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Interview with Jana Brike

Jana Brike

Photo of Jana Brike in front of her painting “The End of a Lonesome Road”

The lyrical paintings of Jana Brike are evocative mood pieces. Her paintings feature young, usually female characters in natural environments; with their strong symbolism and elements of mythology and fairy tales, these works invite the viewer into the action as the characters interact with the world around them or experience intimacy with another—or sometimes with themselves. Brike is one of four artists featured in the show Lush, which opens at the beinArt Gallery November 18.

“Even when you break the dishes in a family argument, or mend your broken heart, or struggle to leave a job that gives you security but kills you with boredom, and so on and so on, it is all a part of this dance of transcendence. Painting just is my personal way to do that transcendence. I don’t paint the darkest heaviest material directly, because it’s all been transformed through my painting process; just a few scars are there to indicate the last bits of struggle and pain. But mostly what’s left is the quiet shining joy.” —Jana Brike

Jana Brike - lush

“Wild Honey” – Oil painting by Jana Brike for Lush.

Julie Winters: Your personal history is so interesting: you grew up in Latvia when it was still part of the Soviet Union and started training intensively in art at a very early age. Do you remember how it came about that you were directed down an artistic path?

Jana Brike: It was a rather harsh environment, with the aesthetics all about functionality or impressiveness and very little about beauty. Everywhere I caught some glimpse of it—a flower or a butterfly, grandmother’s lace or old church book illustrations, fairy tale movies or ballet performance—it just felt like it made my soul sing all of a sudden. Of course, I wanted to be part of it, a participant or, even better, a creator of it in one way or another. Beauty is still an important theme of my work.

Jana Brike - "Kissing Lessons Behind The School Shed"

“Kissing Lessons Behind The School Shed” – Oil painting by Jana Brike.

JW: How much of a say did you have in the subject matter of your work as a student?

JB: Not much in the school, as the most part of the education was for developing skills. We painted still lifes, models, and different composition, technique and style exercises. The personal compositions were always assignment based, never just free. I had much greater say in subject matter and the direction I wanted to go in my university years.

JW: You had the comparatively rare experience of having solo exhibitions at a very young age; what effect, if any, did this have on your progression as an artist? I’m thinking, I suppose, of having so much work out there for audience reaction, but I’m interested in any aspect that comes to mind.

Jana Brike - "Ascension on a School Trip"

“Ascension on a School Trip” – Oil painting by Jana Brike.

JB: I haven’t thought of that really; that’s an interesting question. Well, I changed, grew and evolved under the scrutiny of the public eye. I do realize that the path that is considered smarter from a brand-building perspective is that you first work in the privacy of your studio till your recognizable style is fully developed, and then you just stick to it. I did the opposite, as quite a lot other artists have. I don’t know what the effect is. Maybe that I am not afraid to change the direction completely, go a different path when in one I am beginning to feel stuck in or bored with, and even if the work seems to be going well, liked by the public and finding its own niche in the market, even then I can change with no fear. Although I do get a silly flash of personal irritation if someone comments that they “like my previous work better.” I don’t doubt that there are people who like ME, as I was ten years ago, better, but it doesn’t mean I could have stopped growing and changing. I do realize, though, that one person can relate to the imagery of that damaged, traumatized, alien but beautiful inner child that I created earlier. To another the themes of internal “coming of age” of the psyche are closer. Another relates to the femininity issues that I focus on now. Each theme has come with not just a distinctive style but also a development of different technique to express it better. It’s been a wonderful journey; I regret nothing (smile).

Jana Brike - "Two Wounded Angels on the Beach"

“Two Wounded Angels on the Beach” – Oil painting by Jana Brike.

JW: You have said that you’ve needed to unlearn a lot of what you were taught during your art education. Tell us what that unlearning involved.

JB: I didn’t talk of skills but of mindset, of course. Most of all, I had to drop the idea that there is the “correct” and the “incorrect” way to do anything at all in art, especially when it comes to storytelling, and especially when you are doing it in a way you enjoy, that rings true to your nature. The pressure in an art school where you are told you have to experiment and discover new things, push your limits, but at the same time your mistakes are evaluated all the time according to some ranking system—it was like brakes on creativity. In order to expand, you make mistakes and have failures first—that’s just natural. You have to learn to allow yourself to do that to grow, and to not judge yourself by your mistakes. In the long run, the grander the mistakes, the greater the growth. But when you’re in school—you have failed in your curriculum objectives, and you never try to push in that direction again.

Jana Brike - Lush - Search for the origin of the universe

“Search for the Origin of the Universe” – Oil painting by Jana Brike for Lush.

JW: A dominant theme of your work seems to be exploration and growth—sometimes sexual but also sometimes just relational in a nonsexual context. And in many paintings, the subject is exploring something in herself (again, sometimes sexually and sometimes not). How did this theme develop for you?

JB: Growth, expansion into something bigger is a universal principle; exploration and curiosity are the most natural things to all living things. The cultural “norms” oftentimes see the simple beauty of this aspect of nature as a shameful, dirty thing, invoking guilt and suppression and self-judgment. This is what I go against, so a lot of it is just sweetly playful, sometimes even funny.

Jana Brike - "Summer of the Wild Wallflower"

“Summer of the Wild Wallflower” – Oil painting by Jana Brike.

I would rather say that my current work is about connection rather than sexuality—connection to your own body first of all. In the society we live in and with the fast pace of time, with all the issues on the personal level and on the world stage, people live out of their bodies and inside their minds, or absorbed by the emotions completely. My painting for me means to breathe in, breathe out and focus on being the life force flowing through the body. For women it seems even more important than for men: in the body is all the life-knowledge of this earth plane. So the sexuality doesn’t mean just physical intercourse. Sexuality—it’s a root, a grounding principle, connected to surviving and thriving in the physical world. It is no wonder that so many spiritual practices have wanted to cut that root, attempting to “jump” closer to the sky. Maybe for a short time it can be sped up, but then you wither and wilt in the physical world. In the longer run, you want to be well rooted and grow strong and tall up to the sky, not just fly uprooted. I hold both of these aspects in my work, hence the symbolism of flying things like birds, butterflies and bees, the vast sky and the solid earth with its natural beauty.

That is also why a human body is important in my work—with all its scratches and bruises from being touched by the world, with all its vulnerability in its nakedness. Is it straightforward sexual in the simplest sense of the word? I honestly don’t even know… definitely not as an object for someone else’s fun and entertainment!!

Jana Brike - "Thirst"

“Thirst” – Oil painting by Jana Brike.

JW: Considering the big changes you’ve seen on a political scale in your country, has there been a time when you’ve addressed any of those explicitly in your work?

JB: No, not at all. I am glad of collapse of all unnatural, suppressive human-built systems, and I am beyond sure that more will collapse in my lifetime, but I don’t reflect on that through my art. My focus is a strong “self,” regardless of the temporary circumstance—“self” that doesn’t give its own power away to external systems or persons.

JW: What do you see as the most important development in your work over the course of your art career?

JB: I would say when I dared to make my work much more personal, emotional, reflective of my most intimate experiences—that was the biggest leap.

It’s a hard question, though. It’s a bit like trying to think which one is the most important minute of my day. I can’t really tell, as every minute leads to the next one.

Jana Brike - "First Love on the Edge of a Deep Dark Forest"

“First Love on the Edge of a Deep Dark Forest” – Oil painting by Jana Brike.

JW: One of the things I appreciate in your work is the movement in a lot of your pieces; one can see swaths of petals in the wind, clusters of butterflies in flight, waves about to crash. Looking at your work, one often feels as if one has stepped into a scene in action or caught a person in a moment; even when the figures are still, your paintings rarely feel static. In creating a piece, how do you decide whether to place characters in action together versus staring back at the viewer?

JB: I had one exhibition titled After the End of Time dedicated completely to this very idea. The scene of, let’s say, girls dancing in the sea changes in mood completely if they have a huge wave in a close background, as if about to crush them, and they are serenely and beautifully and peacefully there, as if not noticing anything around. I definitely use that in my work consciously to give the painting the intended atmosphere, sometimes to construct a metaphor about life even.

Jana Brike - "Girl With a Golden Heart Basking in the Sunshine"

“Girl With a Golden Heart Basking in the Sunshine” – Oil painting by Jana Brike.

Also, undeniably, painting is a strange medium, where countless hours, days, weeks, sometimes even years of constant energy flow and dedicated work are used to depict one single frozen moment, isn’t it? That alone can give that metaphysical feeling of a window into a world where time just flows differently and one second of their time is a million years in our reality. At least I get that kind of goosebumps feeling from some painters’ work.

As for decision making, my paintings actually change a lot in the process. Sometimes a character staring back at the viewer doesn’t work out as I had intended; then I change the face in the process. Sometimes I change huge portions of a work entirely. I have had occasions when I send finished images to a gallery, and then an hour later write them, “Wait, no, stop!” and repaint the entire background from depicting broad daylight into a starlit night. A lot of details that indicate movement are added on top of a relatively finished work.

Jana Brike - "Sweet Surrender"

“Sweet Surrender” – Oil painting by Jana Brike.

JW: You have described your work as “poetic visual autobiography.” Do you write poetry as well?

JB: I write stories. Ambiguous poetic stories, many of them accompanied by pictures. Maybe one day I’ll do a book out of those.

JW: Tell us about the place of sketchwork in your overall artistic life. Is sketching a way to work out possibilities for paintings, or is it a discipline unto itself?

JB: Sketching is completely self-sufficient. My sketches rarely, if ever, turn into paintings directly. Paintings are born as a complete image in my mind, and sketching doesn’t help there, although it helps me sometimes to remember the image if I can’t get to painting immediately. For painting, the next step would be the reference material, work with models, landscapes, occasionally mood boards. I feel like with sketching, I process my most immediate emotional life and experiences, flaring feelings and fast thoughts. Painting, where the process is much longer, is more comprehensive, even distanced sometimes, dealing less with daily emotion and more with states of consciousness. It is hard to define in words.

Jana Brike - "The Wildlife"

“The Wildlife” – Sketch by Jana Brike.

JW: Have you received criticism for depicting young people in sexual contexts, and if so, how have you responded to that?

JB: Do I paint actual direct sexual contexts? I sometimes paint young couples in love, excited with each other and their mutual feelings. Maybe that intensity of that first attraction is what fascinates me. Usually I paint a single figure, though. But in either case there is never any predator present, nobody is ever being hurt or endangered, nobody is being misused, or taken advantage of for sexual pleasure of another. Never ever. And I don’t objectify the body; in fact, the characters are mostly my self-portraits in one form or another. If I paint a youngster frolicking in grass, basking in sunshine, swimming naked in a river—it’s just that, a human being having the best day of their life, exploring themselves and the world around, with no one “other” to restrain or touch them. Just as I myself did (and still do) in the country in summertime. It’s a completely subjective, deeply personal perspective on the human condition. Simple physical joy of being! Maybe someone can feel as an uncomfortable voyeur in front of my painting in a case when they can’t associate at all with this theme personally. I don’t know about that; it’s hard for me to take a voyeur position in front of a creation of my own heart, and to try to explain that position. But it’s actually not that often that I meet people like that.

Jana Brike - "Gardener and The Centre of The Universe"

“Gardener and The Centre of The Universe” – Oil painting by Jana Brike.

When I look at people who buy my art or to whom I have a longer dialogue about my themes, 90% are actually women, with similar feelings, experiences that bond them with my work on an emotional level. It’s all been a touching and beautiful exchange mostly.

At the same time, I can’t deny I listen to the opinion of the public: in this time and age it is nearly impossible not to. Let’s take for example the intimate flower piece Gardener and the Center of the Universe that I exhibited with beinArt for the first time a few years ago. I had painted similar pieces for some years in my studio, completely rawly intimate to me, exploring the body-related themes so important to each woman. But I was honestly scared to show it publicly. It meant showing openly where I am most vulnerable, what is so sacred to a woman but is so casually abused in our society. In daily life, you just don’t invite more emotional abuse by openly and with no guard held up showing to others how this theme is important to you, by talking about a woman’s body in this subjective way. Without the social media feedback, this one would probably have sold like other paintings, and it would not even register to me how important that theme, that loving approach, is to other people, and especially women! So, for the few bullies that I get, I wouldn’t give up that instant communication.

Jana Brike - "No Escape from this Beautiful Dream"

“No Escape from this Beautiful Dream” – Oil painting by Jana Brike.

JW: Some of your pieces shine with quiet joy; even with some characters who seem like they might be haunted or have gone through something difficult, there is imagery that conveys beauty and hope. Are these things there because they are important to you personally, or do they constitute a message you’re actively trying to get to your audience?

JB: It is so wonderful you say so! It’s not a conscious linear message, but it is so important to me. I actually like to think that a human is some kind of an energy-being with a task of perpetual transcendence. It’s as if we take heavy matter and transform it into light through a difficult internal process. Sometimes [we] break or get sick under the weight of it, sometimes [we] pass a big part of that weight to others, even generation to generation, needing help with the heaviness of it, but still go on step by step by step in this eternal dance of transcendence, doing it as well as each of us can at every given moment.

Jana Brike - "Summertime Melancholia"

“Wild Honey” – Oil painting by Jana Brike for Lush.

It is actually an important part of my ethnic heritage—the world view where the life is not split into “profane” and “spiritual” as every single thought, feeling and action is a part of this spiritual journey. Even when you break the dishes in a family argument, or mend your broken heart, or struggle to leave a job that gives you security but kills you with boredom, and so on and so on, it is all a part of this dance of transcendence.

Painting just is my personal way to do that transcendence. I don’t paint the darkest heaviest material directly, because it’s all been transformed through my painting process; just a few scars are there to indicate the last bits of struggle and pain. But mostly what’s left is the quiet shining joy—that is so true.

Jana Brike - "The Butterfly Effect"

“Wild Honey” – Oil painting by Jana Brike for Lush.

JW: I mentioned earlier some of the imagery used in your work, including flowers, water, and butterflies. These things convey beauty, joy, hope, turmoil. How do you decide what kind of imagery to use in your work?

JB: Not all is decided very consciously. A lot of my process is like a playful and free-flowing poem. A lot of the little details are added in the very last stage of my work. I don’t have everything thought out, and I don’t have a symbol dictionary where I would look up what stands for love or hope, or fear, or whatever I try to depict. It’s actually quite the opposite: when I notice something keeps reappearing in my work in a haunting way to me, I start to do some analysis or research. When I paint and make decisions in the actual process, it’s not about the looks I envisioned but the feeling, atmosphere, which is often formed by subtle unconscious associations, multiple layers of meanings that are both very personal and comprehensive. It’s all according to what feels right at the moment.

Jana Brike - "Goodbye Eden"

“Goodbye Eden” – Oil painting by Jana Brike.

JW: What do you look for or enjoy in the work of other artists?

JB: It’s very undefinable. It’s all about the feeling it gives me. And the best of all is when the feeling is strong, very familiar, but when I can’t quite put my finger on it and describe it in words, when it’s some strange heart-to-heart communication. I as an artist can’t fake it or learn from someone to do it; it takes a lot of ruthless honesty towards oneself, commitment, love and care to produce a work like that.

Jana Brike - "The End of a Lonesome Road"

“The End of a Lonesome Road” – Oil painting by Jana Brike.

JW: In addition to your November show at beinArt Gallery, do you have any shows or other activities on the horizon that you’d like to tell our readers about?

JB: I have a couple of solo exhibitions on the horizon. The closest is in April at Gallery House, Toronto, and also a very big project coming up at the end of 2018, the biggest paintings I have ever done, at San Diego Art Institute, curated by Distinction Gallery. And I am very, very excited about that!

Jana Brike

Jana Brike finishing her painting “Death and one of her Sisters” for Lush.

The LUSH group exhibition opens on 18 November 2017 at 6pm at BeinArt Gallery in Brunswick in Melbourne, Australia, featuring the art of Jana Brike, Redd Walitzki, Rodrigo Luff and Ray Caesar.

SEE AVAILABLE WORKS BY JANA BRIKE

Interview with Redd Walitzki

Redd Walitzki

Left: “Annihilation” on the easel – Right: Redd Walitzki in her studio finishing works for Lush.

Suspend disbelief and escape into a botanically-infused dreamscape inhabited by enchanting, feminine sprites.  Through an ornamental proscenium you enter a world bewitched with undertones of fantasy and magical overlays, the other-worldliness of it all masking the historical basis for the stories there told. This is the world of Seattle-based figurative-artist, Redd Walitzki.

Walitzki’s art is immediately identifiable upon entering the gallery or, as is the case these days, without even clicking to enlarge.  Her pieces are self-framing, with delicately intricate and intricately delicate designs cut into the surface of each painting. The aesthetic is one reminiscent of antiquity yet executed with modern, laser technology.  Each piece mysteriously appears to hover two inches from the wall, as if by magic, accentuating the fantastical ambience and casting an ornamental shadow on the wall behind, creating a sense of depth and dimension.

Redd Walitzki

“Rite of Spring” – oil and mixed media on lasercut panel for Lush.

Legends of orchid hunters in the Victorian-era have been on Walitzki’s mind lately.  Orchids were unknown to Europe until 1818 when the first specimens inadvertently arrived in London, having been used – according to popular myth – as packing-material in a consignment of tropical plants sent from Rio de Janeiro.  This ultimately sparked an ‘orchid fever’ in London, with armadas of orchid hunters being despatched on dangerous sorties into tropical locations to retrieve commercial volumes of specimens. The dangers they faced seem almost unbelievable and defy contemporary parameters of occupational health and safety. In one 1901 expedition, eight orchid hunters ventured into the Phillipines, but only one returned alive.  The others were either eaten by tiger, burnt alive or vanished altogether.  Orchid hunters in Papua New Guinea were beheaded or had intimate body parts amputated in conflicts.  Their counterparts in the Solomon Islands were tortured and killed by local cannibals.

These remarkable stories have inspired a new body of work which will feature in the LUSH group exhibition at BeinArt Gallery, opening on 18 November 2017.

Walitzki recently discussed this new body of work, her creative process and her other artistic endeavours with Luke Barrett.

Redd Walitzki

“State of Decay” – oil and mixed media on lasercut panel for Lush.

“While in a way these figures have fallen victim to their plight, there is also the sense that they are a part of a natural cycle. There is power in that as well, and especially as our world alters due to human intervention, it’s important to continue to remind ourselves we are a part of these natural processes.” —Redd Walitzki

Luke Barrett: You recently created an image for Anomie Belle’s Flux album, as part of a group exhibition for Modern Eden. I saw that painting of yours still being used in her concerts.  Outside of galleries and private collections, are there any other unexpected places where we should keep an eye out for your work?

Redd Walitzki: It was a huge honour to collaborate with musician Anomie Belle for her recent album! My painting of her was the cover art for the US release; the CDs, iTunes and the special edition art booklets, which also included pieces by Kari-Lise Alexander, Marco Mazzoni, Casey Weldon, Meredith Marsone and more!

Making work for unexpected outlets can be a fun change of pace that always brings a new perspective. In the past I’ve created a Snowboard for Signal Snowboards, made short-animation pieces for Microsoft, and worked on several fashion collaborations (which I would love to do more of!)

Redd Walitzki

Left: “Words Unspoken” on easel – Right: Photo of Redd Walitzki.

LB: You seem to have an extremely wide range of outlets for your creative passions! Where do you think these talents come from?

RW: Creativity is a state of being, and often for me there are no clear boundaries between the different outlets – they all feed into each other. Exploring photography makes me excited to paint, styling a fashion look makes me want to film it, each new notion opens another door. My parents always encouraged my sister Roxanna and I in our creative endeavours, and she and I still collaborate often and use our combined creative skills to tackle larger projects than would be possible alone.

Redd Walitzki

“Blackberry Wine” – Oil and mixed media on lasercut panel by Redd Walitzki.

LB: Of these talents, which one is your main passion? Is there one which you see becoming your main focus in future years?

RW: Painting is and always has been my overwhelming passion, which is why I’ve made it my life and career, and it’s not something I see myself ever moving away from. But incorporating other creative outlets into my art practice is a great way to add variety and get new ideas as well!

Redd Walitzki WIP

Redd Walitzki working on her painting “Rite of Spring” for Lush.

LB: With all of this going on, what do you think the future holds? Are we likely to see Redd Inc. or perhaps even a fashion label?! Or is your image-making your natural centre?

RW: Self-directed fine art is definitely what I enjoy doing the most. It’s important for me to be able to pursue new concepts and direction as my art requires without constraint. Doing the same thing for too long is very creatively draining for me, and the novelty of a new challenge is where I thrive!

When the perfect project presents itself, commercial work can be a fun challenge too, and it’s always exciting when it exposes my work to a larger audience. Eventually doing something in the realm of fashion would be a really amazing opportunity, but it would likely be more in the vein of avant-garde couture, or more experimental like Bjork’s fashion collaborations, or the work of Alexander McQueen!

Redd Walitzki

“The Arsenic Waltz” – Oil and mixed media on lasercut panel by Redd Walitzki.

LB: How did you stumble across the orchid hunter history? How long did the idea percolate in your mind before you decided to use it as the inspiration for your latest body of work?

RW: A lot of research goes into the conceptual basis for my paintings – I read voraciously and am constantly listening to audiobooks, podcasts and documentaries. Ideas based in science, history and myth are especially interesting to me, and often influence what I create. I came across the topic of Orchid Hunters while researching various other flower deliriums (times where the pursuit of flowers caused social upheaval). The idea of rugged explorers braving incredible hardships, just to collect delicate orchids and bring them back to Victorian England, was fascinating and made for a juicy starting point to create work about!

Redd Walitzki

“Simulacrum” – Oil and mixed media on lasercut panel by Redd Walitzki.

LB: Is that a fairly typical way for you to source inspiration for a series of images?

RW: Yes, generally before beginning a new series I allow myself an incubation period for the ideas I’ve been collecting to bloom. This is especially important to keep the subject matter interesting and fresh, I don’t like to repeat myself and always want the paintings to keep growing and transforming, otherwise there’s no challenge! My best work comes from the moments where I’m not sure if what I’m trying to achieve is even possible. Painting is my main love, and through my mixed media process I’m constantly pushing at the boundaries of what that can involve, so in this way I consider myself an “image maker”- there’s often a mad science element to the way I work!

Redd Walitzki

“Honey” – Oil and mixed media on lasercut panel by Redd Walitzki.

LB: The figures in these new images, are they re-envisioned orchid hunters? Or do you imagine these images as being representative of scenes that orchid hunters may have observed in another version of this universe?

RW: In an abstract sense they are, but thinking of them as an alternate variation is a great way to look at it. Often the final paintings are more about the emotions and organic re-interpretations of the source material than a literal retelling.

The figures in “Rite of Spring” and “Annihilation” were inspired by the story of a particular tribe in the Solomon Islands, rumored to “torture their human sacrifices with the most beautiful blooming orchids placed around them so that the victims were able to see the color of the flowers growing richer from their own blood.” This image was powerful to me. I’ve previously depicted coral and arteries merging in an organic way, and this gave me another chance to pursue that vision.

Redd Walitzki

“Spectral Attitude” – oil and mixed media on lasercut panel for Lush.

LB: What was it about the orchid hunters that captured your imagination? Was it a fascination with early tribal cultures? The other-worldliness of sacrificial rituals? Empathy for the struggles of the orchid hunters? The beauty of the flowers they were in search of? Or a sense of awe at the suffering they endured?

RW: Initially I was drawn to the idea of re-contextualizing the flower hunters in a more feminine perspective. Historically most explorers were men, so our culture still often thinks of exploration as a masculine pursuit. I liked the idea of casting them as powerful women instead. The stories about the hunters encapsulated so many elements I love, that it made for a rich starting point. Orchids are also a subject I really enjoy to paint, given their sensuality and alien forms.

As I began planning the pieces, the idea became less literal, and interpreting some of the specific stories that individual Orchid Hunters had experienced became more interesting to me.

Redd Walitzki

“When All Is Breaking” – Oil and mixed media on lasercut panel by Redd Walitzki.

LB: Do you intend a cyclical theme, life followed by death followed by (floral) life, repeat – possibly blurring the notions of life and death? Whereas the figures may have lost their lives, it is almost as if they become one with the jungle floor, merging with the floral life, creating a self-sustaining beauty.

RW: Yes, this is a subject that tends to come up a lot in my work! Nature is full of cycles, and in the context of modern life it’s easy to forget that we are a part of that. I really enjoy exploring those states of death and rebirth, and the ways in which nature can absorb and transmute the human body into another form.

The little still life “State of Decay” was a new way of playing with that idea for me, through a skull cradled in a luxurious nest of flowers, with orchids and insects crawling from its lifeless eye-sockets. This ties back into an Orchid Hunter tale, of how “a certain Wilhelm Micholitz had to dig out a much prized specimen from the eye sockets of a human skull.”

Redd Walitzki

“Her Bones Are Coral Made” – Oil and mixed media on lasercut panel by Redd Walitzki.

LB: Earlier on you were saying that you have re-envisioned the orchid hunters as powerful women, but some of them have fallen victim in their quest. How do you reconcile your desire to portray them powerfully with their fatal plight?

RW: Re-envisioning the Orchid Hunters was originally the concept that seemed most intriguing. But as I began the pieces, the idea diverged and shifted into a different perspective. My prior solo exhibition featured alien explorers in otherworldly environments, so for these “Lush” pieces I wanted to do something different.

While in a way these figures have fallen victim to their plight, there is also the sense that they are a part of a natural cycle. There is power in that as well, and especially as our world alters due to human intervention, it’s important to continue to remind ourselves we are a part of these natural processes.

Redd Walitzki

“How Strange it is to be Anything at All” – Oil and mixed media on lasercut panel by Redd Walitzki.

LB: You were saying before that some of these paintings are more about emotions than a literal re-telling of the Orchid Hunter story.  Can you elaborate on those emotions? Aesthetically, the pieces are gorgeously pretty, but paradoxically they tell a fatal story in some cases.

RW: That juxtaposition is something I really enjoy playing with! The emotional states that interest me the most are complex, and I’m drawn to beauty when it has a dark edge to it. In these pieces hopefully that comes across, I wanted to explore sensuality and ethereal beauty with an undercurrent of something a bit more dangerous. In the case of the pieces with the red coral “veins”, that danger may be to the subjects. But in “Spectral Attitude” the danger is projected outward, from the beautiful orchid mantis Nymph seductively luring in the viewer!

Redd Walitzki

“Last Flowers” – Oil and mixed media on lasercut panel for Lush.

LB: How did laser cutting become such an integral part of your art? Where did the idea come from?

RW: Laser cutting fascinated me because it offers the chance to fabricate very detailed and high quality objects without the need to manually use power tools. When the print studio I work with (Bellevue Fine Art) got a laser-cutter, the chance to experiment with ways to incorporate it into my art practice was too tempting to pass up! At the time, it was still mostly in the realm of techies and engineers, and not many artists were using it for more creative applications yet. I get excited when there is a chance to blur the line between more traditional techniques like oil painting and new technologies, because it allows for the opportunity to make art that is only possible now, in our time. This makes it feel exciting and contemporary!

Redd Walitzki

“Only Revolutions of Ruin” – Oil and mixed media on lasercut panel by Redd Walitzki.

LB: Are your laser cut shapes unique, like snowflakes? Or are there trademark designs which feature consistently in your work?

RW: Each piece has its own unique frame, suited to the painting. I have some base designs that I reuse in part, for example small portraits will often be in a baroque oval shape. But each one has distinct elements unique to that particular piece, so in that way, they are like snowflakes!

Redd Walitzki

“Exquisite Corpse” – Oil and mixed media on lasercut panel by Redd Walitzki.

LB: At what point do you decide on the design of the laser cut? Do you start with the laser cut in mind? Or does the uncut image inspire the laser cut design? Or is it more a practical case of designing a cut which does not involve cutting out a key part of the composition?

RW: I create the frame at the half-way point for the painting, after the watercolor under-painting is complete and I know where the major compositional elements will be. During this design stage, elements are added or subtracted to create the best composition and flow for the image. Cutting the painting at this point also minimizes the danger, since it’s not totally complete yet. Laser-cutters can malfunction, or the material can burn more than expected, lots of scary things could go wrong! Once the piece is cut, completing it in oils gives me the chance to complement the frame, and symbiotically add more texture and personality to the final piece.

Redd Walitzki

Oil and mixed media on lasercut panel by Redd Walitzki.

LB: Do you think the laser cutting will always be a part of your art? If not, what are we likely to see next?

RW: It’s still a fun avenue for me to explore, and the frames have become such an integral part of my paintings, that I do see myself continuing to pursue it at least in the near future. But who knows what exciting new technology will emerge next and catch my fancy!

Redd Walitzki

“Girl with a Pearl Ballgag” – Oil and mixed media on lasercut panel by Redd Walitzki.

The LUSH group exhibition opens on 18 November 2017 at 6pm at BeinArt Gallery in Brunswick in Melbourne, Australia, featuring the art of Redd Walitzki, Rodrigo Luff, Jana Brike and Ray Caesar.

SEE AVAILABLE WORKS BY REDD WALITZKI

Interview with Rodrigo Luff

Rodrigo Luff

“Psychic Undergrowth III” – oil on wood panel for Lush.

As Rodrigo Luff was applying the finishing touches to his paintings for our upcoming LUSH group exhibition, he took time-out to discuss his ethereal goddesses, luminescent forests and mysterious owls with Luke Barrett. Fresh from binge-watching David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, they explore the themes and hidden meanings in Luff’s work by drawing parallels to Lynch’s cult classic, in the process sharing some of their own theories and interpretations of that series.

“The owls are not what they seem” The Giant (1990); R Luff (2017)

“I really want to capture the essence of that dream feeling… It’s meant to symbolise the wild aspects of consciousness outside the rational and ordered mind.” R Luff (2017)

“Neon Dream” – oil on wood panel by Rodrigo Luff for Lush.

Listen to the sounds.  Night falls and then the noises come. The precise point of origin: variable and masked by darkness, but undeniably within the unlit forest outside.  The sound: a deep, recurring tone reverberating through the trees, the kind which somehow brings calm and comfort and implies a sense of wisdom.

Even the most casual David Lynch aficionado could mistake this for something out of Laura Palmer’s hometown.

But this was Rodrigo Luff’s introduction to owls. While he would not lay eyes upon an owl until later, in the beginning he would hear their reassuring calls while working late each night in his studio on the edge of the forest.

Rodrigo Luff

“Spark” – Oil and mixed media painting by Rodrigo Luff.

For the uninitiated, Luff is a Sydney-based, Australian artist who has established a significant international footprint through his distinctive paintings of feminine nudes set amongst lush, ethereal and dream-like natural settings, typically accented with luminescent lighting and visitations by those owls, together with deer, jellyfish and other fauna.

At his openings, it is not unprecedented to overhear collectors and enthusiasts speculating in apparent disbelief whether Luff has combined painting with collage. Luff juxtaposes photo-realism with looser, surreal elements, thus begging the question whether the whole work is by the same hand – which, of course, it is.

“Summoning” – oil on wood panel by Rodrigo Luff for Lush.

The lead-up to Luff’s next exhibition with BeinArt Gallery coincided with the release of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks Limited Event Series, the baffling third season which was released more than 25 years after the second season ended in what was possibly the most shocking and longest-standing-unresolved cliff-hanger in television history.  Many of the works for this next exhibition were painted with Twin Peaks streaming in the background. Both of us are deep into our second viewing and seeing the world through only slightly Lynch-tinted lenses.

David Lynch is notoriously evasive about shedding interpretative light on Twin Peaks. One senses a similar hesitation in Luff when discussing his own body of work – ironically, even when asked to shed light on his use of light:

“There are so many different interpretations of this concept of light and luminescence … I’m more than happy to leave it up to the viewer to decide for themselves what they want to take from the work.”

“Symbiosis” – Oil painting by Rodrigo Luff.

In the case of Twin Peaks, it is consequently difficult to ever feel confident about having a comprehensive grasp of the plot line, except at a relatively macro level.  The farther one reaches for a deeper understanding of the detail, the more one experiences the kind of dismay and consternation that a physics student experiences when they shift focus from the physics of Newton or Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (the physics which governs very-large objects) towards quantum physics (the physics which governs very-small particles, at a sub-atomic level). Concepts and interpretations which make perfect sense at the macro level start to break down when you get down to that level of detail.

A fascination with the commonalities that do exist between the science of the very-large and the science of the very-small is apparent in Luff’s depictions of luminosity and the emission of light.

“I’ve been obsessed with luminescence in all forms for well over a decade. I recently saw super rare glow worms in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney and it just blew my mind that they could emit these constellations of light that are so beautiful… But you can also find a similar luminescence in the stars, nebulae and cosmic patterns of the night sky. In both examples, this omnipresent force of light seems to shine at both the largest and smallest scales in our universe, pulsing away at all hours.”

“Psychic Undergrowth II” – Oil painting by Rodrigo Luff.

The phenomenon of light being emitted at the smallest-scale – specifically, the energy released upon splitting an atom –  is significant for Lynch as well, with imagery of atom bomb detonations recurring throughout the recent Twin Peaks series.  One interpretation is that, when the power of the atom was used for military purposes, humanity crossed a metaphorical bridge to the dark side, which in turn enabled new evils to cross over into our world and enter our way of living.

Wartime hostilities precipitated a metaphorical bridge for Luff in his personal life too but, in his case, a bridge to a better life.  Luff was born in civil-war torn El Salvador. His mother, herself still a young woman, fled for safety with infant Luff when he was only 18 months old.

“Not only did she have the challenge of raising an infant son in a foreign country, but she also had to learn English and work on her own as a single mother. I couldn’t imagine how hard that must have been, I’m very grateful that we settled here.”

“Triad” – oil on wood panel by Rodrigo Luff for Lush.

Whereas painting was the precursor for Lynch’s segue into film making, Luff jokes that his “gateway drug” into fine art was drawing comic book art and fantasy art.

“By the last two years of high school I had prepared a portfolio of sequential pencil pages and had them critiqued by one of my favourite artists, Marc Silvestri at the Supanova comic con. He kindly told me to go learn anatomy and life drawing… so that was one of the initial reasons I chose to go to the Julian Ashton Art School when I graduated high school.”

Ultimately, Luff realised comic and fantasy art were not for him. He felt frustrated with being locked into someone else’s narrative and creative direction. Rather than allowing his creativity to be curtailed in the pursuit of early financial success, he ultimately found the lack of financial success to be a liberating force. Luff quips:

“If was going to get paid peanuts, I may as well be doing my own, personal work that didn’t have limitations.”

That said, even at the young age of 15, his comic art work had reached a high standard.  Back then, he was already intrigued by the power of dreams.

“Will O’ The Wisp” – oil and mixed-media painting for Lush.

Dreams are a subtle aspect of both Lynch’s Twin Peaks and Luff’s body of work.

In Twin Peaks, the character of Gordon Cole (played by Lynch himself) recounts having a dream in which Monica Bellucci remarks, “We are like the dreamer who dreams and lives inside the dream”, inviting one to question the confidence with which they distinguish between the real world of the awake, and the unreal world of dreams. Coincidentally, Bellucci played the character of Persephone in The Matrix trilogy of films, which was another take on the idea of lives being lived out in sub-conscious, non-physical worlds.  In The Matrix films, there was a seemingly all-knowing character, known as The Oracle, with an uncanny ability to predict the future.  One interpretation of that film (most of which takes place in a virtual world) is that The Oracle was a simulation program, which was able to make predictions about the future by running highly-realistic simulations to determine the most likely outcomes and consequences of particular events.

Rod Luff

“Daybreak” – Oil painting by Rodrigo Luff.

Luff sees dreams as fulfilling a similar purpose for humans, but with some limitations.

“Normally our brains take in sensory data such as light and sound, and build a best-possible model of reality to keep us alive, but we can never really touch the fully objective “real” reality outside of ourselves. And I think when we’re asleep, we don’t get that sensory data input, but the whole brain is active, which means we get a glimpse at how our brain models reality on its own.”

We know that Lynch’s Agent Cooper would certainly approve of this, given he has been portrayed quoting Werner Heisenberg’s famous utterance: “What we observe is not nature, but nature exposed to our method of questioning”.  Heisenberg was one of the early pioneers of quantum physics, grappling with mysteries at the universe’s smallest scale: the sub-atomic. Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle” encapsulates the notion that an observer (and their model of reality) affects what is observed as the reality.  If one knows the location of a sub-atomic particle, then the laws of physics prohibit that person from ever being able to know the particle’s precise velocity, and vice versa.

“Cascade” – Oil painting by Rodrigo Luff.

Luff endeavours to depict the interaction, tension and differences between, on the one hand, objective reality and, on the other hand, the models of reality which our brains construct for us and their associated limitations which are revealed for what they are in our dreams.

“I think about how I really want to capture the essence of that dream feeling. The union of the “weird” and the “real” and the way you have to try and think about what different parts could mean and the challenge of interpreting it. I like how the brain can put the strangest things together and how it’s convincing on the surface, but dig a bit deeper below the surface and it’s very strange. A couple of my favourite contemporary artists that have mastered this feeling are Aron Weisenfeld and John Brosio.”

This is something which defines Lynch’s work too, this blending of the weird and the real.

The resulting juxtaposition of photo-realism and surrealism in Luff’s paintings reflects his attempt to depict objective reality together with our neural models of reality and the inner world of dreams which those models can generate:

“It’s meant to symbolise the wild aspects of consciousness outside the rational and ordered mind.”

“Embrace” – Oil painting by Rodrigo Luff.

There is ambiguity within the Twin Peaks plot line as to where most of the story takes place.  Aspects of the storyline take place in spiritual realms which seem to overlap with the real world, which in turn may in fact be a dream world, and there is the suggestion of parallel or alternative worlds too.

There is a similar ambiguity around Luff’s paintings. Luff is coy when pressed on the locations of the settings for his paintings.  His followers on social media would know that there is photographic reference material for each painting, but one senses that Luff would prefer to drape his disrobed subjects in retrospective geographic androgyny. In a revelation that evokes the sweet “There is No Such Place” by Melbourne-band Augie March, Luff says:

“It’s also possible that the neon forest isn’t a physical place … I’m not too interested in any particular geographic location or the names we have given these places.”

Rodrigo Luff

“Arcadia” – Mixed-media painting by Rodrigo Luff.

Luff confides the reason for this.

“One of my favourite quotes that guides me is by William Blake, ‘Singular and particular detail is the foundation to the sublime.’

I am trying to paint the specific natural details of the setting. Through observing those details with close attention and capturing the unique characteristics of the subject, I think it’s possible to also tap into a broader, archetypal setting.

In my recent paintings, I tried to paint the leaves as silent, supporting characters, their individual shapes attentively painted as in portraiture, so that the overall pattern of green lushness emerges from there and hopefully evokes the feeling that it’s a real place you could walk through, but at the same time this is a nowhere place, it’s somewhere vague that may exist in a dream or an old memory.”

“Psychic Undergrowth” – Oil painting by Rodrigo Luff.

In Twin Peaks, although the character of Laura Palmer predeceased the first episode, it is interesting to ponder whether Laura Palmer was nevertheless the central character throughout, by being ever present through all three series, in memories, photographs, flashbacks and dream sequences. The better interpretation is perhaps that it was Laura Palmer’s relationships with the various surviving characters which were central. This is why, for example, it was so moving when, 25 years later, the character of Bobby Briggs (now a deputy in the Sherriff’s Department) breaks down upon seeing an old photograph of Laura Palmer being unpacked from an archived box of evidence.

In a similar way, since Luff sees his “neon forest” as the supporting character, it is interesting then to ponder who or what are the leading characters in Luff’s paintings: the women or the owls, deer, jellyfish and other fauna?  Listening to Luff discuss the life forms that inhabit his paintings, it is hard to tell which one is the leading character.

“Nemeta II” – Oil painting by Rodrigo Luff.

In Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Agent Cooper was counselled by The Giant that, “the owls are not what they seem’.  And so it is for Luff’s owls. He remarks:

“The owls have been an omnipresent, totemic force in my work. It would take pages and pages to delve into all the underlying symbolism that you can look into… They are rich with symbolic meaning … Those large eyes give them a psychic presence…”

He goes on:

“To me personally, the deer are emblematic of the forest and its majesty…

Jellyfish are so fascinating and beautiful: not just their luminescent colours, but also how they navigate the ocean with ease makes them almost alien to us. Did you know that there is a species of jellyfish that is basically immortal? They regress back through their life cycle to an early stage and then regenerate and continue over and over again… I hope other people can look into my paintings of jellyfish and draw their own conclusions but I think there is something really interesting about them that I’ll continue to explore in my work.”

Rodrigo Luff

“Nemeta” – Oil painting by Rodrigo Luff.

The fauna always seem to be at the epicentre of the luminescence that we know is so important to Luff.

“I’m hoping that the luminescence imbues the creatures with a sense of magical consciousness and an energetic power that transcends the material realm. Trying to capture this universal phenomenon within the limitations of traditional media is a real challenge.”

This all leads one to suspect that perhaps the creatures are the central characters in Luff’s work, rather than the women.  However, in endeavouring to choose between the women and the fauna, we have taken an intellectual wrong turn and failed to see the forest for the trees.  Much like how Laura Palmer’s connections were more significant than the Laura Palmer character per se, Luff reveals:

“The deeper meaning is in the women’s connection to the owls, creatures, animals and surroundings.”

“Resonance” – Oil painting by Rodrigo Luff.

In a Lynch-like way, Luff elaborates:

“While this ethereal forest exists outside the dualities of time and space, I haven’t really figured out if the owls are summoning a female spirit, or if these women are summoning the owls. I think they are interconnected in some way as part of the same expression of energetic, natural forces that bind these forest realms together. There’s also a psychic connection there too: the idea that the mind is more fluid and goes beyond the physical forms of the bodies, so that we know they’re communicating, but don’t know exactly what is being said.”

Rodrigo Luff

“Storm” – Mixed media painting by Rodrigo Luff.

Luff’s pastel and fluorescent depictions of the psychic connections between his female characters and the creatures and nature that surround them also has an analogue to Twin Peaks.  In Twin Peaks, Lynch uses a creamed-corn-like substance (known as ‘garmonbozia’) as a symbolic device to represent pain and sorrow.  The evil forces residing within the Black Lodge feed on the garmonbozia, whereas human characters have a nauseating reaction to its presence and are repulsed by it. Luff casually jokes:

“It’s funny because I’ve been painting this neon goo that the creatures merge with in my art for years, but it’s the opposite of garmonbozia – more like a crystallisation of love and desire.”

The ‘few years’ which Luff is referring to here have been prolific years for the artist. When asked whether he remembers every piece of art he has created, he confides:

“I think I remember most of them, but it’s getting harder and harder to recall particular works… With each year that goes by I’m forgetting more of them.” 

Rod Luff

“Neon Grove” – Oil and mixed-media painting by Rodrigo Luff.

His inspiration comes from various sources, for example, the original idea for his owl paintings came to him one night in a dream. Back in 1993, Billy Joel famously ‘dreamed’ the chorus and main melody for his song “River of Dreams” in the middle of the night (no pun intended) and then reduced the lyrics and main melody to writing when he woke up in the morning. Unfortunately for Billy Joel, this coincided with the breakdown of his marriage to his uptown girl, Christie Brinkley.   Happily though, Luff’s story is a love story and he is on the brink of marriage and moving uptown to Los Angeles to be with his fiancée after several years of being in a long-distance relationship.  During those years, he has juggled his busy artistic schedule with regular visits between the United States and Australia (to the point where border security raises an eye brow at both ends). Luff is clearly excited by the prospect of his pending nuptials and residing in the same city as his partner. It is too early to tell whether these life changes will stimulate and allow for an even more prolific period of creativity or whether we might notice a temporary pullback in his work schedule.

One thing which isn’t likely to change is his involvement in co-curating the annual Moleskine Project with Ken Harman at Spoke Art in San Francisco, which they have done since 2012. Back in 2011, Harman organised a solo show for Luff in which one of Luff’s own Moleskine books was deconstructed and custom-framed and which, ultimately, sold out. Ever since, they have co-curated an annual group show featuring works from other artists’ deconstructed and custom framed Moleskine books. Next year will be the seventh instalment and Luff says:

“Ken and I have joked that we’ll be doing Moleskine Project 50, and I really hope so!”

Rodrigo Luff Moleskine

Oil painting on Moleskin book by Rodrigo Luff.

Reflecting on the lessons he has learned from this experience. Luff shares:

“The gallery managers I’ve worked with have done most of the heavy lifting but I do get a small taste of the business side, since I’m often an intermediary between the artist and the gallery and try to help as much as I can. It’s enough of a taste for me to appreciate all the risks and struggles that gallery owners endure… I think that it’s also made me realise that curators deal with similar difficult questions that artists do when finding the balance between individual free expression and the commercial marketplace. If nobody sells anything, then you won’t get to curate anything again. But if it’s all the same established artists each year, it gets stale… I’ve gained a lot of respect for the challenge that gallery owners face in choosing the artists for their shows. Without someone taking a risk on me, I never would have had a chance.”

Humbly, he confesses one further lesson from his curating work:

“It’s made me realise how much harder I need to work on my art.”

In terms of future work, Luff foreshadows a possible – but temporary – return to fantasy art, as he is keen to create some paintings inspired by the recent Twin Peaks series.  If he ends up scratching that itch, a few other famous Twin Peaks quotes would be apt, given that fantasy art was how his art career began:

“Is it the future or is it the past?”

“It is happening again.”

Rodrigo Luff

“Guardian II” – Mixed media painting by Rodrigo Luff.

LUSH is an exhibition of sensual works by Rodrigo Luff, Redd Walitzki, Ray Caesar and Jana Brike opening at BeinArt Gallery in Brunswick, Victoria, Australia on Saturday, 18 November 2017 at 6pm.

SEE AVAILABLE WORKS BY RODRIGO LUFF

Interview with Jonathan Guthmann

Jonathan Guthmann WIP

Jonathan working on an etching for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

It’s an odd thing to be introduced to a painter and etcher with a background in theology via enormous and detailed dicks carefully rendered over images in one of Australia’s most widely read newspapers. But, that is exactly how we met Jonathan Guthmann. It was clear from the level of detail on the monstrous phalluses he created while “drawing dicks on the Herald Sun” that Jonathan had an enormous amount of technical skill. But, it wasn’t until we got to know him better and view his serious works that we realised he was a artist who created traditional etchings bursting with symbolic imagery and paintings depicting a mix of mythological and theological imagery.

When sketching or exhibiting past works such as his “Acockalypse” series, Jonathan’s humour is clear and infectious. But when viewing his etchings, painstakingly created via traditional methods, it’s difficult not to be moved by narratives of mortality, love, decay and magic that emanate palpably. Jonathan Guthmann is an artist, well aware of the inherent incongruity in combing the old cultures with the new, but still determined to explore the darker elements of western religion and mysticism and draw them into the present. And we are ever so grateful for his insight. Jonathan is currently showing at Beinart Gallery as part of Memento Mori, Memento Amare. The exhibition closes November 12″

Jonathan Guthmann

“Death with a Violin and Acanthus Motif II” – Etching for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

“Usually I keep my “serious” work quite separate from the humorous stuff, although my recent series on the book of Revelation is replete with giant phalluses, and they’re mostly instruments of wrath. It’s a funny thing to take something so serious as the cataclysmic end of the world and saturate it with grotesque genitalia, it was really quite satisfying.” —Jonathan Guthmann

Corinne Beinart: As well as being an accomplished artist, you also have a background in theology. Which interest came first?

Jonathan Guthmann: That’s a difficult one to answer because while I’m not “religious” in the commonly understood sense, I grew up in an environment where there was a lot of religion around me. Some of my earliest memories are of very conservative preachers standing behind their podiums talking about the soon to come apocalypse, and in my later teenage years I started taking my first serious look at the world religions. Although I had long been fascinated by mythology, religious belief etc., it wasn’t until my later 20’s that I started formally studying theology when I moved to Melbourne. As for the art side of things, I’ve been drawing since a very early age, I would have been about 6 when I started. Both these things then have been significant factors in my life from very early on, and for some time now they’ve really fed into and informed one another. So it’s hard for me to say which one came first, however I’d probably say art because while I was surrounded by elements of religion, spirituality and myth I didn’t really take an active and conscious interest in it until I was much older.

Jonathan Guthmann

“Totentanz III (Dance macabre III)” – Etching for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

CB: For those unfamiliar, can you describe the process of creating an etching?

JG: Etching is a printmaking technique that’s been around for centuries. You begin with a flat sheet of metal (I personally use copper), which is covered in a fine layer of bitumen. You then use a sharp instrument to selectively scrape away the bitumen revealing the copper. Once you have created an entire image by scraping away the bitumen, you place the entire sheet in a bath of liquid that is highly corrosive to metal but will not affect the bitumen, this liquid then bites into the areas where you’ve exposed metal, leaving a network of incised lines.  This process can be repeated multiple times with new lines being added between each etch, meaning there are various depths of line work in different areas. Then the bitumen is removed and the newly created lines in the metal plate are filled with a very stiff ink and the plate is firmly pressed against a piece of wet paper with the aid of a press, then the image is firmly imprinted onto the paper.

Jonathan Guthmann

Jonathan working on an etching for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

CB: Your work often explores themes around death and mythical/religious symbols. Does this come from your academic background or is it more of a personal interest/exploration?

JG: It comes from both really, although I was doing fairly dark work that explored death in the symbolic sense well before I started my formal study and creating a lot of work heavily influenced by esoteric traditions like Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry and other mystic traditions. However I certainly can’t say that my studies haven’t provided inspiration for a lot of my work in recent years, one of my largest projects to date was the creation of series of illustrations for the book of Revelation, which I did while I was translating the book from the original Greek as part of my degree.

Jonathan Guthmann

“Totentanz I” – Etching by Jonathan Guthmann.

CB: As well as exploring some fairly dark themes in your etchings, you’ve also been known for your more humorous artistic endeavours, most notably, Drawing Dicks on the Herald Sun. How do you see these two aspects of your creative self? And do you believe it is important to find humour in the darkness?

JG: To live a life without a sense of humour would make for a pretty dull experience, and probably one that’s pretty depressing given the way a lot of the world is these days. Drawing genitals, in particular penises has been a bit of a hobby of mine since I was a kid. I would sabotage my parents’ notepads or shopping lists with them, or do things like take a business card from a box, draw a boner on it and then slip it back in somewhere in the pile. I still do it now actually… I remember one time when I was about eleven I had drawn dicks, people having sex and a bunch of turds in my sketch book and my mother wanted to show a close church friend my drawing skills, so here she is showing off my sketch book and then suddenly, and to their surprise reached the “naughty page”. I don’t think her friend was all that impressed…

Usually I would keep my “serious” work quite separate from the humorous stuff, although my recent series on the book of Revelation is replete with giant phalluses, and they’re mostly instruments of wrath. It’s a funny thing to take something so serious as the cataclysmic end of the world and saturate it with grotesque genitalia, it was really quite satisfying.

Jonathan Guthmann

“Dum Vivimus Vivamus (While we live, let us live)” – Etching for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

CB: Where to from here? Do you have any new projects or ideas you’d like to share?

JG: Where to from here… There are a few things floating round my head: revisiting the apocalyptic themes is on the cards at some point, I’ve also been wanting to doing a series of eerie tree-based landscapes for a while, and I’m considering playing with some dark interpretations of traditional fairy tales like those of the Grimm bros… We’ll see.

Jonathan Guthmann

”Der Tod (Death Tarot Card)” – Etching for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

Jonathan Guthmann

“Memento Mori: Death Playing the Violin” – Etching for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

Jonathan Guthmann

”Biss dass der Tod uns scheidet (‘Til Death do us part)” – Etching for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

Jonathan Guthmann

“Totentanz II” – Etching by Jonathan Guthmann

Jonathan is currently exhibiting a series of new etchings at Beinart Gallery as part of the show Memento Mori, Memento Amare. This exhibit also features new sculptures by Isabel Peppard and paintings by Beau White. The exhibition closes November 12.

SEE AVAILABLE WORKS BY JONATHAN GUTHMANN

Interview with Beau White

Beau White

Beau White finishing “Vanitas No.1” for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

Beau White is an exceptionally gifted figurative oil painter with a proclivity towards bizarre and often unsettling themes. He is technically skilled and able to accurately represent his subject matter to near photorealism while still having the elusive “painterly” touch. His ability could easily lend itself to complete works of neoclassical art. When hearing him talk about working with paint, it is easy to see that he has near encyclopaedic knowledge and a passion to match. But, thematically Beau White’s works are far from classical although they do borrow some elements. And although his works are representational they are also otherworldly in the most bizarre and wonderful of ways. Seemingly inspired by both traditional painting techniques and movements and kitsch imagery from the seventies and eighties, Beau weaves his own magic with his brushes and oils to create something truly unique. Paintings with darkness, humour, social commentary, melancholy and absurdity. Beau is currently showing at Beinart Gallery as part of Memento Mori, Memento Amare. The exhibition closes November 12

Beau White Painting

“Still Death No.1” – Oil on board for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

“I’m interested in, and compelled to, represent the weird, creepy, grotesque and silly in my art. It’s how I view and interpret the world. My work could be summarised as playfulness and joy holding hands with fear and the unknown. Iʼm “whistling past the graveyard” —Beau White

Corinne Beinart: Tell us a bit about the body of work featured in Memento Mori, Memento Amare? What inspired this series?

Beau White: When I began thinking about the themes of the show, I decided to veer slightly from the usual iconography and approach things from a more jovial, tongue-in-cheek angle.

I became aware of historical vanitas paintings and was inspired by their stagy and romantic portrayal of mortality. When I further researched vanitas art and the various symbolic devices used to represent the ephemeral nature of life and the futility of existence, I became excited by the textural and conceptual potential for my own work. Bubbles, fruit and flowers in varying states of decay, mirrors and reflective surfaces, coins, hourglasses, candle flames etc. I wanted to create my own absurd brand of vanitas with variations on the theme here and there.

Beau White - Kiss Me

“Kiss Me” – Oil on board for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

Another inspiration for the imagery and colour palette for a number of my pieces, were those gaudy and wonderful cookbooks from the seventies and early eighties. Recipes that combined ingredients that not only sound absurd, but look incredibly disturbing and hilarious! The photos of these homely monstrosities possess a kind of tragicomic nostalgia which, to me, correlate nicely with the death and love themes and also with my take on the vanitas genre.

Within the series of eight paintings there are pairs for each variation on my vanitas/memento mori interpretations. Each coupling featured my partner and co-exhibiter, Isabel Peppard and myself, as the reference models. With the exception of the two “Still Death” pieces, which are based on the 19th century “death mask” tradition; they are both modelled on a life cast of Isabelʼs face. All the figurative elements in the series are reposed to signify death. I find that this gives the work a calm, contemplative quality beyond the vibrant colours, macabre subject matter and humorous elements.

Beau White - Vanitas No 2

“Vanitas No.2” – Oil on board for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

CB: Your work can be seen as quite thematically dark but there are often hints of the humorous or absurd. Is this purposeful? If so, why?

BW: It acts as a way for me to counter balance, or even accentuate the dark and disturbing elements of my work. I think it adds a unique dimension and point of interest to otherwise fairly simple, straightforward concepts and imagery. Perhaps, to a certain degree, it’s an aversion to artistic earnestness. But I’m interested in, and compelled to, represent the weird, creepy, grotesque and silly in my art. It’s how I view and interpret the world. My work could be summarised as playfulness and joy holding hands with fear and the unknown. Iʼm “whistling past the graveyard”.

Beau White

“Chickenpig” – Oil painting by Beau White.

CB: What advice would you give to young artists starting out?

BW: Insert inspirational quote here! I canʼt think of any general advice that I can give to a young artist or an artist of any age and experience level. To be honest, Iʼm not exactly sure how I got from my starting point to now. Persistence, I suppose. I donʼt want to spew forth a whole bunch of vague or over obvious stuff that people can find out through a quick internet search. I can share processes and techniques I use to make art that could be helpful, but these would be in response to specific questions from individuals with an interest in oil painting in a similar style. As far as being an artist in a broader sense, I’m not sure what an artist is exactly or where to even begin!

Beau White

“Host” – Oil painting by Beau White.

CB: How has your work changed over the years? Do you see how it will progress in the future?

BW: For many years, from the mid 90ʼs, I was working with ink, watercolour and pastels. I was doing cartooning and illustration, line based art and some pop surrealism and portraiture. I started working as a freelance illustrator from the early 2000ʼs and I began oil painting in 2007. Using sculpted elements, human and animal models and domestic backgrounds, I have created all my own photo reference to work from. Since starting with oils, I have developed a lot and am still exploring and expanding my techniques and approach to the medium. The work I am doing now is so challenging and creatively fulfilling, it feels like Iʼm heading in the right direction. I am unsure how my work will progress in the future. I will continue to explore and push myself conceptually, and hope to refine, and gain more confidence in my style and execution.

Beau White

“Still Death No.2” – Oil on board for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

CB: Whatʼs next? What projects do you hope to be working on in the near future?

BW: I’m excited about three group shows I am participating in at Beinart Gallery throughout 2018. In the new year I will also open an online store on my website, with prints of selected artworks available for purchase. And, I will also be assisting Isabel Peppard to create miniature set pieces and props for fantasy sequences in her documentary film Morgana. Beyond that, I will be planning for a solo show in 2019 and entering work into Australian art prizes.

Beau White - Coffin

“Coffin” – Oil on board for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

Beau White - Hearse

“Hearse” – Oil on board for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

Beau White - Hold Me

“Hold Me” – Oil on board for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

Beau White

“Thirst” – Oil painting by Beau White.

Beau is currently exhibiting a series of new oil paintings at Beinart Gallery as part of the show Memento Mori, Memento Amare. This exhibit also features new sculptures by Isabel Peppard and etchings by Jonathan Guthmann. The exhibition closes November 12.

SEE AVAILABLE WORKS BY BEAU WHITE

Interview with Isabel Peppard

Isabel Peppard

“Gloomy Sunday” – Silicone & resin sculpture for “Memento Mori, Memento Amare.”

Isabel Peppard has been an artistic force of nature since the moment she came into the world. A creator, visionary, provocateur and storyteller. In childhood she absorbed the legends, demons and spirits of Japanese folklore. As a teenager she fronted a successful punk rock band. As a young adult she earned her place in the special effects industry and her influence grew from there. She combined her talents in sculpture, painting, film making, animation to break new ground in the Australian arts and media industry. After working as a silicone technician alongside some of the worlds most celebrated creatives, including animator and director Adam Elliot and hyper-real conceptual artist Patricia Piccinini, Isabel’s unique vision and exceptional skill has seen her become a sought after artist her own right. Now, in addition to her collaborative projects, Isabel spends her time creating haunting and devastatingly realistic sculptural works and directing films and documentaries. Isabel is an award-winning animator and artist who explores the deepest parts of human nature and shines a bright, compassionate and insightful light on the parts of ourselves that society encourages us to hide. Isabel is currently showing at Beinart Gallery as part of Memento Mori, Memento Amare. The exhibition closes November 12.

Isabel Peppard

“The Rose” – Silicone & resin sculpture for “Memento Mori, Memento Amare.”

“…from an early age I was inspired by Japanese Fairy Tales, ghosts and demons. I remember being initially terrified by the monstrous temple guardians or ‘Nio’ that stood at the temple gates in our hometown of Kamakura. This fear started to become fascination and at some point I stopped being afraid and started emulating them…I’m pretty sure that this is where my love of and kinship with horror and dark surrealism began.”

Isabel Peppard

“Cherub 3: Surrender” – Silicone, wire, resin & artists own hair. For “Memento Mori, Memento Amare.”

Corinne Beinart: You are a film-maker and animator as well as an artist. Did all of these aspects of your creative practice emerge simultaneously? Or did one follow from another?

Isabel Peppard: I actually started out as a special effects artist but as I learnt different disciplines associated with the craft such as sculpting, mould making and air brushing, I felt compelled to apply them to my own creative practice rather than using them to work as a technician on films. I was initially using my new found skills to sculpt and build costumes/performances but after working in a few established stop motion animation studios I was inspired to tell my own stories in the form of short animations. Animation was the perfect combination of storytelling and visual art where I could build my own worlds and populate them with weird and wonderful characters.

Isabel Peppard - Butterflies

From Isabel Peppard’s award winning animation, “Butterflies.”

CB: How do you see your sculptural work as being different from your other creative projects? Is it more personal?

IP: My sculptural work is similar to my filmmaking work in that it is all driven by imagery. Often when I have a theme or idea in the back of my head, the images just start to appear and I interpret them in their roughest form as sketches and then refine them in the sculpts/models. This applies to imagery in my films or scriptwriting as well. I also use narrative in both my sculpted work and the work I do in film and often the sculptures are images that evoke or communicate a narrative. All the creative work I do is extremely personal although film tends to be more collaborative and so everyone else on the crew brings something of their own to the process. I guess in that way my sculpture is more personal in that it is completely controlled by me independently of other input but when I am inside the process of filmmaking it feels just as personal and I go through a similar turbulent emotional journey to get to the finished work.

Isabel Peppard

“Cherub 2: The Ordeal” – Silicone, wire, resin & artists own hair. For “Memento Mori, Memento Amare.”

CB: How did you get started in the arts? Where does your creative story begin?

IP: I have weirdly had quite a few different creative lives. When I was a kid I thought I was a poet (ha ha) and then I spent years as a singer in a punk band before getting in to visual arts, performance and finally animation and film. As a young woman I lived in Japan with my parents who were studying Zen Buddhism at the time and from an early age I was inspired by Japanese Fairy Tales, ghosts and demons. I remember being initially terrified by the monstrous temple guardians or ‘Nio’ that stood at the temple gates in our hometown of Kamakura. This fear started to become fascination and at some point I stopped being afraid and started emulating them. I would pose like they did and pretend to be one of them. I was only about 4 or 5 years old at the time but I’m pretty sure that this is where my love of and kinship with horror and dark surrealism began.

Isabel Peppard

“Cherub 2: The Ordeal” – Silicone, wire, resin & artists own hair. For “Memento Mori, Memento Amare.”

CB: Where to from here? What other projects do you have on the go?

IP: At the moment my main project is a feature documentary called ‘Morgana’ (co-directed by Josie Hess). The film is a dark, creative character portrait of a 50 yr old housewife from rural Australia who re-invents herself as a feminist porn star and filmmaker. As always I will be integrating elements of sculpture/miniatures and visual art into the storytelling to give the audience a poetic experience of our lead protagonists internal journey. Apart from that I have a bunch of projects in development stage including a kids horror animated series, a feature live action horror fantasy and a short horror/exploitation film.

Isabel Peppard - Demon Parade

Pre-production images of “Demon Parade” by Isabel Peppard.

CB: What advice would you give to young artists just starting in their careers or creative practice?

IP: I would say to enjoy the process as much as possible and find your reward within the process of making and completing work. Don’t be afraid to fail and if you do fail have the courage to get up and give it another shot. Find your people and build a network of folks that you have a genuine creative and personal connection with; your network will grow as you do and hopefully you can all help each other. Persist.

Isabel Peppard

“Cherub 1: The Discovery” – Silicone & resin sculpture for “Memento Mori, Memento Amare.”

Isabel Peppard WIP

WIP by Isabel Peppard for “Memento Mori, Memento Amare.”

Isabel is currently exhibiting a series of new sculptural works at Beinart Gallery as part of the show Memento Mori, Memento Amare. This exhibit also features new paintings by Beau White and etchings by Jonathan Guthmann. The exhibition closes November 12.

SEE AVAILABLE WORKS BY ISABEL PEPPARD

Lush – Jana Brike | Ray Caesar | Redd Walitzki | Rodrigo Luff

Jana Brike

Lush is an exhibition of sensual works by Jana Brike, Redd Walitzki, Ray Caesar and Rodrigo Luff.

ONLINE CATALOGUE

Brike’s strangely seductive paintings explore our internal lives, with themes of longing, love and pain. Caesar’s neo-Victorian imagery, at times haunting or playful or both, uncovers the deep desires and secrets we hide from ourselves. Walitzki’s ethereal portraits address unrealistic beauty expectations for women as well as the darker aspects of human impact on the environment. And in Luff’s pieces, goddess-like figures and animals are imbued with a sense of the otherworldly through Luff’s use of light.

WHEN: Opens Saturday, November 18th, 6pm – 9pm. FREE ENTRY!

Exhibition runs until December 3rd.

INTERVIEWSJANA BRIKEREDD WALITZKI & RODRIGO LUFF.

RSVP ON FACEBOOK

CONTACT US for enquiries.

Complimentary wine will be available at the opening. For those wanting a non-alcoholic option, we will also have drinks provided by Remedy Kombucha.

"Annihilation" - Painting by Redd Walitzki for Lush

“Annihilation” – Painting by Redd Walitzki for Lush.

Redd Walitzki (United States) finds inspiration in the lush surroundings of her home in the Pacific Northwest and the ornate Baroque ornamentation of her native Bavaria. The vivid muses in her paintings are influenced by the glamour of high fashion, but Walitzki’s works also often explore the darker side of human impact on ecology. Her earliest memories are of painting at the kitchen table with her grandfather, pulling flowers and foxes out of the bright splashes of pigment. This initial passion led her to pursue a career as an artist, and Walitzki completed her B.F.A. from Cornish College of the Arts with a concentration in painting. Walitzki’s work has been featured in galleries on both coasts of the U.S. and in Australia as well as in Hi-Fructose and Juxtapoz.

Rodrigo Luff

Oil painting by Rodrigo Luff for Lush.

Rodrigo Luff (Australia) is an Australian artist who was born in El Salvador. Luff creates ethereal figurative works of women and nudes in beautiful dreamlike settings. His works are ornate and lush, replete with elaborate references to the natural world. Luff studied traditional life drawing and painting at the Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney from 2006 to 2009. Since graduating, Luff has shown his work in four solo exhibitions in the U.S. and in several group exhibitions. He explores a feeling of the otherworldly by capturing his subjects in trance-like states, dwelling in mysterious atmospheres. Using chiaroscuro effects and traditional figurative techniques, Luff creates a visual world that is painterly and surreal.

Jana Brike - Lush - Search for the origin of the universe

“Search For The Origin of The Universe” – Oil painting by Jana Brike for Lush.

Jana Brike (Latvia) was born in Latvia when it was still under Soviet occupation. She began rigorous training in art as a child, spending at least 5 hours per day painting and drawing in an arts elementary school, at some cost to the freedom she might otherwise have enjoyed as a child. By her teens, she was showing her work in international exhibitions; she went on to earn a master’s degree in art from the Art Academy of Latvia. Brike’s work tells pieces of her own story but with themes that resonate universally: love, self-discovery, growth, exploration and longing. The imagery she employs reflects influences of folklore, mythology and Brike’s love of nature as well as her contemplations regarding the “feminine soul space.” Brike has had over a dozen solo shows and has participated in more than 100 group shows.

Ray Caesar (Canada) is known in the fine art world as the grandfather of digital art. Caesar’s works are partly inspired by Vermeer and Jan van Eyck, as well as 18th-century painter Gainsborough and French rococo artists Watteau and Boucher. He is also heavily inspired by Japanese culture. Caesar’s works are visual diaries of his life memories and events. He has paved new roads to the acceptance and transparency of works created completely digitally. His work has been exhibited extensively in solo shows in Europe, the U.S., Canada and Asia and has appeared in numerous prominent publications, including Huffington Post, The Globe & Mail, Vogue Italy, Vogue Japan, Hi-Fructose and Juxtapoz. Caesar’s works are collected by numerous venerated institutions, including the Bristol Museum, as well as prominent collectors such as Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy, the Hearst family and others.

PHONE+61 3 9939 3681

CONTACT US for enquiries.

WHEREbeinArt Gallery | 1 Sparta Place | Brunswick | VIC 3056 | Australia

Memento Mori, Memento Amare – Beau White | Isabel Peppard | Jonathan Guthmann

Isabel Peppard - Beau White - Jonathan Guthmann

Memento Mori, Memento Amare is a three-person exhibition featuring art nouveau body horror sculptures by Isabel Peppard, absurdist vanitas paintings by Beau White and neogothic etchings by Jonathan Guthmann.

ONLINE CATALOGUE

Love and death have long walked hand in hand in the cultural imagination, and this exhibition brings together fresh, unconventional approaches to the subject alongside playful nods to tradition.

WHEN: Opens Saturday, OCT 21, 6pm – 9pm. FREE ENTRY! All 3 artists will be in attendance.

Exhibition runs until NOV 12.

INTERVIEWSISABEL PEPPARD, BEAU WHITE

CONTACT US for enquiries.

RSVP ON FACEBOOK

Complimentary wine will be available at the opening. For those wanting a non-alcoholic option, we will also have drinks provided by Remedy Kombucha.

“Vanitas No.1” – Oil painting by Beau White for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

Beau White (Melbourne, Australia) is a hyperrealist and figurative oil painter. Beau began his professional artistic career as a freelance illustrator in 2004, but his true passion lay in the creation of his own strikingly vivid paintings. Nightmarish imagery, absurdism and the grotesque are common threads throughout Beauʼs work. As a member of the BeinArt Collective, Beau has exhibited in Melbourne, Los Angeles and New York City.

Detail of one of Isabel Peppard's sculptures for Memento Mori, Memento Amare

Sculpture by Isabel Peppard for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

Isabel Peppard (Melbourne, Australia) is a multidisciplinary artist who works across the mediums of film, sculpture and stop-motion animation. As a silicone technician she has worked with luminary local artists such as Sam Jinks, Adam Elliot and Patricia Piccinini. Her work in film has screened at top-tier festivals, including MIFF, Sitges and Annecy, and has been broadcast on national television. Her short film Butterflies won the Dendy award at the Sydney Film Festival and received an Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts award nomination. Through her diverse practice, Isabel creates rich narrative imagery that explores themes of love and psychological pain, emotional viscera and the monstrous feminine.

“Death with a Violin and Acanthus Motif II” – Etching by Jonathan Guthmann for Memento Mori, Memento Amare.

Jonathan Edward Guthmann (Melbourne, Australia) works in a variety of mediums. Although Jonathan has held numerous solo exhibitions in Melbourne and southeast Queensland, he has gained notoriety in recent years for his meticulous, satirical drawings of phalluses on newspapers, published by Drawing Dicks on the Herald Sun on tumblr. For the last three years Jonathan’s preferred technique has been intaglio printmaking, a traditional method of manual printing. Jonathan also works with pigmented inks, charcoal, graphite, conte and oil paints, often mixing these mediums with a unique approach to create distinctive works. Jonathan has an academic background in theology, and his passion about this topic greatly influences his creative life: his work is often saturated with existential themes, deeply symbolic motifs, allegories and metaphors.

PHONE+61 3 9939 3681

CONTACT US for enquiries.

WHEREbeinArt Gallery | 1 Sparta Place | Brunswick | VIC 3056 | Australia

In conversation with Ben Howe – by Luke Barrett

Ben Howe Painting

Ben Howe painting “Passage” for his solo exhibition “Weave”.

Over nearly two decades, Australian artist Ben Howe has carved a reputation for himself globally with his iconic photo-surrealist oil paintings. Those paintings have made their way across the world into galleries and private collections, in the process eclipsing numerous grants, fellowships and international residencies which have been sent his way.

On the cusp of his new solo exhibition ‘Weave’, Ben Howe took precious time out from the studio, several pieces still in situ and on the easel, the paint literally still wet or on the palette or both, awaiting his return. Over several hours, Ben opened up about some of the most private, shocking and captivating aspects of his life story, his artistic skills and creative processes, which he has generously allowed us to share in the following interview by Luke Barrett on behalf of BeinArt Gallery.

Ben Howe

“Passage” – Oil on board by Ben Howe for his solo exhibition, “Weave”.

Although it is mid-afternoon when we meet, Melbourne’s winter lingers, ensuring a white and charcoal sky. The clouds, like painterly smears of grey, appear stark against the relative fluorescence of an overcast stratosphere.

Inside the bar, Ben Howe is sitting in a corner, partly obscured in the shadows. He cuts a brooding but welcoming figure, alone but at ease: he is already enjoying a drink. A waitress will later leave a tealight and the flicker of its flame will cast shadows which will sway across our table, providing a talking point.

All of this is quite fitting for the internationally-respected Melbourne artist who is renowned for his monochromatic oil paintings which often explore themes of isolation and loneliness through his trade mark photo-surrealism and masterful black-and-white rendering of light and shadows.

Ben Howe

“Rosette” – Oil and acrylic on canvas by Ben Howe for his solo exhibition, “Weave”.

Howe’s story is a gripping one. At so many crossroads, he has chosen the road less travelled. Those choices have led him, if not to happiness, to where and to who he is today. He is matter of fact about having sought out adventure in his youth and now, in adulthood, seeking out and confronting personal weakness. Make no mistake though, there is no arrogance here. It is with humility and, I suspect, a degree of unwarranted self-condemnation that he confesses to having made some questionable choices in life. In that regard he observes:

“There are some things that make you stronger. They add colour to your life. But there are others that go a bit far and cause a whole lot of dominoes to fall.”

His life is deserving of an autobiography, one that he once commenced but abandoned because he was not happy with the author’s telling of the story. This reveals something about the critical eye with which he scrutinises all of his work and his pursuit of perfectionism.

Howe is tertiary educated and holds a Masters of Fine Art from RMIT and is a qualified teacher, having taught art and woodwork to high school students. Being highly intellectual, it is obvious that he reflects deeply on his experiences in order to integrate them into his sense of being and his art.

Ben Howe

“Monument ” – Oil on board by Ben Howe for his solo exhibition, “Weave”.

An experience which was as influential as it was harrowing was being kidnapped by a Moroccan drug cartel at the age of 22. Although he is now comfortable discussing the ordeal, Howe self-diagnoses himself as perhaps still suffering a degree of post-traumatic stress.

While back-packing around Europe, Howe ventured south towards Morocco and, while drinking alone, was approached by a local who offered him an opportunity ‘to see the real Morocco’. This was an offer which was too good to refuse for an Australian backpacker. They hailed a taxi, climbed in and travelled for some time, periodically switching taxis and being joined by a rotating cast of motley passengers. Howe realised too late that the other passengers were there to prevent his escape.

There was a moment when the taxi stopped and he found himself in a conversation with other backpackers waiting for a bus. They were the only other travellers he had encountered in Morocco. Perhaps they had a better read of the situation, because they urged Howe to abandon the taxi and to come with them instead, sensing that something was amiss. Fatefully, Howe ignored their encouragement, dismissing the option of bus travel with other foreign travellers as ‘the easy way’. On reflection, he says:

“I felt trapped by my own sensibilities. There was no way I wasn’t going to go further with my abductors, even though I knew it could only end in a bad way.”

Ben Howe Something To Hold Onto

“Something To Hold Onto” – Oil on canvas by Ben Howe.

Eventually, the taxi and its passengers arrived at a poor village in a remote part of Morocco. It was there that Howe was introduced to the resident drug lord. The extent of his predicament sunk in.

Over four terrifying days, Howe’s kidnappers systematically stole his money, raiding his bank accounts, under threats of violence to himself and his family. Although they would allow him freedom of movement around the village (albeit under the supervision of armed thugs), the consequences of not complying with their demands were gravely clear.

To expedite his co-operation, Howe was marched at gunpoint and shown the already-dug grave where his body would be buried once they had murdered him. To validate the credentials of his kidnappers, Howe was shown the passports of around ten other kidnapped tourists who had apparently suffered a similar fate.

It is remarkable that, even while immersed amongst such adversity, there is still scope for good fortune, of sorts. Fortuitously, Howe avoided being coerced into drug-mule servitude, which had been the final act in his kidnappers’ playbook. Prior to escaping though, his situation had forced his principles and ethics into conflict with his survival instincts. Although the former prevailed, the cognitive dissonance precipitated by the episode had an impact which has stayed with him.

Ben Howe - Alignment

“Alignment” – Oil on canvas by Ben Howe.

Fearing reprisal, Howe avoided running to the authorities. Without cash, fleeing home to Australia was not an option either. Determined to claw his own way out of the situation, he remained in Europe, enduring periods of homelessness, spending the evenings sleeping on foreign streets, with nowhere to go and no money to get there.

Now he can be philosophical about these experiences.

“Those periods of sleeping rough were pretty wearing. I could never really slip into a deep sleep, as the senses were always primed. Also, it was horrible when the weather was bad. Finding discreet places that were also out of the elements was a lot more difficult than you might think. Looking back though, I’m glad for most of these difficult times, that were largely brought about by my own ignorance. All the discomfort, dirt and anxiety are washed away with the distance of time. I think these kinds of things led to me having more empathy than I otherwise would have had – also an awareness of how easy it is for people to fall once they’ve slipped… and how a city and its machinations can chew people up without a supportive community around them.”

Howe is conscious that the Moroccan incident may have been one of those ‘life is short’ epiphanies and has perhaps served as a catalyst for his art making. His art has evolved dramatically in the period since and he is more driven than ever to create.

Back then, Howe sketched a lot. When he revisits his sketches and photography from that trip, the sketches bring on more nostalgia than the photographs.

Ben Howe - Somewhere in Time

“Somewhere in Time” – Oil on canvas by Ben Howe.

In the aftermath of those experiences, his artistic endeavours have pivoted several times. Those endeavours have included a foray into street art in which he pioneered intricate and highly-detailed steam-punk stencils in the years preceding the stencil movement’s ‘big bang’ moment. Howe is philosophical in questioning the timing of his decision to abandon that body of work: who knows where it would have led him had he persevered a little longer and not run out of steam.

Howe even dabbled in film-making for a while, commencing production of a zombie movie. Production was killed at the filming stage and, unlike its characters, has not been resurrected.

Paradoxically, Howe’s experiences of extreme isolation and loneliness – at school, in Morocco or during those homeless periods – have not led him to eschew isolation and loneliness. He neither fears nor embraces them. They find their way into his art: the subject matter, the themes and even the way in which he creates.

Yet these are experiences which for the most part, until now, have been private. Perhaps this has fuelled one of Howe’s philosophical beliefs that ‘it is the things which can’t be seen that are the most interesting’. He adds:

“It’s the device, the ghost, the wind that causes the leaves to blow about that is the real mystery. What drives our curiosity is what lies behind the door, rather than the door itself.”

Ben Howe Stencils

Various stencils by Ben Howe.

The emphasis on light and shadow in his work takes on a whole new significance, knowing this. While the casual observer might compliment Howe’s portrayal of light, it would be more apt to commend his use of shadows. Shadows are the absence of light and that which cannot be seen: therein lies the mystery that Howe believes is most interesting to contemplate.

All of us are followed through life by our respective pasts and histories, like a shadow which we can never escape. Sometimes our shadow can fall behind us, out of sight and out of mind – but there nonetheless. At other times our shadow can loom large and fall across the path ahead of us.

Light is concurrently both cause and antidote for any shadow. In this regard, Howe quotes Leonard Cohen who famously quipped, in the lyrics for his song Anthem, that ‘there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’.

If the shadows of Howe’s experiences have left him cracked, then they are also responsible for the light that shines through, powering his creativity today.

Ben Howe Tectonica

“Tectonica” – Oil on panel by Ben Howe.

This theme can be seen in his ‘surface variation’ body of work, which I crudely referred to as his ‘slice and dice’ paintings. (Howe was half-amused by the clumsy faux pas.) The subjects in these paintings have literally been cracked apart so that Howe can capture the light shining in and the tell-tale shadows which are cast in the process.

A broken-hearted musician might later find some consolation in the album’s worth of material which they can mine from the aftermath of a break up. And so it is for Howe, who finds that ‘great art doesn’t come from a happy place, it comes from darkness and adversity’.

Co-incidentally, Howe’s creative gifts extend to music and over the years he has played in a number of local bands, such as Kicking the Black Dog, and pursued a number of solo projects. He has been instrumental in recording around thirteen albums, but he humbly points out that none of them were ever officially released by a label. Howe plays guitar, is a vocalist and has an interest in programming and producing.

Ben Howe Nest

“Nest” – Oil on canvas by Ben Howe.

Like a beautiful sounding song which also has strong lyrics, Howe’s paintings are based on deeply thought-out concepts that have been conceived well in advance. He jokes that there is a thesis worth of ideas and intended meanings behind every painting. Before even picking up a brush, he develops the messages and emotions which he is wanting to convey through the shadows in his paintings.

When the Foo Fighters’ eponymous first album was recorded, Dave Grohl famously played every instrument on the studio recording. There is a touch of this in Howe’s art-making process. He sands his own panels and stretches his own canvasses. Often he sculpts from clay the subjects and objects which will feature in his paintings. After sculpting, Howe then photographs the sculptures. Finally, he paints. It is an impressive array of artistic skills that he brings to bear: the art world’s equivalent of a multi-instrumentalist. Howe jokes that Grohl must have done it because he was a perfectionist.

Ben Howe - Surface Variation 2

“Surface Variation 2” – Oil on canvas by Ben Howe.

Although Howe’s paintings may appear to be stand-alone pieces, there is a common thread that secretly connects many of them, beyond their thematic and aesthetic commonalities. Every clay sculpture which Howe has ever sculpted for one of his paintings has been sculpted from the same block of clay. Every one of those sculptures was quickly photographed before the clay could dry so that the sculpture could be collapsed and returned to the block of clay from whence it came. For appreciators of Howe’s work, there might be a sense of loss and tragedy in this seemingly needless destruction of those sculptural pieces – any of which could be collectable pieces of art in their own right. However, it is not done to be mercenary, but rather out of sentimentality. In a very literal and deliberate way, Howe’s artistic process means that each sculpture-based painting contains the artistic genetic material of every sculpture-based painting that has come before it. Howe smiles as he explains his thinking. For him, this tradition shares a similar charm to the old family bread-making tradition of passing down sourdough starter as an heirloom to each subsequent generation, so that future generations can make sourdough from the same sourdough cultures which were first cultivated long ago by their ancestors.

Ben Bowe Surface 2

“Ribboned bust” – Oil on canvas by Ben Howe.

The discussion turns to Howe’s upcoming ‘Weave’ exhibition with BeinArt Gallery. Howe has relocated to the seaside town of Mount Eliza, 48 kilometres from Melbourne, while he prepares for the exhibition. For a moment, one senses a wave of exhaustion wash across his expression. Howe works on a large scale and this demands a substantial time commitment to create the number of pieces that comprise a solo exhibition. In typical fashion, he foreshadows what we can expect from this next series of paintings in deeply considered terms.

“I wanted this series of paintings to be full of symbolism and mystery. It was my aim to create a poetic and deceptively simple imagery that allows for the viewer to go as deep as they need to.”

“Although the works themselves simultaneously reference both world events and the rituals of contemporary existence, they’re fused with subconscious echoes. They are triggered by personal sentiments and deeply set memories.”

“I used gothic motifs, fairy tales and archaic tropes to explore the themes of this series; to blur the lines between what is considered the ‘make believe’ and what we believe. Together with the monochrome pallet, these could serve to evoke a nostalgia for another time or the possibility of no time”

“I approached this series during a period of unexplained melancholy, perhaps brought on by the futility and tragedy of current world events. But I wanted to approach the artwork with the tranquillity that comes from walking through a cemetery.”

Ben Howe - Late In The Day

“Late In The Day” – Oil on canvas by Ben Howe.

Some of the photography for the exhibition’s promotional materials show Howe working on one of his new paintings in Mount Eliza, alongside his old compact disc collection. With a sense of nostalgia, we reminisce over an era when it was de rigueur to curate a personal collection of compact discs and arrange them in an order of which even John Cusack’s character in Hi-fidelity would have approved. That was a time of album cover art, lyric booklets and bonus discs of rare material. Howe shares that, having purchased an album, he would deprive himself until the evening before listening to the new acquisition. He would anxiously spend the remainder of the day looking forward to the moment when he could finally sit in bed, open the album and start reading the album booklet. Even then, he would only allow himself to listen to rations of three songs at a time, to extend the thrill of the experience of the new album. Back then, he could not always afford to purchase the album and, if he could procure of a copy of the album, he would redraw the album cover art by his own hand: an early sign of his artistic potential. Some of those hand-drawings would still be amongst his compact disc collection.

The photographer complained that the compact disc collection was in frame – nobody has compact discs anymore – so Howe was told to move the collection out of the light and into the corner.

There are so many interesting things in the shadows which cannot be seen.

Ben Howe

“Excavation” – Oil on board by Ben Howe for his solo exhibition, “Weave”.

Ben Howe’s ‘Weave’ exhibition opens on 23 September 2017 at BeinArt Gallery in Brunswick, Victoria.

SEE AVAILABLE WORKS BY BEN HOWE

Weave – New Paintings by Ben Howe

Ben Howe Art Weave Exhibition

“Weave” is a new series of oil paintings by internationally renowned Australian artist Ben Howe. This exhibition brings together themes of mortality, isolation, longing, melancholy and loss and sits somewhere between the physical constraints of reality and the anarchic realm of the subconscious.

ONLINE CATALOGUE.

These paintings draw from gothic motifs, fairy tales and archaic tropes to explore broader issues relating to the physical and subjective self within contemporary society.

WHEN: Opens Saturday, SEP 23, 6pm – 9pm. FREE ENTRY! Ben Howe will be in attendance. Exhibition runs until OCT 15.

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Complimentary wine will be available at the opening. For those wanting a non-alcoholic option, we will also have drinks provided by Remedy Kombucha.

Ben Howe Excavation

Ben Howe (Australia) was born in London. Over the course of nearly two decades, he has explored the nature of consciousness, his own personal history and the incongruities of memory through his artwork in a career which has taken him to England, Germany, China and the USA. He holds a Master of Fine Art (with Distinction) from RMIT University and is the recipient of numerous grants, international residencies and fellowships. Action, isolation and refraction surface as thematic currents in the practice of an artist whose work functions as a platform for broader considerations relating to the physical and subjective self within contemporary society. Ben has developed a signature aesthetic that is at once hyper-realistic yet deeply concerned by the poetics of form and symbolism. His ambiguous and lonely works are often derived from preliminary explorations in other media, such as sculpture, photography and film; his process distorts the boundaries of the real and the perceived.

PHONE+61 3 9939 3681

CONTACT US for enquiries.

WHEREbeinArt Gallery | 1 Sparta Place | Brunswick | VIC 3056 | Australia