Saturday Spotlight: Volume 048

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arctoa's avatar
An Interview with-

> Please introduce yourself, in your own words. What are your interests?
The standard boilerplate is that I am a technologist, a wonk, and an artist. I’ve been practicing at that last role (read: making some or all of my income via creative output) for over 20 years. My interests are sort-of all over the map, but on paper probably make as much or as little sense as those of anyone else. Because I like Top-X lists, here's one:

1. Music. I'm currently the owner a 5-figure collection of releases that go from the super-accessible bubblegum of the day to complete bonkers fringe noise, on cd/vinyl/cassette/ogg/mp3 and 8-track...yes, I said 8-track.  And yes, I own an 8-track player, complete with faux wood grain finish (Isaac Hayes ain’t nothin' to laugh at folks, especially in that format). If one looks remotely hard, one can see I name almost all of my abstract works from song/album titles or lyrical fragments, so this habit carries meaning for me visually as well as sonically.

2. Technology. I've been involved in the Open Source community since the late 1990s, and tech has been my career area for slightly longer than that. I am recently recovered from an addiction to new gadgets, and I have to say I’m generally much better for it. Also, I like Android more than Apple (that’s right, I said it). I play with any new software I can find for making art, and not always stuff made explicitly for that purpose.

3. Politics: as a science, not a an ideologue, which means I tend to annoy anyone with a strong political opinion and a weak factual basis, just ask anyone showing the IQ of a wet mullet in the deviantART Politics forum. I am the guy who understands the broadcast schedule of C-Span, and in college even developed drinking games for watching Senate sessions. Yes, when I say I’m a wonk, I’m not bloody joking.  

4. Satire, for lack of a better term. Anyone who knows me long enough knows I generate a near-constant stream of invective-laden, vulgar, histrionic observations about almost anything. I can’t resist hurling one liners and biting jabs at pretty much everything. And I switch from a Lewis Black-like apocalyptic furore to laconic deadpan at random (think Daria but with man-parts and a better social calendar). I find that a lot of modern life is pretty damn absurd (including my part in it), so laughing at it seems healthier and less turd-headed than what a lot of people do; getting defensive and overly serious about ultimately pointless stuff doesn’t add to your quality of life. Stop it. Go take a trail run, swim in the ocean, play some full-contact checkers, make fun of people who think they look good in Tommy Bahamas shirts, etcetera.

5. Food and Drink. I am not a “foodie” in the sense that I am only a marginally capable cook, and I don’t go eating just for the sake of boasting that I tried some artificially trendy food item. I am, however, a fan of well prepared food, whatever the cost, and regardless of whether its the common taco or some strange sea life I’ve never heard of put on a bed of kale harvested from a hill on Mars by astronauts from Guam trained at Area 51. I’m also a bit of a beer snob and scotch and gin aficionado. If all you’ve had is PBR and are seriously missing out (get ye some Ola Dubh from Scotland and some St. George’s Rye will not regret this advice. Go forth and better yourself damnit).

6. Fashion. Mama didn’t raise no fashion fatality. Also, I have way more dress shoes than any man ought to. That said, $600 Jo Ghost alligator skin lace-ups look mighty nice. Best compliment I ever got was on a date where the lady said “I like the fact that I never have to tell you what to wear”.

7. I use 7 in way more creative things than people ever suspect. Try to find and collect them all.

> Where did you begin with artistic endeavours? How did you come across Abstraction or Surrealism?
Like a lot of people who later “go pro” you start young, mostly irritating the crap out of your parents by trying to draw a Hieronymous Bosch style mural on every surface in the house. Then they start handing you reams of paper, you practice hand/eye coordination and fine motor-control, and things improve.

While I didn’t really start doing abstract work until my early 20s, I was avidly interested in it at the same time I discovered surrealism and Dada, around age 8 or 9 I think. I was going to the local library pretty much every week for years getting books on anything from Arabic calligraphy and Japanese woodblock prints to collections of Rothko and Schiele. I didn’t understand it at all (if you are still watching Saturday morning cartoons AND trying to dissect the Dada manifesto, you have issues), but visually I was transfixed by Dali, Braque, Duchamp, Höch, et al.

I liked the absurdity in it, which eventually pushed me towards abstract expressionism and pop art.  I just didn’t feel capable of expressing anything in those areas until much later. I felt I needed to build a certain technical grasp of things and being something passable for self-aware before even daring the hardcore stuff.

I’m sure a some folks think abstract work is “easy” (and it certainly can be) and “lame” (some of it is, just like in any other genre) because it’s not hyper-realistic copying of bland photographs or orgies of anthropomorphized zoology. To those people, I recommend head-butting a cactus for 10-20 minutes.

> How would you explain the concept of Abstraction or Surrealism to someone with no experience with the genre?
I’m not always sure how to approach that question, and I’ve actually been asked that before;

Surrealism is a little bit easier, in that it was a defined movement, with its own manifesto.  Even the Wikipedia entry for it distils it down to a fairly digestible sentence: “Surrealist works feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur. Ordinary and depictive expressions are vital and important, but that the sense of their arrangement must be open to the full range of imagination”.

As for abstract, how does one try to add a useful description to a broad genre that kind-of defies really clear conceptual boundaries?  I mean, you can say it involves surrealism, but blown apart and reconstituted in any way the artist wishes. The spectrum of “abstract” has always meant a freeness that at first terrified me, but after I wrapped my head around it, seemed like a perfect fit. Abstraction lets you work out the full span of your mind (the conscious and subconscious) parallelized, hyperthreaded, and in real time.  

It’s insane-balls exciting shit.

I don’t try to over-intellectualize it, because that gets really annoying after a while. You burn lean tissue above the neck that is better spent making the art itself. It’s different for everyone, because the genre is designed to be that open; for me, it’s like an extreme sport or the visual equivalent to improvised have to be really bloody on point, your chops up to snuff, and very present (i don’t normally like using that term, due to its abuse by new-agey space cases who otherwise have been too stoned since the first Reagan administration to say anything worth listening to, but it works here) to make it all come together.

The catharsis of the process is the closest that a non-sex act comes to actual sex itself I’ve ever found. To that end, I’m an art pornstar. A veritable one-man orgy of aesthetic hijinx.  I’ve also just decided I’m putting that sentence in the coffee-table art-book I’ve been trying to put together of my work from the last two decades.

> What inspires you to use Abstraction or Surrealism in your work?
No idea. For me, art is largely the cliché that it's a compulsion, not something I just turn on and off as it suits me. I may do some things for slightly different sidebar motivations (i.e. I generally pick commissions based on balance of financial motivation and how interesting the subject is -- but it generally has to have both to work; I have never done anything just for the cash), but when the itch to create hits, I scratch wearing thong underwear and sitting on poison oak.

But seriously, once abstract expressionism and surrealism came into play, it rapidly became very instinctual and kind of worked its way down to the DNA for me. That side of my creative output is really something I describe in terms of negative space; I can tell you all the stuff around what it is, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out how to explain what this is actually is.

> What do you want to express with your artwork? What is the idea you're trying to put across?
I am a pretentious-as-hell dude when I write about myself (see this interview or anything else I’ve written since, uh, birth) but the art is as close to a clear set of true elements about me as I’ll likely ever get. The honest answer, in my heart of hearts, is that I am leaving my own story in my own language for a readership of one...myself. It’s something that reflects me: flaws, hubris, madness and all. And I put it out because I want people to see it, to love it, to hate it, to take whatever they want from it.  

I rarely have any desire to explicitly state what any one thing is about, because so much of it was very much "in the moment(s)" I created it and those moments really are only known and understood to me. Everyone else is seeing it relative to that. And that’s OK. If I try to explain each work too much it dilutes it for me, and I won’t do that. And if you get something totally different from a work than I do, who am I to say that it’s wrong?

Artists that try to sanctimoniously force their “vision” down upon their audience bore me. Stop being a trollop about it and let us all just look at the pictures. I want to look at your work, and get whatever I get out of it. I want to let people do the same for my own.  

> What are your 'tools of the trade'? How do you create your art?
I get asked this a lot, and if I had a truly consistent model I followed, I could answer this a lot better. There are some methods I have refined over the years that I’ve been meaning to write down, but it would be long, involved and likely boring beyond comprehension...kind of like most of my answers to everything (that said, do I get points for snark AND thoroughness? That would be great).

The part that people often really are after is the tools, in which I have a semi-recent graph that illustrates what tools are in the shed that can be found here.

As you can see, I even mention the software I use to manage my projects. This is kind-of telling, in that I actually manage my projects. It acts as a running audit trail of activity, lets me keep some amount of historical notes about specific works, and even drops ideas for future stuff in a semi-structured, searchable pool.  This is important for a guy like me, who produces more ideas than I can ever hope to execute on; I can go back and sometimes check for ideas I may have forgotten about and realize I am now in the right frame of mind to execute on “X” - or maybe its the right time to return to “Y” and see if I can get it into a publishable state.

I will say this too; I love trying new stuff. Finding new toys, new approaches, new ways of thinking about the technical execution will sometimes rabbit punch the creative system that makes novel ways of expression come out. There is a thrill in that I go seeking out often.

> Do you think the quality of a piece depends more upon technical perfection, or the message contained therein?

OK, that’s a non-answer, but it’s true. The message part I kind of covered already, but different artists bring different aspects into play. Some bring both, but I can enjoy something just for technical execution (I immediately try to reverse engineer it in my head), or just for the narrative because it made me engage. If you have both, then count me as a new fan.

> Who are your favourite visual artists, and why?
Here's a (semi) canonical Top-10 list of sorts.

Bill Sienkiewicz
Pablo Picasso
Kent Williams
Robert Rauschenberg
Jasper Johns
Japanese sumi-e linework
Storm Thorgerson
Almost the entire corpus of geometric/mathematically generated arts (i.e. Islamic arabesques, Catholic dome designs, flame and mandelbrot fractals, et al)

I could sit and get into long discourse about any of these (and more) but if I distill it to a non-geeked out abstraction, almost all these share certain traits, expressed in their own ways:

They are identifiable; they have found a visual language that is uniquely their own and identifiable, no matter how it shifts over time, something stays theirs. I want to be whatever that is for myself (and boy do I have a ways to go). It certainly can have lineage leading back to where I borrow/wholesale steal from others, but I want the overall end result to be a body of work that is definitively my own.  

They tend towards mixing up the "rules" - most of that list work/ed in multiple mediums, sometimes hurling them into each other. They all knew the rules very well, most of them being formally trained to a great degree. They also knew when to toss some or all of said rules into a grinder and use whatever came out to make something fresh and forcing discomfort where complacency had been. I like that. They didn't do it just to ignore the rules, but because what they wanted to do as a valid form of expression demanded it.  

To the previous statement, they were (at least as much as I have been able to research) not parochial about what they were creating. Too often (and this is especially endemic in many corners of deviantART, and something folks know I rail violently against) is the whole argument about whether its traditional or not, whether its legit or not, and how to identify oneself as X or Y or Z or not. It's some tired-ass nonsense. I'll opine that if you are furiously trying to place yourself with an inherently fuzzy definition of a genre or a style or a are more of a technician than an artist.  

These guys just do, and have not even a flying, land-based or nautical fuck given to what anyone else thinks about it.

> Which dA Groups would you recommend to someone looking to get involved with abstract and surreal art?

:iconabstract-and-surreal: :iconfine-art-asylum: :iconthe-surreal:

> What advice would you give to an absolute beginner in the genre?
As a former Catholic schoolboy, I feel this is one of those times where bringing out the old Latin may be instructive:

Coppula Eam, Se Non Post Acceptera Jocularum!

The fact is, you have to decide what to do; everyone has to carve out their own path, and from my perspective you can do that any way that works for you. The only thing you have to be is fearless, or at the very least, willing to push past it and just experiment. It’s OK to hit a wall; its an excuse to develop a way to crash through it, fly over it, or route around. It’s not about the obstacles, but the path of discovery taken.

> Any final words on abstract and surreal art?
For people who really want to get into it, go to shows. Seriously, no internet images or art books do most of the greats ANY justice at all. Almost categorically across the board, the details of texture, of scale chosen, of the materials just always hits harder, cuts deeper, and diddles the senses more in person. You should be out supporting your local galleries anyway. Stop reading my inane crap and go for an outing to a gallery or three (a lot of places have “art walks” and “open studio” events for free; take advantage of that), and can be a lot of fun. Some places even have walk-in events where anyne can show up and create (i.e. Kaleid Gallery’s “Two Buck Tuesdays” and participation in Downtown San Jose’s “First Fridays”, or the “Art Murmur” in Oakland).

Just get out there. Look. Make.

> In conclusion, pick nine works from your Favourites that you particularly enjoy.

© 2013 - 2023 arctoa
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p-artcha's avatar
I don't check my dA account very often which is why I just saw that I have been mentioned here!
I am honored to see that my work is one of your favs zeruch! I've been working on more designs lately but have not posted them yet! Your artworks are a source of inspiration