture, or a “bad” painting; you really put yourself on the line there. I suppose I’m jealous of it in a way. But I’m not sure this is what you mean by art about nothing. My personal pet peeve is art that attempts to look like something else without doing any of the dirty work, so to say. I guess that means when the work attempts to be about nothing but is really about something, and vice versa.
Artists making work about themselves is also interesting as a certain portion of that is present in any work…to an extent! I think the best work should always in one way or another be a reflection of yourself; where you come from, your interests… otherwise it’s hard to be genuine about your work. How that makes its way into art can be invisible, subtle or overt, but it’s there. I really enjoy looking through Latvian and Russian fairy tale books and illustrations, studying the worlds of primitive virtual reality of the first person shooters, like DOOM, Quake, with which I grew up and was obsessed with for a long time…, I enjoy architecture history, computer programming, skateboarding.. I have been doing all of these for quite a while, so it’s only natural that these things are somehow threaded in. Combining them to make interesting work that is both relevant and builds on art history is the most important part perhaps. I guess it’s also this balance of being in your world while stepping back and acknowledging, thinking about its relevance, accessibility. Otherwise it’s like, “hey, I’m so into making this world of mine”, but then you think “well, why should anyone care?”
Anyway, I think the best work out there maybe deals with all three of these things that you mentioned… It’s about a specific something and nothing at the same time, while also being quite biographical and personal?
sm: I hate to generalize and to squeeze the whole chaos of the world into some simplistic formulas - this is actually what my three themes of art actually are. What I wanted to indicate are the dominant themes of human creation. And not assessed by anyone but declared by the artists themselves. The mission of an artist has been to push the conceptual and imagistic envelope of what the society is willing to tolerate. And lift us to the new cultural level. Artists are self-selected to journey into the other. If they say “there is no hidden meaning in my art”, then it is a waste of time. There is a long list of issues about humanity to address, the whole universe of mind to be journeyed and no time for nonsense. However, nonsense or shitty art has a role to play in the ecosystem. And you are right that things get old in an unpredictable manner. But this is due to the fact that if the artist does not give their creation any sense, the viewer does. There must be sense! From what you’re saying I think we support the same vision.
VT: But how about when these statements, like “there is nothing hidden in my art” are said tongue-in-cheek, like my favorite Warhol quote “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” Or also Frank Stella’s “what you see is what you see”. We don’t even have to argue about the importance of such artists in the canon of art history. Warhol was too aware of what he was saying… so there are all of these layers in what he says.
We are definitely in agreement; it’s just fun to throw things back and forth. A general thing that I regard in a good work is passion, sincerity… a caring for work…hard work. That is not to say it cannot be cynical or have humor… I think good work MUST have some kind of humor, be it subtle or overt… just passionate… Polke is a good example.
sm: Actually, you picked examples of established artists who were also interesting thinkers. So, they by no means fall into the brackets of “no hidden meaning”. Their art is not only multilayered but also breaks out of the cycle of idea-recycling.
You are already represented by two galleries. How is it going? What are your expectations?
VT: I was lucky to start working with the two galleries; it was very natural and smooth. Hannah of Hannah Barry shipped one of my paintings from New York to London for Optimism group show in 2008 at her gallery. It received a good response and I met with Daniel Schmidt, who went on to start a gallery in Cologne the following year and asked me to participate. They are both young so there is constant mutual growth. They are both based in great art-hub cities, and have put me in touch with very interesting people. I don’t demand a lot, I’m just happy to have time and money to work endlessly. I had some new work at Art Cologne fair in April, which also fetched a good response so that was really exciting for me and am working hard for the next shows at the galleries in 2011.
Viktor Timofeev @ Art Cologne
Viktor Timofeev born 1984 Riga, Latvia. Lives, works in Berlin, Germany. Education: 2002 - 2008 BFA, Hunter College, New York. 2010, Adolf Loos-Preis.
2010 LOCAL_AREA_NETWORK[s], Hannah Barry, London
2010 LOCAL_AREA_NETWORK[s], Schmidt & Handrup, Cologne
2009 With Limited Means. Hannah Barry, London
2007 Drawing Life. The Canal Chapter, New York
2010 Step Toward Home. Dam Stuhltrager, Berlin
2010 Twenty Four Hour Performance. Robert Goff Gallery, New York
2010 You Are Free. Tape Modern, Berlin
2009 Zur Sache. Schmidt & Handrup, Cologne
2009 Dialects. Pushkin House, London
2009 Abandoned By A Third Dimension. Centre For Recent Drawing, London
2008 Optimism. Hannah Barry, London
2008 Myriad of Metaphor. The Stanton Chapter, New York
2007 These Bagels Are Gnarly. Cinders Gallery, Brooklyn
interview by Kate, text by Just | sublimotion
sublimotion: W dziedzinie sztuki zauważyłam trzy segmenty twórczości: 1. artyści o niczym, 2. artyści o sobie samych , i 3. artyści o czymś. Ty zdecydowanie zaliczasz się do tej trzeciej grupy. Jestem zaskoczona tym, jak świadomy jesteś tego, co robisz. Jesteś dosyć krytyczny wobec nadętego świata sztuki, a jednocześnie czuje się, że sam już do niego należysz.
Viktor Timofeev: W moim odczuciu sztuka o niczym wciąż może być o czymś. Myślę, że pytanie sprowadza się do tego w jakim stopniu jest ona o niczym. Nic jest słowem nacechowanym historycznie, nieprawdaż? John Cage powiedział „Nie mam o czym mówić, dlatego mówię o tym” (“I have nothing to say and I’m saying it”)… czy był to ktoś inny. W każdym razie, wyrażał wiele, dosłownie nie używając zbyt wielu słów. Z drugiej strony, łatwo jest oceniać pewne postacie i ich manifesty po tym, jak już dołączyły do kanonu historii sztuki. Znacznie trudniej jest wskazać kto jest znaczącym artystą współczesnym oraz dlaczego i czy jego sztuka będzie się starzała źle czy dobrze. Lubię sporo ‘tandetnej’ sztuki, prac ściśle związanych z wystawą Unmonumental w New Museum w Nowym Yorku, chociaż prawdopodobnie osoby oglądające moje prace nie spodziewają się tego. Uważam, że zrobienie ‘tandetnej’ rzeźby lub ‘złego’ obrazu wymaga niemało odwagi; w ten sposób naprawdę się wychylasz. W pewnym sensie zazdroszczę tego. Ale nie jestem pewny czy to masz na myśli mówiąc o sztuce o niczym. Mnie irytuje sztuka, która próbuje wyglądać jak coś innego bez zrobienia całej czarnej roboty związanej z tym. Można to ująć jako próbą bycia o niczym, a w rzeczywistości bycie o czymś, i vice versa.
Artyści tworzący prace o sobie też w pewnym stopniu mogą być interesujący, w jakiejś mierze jest to też obecne w mojej tworczości… do pewnego stopnia! Dobra praca powinna zawsze w jakiś sposób odzwierciedlać twórcę; to skąd pochodzi, czym się interesuje… w innym przypadku trudno tworzyć w sposób autentyczny. To, w jaki sposób to się uwidacznia poprzez prace, może być zupełnie ukryte, subtelne lub jawne, ale tam jest. Uwielbiam przeglądać litewskie i rosyjskie książki z baśniami i ilustracje, analizować świat prymitywnej rzeczywistości wirtualnej gier typu first person shooter jak DOOM, Quake, z którymi się wychowałem i byłem obsesyjnym fanem przez długi czas…, uwielbiam historię architektury, programowanie, skateboarding… Zajmuję się tym wszystkim już od dawna, więc to naturalne, że są wplecione w moją twórczość. Połączenie ich w taki sposób, żeby stworzyć ciekawą pracę, która jest zarówno relewantna i wnosi swój wkład do historii sztuki jest prawdopodobnie najważniejszą sprawą. Myślę, że chodzi również o równowagę pomiędzy zanurzeniem we własnym świecie i umiejętności spojżenia z boku, potwierdzenia jego znaczenia i dostępności. W innym przypadku wygląda to jak ‘ hej, jestem pochłonięty tworzeniem własnego świata’, a potem dochodzi się do ‘ale dlaczego kogokolwiek miałoby to obchodzić?’
W każdym razie, uważam, że najlepsze możliwe dzieło sztuki odnajduje się pomiędzy tymi trzema segmentami, które wymieniasz… Dotyczy czegoś specyficznego i ‘niczego’ jednocześnie, a także jest dość biograficzna i osobista?
sm: Nie przepadam za takim generalizowaniem i upychaniem całego chaosu tego świata w jakieś uproszczone formuły – tym właśnie są te moje trzy segmenty sztuki. To, co chcę zaznaczyć to pewne dominujące tematy ludzkiej twórczości. I nie ocenianych przez nikogo, ale deklarowane przez samych artystów. Misją artystów było poszerzanie granic konceptualnych i wyobrażeniowych, tego co społeczeństwo jest skłonne tolerować. I wzniesienie ludzkości na nowy poziom kultury. Artyści są samozwańczymi wędrowcami po tym, co nieznane. Jeśli mówią ‘nie ma żadnego ukrytego znaczenia w mojej sztuce’ lub ‘nie wiem, o czym jest moja sztuka’, wtedy sztuka jest stratą czasu. Tymczasem, lista problemów ludzkości, którymi możnaby się zająć, jest bardzo długa, cały wszechświat umysłu pozostaje do odkrycia. Nie ma czasu na nonsens. Jakkolwiek, nonsens czy ‘tandetna sztuka’ odgrywa pewną rolę w ekosystemie. Masz rację, że rzeczy starzeją się w nieprzewidywalny sposób. Ale jest to wynikiem faktu, że jeśli artysta nie nada sensu swojemu dziełu, odbiorca je nada. Sens jest konieczny! Sądząc po tym, co mówisz myślę, że wyznajemy tę samą wizję.
VT: A co jeśli stwierdzenia takie, jak ‘nie ma w mojej sztuce ukrytych znaczeń’ są powiedziane z przymrużeniem oka, tak jak mój ulubiony cytat z Warhola „Jeśli chcesz wiedzieć wszystko o Andy Warholu, spójż na powierzchnię moich obrazów, filmów i mnie samego, to jestem ja. Nie stoi za tym nic więcej.” (“If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.”). Lub „Widzisz to, co widzisz” (“What you see is what you see”) Franka Stelli. Nie ma potrzeby nawet dyskutować o ważności tych artystów w kanonie historii sztuki. Warhol był całkowicie świadomy tego, co mówił… więc jego stwierdzenie z pewnością ma wiele wymiarów.
Całkowicie się zgadzamy, jednak zabawnie jest poprzerzucać się myślami. Zasadniczą rzeczą, która sprawia, że oceniam dzieło sztuki jako dobre jest pasja, szczerość … dbałość o o tworzone dzieło… ciężka praca. Nie znaczy to, że dzieło nie może być cyniczne czy humorystyczne… Uważam, że dobra praca MUSI zawierać odrobinę humoru, subtelnego lub jawnego… po prostu poruszać… Polke jest dobrym przykładem.
sm: Wybrałeś przykłady uznanych artystów, którzy byli również interesującymi myślicielami. W żadnym razie nie wpisują się w przegródke pod tytułem „brak ukrytych znaczeń”. Ich sztuka jest nie tylko wielowarstwowa, ale wyłamuje się z procesu recyclingu idei.
Reprezentują cię już dwie galerie. Jak mają się sprawy? Jakie są twoje oczekiwania?
VT: Miałem szczęście podjąć współpracę z tymi dwiema galeriami, proces był naturalny i gładki. Hannah z galerii Hannah Barry przywiozła jeden z moich obrazów z Nowego Jorku do Londynu na wystawę zatutułowaną Optimism w swojej galerii w 2008 roku, gdzie został bardzo dobrze przyjęty. Tam też poznałem Daniela Schmidta, który otworzył swoją galerię w Kolonii rok później i zaprosił mnie do współpracy. Obie galerie są młode, co pozwala na ciągły wzajemny wzrost. Obie są usytuowane w miastach centralnych dla świata sztuki i zapoznały mnie z bardzo interesującymi ludźmi. Nie wymagam zbyt wiele, jestem zadowolony, kiedy mam czas i pieniądze by pracować bez końca. Niektóre z moich prac zostały pokazane na Art Cologne w kwietniu, co również przyniosło dobre opinie i było dla mnie naprawdę ekscytujące. Teraz ciężko pracuję nad kolejnymi wystawami w tych galeriach w 2011 roku.
Viktor Timofeev urodzony w 1984 w Rydze, Lotwa. Mieszka i tworzy w Berlinie, Niemcy. Wykształcenie: 2002 - 2008 BFA, Hunter College, Nowy Jork. 2010, Adolf Loos-Preis.
2010 LOCAL_AREA_NETWORK[s], Hannah Barry, Londyn
2010 LOCAL_AREA_NETWORK[s], Schmidt & Handrup, Kolonia
2009 With Limited Means. Hannah Barry, Londyn
2007 Drawing Life. The Canal Chapter, Nowy Jork
2010 Step Toward Home. Dam Stuhltrager, Berlin
2010 Twenty Four Hour Performance. Robert Goff Gallery, Nowy Jork
2010 You Are Free. Tape Modern, Berlin
2009 Zur Sache. Schmidt & Handrup, Kolonia
2009 Dialects. Pushkin House, Londyn
2009 Abandoned By A Third Dimension. Centre For Recent Drawing, Londyn
2008 Optimism. Hannah Barry, Londyn
2008 Myriad of Metaphor. The Stanton Chapter, Nowy Jork
2007 These Bagels Are Gnarly. Cinders Gallery, Brooklyn
interview by Kate, text by Just | sublimotion
sublimotion: Could you tell me what was on your mind when creating the symbol series (e.g. +, ИN, NNYY, Y, WWW, MXY, etc.)? Also, what is the ICON about?
Viktor Timofeev: Those series of paintings (+, NNYY etc.), came about when I was looking for ways of making patterns/tessellations that were both complex, able to have a degree of dynamism as well as regularity/repetition, and with a kind of narrative happening… and still be a modular system. It was also a kind of ready-made form, one of the most readily available ones, the letter in simple Arial font that it is. I wanted to keep that series extremely reduced, working only with black enamel on white background, while also working in parallel on more complex paintings that were extremely figurative. In the next works, this reduced world of symbol patterns makes its way into these other worlds in the figurative paintings and interacts with them, thereby making a much more interesting picture with parallel worlds. I work on the patterns before using them in a picture, where they can be treated like a skin, wrapping around invisible volumes, or flying fences.
The ICON_DO piece was done when I was very into footprints of buildings. The schism between planning a house top-down and experiencing it from the inside was very interesting, because plans reveal a kind of generative process that the inhabitant would never really take part in, and thus be treated as a kind of guinea pig, for example Lucio Costa’s plan for Brasilia. The cross was the most basic icon, one that divorced from its Greek counterpart could also function as a plus sign, or the Malevich cross, representative of the square moving in four directions simultaneously. Anyway, I wanted to create a kind of step-by-step growth of how the black cross gets constructed up into a cross-shaped building (think Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin skyscraper)…or re-interpreted today as the generic kind of Condo architecture that attempts to claim some sort of historical basis for its horrific hybrid aesthetic. I was also very much thinking about the relationship between drawing and painting, and how I would proceed to work on canvas. Drawing on enamel was a good middle ground, but still on paper. The piece was included in my show at Schmidt & Handrup in Cologne in January, where a prominent German architect/collector acquired it. There is just a bit of irony in that situation.
sm: I think I understand what you are driving at with the symbol series. However, you explain the concept from the point of realization: for you it was a mental exercise on technique, which was quite well set, because the works are graphically captivating. But, the fact that you used the symbols so weighed with meaning does not let the viewer be only visually satisfied…
I was thinking about it (+, NNYY,…) as a collision of transcendent ideas with human-generated symbolics. Ideas are perfect and unlimited while human cognition and ability to communicate/express is scarce, closed up in a number of symbols we conceive, recognize and use. Each person, while living: thinking, creating, communicating, etc. only juggles with those ideas with the use of the available symbols, unable to fully comprehend and realize them, but, while trying, they leave behind a pattern. Depending on a person and their particular awareness and insight, this pattern is more or less defined, more or less aesthetically satisfying as creation; person’s signature, mental DNA. And this is what you pictured. Far-fetched, isn’t it?
With the ICON, I was thinking about something you mention: that our immediate surrounding is built on something we do not realize from the inside. A building on a cross plan is a brilliant metaphor.
VT: The concept that ideas or a series of actions can be reduced to patterns, or personal DNA, mental DNA is really interesting. I guess ‘pattern’ might not be the best way to describe it, as it implies total regularity, right? It is interrupted regularity, or a series of ‘regularities’ repeated at irregular intervals. Or maybe a constantly changing dynamic system, though that would also beg the question of the rate of change and whether it is regular, exponential, or random. Anyway, many of these ideas were present when I was making the skins or patterns for that series, but more specifically they are present in my new work, which, as I explained before, conflates the worlds of the reduced communication of just ‘stacked symbols’ with the more realistic recognizable world of wooden logs, fences, rope… Let’s see where it goes.
interview by Kate, text by Just | sublimotion
sublimotion: Co miałeś na miśli tworząc tę serię symboli (np. +, ИN, NNYY, Y, WWW, MXY, itd.)? O czym jest też ICON_do?
VT: Ta seria obrazów (+, NNYY etc.) powastała w czasie, kiedy szukałem sposobów tworzenia wzorów/tesalacji, które byłyby jednocześnie złożone, w pewnym stopniu dynamiczne i powtarzalne, obdażone swego rodzaju narracją… wciąż pozostając modułowym systemem. Symbole, których użyłem były także pewną gotową formą, jedną z tych z łatwością osiągalnych, zwykłą literą zapisaną Arialem. Pracując tylko z czarną emalią i białym tłem, chciałem zachować skrajną prostotę tej serii. Równolegle pracowałem nad bardziej złożonymi, figuratywnymi obrazami. W kolejnych pracach, te zredukowane światy wzorów z symboli zaczynają wkraczajć w te nowe, złożone, i interagują z nimi sprawiając, że powstające obrazy są znacznie bardziej interesujące, właśnie dzięki obecności tych dwóch równoległych światów. Pracuję nad wzorami przed tym, jak używam ich w obrazie, gdzie służą za poszycie/skórę okrywające niewidzialne formy lub unoszczące się siatki.
ICON_do powstało, kiedy interesowały mnie plany architektoniczne. Zainspirował mnie rozłam pomiędzy planem domu a doświadczaniem go będąc już wewnętrz, ponieważ plany ujamują proces powastawania, w którym jego mieszkaniec nigdy nie mógłby uczestniczyć i w ten sposób służyza doświadczalna świnkę morska, jak to ma miejsce w przypadku projektu Brazylii Lucio Costy. Krzyż jest najbardziej podstawową ikoną, także krzyż który oddzialił się od swojego greckiego odpowiednika może funkcjonować jako znak plus, lub krzyż Malevicha reprezentującego kwadrat poruszający się w czterech kierunkach jednocześnie. W każdym razie, chciałem prześleczić krok po kroku to, jak czarny krzyż przeistacza się w budynek na planie krzyża (analogicznie do wieżowca Plan Voisin Le Corbusiera)… lub generycznym przedstawieniem architektury condo, która rości sobie historyczne znaczenie i tym kompensuje swoją okropną estetykę. Myślałem także o relacji pomiędzy rysowaniem i malowaniem, i o tym w jaki sposób będę kontynuował pracę z płótnem. Rysowanie na emalii jest dobrym kompromisem, jednak realizowanym na papierze. ICON_do znalazł się na mojej wystawie w galerii Schmidt & Handrup w Kolonii w styczniu tego roku i został kupiony przez znaczącego niemieckiego architekta/kolekcjonera. Jest w tej sytuacji odrobina ironii.
sm: Chyba rozumiem do czego zmierzasz w tej serii z symbolami. Jednak tłumaczysz koncepcję tej serii z punktu widzenia realizacji: dla ciebie było to ćwiczenie mentalne nad techniką, które zostało całkiem nieźle przeprowadzone, bo te prace są graficznie ujmujące. Ale sam fakt, że użyłeś symboli obciążonych znaczeniem nie pozwala odbiorcy zadowolić się wyłącznie wizualnie…
Ja myślałam o tej serii (+, NNYY,…) jako kolizji transcendentnych idei z symbolizmem wytworzonym przez człowieka. Idee są idealne i nieskończone, podczas gdy ludzkie poznanie i zdolność komunikowania/ekspresji są ograniczone, zamknięte właśnie pewnym zasobem symboli, które wymyślamy, rozróżniamy i używamy. Każda osoba żyjąć: myśląc, tworząc, komunikując, itd. tylko żongluje tymi ideami za pośrednictwem dostępnych symboli nie mogąc ich w pełni pojąć i zrealizować. ale podejmując te próby zostawia za sobą wzór. Zależnie od osoby i jej świadomości i wnikliwości, wzór jest mniej lub bardziej zdefiniowany, mniej lub bardziej estetycznie satysfakcjonyjący; osobisty podpis, mentalne DNA. I właśnie to zobrazowałeś. Zbyt daleko posunięte?
W przypadku ICON, pomyślałam o czymś, o czym ty również wspominasz, że nasze bezpośrednie otoczenie jest zbudowane na czymś, z czego nie zdajemy sobie sprawy patrząc z wewnątrz. Bubynek na planie krzyża jest tego doskonałą metaforą.
VT: Koncepcja, że idea lub seria zachowań może być sprowadzona do wzoru, lub osobistego DNA, mentalnego DNA jest rzeczywiście interesująca. Jednak wzór nie jest najlepszym słowem na określenie tego ponieważ zakłada kompletną regularność, tak? To jest poprzerywana regularność lub seria ‘regularności’ powtarzana w nieregularnych odstępach. Lub ciągle zmieniający się dynamiczny system, chociaż to stawiałoby pytanie czy częstotliwość zmian jest regularna, wzrastająca czy przypadkowa. W każdym razie, wiele z tych myśli towarzyszyła mi podczas tworzenia tych skór/wzorów dla tej serii, ale są one szczególnie obecne w mojej nowej pracy, która, jak juz wspominałem wcześniej, łączy świat komunikacji uproszczonej tylko do symboli z tym bardziej realiztycznym światem drewnianych klocków, siatek, lin… Zobaczymy dokąd to doprowadzi.
rozmawiała: Kate, tekst: Just | sublimotion
Tatiana Plakhova’s artwork not only catches the eye but captivates it for some good, uplifting moments. Her style resembles fractal art, but, amazingly enough, hers is a hundred percent handmade creation. One instinctively feels that the complexity of her lines and dots does not lead to a dead end, but to an inner universe aligning with our consciousness. Tatiana subdues what’s mechanical in favour of the manual, what’s scientific remakes into organic, what’s alien and distant she represents personally. Tatiana continues to develop her fascination with the patterns found in the vocabulary of folk art, but also the design of biological organisms and the architecture of cosmos. She combines the aesthetic experience of viewing art with that of observing nature. Her work embodies how balance and harmony can emerge from chaos; it plays with our natural curiosity to explore visual stimuli. The artist is based in Moscow, from where she reveals details about herself and her designs.
"… at the beginning, it was just my inner world, emotions. And everybody said it’s something alien…"
sublimotion: What is your technique and how did you come up with it?
Tatiana Plakhova: My technique is quite simple, it’s just lines and dots. All the images are “handmade” vectors, it’s not a result of processing or fractals. I like mathematical art, but when it’s made by a machine, it almost never looks alive. And the first image in this series I made during a phone call doodling on a piece of paper; I think everybody likes to draw while speaking. Then I did the same thing in vectors, with good music, and then I just couldn’t stop making next and next image.
sm: At first sight, your artwork indeed brings fractal art to mind, but immediately one can feel that there is much more to it. It is extremely complex, yet living, organic. Still, I couldn’t believe that it was all handmade! How do you create, what is your process from inspiration to creation?
TP: It depends on the mood and the theme I want to realize. The projects that remind stars were about forms, just one form morphing into another. Before making a biological project, I collected thousands of microscopy photos and botanical images, to feel it from the inside. Folk complexity originated in my love of the oriental and folk art beauty, and understanding, that almost every folk art is based on similar forms, it’s just arranged in different ways. So in spite of the separation of the different folk arts, there are united forms, and you can see in them something Indian, Arabic or Osman, Russian and so on.
sm: How does your imagined world correlate with the real world around you?
TP: Oh! It’s a good question. At the beginning, it was just my inner world, emotions. And everybody said it’s something alien. And now after the folk complexity collection I can see that imagined world in some oriental lamps, fabrics, and it seems that it’s not so alien, I just try to make the same things in digital way, I think it’s the future, and very soon holographic art and other digital ways of art will be all around.
sm: I feel that what you picture is something I know well, I know it as an idea, a notion, but you picture those ideas so well. For myself, I’m trying to understand what your subjects are. What do your works stand for?
TP: I don’t know. Just when I create my images I feel calm and right, and some people tell me that they feel the same when the look at them. It could be the subject.. I think that the way of making pictures with lines and dots somehow reflects philosophical ideas of emptiness.
sm: How does your location, Moscow, influence you? What is the thing that influences you the most in your life and work?
TP: I don’t think that my location influenced me. I think it is music first of all (like Boards of Canada or classical music), and I had a great teacher in the design academy, who has shown me many many ways in design, including infographics. So for sure infographics influenced me.
sm: What are you working on right now? Could you show some progress pictures?
TP: Now I’m working on a few projects, one is something floral..
sm: How do you distribute your art: where is it on show / available to buy?
TP: At the moment it’s in my web portfolios, and yes, it’s available to buy.
sm: Do you consider an art gallery the right environment for your art? Do you consider your art to be art in the “arty” way? Is it art or more design, what’s the purpose of it?
TP: I hope it’s art and design in one. Most of the images are 2 or 3 meters wide, and, yes, I think galleries are the right environment, and all the patterns could be used as a picture, or on the fabric, glass.
sm: What are your next goals / challenges / plans?
TP: Ohh! Too many! Making new collections, fabrics, animations, furniture, wall
art, many plans.
Tatiana Plakhova born in 1981 in Moscow, Russia. Graduated from Moscow State University in Social Psychology, and then studied in High Academic School of Graphic design in class of Tagir Safaev. She develops her design studio - Colour Atelier.
interview by Kate, text by Just | sublimotion
Prace Tatiany Plakhowej nie tylko zatrzymują wzrok, ale przykuwają go na kilka długich, podnoszących na duchu chwil. Jej styl przywodzi na myśl sztukę fraktali, jednak ten jej jest w stu procentach odręczną kreacją. Instynktownie czuć, że ta złożoność linii i punktów nie kończy się ślepym zaułkiem, lecz prowadzi do wewnętrznego świata współgrającgo z naszą świadomością. Tatiana okiełznuje to, co mechaniczne na korzyść tego, co odręczne; to co naukowe przekształca w coś organicznego; to, co obce i odległe przedstawia osobiście. Tatiana nieustannie rozwija swoje zainteresowanie wzorami zaczerpniętymi z języka sztuki ludowej, a także budowy organizmów biologicznych i architektury kosmosu. Łączy przeżycie estetyczne oglądania sztuki z tym, takie towarzyszy przeżywaniu przyrody. Jej prace ucieleśniają to, w jaki sposób równowaga i harmonia powstają z chaosu; grają z naszą naturalną ciekawością podążania za wizualną aluzją. Artystka mieszka i działa w Moskwie, skąd odsłania dla nas więcej szczegółów o sobie i swoich projektach.
„… na początku to był mój wewnętrzny świat, emocje. Wszyscy mówili, że to coś obcego…”
sublimotion: Powiedz jaką techniką tworzysz i jak do niej dotarłaś.
Tatiana Plakhova: Moja technika jest całkiem prosta, to tylko linie i punkty. Wszystkie odrazy są „odręcznymi” wektorami, nie są wynikiem procesowania ani fraktali. Lubię sztukę oparta na matematyce, ale kiedy jest tworzona przez maszynę prawie nigdy nie wygląda na żywą. Pierwszy obraz z tej serii narysowałam gryzmoląc na kawałku papieru podczas rozmowy telefonicznej, myślę, że każdy lubi rysować rozmawiając. Potem zrobiłam to samo w wektorach, i już nie mogłam przestać tworzyć jednego za drugim.
sm: Na pierwszy rzut oka twoje obrazy rzeczywiście przypominają fraktale, ale natychmiast czuje się, że jest w nich znacznie więcej. Są niezwykle złożone, jednak żywe, organiczne. Trudno mi było uwierzyć, że są narysowane. W jaki sposób tworzysz, jak wygląda proces od inspiracji do skończonego dzieła?
TP: To zależy od nastroju i tematu, jaki chcę zrealizować. Projekty, które przypominają gwiazdy polegają na formie, jeden kształt przechodzący w drugi. Przed rozpoczęciem biologicznego projektu zebrałam tysiące zdjęć mikroskopowych i botanicznych, żeby poczuć temat.
Folk Complexity zrodziła się z mojej miłości do piękna sztuki orientalnej i ludowej, i zrozumienia, że prawie każda sztuka ludowa oparta jest na podobnych formach, które są zaaranżowane w różny sposób. Tak więc wbrew podziałom na różne kategorie sztuki ludowej, ich formy łączą się i w każdej można odnaleść coś indyjskiego, arabskiego, osmańskiego, rosyjskiego i tak dalej.
sm: W jaki sposób twój wyimaginowany świat jest powiązany ze światem rzeczywistym wokół ciebie?
TP: O! To dobre pytanie! Na początku to był mój wewnętrzny świat, emocje. Wszyscy mówili, że to coś obcego. A teraz, po skończeniu kolekcji Folk Complexity widzę ten wyimaginowany świat w orientalnych lampach, tkaninach, i nie wydaje mi się wcale obcy, ja próbuję stworzyć te same rzeczy w cyfrowy sposób. Uważam, że to jest przyszłość i wkrótce sztuka holograficzna i nowe dziedziny sztuki cyfrowej będą wszechobecne.
sm: Czuję, że to, co przedstawiasz, jest czymś, co znam dobrze jako ideę, pojęcie, a ty obrazujesz te idee w fantastyczny sposób. Sama próbuję zrozumieć co dokładnie jest tematem twoich prac. Za czym przemawia twoja sztuka?
TP: Sama nie wiem. Po prostu kiedy tworzę te obrazy czuję sie spokojnie i dobrze, niektórzy ludzie mówią mi, że czują to samo oglądając je. To mógłby być właściwie ten temat… Myśle, że tworzenie obrazów z linii i punktów odzwierciedla filozoficzną ideę pustki.
sm: Jaki wpływ na ciebie ma Moskwa?
TP: Nie sądzę, żeby miejsce przebywania miało na mnie wpływ. Myślę, że pod tym względem pierwsza jest muzyka, na przykład Boards of Canada czy muzyka klasyczna. Miałam też wspaniałego nauczyciela na akademii, który pokazał mi wiele ścieżek w dziedzinie designu włączając infografikę. Tak wiec, z pewnością infografika wywarła na mnie wpływ.
sm: Nad czym teraz pracujesz?
TP: Teraz pracuję nad kilkoma projektami. Jednym z nich jest coś kwiatowego..
sm: W jaki sposób rozpowszechniasz swoją sztukę: gdzie można zobaczyć / kupić twoje obrazy?
TP: W tej chwili są dostępne poprzez internetowe portfolia, owszem, można je kupić.
sm: Czy uważasz galerię sztuki za właściwe miejsce dla twojej sztuki? Uwazasz swoją sztukę za sztukę w rozumieniu kolekcjonerskiego rynku sztuki? Czy to jest sztuka czy może raczej design, jaki jest jej cel?
TP: Mam nadzieję, że to sztuka i design w jednym. Większość moich prac ma 2-3 metry szerokości. Uważam, że galerie sztuki są właściwym otoczeniem. Moje wzory mogą być prezentowane jako obrazy lub na tkaninie albo szkle.
sm: Jakie są twoje kolejne cele / wyzwania / plany?
TP: Oh! Jest ich zbyt wiele! Stworzenie nowej kolekcji, tkanin, animacji, mebli, murali, bardzo wiele planów.
Tatiana Plakhova urodzona w 1981 w Moskwie, Rosja. Ukończyła Moskiewski Państwowy Uniwersytet na wydziale psychologii społecznej i Wyższą Szkołę Projektowania Graficznego w pracowni Tagira Safaeva. Rozwija własne studio projektowe – Colour Atelier.
rozmawiała: Kate, tekst: Just | sublimotion
I went to university to study illustration, it was always what I wanted to do, never any doubt. That was until a man called Jen Southam came along and showed me things. He showed me cut up photographs, constructed images, scribbled on negatives, painted on polaroids, photo-illustrations, manipulated, altered and distorted photography and many more wonderful creations… and I was tempted.
Always one to give into temptation I ended up studying photography. I learned to love the photographic image and the chemical aroma of the darkroom, but I was always an illustrator and I scratched and scribbled and painted on my photography, I pulled apart enlargers, painted on the negatives, cross processed, and cut and pasted I was in love with the whole process and of course I eventually scanned one of my images and opened it up into photoshop and my working method took on another dimension, for me this was the most intuitive workspace I had found to date. Photography / Paint / Photoshop. The visual language that I eventually developed has become a very versatile range of commissions over the last 12 years in publishing, editorial, advertising. I love this diversity, this unpredictability as to what subject I will be called on to deal with next. […]
As my illustrations headed in an ever more painterly direction I felt the need to indulge my photographic interests and this has led to the creation of an alter ago who deals with the constructed image with a very photographic aesthetic and is home to perhaps my most personal body of work… he’s lurking out there in cyberspace, where no one can hear you scream… unless you post it on a forum.
"When the avant-garde artists of the early twentieth century, such as the Constructivists in Russia or the De Stijl painters of the Netherlands, incorporated geometry into their work, it symbolised a belief that human rationality could pave the way to a brighter future, a social utopia for all. Unsurprisingly, given the turmoil of the Second World War, in which technological advances enabled the conflict to be fought on a wider and more devastating scale than previously imaginable, many began viewing the claim that rationalism and science equals progress with far greater scepticism. What is more, when a new generation examined the paintings and sculpture of their pre-war forbears they noticed that, although these works endeavoured to avoid the arbitrary and the accidental at all costs, in practice they were often imbued with personal and emotional concerns, with the hand of the artist stubbornly revealing its presence again and again" (Pryle Behrman)
[…] Jaakko Mattila plays with the dichotomies that result from merging the personal with the scientific, the mechanical with the handmade. Water colour has notoriously ephemeral qualities. Always respectfully handled by artists wanting to exploit its ability to behave in particular ways, it is, quite simply, a medium that will achieve much for an artist that knows how to leave it to its own devices and claim the ‘happy accidents’. Jaakko Mattila refuses to settle for that. He experiments with semi-mechanical processes and repetitive patterns and lines, to inject more rigour and control into the process of painting with this medium. By narrowing down opportunities for the paint to behave in a ‘freelance’ manner, the resulting work fidgets intriguingly between an aesthetic defined by process and one defined by chance.
Kate | sublimotion
AVC: Do you think this would even be a topic of conversation if you weren’t Shepard Fairey?
SF: It’s not just that it’s me. It’s me and it’s the Obama image that became the iconic image of the election cycle. So I already have a certain level of notoriety, and Obama is probably the most famous man on the planet now. I think it’s those two things together that the AP saw as an opportunity to send out a deterrent. They said, “This is well-known. If we go out with this case, we’ll serve several purposes here. We’ll say to all the bloggers who have lifted a photo or ripped a story and used it, ‘Hey, if you take stuff from the AP, you’re going to be punished.’ And they can do the same thing for artists, and they know the story’s going to get traction. Rather than beating up on little bloggers, it’s, “We’re going after this guy who got super-famous.” And they’re saying I got super-wealthy, which is not true, because I put all the money back into making more materials, which were disseminated free, giving it to the Obama campaign or donating it to charity. And there’s only a small amount of money that’s now in limbo that came in for the presidential inaugural poster after the lawsuit had started, so there’s a very clear record of my actions toward the Obama image as not a for-profit image. But they’re trying to portray it as a for-profit image. They’re trying to say, “Well, so what if you gave the money back to the Obama campaign or made more posters with it that you gave away free. You grossed a lot of money, and what you do with it after that, we don’t care. That’s your choice.” But they’re using it as an opportunity to say “Don’t mess with the AP.” And they’re writing their own story, which is a conflict of interest, of course.
AVC: In addition to your legal situation with the AP, you were recently arrested in Boston for graffiti. You spent a good amount of time running away from the cops early in your career, so is there a part of you that’s now a bit nostalgic for it?
SF: That was my 15th arrest for art, but what I’m realizing is, street art for me appealed because it was bureaucracy-free. It was images I want to share with people, and then taking them to the street and having an audience immediately. I’m a populist as an artist, so you know, whether it was T-shirts or street art or even doing album packaging for people, these are ways of putting my art in front of people that bypassed the usual channels in the fine-art world, which are very elitist, where you ask permission, and you have to deal with somebody who decides whether your art is appropriate for public spaces, and for whoever else is going to this art show or will go on this website. And street art is “Hey, I’m going to make things happen for myself without anybody else giving me permission.” Where I am now in my career is, I’m so well known that the Boston police are using me as a symbol, just like the AP. They’re saying, “Let’s arrest this guy, because his huge museum show in Boston is not just about him. It’s about a kind of culture that he is a symbol of. And he’s advocating the use of public space for more than just advertising. And that’s going to create an army of anarchists.” It’s this “slippery slope” theory. I mean, I actually saw editorials in Boston saying, “Next thing you know, if Shepard Fairey gets away with having his show at the museum and doing his street art, every house in Boston’s going to be spray-painted.”
AVC: You’re the gateway drug.
SF: Exactly. Fortunately, at this point in my career, I have a lot of people who want to offer me legal venues, so when I was in Boston, I was spending time doing 40 legal spots I had lined up. I had pages and pages of legal walls I could go do, and I gave away a lot of stickers and posters, and some stuff ended up on the streets in not-legal places. But I can’t control that.
AVC: But you do put your money where your mouth is. As an established artist, you don’t have to go out and hang your own work anymore, but you still do.
SF: Just because you’ve reached a certain level of success, that doesn’t mean you’ve become corrupted by the system. It’s a very unhealthy idea that people have, that it’s underground vs. the mainstream, that you’re either keeping it real or selling out. I mean, there’s good and bad in every arena. It’s funny, some people, the reason they’re in the underground is because they’re lazy and don’t make things happen for themselves. They shit-talk about everything, but they don’t do anything; they have this cool, rebellious, outsider persona that they inhabit, but it doesn’t actually have anything constructive about it, and they’re just, “Yeah, I’m underground, keeping it real.”
And then there’s people in the mainstream who work within the system, if that’s what you want to call it, that have great intentions, and then there are those people who abuse their power and are assholes. There are different types of people, good and bad, in every situation. So for me, the idea is that you don’t just go up the ladder and transition to a new point; you can fully move between every place in terms of success and culture, and work with the things that are the most constructive in every area. And people are going to say to me now—just because over the arc of my career, I’ve reached a certain point where I can make a living from art, and I’ve been able to do album covers for bands like Led Zeppelin—that means I sold out, or I don’t have the same ideals I once had. That’s ridiculous. But that is a big problem with success. They don’t see how they can get from where they are to that. So continuing with street art and all the things that have that punk-rock, do-it-yourself ethos that made me who I am just allows people to see how that evolution can occur, how to empower themselves, and that’s incredibly important.
AVC: Do you approach each new project with the same creative aesthetic, whether it’s a poster, CD cover art, a music video, or whatever?
SF: For years, working as a designer, I always had to put clients’ needs first. If I could also have my own agenda in there, I would do that, but what’s fortunately happened for me over the years is, as my artwork’s become better known, I’ve been able to be more selective about the projects I take. A lot of times it will have a seamless overlap between the client’s agenda and my own agenda. Meaning that, a movie poster for Walk The Line—I like Johnny Cash. They came to me because they saw a Johnny Cash art piece I did. So in my promoting what I think is sort of the iconic graphic representation of Johnny Cash, I’m also solving their problem by promoting their movie. It’s a win-win. What I did for that movie is exactly what I would have done for an art piece, with the exception that if you look closely at the silhouette, it’s Joaquin Phoenix, not Johnny Cash.
And then the Led Zeppelin cover, I’m a huge fan of that band, and that’s a case where I look at it as a cross-pollination opportunity. I like Led Zeppelin, and Led Zeppelin fans have a euphoric association with that band. Me getting to do the art in my style then gives those Led Zeppelin fans a euphoric association with my art style that’s going to make them a lot more open to looking at my work and maybe embracing it. Hopefully they feel like I’m being reverent to Led Zeppelin, but they also feel like, “There’s something new here, let me go check that out.” So it depends on the project, but there’s a lot of stuff now that I get to be selective about. There’s a lot of stuff in the past that you wouldn’t even know was mine, because I didn’t think my style was appropriate for the client. So I now look at every project based on what I want to get out of it, and what I think the client needs to get out of it. But now, I’m hardly doing any commercial work, except for stuff that I really want to do. The environment is something I care about, so rather than put my money into commercial projects, where it may not be something I feel a real cultural and emotional connection to, I’d rather do it for causes like Darfur or Earth Hour. I’m doing stuff right now for a thing called Cool Globe, an anti-global-warming initiative.
AVC: Have you ever turned commercial work down because of a conflict of interest?
SF: Oh, yeah. I’ve been making pieces dealing with environmental issues at least since 2004; I mean, I did stuff for the Sierra Club and the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge even back in the 1990s. But somewhere a little after 2004, Hummer hits me up. I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” I’ve also been approached by cigarette companies. It’s not that I care if someone smokes, but I don’t want to use my art to encourage someone to smoke.
AVC: Was there any part of you that wanted to take the Hummer job, then present them with say, sketches of a Hummer driving over a mound of dead babies?
SF: It’s funny, I did a poster that has this sort of jock-looking guy in a tank top that says, “U.S.A.” holding up a gas nozzle, and he’s got a front license plate that says, “Freedom isn’t free.” This idea of the Type-A patriotic person who’s like, “Hell yeah! Badass! Big truck!” They’re actually the reason the U.S. is fucked.
But yeah, there’s a lot of stuff that’s come in over the years, like these guys that manufacture cheesy metal skateboards. They knew I had a background in skateboarding, and they wanted me to help them market that. And when I finally cornered them and asked, “Well, what are the benefits? What are the merits of this project?” They were like, “Oh, well there really aren’t any. They’re just new and different, and we thought we could make a lot of money from it.” For years, I couldn’t make a living as an artist, and that’s the thing that people don’t understand—they think notoriety or exposure equals money. My publicity was far greater than my earning ability for many years, because it costs so much to print posters and put ’em up and make all these stickers and give ’em away.
And also, you know, I wasn’t doing that many art shows, I didn’t have a driving online business, so I had to work as a designer if I wanted to work in a creative capacity at all and make a living. A lot of people thought I got famous as a studio artist, then decided to cash in on it. But it actually was just a matter of survival for many years, and I felt it was really important for me to be able to say whatever I wanted with my street art and fine art, including all the anti-Bush stuff, which got a lot of people sending me e-mails saying “I’ll never buy anything from you again because you made that. You’re such an asshole.” Saying stuff like, “I bet you love Hitler.” Everybody’s now trying to come around, but it really hurt the market for my art. Working as a designer, I didn’t have to worry about fine-art market forces, because I had an income. But now that my art does well, I’m transitioning away from that. I have a couple of commercial projects that I want to do, like a Tom Petty 30-year box-set cover. I listened to him when I was a kid, so it’s not like I’m doing it for the money; I’m doing it because I’m a fan. I think a lot of artists have a fear of being called sellouts. But I just don’t see any advantage to working as a waiter instead of a designer just so you can say, “Boo-hoo, I’m keeping it real, this is what I have to do.” Working as a designer, I was able to take the money I made and put it into something I thought was very positive, while honing my skills at the same time. Am I going to take work from Halliburton? Am I going to design logos for the sides of cruise missiles? No.
AVC: Early on, you used the street a lot like people use the Internet today, just getting your imagery out there and in front of people. Do you think up-and-coming artists today have it easier or harder because of the Internet?
SF: Everything has pros and cons. The Internet wasn’t even an option for me, so one of the reasons I was so motivated to do street art was because there was no other outlet. Maybe if the Internet had been around then, I would have tried to do stuff that went viral and was clever and got me a lot of hits. But I don’t think so, because I’m mischievous. The idea of taking risks and having real-world consequences energizes me. I think the Internet has definitely made it easier for people to have stuff seen, but it’s also encouraged a level of ADD, where you see so much that if it doesn’t make an impact on you immediately, you don’t look at it.
But as a street artist, I would say the same thing for the street. People aren’t on their way to a gallery to see your street art. To can have an audience that actually gives a shit, you have to put something on the street that stops them in their tracks and gets them to look. So maybe you can say the same thing for the Internet. There’s the same principle that there’s a lot of digital noise out there, and you got to break through the clutter with what you’re doing. That applies pretty much anywhere. The great thing about the Internet is, it has made it easier for people who are clever and resourceful to promote themselves. But when it comes to the street-art world, there are a lot of people who realize if they go out and put up a few pieces of street art and photograph them really well, even if their locations weren’t actually that high-profile or dangerous, with the level of exposure they get from the Internet, with a large audience, they can maintain that rebel cache by having it be theoretically documented street art.
And that disappoints me about the Internet. Not that it’s inherently the Internet’s problem, but just that mentality of exploiting the perception that this is somebody who has done a lot of risk-taking when they really haven’t. The Internet hasn’t had a chance to really get to where people look at it with the proper level of scrutiny. There’s so much bullshit on the Internet. It doesn’t get filtered out because it’s such a new medium, so when you look at people who have blogs that are like, “I heard that so-and-so is gay” or whatever sorts of disinformation they want to disseminate, it’s going to be the attraction because there’s no backup you have to have for what you say on the Internet. People don’t have to do anything—they don’t have to get a driver’s license or a dickhead license to post anything on the Internet. And you could say that in a democratic sense, that’s great, but in a “more dumb shit I have to wade through to get to the stuff that is more accurate and meaningful” sense, it’s that much harder.
AVC: If you could go back now and talk to yourself in 1992 when you were first graduating from art school, what advice would you give yourself?
SF: I would say “Don’t try to be a screen printer for a living.” I did that from basically ’91 to ’96, and it was a miserable subsistence. Very, very low-profit. What I didn’t understand was that the kind of screen-printing I wanted to do was for art, not business, and it’s a hard way to make a living. If I could talk to myself, I would say “Learn the computer and contract out the screen-printing.” [Laughs.]
AVC: Before the election, you were known as the “Obey Giant Guy.” Now you’re known as the “Obama Poster Guy.” Do you worry about being totally boxed in by that?
SF: Yeah, of course. The Obama thing was a convergence of a lot of variables, some of which were in my control and some of which were not. And fortunately, I was able to benefit incredibly from the very strong emotional connection a lot of people felt to Obama. But on the other hand, a lot of people say “Why do you think the poster became what it became?” And I think that’s because, even though Obama had great graphics for his website and great slogans, I recognized the need for a portrait that made a human connection. People really respond to how he delivers speeches and how thoughtful he seems, and there’s nothing out there that in an iconic way made a connection to bridge the gap between actual humanity and the rhetoric and the idea of a symbol and an icon.
I recognized that need, so when I made the image and released the posters on my website and said, “I’m using these posters to fund a large poster campaign that’s nationwide for anywhere that hasn’t had a caucus or a primary yet,” people spread the word, not only because it was a cool image, but also because it was me doing it. People who usually felt alienated from the political process latched onto it because they saw it as something not from the campaign, not from the Oval Office, not from a corporation. There were a lot of people who loved Obama and wanted him as president, so they’re going to take the materials and embrace them. That was maybe a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do work that is aspiring to make a difference. It is something I feel a little trapped by, but it’s also something I would never take back, because I think it was the best possible outcome. And when you look at, from $4-an-hour skate-shop jobs, Xeroxed crack-and-peel André The Giant stickers to almost exactly 20 years later, doing something that may have helped the president get elected — that’s an unbelievable journey. And as part of the case study of the whole thing, this idea that graphic art makes a difference, and spreading ideas virally makes a difference, there’s no better example than that journey.
Kate | sublimotion