beinArt Interview with Tristan Schane
Jon Beinart – "Where do you draw your Inspiration from Tristan?"
Tristan Schane – "From just about everywhere. Much of my ideas come from things I read, anything from book titles (one was a socio-anthropological book title called the "Medieval Identity Machine" — tell me that doesn't inspire all sorts of imagery!), to articles and whole books.
I also get ideas and inspiration from just walking around and seeing things, thinking, looking at other art, which if it's the right artist can be very stimulating. But, pound for pound I think more of my work has been inspired by something I've read than from any other single source.
Much of what I read is non-fiction and my work has always had, at least for me, an undercurrent of sociological analysis or observation. I don't create works specifically to say this or that about life or society or what not, but a great deal of my work is developed when I am thinking or reading about this facet or quality of human life and culture.
The only area I'm sorry to say I get no inspiration from are my dreams. I rarely remember my dreams and the ones I do remember are nearly always very prosaic and dull, completely barren of any useable imagery or concept. Once in a very long while I will have a very strange dream, from which I always wake with a feeling of real accomplishment! However, never have I gleaned anything to put in a work of art. Not that I'm consciously aware of at any rate."
Jon – "Obviously your imagination is lucid enough. Your sculptures and paintings are certainly very dream like (sometimes nightmarish), so perhaps your dreams are manifesting subconsciously. I have noticed a recurring theme of flesh & infancy in your sculptures (I am particularly referring to the two works published in Metamorphosis: 'Litter' & 'Mermaid' as well as the concept drawing for the upcoming sculpture: 'Starting Point'). What do these works mean to you? And why is this subject important to you?"
Tristan – "Yikes, here's a tough one. I have to say I spend very little time analyzing my work. When I come up with an idea it is usually fully formed, but if it's an idea that develops as I work on it, like one of the more complicated paintings, components for the imagery are arrived at from a more unconscious process then one of deliberation. I never say to myself, " How am I going to say such and such with this piece." Rather, images come to me and they either feel like they belong or they don't. I have a terrible time trying to explain my works at shows. Once an image has appeared which belongs in the work all my thought goes into the technical aspect of executing it.
What I can say is that in works dealing with the human condition, I use what to me are raw, undefined proxies — ants for example to me can symbolize mankind, and have done so in a number of works. Babies may play this role as well, not yet being differentiated in to bankers or soldiers or what not, they can represent humanity in it's natural and basic state. There is also something delicate and sensitive to our psyche about babies so using them in art is for me very potent.
When I show my work in galleries, people who see the work are much better at providing cogent analysis than I ever am. I used to try, but as I create intuitively rather than with a conscious and deliberate scheme, I never was very successful at it. So now when asked I've settled to throwing back this trite refrain, 'Well, what does it mean to you?'"
Jon – "I can definitely relate Tristan. I too work subconsciously and focus mainly on aesthetic and technique. It is always interesting to hear how others have interpreted my work. I'm sure you have received a lot of praise, but have you been criticized or judged for your work? When I have shown off your works in Metamorphosis many people have found your sculptures disturbing (I personally find them beautiful). How do people generally react to your sculptures? Please describe the strongest reaction you have witnessed?"
Tristan – "Yep, "disturbing" is the number one response I hear, hands down. The funny thing is how often that takes me by surprise.
When I was working on the Mermaid Baby I was concerned that people would think it was too cloyingly cute and dismiss it for that. When I sent pics of it to my gallery at the time they took a while to get back to me to tell me they didn't want to show it. Too disturbing.
They had sent the pics on to some other people for more reactions, but everyone uniformly responded negatively to it. The sculpture of the Sphinx I thought also would be safe (disturbing people can often be a sure way to make no money in the arts world). After all, it's mostly a cat and it's smiling. Where's the threat. Again, "disturbing…disturbing…. disturbing…".
On the other hand, in a different gallery one time someone told me the Mermaid Baby reminded them of their own child. Hmmmm…..
I don't think I've had any stronger reaction to my work than just the continuous, "disturbing", but it does sometimes seem to me when someone reacts that way they are blocked from appreciating anything in the work and stop at this first, initial and superficial response. That's disappointing.
It doesn't exactly answer the question but the most significant thing I've learned is that I have no internal meter to gauge what people think is disturbing and what they don't. I've since decided not to try to edit myself away from potentially disturbing imagery (which I'm incapable of doing, anyway, apparently), and to just follow the imagery where it leads me.
Sometimes in a show I will stand anonymously as another gallery goer to hear what people think. Generally, most responses are in the neighborhood of being very positive about the work, but not something they'd want to have in their own homes. Fair enough. I don't make work to go with the sofa or dining room set. Artwork is supposed to stimulate you. It's supposed to get your mind going, on not just that artwork, but as a vehicle for cognition in general. If you do a show and you don't show me things to get me thinking, then why did I leave my house to come see it?
I have several concepts for works I hope to be able to tackle this year and doubtless I will hear the same sorts of Reponses. I'm waiting for that one eccentric billionaire to say, 'Disturbing, but I Iove it! Sold!!'"
Jon – "Well, if I was a billionaire (or even a measly millionaire) I would certainly buy up all of your sculptures and fill my house with them (regardless of what my easily disturbed friends thought). I also can't gauge what will disturb people. I personally find your mermaid so adorable that I'm sure I would feel an irresistible urge to pick it up from a plinth and cradle him/her while wiping the tears away (Don't touch the art!). As we have already established your sculptures are very life like. Have ever worked in the film industry?"
Tristan – "No, not as a sculptor. When I started sculpting, the artists I looked to for technical know-how as well as inspiration were film effects sculptors. It's still that way. By far the most talented sculptors, and many very talented artists in general, are working in the effects industry. Even an unwatchable crappy horror or sci-fi film will often have some great artwork that went in to it.
I have over the years become friendly with a few of the film effects sculptors, and certainly learned nearly everything I know about the technique of contemporary sculpture by talking to them.
Starting in the last year and a half I have done a small amount of work for film, but it has been as a concept artist and only doing drawings, no sculpts. Wouldn't mind doing more."
Jon – "I recall an email conversation we had a long time ago about Patricia Piccinini (The Australian Conceptual artist) and her series titled 'We are Family'. Would you mind relaying your views on Piccinini's fame and her role in the creation of her hyper realistic sculptures?"
Tristan – "All of Piccinini's sculptures were created by Australian artist Sam Jinks. Jinks was a special effects sculptor and concept artist who she hired and who is now starting to get established as a recognized fine artist on his own.
I really have had this discussion so many times with so many artists that while I'm happy to respond, I don't think I'll be as eloquent on the subject as I may have been the first 10 or 11 times. I have, like Jinks, done sculptures for famous international artists who have taken credit for work I did. I have spoken with Sam about it — it's soul crushing to have praise of your own work given to someone else who stands there as says, thank you thank you. Jinks has told me that piccinini was always free herself to disclose who he was and that he made the sculptures, but in truth the machinery behind her which she could have stopped, was deliberate in presenting everything that came out with her name as her work.
My feelings about Piccinini and the artists like her is that they are more like brand names. Also, there's a constant lack of sophistication and depth in the sort of work created by them, despite the technical sophistication added by those of us they hire. This is because people who are incapable of creating artwork are incapable of going through the revelatory and developmental process by which that work is imagined. I grow in my concepts by going through the process of creating. If you can't create it — you can't conceive of it. You can't go through that process by hiring people to create.
When an artist takes credit for another's work it's fraud. When they hire someone else to do their work but give credit than it's not, though there's a wide swathe of gray area there. In the latter case, to what extent the work someone is seeing is actually the product of the titular artist is sometimes hard to say.
I have been hired to do sculptural work which was to be part of a larger installation piece. That overall piece is the work, not merely my sculpture. However, in Sam' jinks case, the whole work of Picciniini's work is the sculpture, so how can she feel any sense of authorship. At best she's an art director. I have ideas for buildings, that doesn't make me an architect. When someone hires me to do a portrait, because they have selected the subject does that make them the artist? On the other hand, an artist sometimes will create pieces which employ the technical discipline of non-artist specialists — engineers, pyrotechnicians, so on and so forth. In those circumstances, by and large I would say the end product is the artist's. As I said; big gray area.
I could go on and on about this and more eloquently too, but you get the idea…."
Jon – "Sorry to drag you through that question again Tristan. I hope your response will direct our readers to the amazing work of Sam Jinks.
I also recall another email conversation when you mentioned that you were in the process of moving away from 'Fantastic & Visionary imagery' in your paintings and that you had coined your new direction 'Subversive Realism'. Can you please explain why you made this decision and what exactly is 'Subversive Realism'?"
Tristan – "Yes, for a while in my art I have been exploring imagery which is much more subdued and only strange in a subtle way. This for me comes from my ongoing interest in hyper-realist painters. However, I have two paintings I am about to start which image wise are entering a new area of more visionary subject matter. Subversive Realism is my term which I started using for the direction I have been trying to pursue in trying to develop a genuinely personal visual language. It's really a work in progress with me trying to configure a type of imagery that represents what it is I'm trying to show with my work. I don't feel a personal connection to traditional surrealism nor with fantastic realism, though what constitutes fantastic realism is a very broad spectrum.
My technique as a painter and sculptor is on a straight trajectory developing hyper-realist representation. However, image wise, Subversive Realism is sort of a goal I'm working towards. It's a style that for me owes itself evolutionarily to various other artistic movements — what style doesn't? — but ultimately can only work as a purely personal visual language which will be authentic in it's connection to the feelings and ideas I'm trying to explore in my work.
Each time I start a painting I feel like I'm finally almost there. By the time I finish the painting I feel like I've still missed again. Somehow the sculptures feel like they are closer to proper Subversive Realism than the paintings. Perhaps I should focus on translating the aesthetic sensibilities of the sculpture to the paintings. Hmmm….."
Jon – "Thank you for your time Tristan. I find your mind almost as fascinating as your art (and you know I love your art). Do you have any exciting news for our readers? Any upcoming exhibitions or publications featuring your work?"
Tristan – "Hmmm… there are some exciting things that may be starting for my fine arts work, but until they're locked down and definite I'd rather not reveal them. In the next few weeks I should be able to be definite. Thanks for wanting to interview me, Jon. It was a lot of fun."