Painter, Dioramatist & recovering Performance Artist
Interview on 1st July 2015 at his studio, Jiangtai
AR: The work I was doing in Korea was inspired by experiences I've had of weird, awkward moments.
KL: So you've chronicled them in little three-dimensional still lives.
AR: Yeah. I started making these little handmade scenes. They began as models for paintings then evolved and began to stand on their own as pieces. The way I work, I like to recycle everything. All this stuff [gestures toward a wall covered in cut out brush strokes] is from paintings that didn't really work out and I got into this habit of cutting things up. I just sit there with a pair of scissors.
KL: That sounds very therapeutic.
AR: Yeah, sometimes it can be. When you're painting, these creative processes, you're in creation mode the whole time. I like that manual labor aspect of things where I can just sit there and not be in creative mode.
KL: So these dioramas have a really personal meaning for you?
AR: Yeah, it's just a lot of stuff I was thinking about at the time. When I'm sitting in the studio, things would just pop into my head. The same memories would resurface every now and again. Half of them were from Seoul and half of them were old memories from grad school and stuff like that. They were always times when I found myself in an uncomfortable or awkward situation. I looked at these moments as something I could make something out of.
KL: So these are the moments in your life when you look back and think [smacks head] 'Oh!'
AR: Yeah! That one is from when I was in undergraduate school. One of my professors introduced me to the head of the department and I just didn't stand up and shake his hand. I sat there and looked up at him. My professor who I had a good relationship with said “Stand up and shake the man’s hand.” I don't know why it's always stuck in my head. Maybe it’s because he then gave me a really limp handshake. Ever since then I've always had a thing with handshakes, I feel like I'm really awkward with handshakes. Especially in Asia because no one really shakes hands, but sometimes people do. So you meet someone and think, 'Should I shake their hand?' but you can also get a really limp handshake. I'm afraid of that. When you get that, what do you do? Do you flap it around? Do you shake it? The hand is all floppy. Picasso would paint to get the memories out. I don’t think about it as much now so I guess it works, but it was never my intention.
KL: What's your training?
AR: I got my Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, Mass. and then I got a Masters of Fine Arts from Indiana University. I worked for a year in Boston, where I'm from, and then I came here to Asia. I lived in Seoul for about six years and then I came here.
KL: Do you find having more free time to work on your art is the major appeal of living in Asia, or, is living here important for your work?
AR: I think at first it was important, to be living here and inspired by a different culture. I go back and forth sometimes. Travel to me is very inspiring. Just being in a new country or in a new place, and I think that's what I’m trying to do in my work, just expressing those things. And sometimes, it's not always going to be inspiring, it's not always going to be like, this is amazing! But the free time is nice. Being here I can work two or three days a week at my job and have the rest of the time for painting. So that's good.
KL: Have you always worked in the same medium?
AR: No. Unfortunately these [large, loosely stacked oil paintings] are not framed because I did them in oils but I haven't re-stretched them yet. They were all rolled up in transit from Seoul. When you move you have to go through the process of finding a frame guy and a good art supplies store. I was trained in acrylic and oil painting, but the painting has led me into working in other areas like video and performance. I guess you would call these boxes sculptures. The small boxes and large oil paintings comes from the concept of a memory, a small moment in time that can have such a large impact on your personality. So the boxes are small and very intimate while the paintings are large.
KL: It's lovely from a structural perspective seeing them on canvas then in three-dimensional form.
AR: Ideally you would have them up on the wall in the same space. So you're in the little intimate space of the diorama and then go over at the wall and you’re absorbed into that space. Two very different kinds of spaces.
KL: So you do the two-dimensional stuff first and you work from that to the three-dimensional?
AR: With these pieces I did the three-dimensional work first then the paintings from them. With my new work the drawings came first. With this one, not to get all meta on you, I did a painting from a drawing from a sculpture of a painting of a doodle. I was doing this doodle of Chinese characters. Just playing with the language and the meaning of it, just trying to make structures out of it. I've got a whole sketchbook of them. That was one of the first ones I did. It was before I came to China.
KL: So what's the prominent character? What's it telling me?
AR: I'm trying to hide the character in general.
KL: It's a secret?
AR: Yeah. I don't want to be the foreigner that comes to China and does artwork about Chinese characters. I don't know if it is, but I feel that might be a bit of a cliché thing to do, Even though I am making work based on Chinese characters I do not want the character to be prominent. I’m more drawn to the structure and strokes of the character than to the meaning of the word. I'm just trying to get some of my feelings out through it. Moving to a new place, a new culture, being unfamiliar with things, being overwhelmed or going into another unstable, scary, exciting situation. It's still the beginning stages of this process so we'll see where it leads.
KL: How do you go with artists' statements?
AR: Well, my approach is I always go with the statement after the fact. For me content follows the form. The image or idea comes and then I beat the hell out of it, I draw it, I make it, I draw it again, I paint it and then I sit down and write the artist's statement. And then I say, 'Oh, that's what it's about.' When I'm painting I'll have those voices in my head, 'What are you doing? Why are you doing it?' And maybe those will fester for a lot of artists. For me, I try to just shut them out during the process. Sometimes I'll do something the opposite of how somebody told me to do a painting. I'll do it wrong just to see what happens and then try and make a successful image in spite of that.
KL: Do you sell the related pieces individually or would you always want them to be kept together?
AR: No, it's not like they would come as a set. If someone would say, 'Oh, I like that more than that one,' they don't have to be together.
KL: The dioramas look so good lit up. Is your worst nightmare that a small child would get in here and be left alone with them for five minutes?
AR: A small child? No, my worst nightmare is that I'd wake up with someone about to stab me.
KL: Haha! You won't allow me to exaggerate?
AR: No, I work for a kid's art school and my boss keeps wanting to bring the students over to see the studio. And I think it could be a good idea, I don't think there's anything too inappropriate in this current work.
KL: So this is a study for the painting?
AR: Yeah, it's not a form I am used to painting, like the human figure. It's a completely new form that I need to get familiar with. So I try to use repetition, I just keep drawing it to get it into my head so when it's time to paint it I can go into it more freely. Since it is watercolour on paper, I can't really erase anything. With oils you can cover something up. So I do test runs.
KL: So how many do you usually do per artwork?
AR: That's the original doodle, then I made it into a 3D form and from that I’ve done a few paintings. It depends on how intricate the form is. So this one is a study for - oh, in that one you can recognise the character.
KL: Your secret is out! [Lo.Re.Li reserves the right to not reveal the secret to you, the reader] It's lovely in a pictographic language the ability to see and read simultaneously.
AR: Yeah, like chuanr串. It doesn't get any more perfect than chuanr.
KL: How did you get into doing the watercolours?
AR: I used to, for the oil paintings that I did, make watercolour colour studies. So I would be mixing the colours and I'd have a piece of paper for test strokes. So I had all of these pieces of paper with just strokes lined up and I thought it looked cool and I've always done doodles. I just wanted to put it out there so I started to doodle on top of the strokes and thought, this could be a new direction.
KL: Now the watercolour is not haphazard?
AR: Yeah, but for some reason the original one is still the best one, when I wasn't thinking about it. It just works for some reason. I did performance art for a while in Seoul and that's actually where all these strokes came from. I did a performance where I covered myself in brush strokes. So that's where the dioramas came from, wanting to use those for something.
KL: You covered yourself in brush strokes, how did you do that?
AR: Other people too. I put double-sided tape on all of the brush strokes so you just had to rip off the other side of the tape and then stick it on to me.
KL: Onto your skin or your clothes?
AR: Both actually.
KL: I can't imagine that would have been fun to remove.
AR: Not really, no.
KL: Do you think you'll do stuff like that in Beijing as well?
AR: No. I think a performance artist is a certain type of person with a certain type of personality. I was doing it because I had this one idea and I tried to do some more but they weren't as interesting so it seemed like a one-off thing to me. It also was really time-consuming. Cutting up all these strokes. To be honest, one of the reason I did so much performance was because, in Seoul, if you're a painter you have to pay to be in shows but, if you're a performance artist, you get paid.
Anthony Ragucci is an American artist based in Beijing. He has exhibited work across the United States and Korea as well as in Italy, Germany and Australia. Although his main mode of expression is painting and drawing, Anthony uses photography, sculpture, video, and performance as a way of expressing his thoughts and ideas. To see more visit http://johnnypaintbox.com/
Interview on 30th June 2015 at Beiluo Bread Bar, Gulou
KL: Most of your commercial work has been for the fashion industry and there is a great diversity of style. You have smoky black and white double exposures, others are casual Nan Goldin style pieces and then you have the super slick commercial fashion shots.
JY: It's funny because people don't even really separate that because they think my slick stuff is not that slick – professional people. And I think it's really your perception because if you look at the stuff with my friends it's really quite different but just the execution is different and how it looks, but the feeling is more or less the same. It's really just a different outlook or aesthetic and that's what it really comes down to. I don't want to make it too one-dimensional, I love Nan Goldin's stuff and I don't want to ignore that just to get more commercial work. I hope that it could be somehow mutually translatable. Because I think her stuff is full of energy and life and that's what drew me into photography in the first place. I didn't know what it meant when I saw it but I just felt something.
KL: There's definitely a documentary element to her work. Is that an important part of what you do as well?
JY: Definitely. Because I didn't study photography, I found it, almost accidentally, as a profession. I decided to go backpacking after I graduated because I'd never visited Europe. I started off in London and kind of just bounced around on my own. My mum gave me her little pocket camera that I took with me for the whole trip. By the time I got to Berlin I had a bunch of pictures and I met a photographer there. He encouraged me to take more pictures and taught me the basics about how to change your camera settings, control the lens and stuff like that. So I got a bit more interested in how you can make the pictures look different intentionally, not just point and shoot. Which is what I thought photography was all about – just capturing a shot as you see it.
KL: So how did it move from taking pictures of your friends and enjoying yourself to getting commercial work?
JY: It took awhile. Just over time I guess I got more and more into it. I quit working full-time in advertising after two years because I didn't enjoy what I was doing and I went to Thailand for a month to clear my head and see where I was at. I told my manager, I don't think I want to do this full-time any more because I don't think it's challenging me anymore. So I just went freelance and starting working with people I knew from accounts I'd had and developed my photography on the side. That's how it started commercially. I could work on my pictures and develop the ideas a bit more.
JY: By the time I decided to quit advertising I already had a bunch of pictures from music, portraits of bands that I knew, and people saw those and thought they were really good and they were like, 'you should show these pictures to more people and you might get some jobs.' They said just talk to some photo agencies and maybe you can get something out of it and I contacted them and showed them what I'd done. They [the agencies] said, 'they're really nice but we don't really work with those kinds of images,' so they suggested I should assist some photographers. And I didn't understand what that meant. I had another friend who was assisting and he was like, 'yeah, it's pretty easy, you've just gotta get used to the whole lighting idea.' And I was like, 'I have no idea what that means.' I spoke to a couple of photographers and had a trial and they thought I was okay. I didn't really understand the whole job nature of it but they said I could learn. So that's how I got into studio photography and fashion from working with those guys and then I started doing my own stuff.
KL: So you mastered lighting and...
JY: No, not until I left Australia. In Australia I never felt like I needed to go into the studio because the weather was always so nice. Especially in Sydney where there were beaches and there were a lot of locations outside that were quite good. I just prefer going out than being indoors. Yeah, I didn't really know much about lighting and I wasn’t really that interested in lighting at that point. I felt you should just work with whatever you've got from the documentary stuff that I'd done.
KL: Is narrative ever important?
JY: I think so. Well, if not a narrative, it is a dialogue with what you're shooting. It's not like creating a still life image. The narrative I'm looking for – its based from a sense of memory infused with the feelings of a dream. I try to recreate that idea from connecting to the people I work with and see how we can create the narrative that is on my mind together. If the feeling is there, the shoots can happen really fast since I know what I want to do and see already.
KL: So what was your journey from doing that stuff in Sydney to being here right now?
JY: I went to the UK when I was twenty-five. I wanted to leave Sydney because I felt like I'd kind of hit a peak with what I knew and what I liked to do photographically speaking. I went to New York first because I wanted to move there and I spent three months there in 2009. I just partied too much. I didn't realise what I wanted to do and it all felt like it was a bit of a blur. I decided to move to London in 2010 because New York wasn't the experience I wanted to further develop my photography. A lot of the things I liked about New York City I could do in Sydney. I found a UK visa where I could work for two years. I just wanted to go and see what I could learn from people who'd been a photographer longer than me. It was pretty sketchy and I didn't have any work connections. Luckily my old boss was English, he had an old colleague who's husband was a photographer, Roger Deckker. I looked at his stuff online and thought that his portraits were really good. He done some fashion stuff too but I really liked his portraits. He photographed a lot of personalities – musicians and designers and stuff and I always thought that he had a really good passion for it. So that was the first real contact I had. And he said I could assist for him and that's how I got started. I met a lot of people along the way but he was the first guy that really gave me a break.
KL: Having spent time in New York and London, these great creative arts hubs, how does that compare to being in Beijing? How fully-fledged do you think the art scene is here?
JY: I think it's really fledged. I mean I think the art scene and the commercial fashion industry are really different. I don't think I could really compare anyway because I've mean the cultural and the historical context is pretty short here. I think the fashion industry is really new still compared to New York and London and even Australia, actually. In addition to digital technology, I think it's constantly expanding. Whereas London and New York, they have a history of photography and art. It's been there for a long time and there was no historical disruption since World War II. There's always been fashion in a European context so you just can't compare. It's a much longer timeline. And I don't think you really need to compare because, I think, people here they don't really want to compare. They just want to make their own ideas come together.
KL: It seems obvious that China, particularly Beijing is having a huge influence on what your doing now. What is it that you want to show an international audience?
JY: I don't know because people, both Chinese and foreign, that I've met in Beijing, always ask me why I moved here and I don't really have a clear answer apart from the fact that, when I was in London, my grandpa was not well and I went to Hong Kong to see him. In a couple of days he was gone. He past while I was there. When I went back to London I wasn't sure what I was going to do and I almost didn't want to finish my visa because I was confused by the state of my family. I told my mum that I felt messed up for awhile. If my grandma was not doing well I just can't imagine not having her in my life so when I finish my visa I have to think about where I want to go next. All my friends said I should just go to New York. You can continue to assist and probably make more money because there are more commercial jobs there. But I didn't want to just keep on assisting for the sake of making more money. Also, New York was too far away from my grandma so I thought, maybe I should just come closer to Hong Kong. I'd never lived in Beijing and, as the capital of China, it must have some historical and cultural significance. So I came to visit, just to see it for a couple of weeks and met a couple of people and found a flat. I was just trying to take another gamble really.
KL: And it paid off.
JY: Over some time. I guess, what I want to show of Beijing is the stuff that I want to see myself. Hopefully I can show people what I'm trying to find myself. It's not like a subject matter, it's more just a feeling of the city and the things that people are doing that I find interesting. So, it's an extension of documentation, I guess. Whether it's art or fashion or music, it doesn't really matter. They're things that I enjoy myself so I can explore that deeper.
KL: Tell me a little more about this stuff.
JY: I'm really interested in damaged images. Just like old skate boarding videos. They're always one hour tapes and they always break visually and I never knew what they were called. I stumbled across an internet post by a San Francisco art collective called Paper Rad and they made this video for Chairlift. It was all done by datamoshing which is when you break up the pixels intentionally and I was amazed. And Kanye did it as well shortly after that. I thought it was really cool and wondered how you do it and I just looked up what datamoshing was and it goes way back through different techniques. By the time they did it with digital video I just figured I could find a way to do it, very laboriously and I kind of just experimented. I just play with the textures, even the stills, I just break up the image and make something different. It's normal video footage that you can process to explore what you can do to break it up. It's kind of like happy accidents as well.
KL: Is this something you'd consider using in your commercial work?
JY: A lot of people are really uncomfortable with not showing the product in the best possible light but I think the product is only as interesting as your idea. People are going to see the product when they go to a store to buy it. What your presenting is a concept. Whether it's a celebrity wearing it in a video or at a concert, it's still just an idea that may be attractive to someone who's interested in that idea.
KL: Considering the diversity of your work, is there a particular style that you enjoy more than others?
JY: Aesthetically, I can do a lot now because I had been assisting so many great teams, I can understand how you can do different lighting and work with different hair and makeup people to transform the look but, for me, I don't really want to have those constraints to make the picture come alive. I like working on pictures that are just me and a person. I don't really want hair and makeup only if I feel I need it to enhance a feeling of the image. I like having that intimacy and if it's for music or lifestyle related projects, I want to know that I belong in that world. I don't want to just photograph to be like, this is cool, or whatever. I'd like to spend some time with the people involved and understand what they do and why, before I start to document. That's why I do a lot of things with my friends. I like what they do and that's why I want to be involved. It's not really about how much commercial work I can get. I think a lot of the projects I do for myself in China, they're really not really commercial work. I'm not going to be making more money but I feel like they are really fun things to do and I hope I don't lose that drive. They're the things that make me want to do more pictures.
KL: Do you find it easy to build a rapport with your subjects when you don't know them?
JY: I'm always open but it really depends how they are on the day. Sometimes they could be exhausted from doing a whole day of media rounds and dress-ups. By the time they get to me it might be really late so I can't help but feel the exhaustion. I'm really empathetic but at the same time I'm trying to do the best picture for them and they really understand that need. But I always say, don't feel the need to over pose because I'm not really trying to get that. I think with celebrities it's a little different because there is a certain sense of caution for them. They need to keep a certain image in the public eye so they can't give too much away, especially when I only have ten minutes with them. They can't physically do that. But I just try to make them feel comfortable.
KL: Have you ever felt compromised?
JY: Sure. But that's a choice. I feel like you wouldn't ever compromise unless you feel like that is something that you want to do anyway. I think if you want to do something with someone you have to compromise to some level because it's not your own show. If I worked for a magazine, I'd have to respect their standards. I'm not going to do something just because they ask me to. There always has to be a compromise if you work in a commercial or editorial context. It's not a compromise when you're doing work for yourself so, of course, you have to listen to what they have to say and if you don't feel like you want to do that then you can't really work together.
KL: Looking at your fashion work, there are some really strong portraits of women, how do you think gender comes through in your work? These portraits show women as people not objects.
JY: Of course. They should always be people. Women should never be objects. I never really like the pictures where women are too overtly sexual. I mean, first of all, I don't find that to be really sexy. I know it's meant to be but I just don't feel that way personally. You kind of lose the mystery and the allure. It's too obvious because they are being an object in front of the lens. So, literally there is no emotion there. Reading feminism books can give you a wider perspective too. Also, maybe I was programmed differently when I was growing up as a teenage boy. You might be drawn to that kind of image but you don't understand why. When you read those books you think, oh actually that's really not right. I was never really drawn to those pictures from my own personal tastes anyway. I think it's quite common for people not to understand why they are drawn to it. Also, I don't really feel the need to overly alter my images and I like to create images that look like you can relate to them. You're more drawn to it because you think, who is this person? It's the girl or boy next door rather than someone who's on a billboard. Although, I've done pictures for singers and actors, sometimes they will be on billboards and other advertising material but I still don't want to change their identity to some unrealistic ideal.
Jeff Yiu is a photographer from Hong Kong via Australia. His fashion and portrait work has been published in Vogue China and has done commissions for Adidas, Nike, Levis, Men's Uno and Anchoret BEIJING. To see more visit http://cargocollective.com/jefske
Interview at his home/studio in Lido on July 5th 2015
KL: So you were interviewed by another publication but you felt it didn't seem like yourself. Who's the real Nate Rood?
NR: It's not that there are different versions of me. It's not me. I'm a big believer that you are who you are. Love it or hate it.
KL: What do you think the biggest difference is between someone who does take themself seriously and someone who doesn't? Essentially what does it boil down to?
NR: Starting this website and launching it, you're going to meet different kinds of people, some who take themselves extremely seriously and some people who don't give a fuck what other people think. What's the difference? They're all creating art, they're all doing their own thing. I mean, everyone takes it seriously. But your attitude to how it's received can either be serious or it can be like, well okay I don't really know what I'm doing, people can look at it and make up what they think.
KL: I think that's a great difficulty because so many people when they look at art have this feeling that they're not qualified to look at it.
NR: And that's wrong. That's not true. Everyone can look at a picture and make a decision as to if they like it or not. I find this quite appealing. It's good. I like it. I like it 'cause it has these colours or these shapes and it comes down to just base value. There's no justification for liking something. There's massive justification for disliking something.
KL: It's seen as such an intellectual thing.
NR: It's not based on how smart you are. I think it's just a base instinct. You know which colours you like. You know which shapes you like. You know how they fit together. I don't see art as something that's intellectual at all. It's just a natural regurgitation of what you've seen for the last two weeks. I don't sit in that room and think, 'Oh fuck! I'm gonna make this picture about something that no one can possibly comprehend.' I don't do that. I just regurgitate what I've enjoyed, what I've liked, what I've seen, what I've experienced and just put it into very simple forms so, hopefully, someone else can experience the same thing. I'm not tying to encourage people to do it. I'm not trying to force people to do it. It's just there if they want it.
KL: How much of a compulsion is it?
NR: Massive. I mean, for me personally, every day, at least two or three hours. It's like a job away from my job.
KL: That's what I'm noticing when speaking to artists. There are associations that we have with work whether financial or keeping us pure of heart or something.
NR: Working is a different thing. Work that I get paid for I don't see as the same kind of work. That's a form of slavery. My work in this room is all about me. It's got nothing to do with anyone else. It's how I unwind when I get home. First thing I do is walk through the door and put all the beer cans I bought in the fridge, take my shoes off, crack one open, go in there, put on a horror film and start painting. That's it, that's what I do. That's like my comfort zone. I'm watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the ninety-fifth time but I'm in my comfort zone.
KL: Your art doesn't seem particularly aggressive at all.
NR: I don't know, I think the way I try to make anything is like - simplify it. Make it more accessible. Not for me. I could deal with thousands of lines, I have the attentions span to deal with it but are they necessary? Just give it frame. Something that makes sense, something that has rhythm, has shape and colour.
KL: So when you look at it, that frenzy that you just explained, the way that you work...
NR: Makes me feel calm, I don't know why.
KL: And that calm comes through. But if you look at your artworks do you see that frenzy that surrounds their creation?
NR: I can usually remember the album or movie I was watching. It's an interesting scenario, someone told me the other day, 'if you could write down every album you listened to while you were making a picture on the back of it, or every movie you watched,' it would be kind of an interesting breakdown.
KL: So along the lines of the compulsion, if for some reason I chopped your arms off and you couldn't actually do it any more -
NR: Do you think that'd stop me?
KL: Then think of some other hypothetical scenario where you can't actually paint anymore.
NR: I'll be honest with you, if you cut my left arm off I probably would kill myself.
KL: So it's essential to life?
NR: It's just a way for me to, I can't think of what the basic way to explain it, it's just what I do. That's how I calm down. I'm not an aggressive person at all. Hopefully I don't come across as that. But I'm very, very, very, very angry about everything. The way things work out. I'm just furious that people do not understand or play by the same rules. And that is definitely the source of everything that I've ever made in my entire life.
KL: What if you had some inner peace?
NR: I don't know where or how -
NR: No, no, no. Religion is a fucking scapegoat. Religion is a waste of time. Are you joking?!
KL: Yes, I am.
NR: I know you are but which religion would you like me to undertake? If I could do anything, If I could do whatever I want, I'd probably be drunk all week and then die. A job keeps me in check but I hate it. I hate having that responsibility. But I need that responsibility to remain a normal human being. I think, being a creative person, you can find more creative ways to kill yourself.
KL: I think it's really interesting to think of art as a compulsion because success in creativity is elusive and seems to be based somewhat on, I don't know, what do you think? How is luck, how much is talent and how much is perseverance?
NR: I don't think perseverance pays off at all. You just keep doing it and doing it and doing it. There's no endgame. Endgame? Sorry, I've just gone very American. I don't know, I'm yet to find out. I am perseverant, I do continue to do it. Open that fucking door and see how many pictures are in there.
[KL opens door to discover a large storage space stacked to the rafters with bubble-wrapped canvases]
KL: Holy fuck, that's a lot!
NR: When you make art, everyone makes it for different reasons, but for me personally, I make and then, it's all to do with my acceptance of colours and shapes and just combining different things and thinking, okay I'm happy with the way that that looks. These things work well together and they compliment each other but it works so quickly and so sporadically that I can't keep up. There's always like ten ideas in my head and I've only got six canvasses. I'm constantly trying to catch up. So I can never have enough surface to work on. I fill rooms full of stuff in a matter of weeks.
KL: How does that feel as far as getting all of that out onto a canvas and then wrapping that canvas in plastic and putting it in a cupboard?
NR: Obviously that's not what I want to do. I don't want to wrap it in plastic and put it in a cupboard but I'm also a little bit unsure about who should see it or where it should be displayed. I don't know. I'm not egotistical enough to know that, 'oh, my work needs to be displayed!' Some people are very egotistical about that, you know – I made it, so it needs to be displayed. I don't care, I'm quite happy for it to rot away in that cupboard and no one looks at it ever. For me it's not showing it to someone that's most important, it's getting it out of myself. So if anyone never sees it, my goal is just milking it out of myself, just like, calm down, calm down. Drink a little bit less and stop thinking about this and once I start doing it I feel much calmer. But the byproduct is all this stuff.
KL: How much has your style evolved and how much do you think it's evolved depending on your mental state? How much do you think is outside influence, obviously you have artists who have inspired you?
NR: I think it's impossible for anyone, literally anyone, to say all my influence is this one person. Like maybe they are influential and they play a part but I don't know how people say, my influence is this or... The way I look at it is you consume everything and then what you regurgitate is your response to what you've eaten. It's impossible to look at Francis Bacon and say, 'oh yeah, I really like Francis Bacon,' then make a painting that doesn't look like Francis Bacon. It's clearly going to be in your subconscious somewhere. So I think the way I tackle it is, rather than quote direct influences, just eat it all. Everything. Patterns, colours, textures, shoes, everything and then just see what happens. Somewhere, in your subconscious, your brain goes, that painting's pretty cool but with this texture and this pattern. Somehow it works out. I feel like a Hoover, I'm constantly just sucking things in.
KL: I think you should create a false narrative for each piece.
NR: I do that all the time. I used to be honest but now I'm like, fuck it, I'm not doing it anymore. I just tell them what they want to hear. So what's this picture about? Exactly what you told me on that bus ride once.
Nate Rood is an English mixed-media artist living in China. He has had exhibitions in both England and Korea and locally at Modernista, Old What Bar and Steam Punk. If you would like to see more visit www.naterood.com
Painter & Illustrator
Interview on 25th June 2015 at Más, Beixinqiao
KL: Do you think China has had an influence on your art?
AC: I moved to China when I was seventeen right after I graduated high school and then I didn't see much of Russia while I was growing up, I never painted in Russia, I started everything in China so it influenced me maybe sub-consciously but I don't really realise it. Just a mixture of Asian cultures have perhaps influenced me, Japanese and Korean, I can't say that China influenced me too much because I'm just living here. I'm traveling and I'm trying to observe the culture.
KL: What is painting for you, an outlet? If you didn't paint, what would you do?
AC: I used to write when I was younger but it wasn't worthwhile. Painting's pretty much the only thing that I could do for a longer time. Actually I got really patient because I was painting and it was really bad because I pretty much started when I was eighteen when I was a student. I was painting just for myself. It took me a long time to create a painting that I can actually show to somebody. Usually, I started something and it wouldn't work out so I'd give it up but then it worked. I had to be really patient in this. Over time it became, not that I really want to paint, but that I kind of have to. I feel like it's become so much of a part of me that I can't stop. I never studied art. Once my mum sent me to art class and the teacher, for some reason, told her that it's best that she never send me to art class and I've never considered studying art. My parents said, 'you don't need to study art, you can just paint by yourself.' Maybe they didn't want me to because they thought I'd never earn any money from it.
KL: What's your view of the local art scene for foreigners?
AC: Well I guess its different if you studied art but I've never studied. You get connections, you get exchange programmes, you can work for artists as an assistant. It probably makes a difference for them. For me, I moved to Beijing and it wasn't that easy because no one welcomes you, really. Not that I want to be exhibited in the big galleries, I just do it to feel that the process is moving, not that I want it to be my job but I have something to express and I want to express it and that's the only goal. Not for the money, not for anything else. To express this idea that I have in me and move on to another one.
KL: You use such a limited colour palette in the works that I have seen. Has that always been the case?
AC: It's always been like this. Well, when I say I never studied how to paint or shade and when I started everything was quite flat. My earlier work, not that they look like icons, but I took my inspiration from earliest icons and frescos, when they made images look flat to focus on idea and symbolism instead of glorifying the visual side. Also because I can't spend months on one painting, I need to be productive and move on, that's why I use very simple colours.
KL: So how much time do you spend on each work?
For illustrations I spend about four hours on each. I can make three a day but I never have time for that. I work full-time but pretty much all the time I have free I use it for this.
KL: I've seen your work exhibited in a few places around Gulou - Más and Rager Pies – how are you going about getting your work out there?
AC: It's mostly through friends. Dan Taylor from Luv Plastik asked me to do posters for 69 cafe. After that, Luv Plastik asked me to do the cover for their cassette and then friends of friends, Noise Arcade, saw the cover and asked me to do a cover. So that's how it works – friends of friends. If it was up to me, I would never approach anyone. It's up to them. I think I'm pretty lucky that I've met all these people because otherwise, I really hate doing this stuff [self-promotion] and I'm really bad at it.
KL: How do you think your style has developed since you started painting?
AC: I was doing illustrations earlier and they were more symbolic. I was very young and I didn't paint very well. I'd do a set of paintings then usually I'd take a break and I'd do illustrations, as many as I can, because I always felt that no one takes illustration very seriously. I felt when I took the break it was a transition period and I was always trying to move forward. Like now I'm trying to work with different materials and I don't know what it's going to look like but it's very different and I need that. Each set is influenced by something else and then I gain some experience and move on to something else.
KL: So it's a never-ending developmental process?
AC: It's more like, I don't know, I pretty much always paint for practise rather than a result. I'm just moving into something else.
KL: Do you find the work satisfying? Are you happy with the results that you get?
AC: I'm getting better at this. I used to be really self-critical and throw away all my paintings. I just accept it that it's part of the process. It doesn't matter if I like them or not. I allow them to exist. Sometimes a painting doesn't work out and I look at it and let it exist because I needed to express it. I'm not doing it for anyone else, I'm just doing it for myself. That's how it should work.
KL: What is the desired outcome for your work?
AC: With my illustrations, I would like to make a book about Japanese and Korean mythology. That would be the final stage for me. I would be happy to do that. For the paintings I don't really know. I don't know where it will lead me. In the future I want to do animations and get that book finished. I'm interested in Japanese mythology. All the characters look like my characters, not that I'd based them on them when I was drawing initially but I found that they were kind of similar. Then when I was doing research on Korean mythology and Japanese mythology, I tried to stick to it, but I can't really do it because I need to sit down and draw. When there are characters like Spider Whore, it makes me crazy and limits me completely. So I need to draw it and then somehow connect it.
KL: Where does your love of Korean and Japanese mythology come from?
AC: I don't know. I've always liked it and I was raised reading the stories from around the world. The Japanese are crazy. They were always the best. It's just so interesting how grotesque the characters are and all the monsters. They just made the characters from any possible creature you can imagine.
KL: Do you think there are elements of grotesque in your work?
AC: Probably. A lot of people don't like my work. I saw a few times when people looked at the paintings they looked like they were puking. A lot of people hate [my pictures] because they are disturbing. I don't care really, I've never liked pretty stuff so I'm not doing it for their eyes to enjoy it. It just comes out of me. My mum keeps telling me that I should draw nice flowers and stuff but it's just something that is coming out of me. I can't really control it.
Anya Chalina is a Russian artist living in China. She has created artwork for Luv Plastik and Noise Arcade and has exhibited in Más and, currently, Rager Pies.
She is working on a book of Japanese and Korean mythological creatures.
To see more of her work visit https://www.behance.net/anyachalina