In its own words Frieze London is the “contemporary art event of the year”. Whilst that’s not wrong, Frieze London is also a glorified champagne sponsored social for the all-black-wearing elite of the art world, with a rather disappointing lack of canapés.
Melbourne based artist Evie Cahir’s watercolour illustrations depict the little moments in life. Each fragment is carefully detailed and archived, then left to stand alone in a frame of negative space, which just begs you pay attention to what’s at its focus. That focus is what’s most interesting about Evie’s work, because she zeroes in on the everyday and makes it poignant.
“I try not to consider why I draw the things, I think its more interesting to let others do the work.”
Melbourne based artist Evie Cahir’s watercolour illustrations depict the little moments in life. Each fragment of is carefully detailed and archived, then left to stand alone in a frame of negative space, which just begs you pay attention to what’s at its focus. That focus is what’s most interesting about Cahir’s work, because she zeroes in on the everyday things you wouldn’t ordinarily consider beautiful and makes them poignant. Her work can be seen in zines, editorial spreads and on her (exceedingly popular) blog.
You’re on facebook, instagram, tumblr (where I first saw your work), you have a big cartel, you have a big online presence across a number of social media outlets. How important do you feel social media is to your work and sharing it, and do you have a preference between those outlets for sharing different things?
The internet and all the social-media outlets that follow are vital when it comes to sharing my work. Without it I would still be leaving little zines in toilets or pubs, slipping them between train seats and posting them to pen-pals, which is all I ever did before creating a Tumblr or sharing my work online. My online-outlet preference depends on what I am doing —
Tumblr for an online documentation of all the work I create and Instagram to post select work to with the aim of generating a strong aesthetic/online persona and to ‘network’, organize art-swaps and obviously to track other artists work.
How has having a fairly large following (100+ notes on almost everything you post to tumblr) affected you and/or your work?
I used to spend quite a lot of thought trying to analyze why certain work instantly hits it off with Tumblr and rakes in 72,378 notes and other work that I value more clocks in just 31 notes over the weekend. There is no answer to this, I have learned that the internet works in mysterious ways.
It has affected my output as posting work becomes a personal challenge — to post more regularly and with higher quality work. Gotta give the people what they want!
When posting works are you conscious of how they will be received/reacted to by your audience?
I am definitely conscious of reception, I regularly second-guess myself when it comes to sharing work — Not because I am wary of sharing provocative work, just of generating work that is not unique in its message, subject matter or theme. Along with the initial reaction, I am conscious of constantly creating fresh work while ensuring that it complements the rest of my work aesthetically.
Basically, I have a very discerning inner-monologue that critiques work in a way I expect the audience to, e.g. “Evie drew an avocado and headless torso again, how ‘ground breaking'”
Do you ever look back over your online archive to see how your work has changed, and if so how do you feel about the earlier stuff?
Looking back over work that is over a month old is painful, I have a back-log of almost four years on Tumblr of work to avoid looking at! Going through older work is like re-drawing it and being reminded of your short-comings (poor painting skills and pencil-prowess) On the few occasions I have looked through the archives (on Tumblr, giant folders in my wardrobe and little sketchbooks hidden around my room) I found that I could easily discern what drawing-stages and life-changes were happening as I looked through it all, majority of which (87%) was not good!
Your works isolate moments and objects that may otherwise be overlooked and frame them in space, could you explain a little bit your thoughts behind this practice?
Simply put, this practice of creating work that revolves around capturing over-looked details, objects and moments is an extension of personal thoughts and experiences. For me, drawing and painting little scenes stems from the need to document and record a feeling I have felt.
I try not to consider why I draw the things, I think it’s more interesting to let others do the work.
You said your work is about “personal thoughts and experiences”, from a technical stand point, does that mean you work from life for inspiration or do you use photo references as well?
Predominantly photographic reference when it comes to creating a final work, though for initial sketches I will work from life. These preliminary drawings act as a record of scenarios and settings to draw inspiration from, as I fill small moleskin’s with details such as: train platforms, lists of items to reference in future work, the hair of a certain commuter, an old man’s dog or books being read on the tram.
With the personal element to your work, do you find it a struggle to do editorial pieces or commissions seeing as they wouldn’t have come from your own experience?Definitely, creating editorial illustrations for clients is usually a challenge I relish, in that I get to draw objects or scenarios I would not regularly draw. Though when it comes to contracts and on-going themed editorial work (For example, a yearlong contract to create monthly comics about one-night stands) it has been a struggle to create work that fulfils the brief but also is work that I am not embarrassed to put my name to or have printed. The compromise in creating editorial work is real.
In a similar vein, do you look to other artists, or blogs etc., for inspiration? If so who?
Definitely, I wonder if I spend too long looking at other peoples work!
Whenever I’m not drawing I’m looking through the work of:
Lauren Spencer King. Stanislava Pinchuk (Miso) Greg Eason. Aidan Koch. Moebius. Dane Lovett. Henri Matisse. Claes Oldenburg. Sam Alden. Jonathan Zwada. Vija Celmens. Michael Borremans. Brian Ferry. Elsworth Kelly. Ill Studio. Hannah Hoch, this list goes on…
That’s quite a long list of inspiration (definitely a good one though!), how do you take references or inspiration from those works and use them to influence your own?
The referencing of influential figures is most apparent in techniques picked up and a sense of aesthetics and layout applied.
For example, the most recent references cropping up in my work is the use of washes of watercolor to slowly build up a certain texture and off-centered composition of isolated objects/items.
What would you say the “trending themes” you’ve seen or picked up on are at the minute?
Trending themes I have noticed floating around on the sites, Tumblrs, Instagrams I visit regularly include but are not limited to: the glamorizing of depression/sadness via comics, drinks in glass jars, food photography taken from birds-eye-view, Photoshopping yourself into a Drizzy photo-montage, food, high-contrast/saturated light in photographs, food, ‘still life’ themed photographs, Minimal Bauhaus-inspired graphic design layout for book covers, Tapestry, taking photographs of your own hand holding something small, photographs of backs of heads. The list goes on…
It seems as if your work has become a little bit of a journal, do you ever feel uncomfortable sharing your work publicly? Especially if you know that other people will be looking through your archives?
Not particularly, I feel like the shame associated with going through past work is just a personal hang-up, though I know of other artists that feel similarly about their own archives. I have only ever felt uncomfortable or self-conscious about sharing work when I’ve been asked if I am referencing personal experiences in my work, especially my comics/narrative work
(“Did you draw yourself crying that last one you posted, Evie?…” etc.).
Within your concern of creating “fresh work” are you ever conscious of not falling into trends, or starting to look like other work that’s popular?
Of course. I struggle with overcoming the fear of creating stale work almost every time I draw.
Whilst it’s healthy to be aware of trending themes, subject matter or style amongst others it’s even more imperative that I work to improve my own technique. I try to reconcile this perpetual drawing-fear by telling myself that if my drawing method is below average or rusty then creating fresh work is the least of my problems!
If you perceive your drawing method as being below average, or rusty, then creating fresh work is the least of your problems: what are the greatest challenges you face?
Drawing challenges are always shifting from one issue to another, last week it was feeling uninspired and expecting others to inspire me and today it is the consumption of too many coffees for me to concentrate.
The most challenging and reoccurring issue when it comes to drawing would be not being able to ‘develop my own style’, ‘visual language’ and overall aesthetic. This over-analysis of my own work usually stems from too much time on the internet, as I compare myself to competent and confident illustrators (please refer to list of inspirational artists)
I find this Identity Crisis can be alleviated by getting back to basics and refining drawing skills and spending less time on the internet!
Where do you think your work is going next? Or where would you like to see it going next, in terms of content, aesthetics, platform or just the next show you’re doing?
I would love to see attainable future plans and long-term goals converge — these plans revolve around self-published books, residencies, collaborations with drawing-heroes, setting up a studio space, steady editorial work and solo exhibitions.
Chad Wys is one of my favourite contemporary artists. I tried to start this article with something that sounded more professional than that, but I thought I should just be honest. His work is conceptually focused without being aesthetically compromised, it’s approachable without being dumbed down, and it’s fun without ever lacking gravitas.
After Wys completed Masters at Illinois State University, his studies in art theory, criticism and philosophy led to an interest in conceptualism, minimalism and the postmodern as well as the idea of “objecthood”. A major theme in his work, “objecthood”, for Wys, covers questions of “how we decorate our lives with arbitrary as well as meaningful things; how we objectify the ones we love and the strangers we see; how we objectify pain and death; how we objectify complex and sensitive cultural histories.”
Although he describes himself as an “apprehensive artist”, the immediate impact of his adept use of colour and form mean it’s hard to imagine his skill going to waste. When working canvases of readymade works Wys either commits to a completely complementary or a caustically contradictory colour palette. The “aggressive” addition of foreign colour to the familiar, is Wys’s way of creating new meaning from the ensuing tension between ‘paint’ and ‘canvas’. This satisfying visual disharmony is a form of destruction in its own right, asking the audience to question their own response to reviewing a reclaimed object. It is the erection of these barriers of colour “between the viewer and the object through which one must negotiate an understanding of what is both present and hidden” that Wys sees as his “distinctive vocabulary suitable for not only sharing ideas but provoking serious deliberation in the viewer”
“Sure, I’ve got some ideas I want to get across, and aesthetics will always be my main tool for doing just that, but it’s out of my hands by the time it gets to you.”
His most popular pieces feature reproductions of images like those he saw in the “picture books devoted to 19th and 20th century painting” that captured his imagination at a young age which have been reworked and reimagined. In his choices of media Wys experiments with mixing the technological and the traditional with a view “to blur the boundaries between the material and the digital”. This range of visual sources, styles and suggestions make the audience unquestionably aware of the reappropriation at work in front of them. Consequently, the marks that Wys leaves on these readymades can’t help but to instantly evoke images of “R.Mutt 1917” signed on a urinal in their sentiment and often their line quality. These acts of applying contemporary ideas and marks to objects from the past plays with ideas of social constructs, meaning and influence. Wys strikes up this multifaceted conversation with the viewer to engage them into considering their own conceptions of object ownership as a marker of both social and self worth.
“When people get angry at me for “stealing” and/or “vandalizing” another artist’s “hard work,” they unwittingly underscore the complex web of problems at play in our visual world, since, really, I’m doing nothing of the sort; quite the contrary in most cases, I’m pointing out that the original was “vandalized” the moment it was reproduced”
Additionally, Wys only works on mass reproductions of works further raising questions of both image ownership and what it truly means for a work to be an original, especially “in the age of the Internet reproductions, which are now digitally transmitted instantly and endlessly, are more present and more malleable than ever.” Wys warns us as observers to “be as vigilant as ever to distinguish between aesthetics and context, form and function, and the re-presentation of likenesses and the disassociation from referents.”
“Processing “life” and art through a screen requires a good deal of adaptation, as does presenting one’s “life” and one’s art through various screens. I choose to look at that sort of adaptation as an opportunity, not a compromise.”
But, ultimately, what lies in Wys’s work is entirely in your hands as “in the end as in the beginning [he is decidedly postmodern leaving] the activity, reception, and understanding of my work entirely in the viewer’s hands.”
Chad Wys is one of my favourite contemporary artists. I tried to start this article with something that sounded more professional than that, but I thought I should just be honest. His work is conceptually focused without being aesthetically compromised, it’s approachable without being dumbed down, and it’s fun without ever lacking gravitas. He describes himself as an artist, writer, designer, and image thief.
More and more artists today are putting their work online, do you think an online presence is essential to being a successful (commercially or otherwise) at present?
I doubt it’s essential. The art world still seems to be dominated by the politics of collecting and selling and the influence of subjectivity from a select few, which still seems to originate in particular real-world, geographic hubs like New York, London, LA, et al. But I think being technologically-present, -aware, and -fluent will always be useful, especially for communicators such as artists (and especially for emerging artists).
It’s obvious that the Internet is not a fad and that it’s only the most powerful communications tech the world has ever known. An artist who doesn’t wish to exploit that premise is, for whatever reason, proactively invested in preserving traditions of the past. That’s their prerogative and I certainly won’t judge them harshly for it; there are good reasons to base one’s practice and the reception of one’s work in the material world. However, I think the Internet is so pervasive and so utterly powerful that it has become the norm. To not have a portfolio website and to be a visual artist is to be a kind of “off-grid rebel,” or you’re someone who hasn’t caught-up, or you’re someone who’s made a particular set of choices that exclude the massive elephant in the communications room, or you’re so well-liked by the correct art world elite that you don’t need to do much of anything to assert yourself.
The advantage to being an Internet-present artist is fairly clear: access to a virtually unlimited audience; while the disadvantage is also fairly evident: there’s practically infinite noise in which to get lost, and the noise is chaotic and difficult to overcome on one’s own terms. Adaptation is a prerequisite to using the Internet and especially social media. I can understand why some would not be willing to adapt to tech systems of this sort because that can easily be construed, and I think often wrongly so, as compromise. You’ll have to ask someone who avoids the Web why they do so, but you’ll have to dig up their phone number or unearth their street address first (maybe that’s the advantage!).
What do you mean by the “noise” of the internet? And what’s involved in adapting to online communication?
Well, adaptation can be as simple as learning to use 140 characters effectively on Twitter, or learning to edit one’s oeuvre down to a manageable size on one’s personal Website. One has to adapt to the tools one chooses to use, or one has to seek-out or invent new tools to fulfill one’s goals. Processing “life” and art through a screen requires a good deal of adaptation, as does presenting one’s “life” and one’s art through various screens. I choose to look at that sort of adaptation as an opportunity, not a compromise.
As for the “noise” of the Net: simply, there are a lot of us. My attentions are strained through my various information “feeds,” whether on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or what have you. There is a lot of information, potentially limitless amounts, and it’s impossible for each of us to process everything. I think we can easily become desensitized to images, text, art, et al (not only online, but everywhere). It becomes necessary to process information differently and more rapidly and each of us grapples with that in our own way. It’s easy to gloss over an artwork to which one might otherwise deeply respond; it’s easy for one’s work to get lost in the shuffle of information, to be ignored, or to be shallowly received and unfairly dismissed. There are different solutions for overcoming the “noise” for different goals. I think the solution to being widely seen and perhaps even understood as an artist is to be present, persistent, consistent, and to create “good” work. But the better “remedy” for the social noise is to not expect to overcome it, and to not desire to overcome it; it ceases being an obstacle at that point.
In the statement on your website you say that “notion of object” is a major strand in your work, how would you say that “objectification” has been changed by the free availability of (quite often sourceless) images on the web?
That’s an important and sizeable question and it strikes to the core of my practice. My work generally grapples with art (history) and decoration/ornamentation and how we process our experiences of these things, so along those lines the game totally changed at the dawn of “the age of mechanical reproduction” (to lift a line from 20th century German modernist Walter Benjamin). Art’s “aura,” Benjamin argued, is dislodged, displaced, or diminished as reproduction is mastered and streamlined through advanced machinery. For example, viewers stopped observing the painting and started observing photographs of the painting, and in so doing lost a bit of the influence/experience/meaning of the original (for it’s no longer necessary to observe the enormous canvas and the vivid color palette of, let’s say, a Klimt painting since it has been reduced to a two-inch black and white illustration for rapid consumption).
Computers, and the ease of the anonymous digital imaging and text that you speak of, are simply (but complexly) a continuation of the industrialization of aesthetic and intellectual experiences that has coincided with the industrial revolution. I’m sympathetic but resistant to Benjamin’s notion that within each artwork there is an idealized “aura” waiting to be accessed by a special kind of recipient; that’s quite modernist and dated in its determinism. But I think the spirit of Benjamin’s cultural theory–which is that reception matters and is malleable through re-presentation–continues to be extremely prescient, and this is why I grapple with image- and object-based reproductions as my source materials: information is easily displaced and manipulated in the age of the Internet, so we have to be, as ever, vigilant and informed receivers. The marks I make on the particular materials I appropriate are my attempt to draw attention to the digital/mechanical outsourcing of experience… so by creating a new, modified experience through color and form, in my small way I’m trying to draw out the objectification, in some instances quite literally, of visual-intellectual experience. The Internet is a huge, glorious, and horrible part of this dynamic.
You also say that you “enjoy taking contemporary ideas into the past”, could it be said you are doing the reverse as well? As in your readymades you take older, quite often 19th century, pieces of art, rework them and then put them into a thoroughly modern context – the internet.
Yes, I think that’s true; certainly aesthetically speaking. But much of what I do, much of the material I source, is distinctly contemporary (or modern) insofar as the digital image I appropriate, or the factory-crafted copy of the Greek statue with which I’m interfering, or the mass-produced photomechanical print of a 19th century portrait that I’m re-purposing are of a time and of a context often separate and distinct from whatever originals these copies are referencing/mimicking/reproducing.
Broadly speaking, my work concerns the interplay between the aesthetic resonance of whatever image or object I’m sourcing, and that which the image or object literally is–which is often an inadequate transmission of the original, often several times removed by technology and through time. When people get angry at me for “defacing a Raphael painting,” that’s the dishonesty of their experience of the reproduction bubbling up, out, and over; they wind up defending the very process–the process of mass-reproduction–that so “endangers” the experience of the original that they ostensibly wish to protect. I’m quite interested in that sort of visual deliberation, or the deliberation of objectification. I want viewers to consider what it is I’m appropriating and why. When people get angry at me for “stealing” and/or “vandalizing” another artist’s “hard work,” they unwittingly underscore the complex web of problems at play in our visual world, since, really, I’m doing nothing of the sort; quite the contrary in most cases, I’m pointing out that the original was “vandalized” the moment it was reproduced (and that’s not a criticism of reproducibility more than it’s a criticism of our lack of consideration of reproducibility).
How much are the marks you make on works influenced by aesthetics versus making a specific point etc.?
I once heard that Franz Kline, the great abstract expressionist, used light projectors to plot out his bold, black paint strokes onto canvas. I’m not really interested in whether or not this’s true, but in my experience it could be. It’s difficult to instantaneously and instinctively execute a perfectly balanced minimal composition. It’s difficult to proportion a simple scene expertly and all of Kline’s compositions are expertly balanced. His paintings look and “feel” perfectly proportioned, despite (or because) the fact that they’re often just black strokes on a white ground. The reason why the light projector and the careful planning of the strokes could be seen by some as upsetting and detrimental is because abstract expressionist theory is so mythically built on the process of impulse… like an open nerve violently shooting paint onto the canvas. If Kline plotted out every brush stroke, some might view that as a nullification of the attractive image of an abstract expressionist at work: an artist putting every ounce of his or her raw brilliance onto the canvas in a rapid, divine, artistic orgasm.
The reason I tell this story is because the aesthetics of the mark and the purpose of the mark don’t seem very distinctive to me; well, they do, but not insofar as qualities should change depending on method or intent. Kline’s work represents the same things to me whether or not he carefully composed his compositions. My marks are the same intervention whether or not I have a point to convey or I’m going for a certain brand of color theory. How the viewer responds to the materials and the ideas I’ve put in front of them is all that really matters at the end of the day. Sure, I’ve got some ideas I want to get across, and aesthetics will always be my main tool for doing just that, but it’s out of my hands by the time it gets to you.
Art and robots: an irresolvable dichotomy between art and technology, or a symbiotic and novel way to exhibit art to the world? The Tate Britain’s showcasing of the After Dark project invited the public to decide. Created by design studio The Workers, After Dark was the winning project of the IK prize inaugurated this summer by the Tate Britain. Between Wednesday 13th and Friday 15th August those who logged onto the Tate’s website had the chance to view its galleries at night with the aid of four camera-equipped robots. This interface between art and technology begs the question of whether art is the experience of the viewer or the innovation of the creator.
The IK prize was conceptualised by the Tate with the ambition to “widen access to art through technology.” The Workers, a digital product design studio, received a prize of £10,000 and a £60,000 development budget in order to make the publics’ access to art fun, easy and educational. The robots were created in collaboration with RAL Space, and Colonel Chris Hadfield, former commander of the international space station, was the first person to test the robots out. The four robots roamed the deserted galleries and gave viewers a unique experience of nocturnal art accompanied with commentary on the pieces. Select viewers even had the chance to remotely control the robots and therefore what the rest of the world could see, and I was lucky enough to have this privilege.
I was left to wander through the museum at night, catch glimpses of dark corners, and see art against the backdrop of abyss-like uncertainty… Space was redefined and separated into the known and unknown.
At 9.58pm sharp I sat in front of my laptop praying that the online streaming was not going to be a cultural rendition of Robot Wars. It wasn’t. Instead I felt like a commander of a space station with four screens in front of me linked to four different robots in various exhibitions. I was left to wander through the museum at night, catch glimpses of dark corners, and see art against the backdrop of abyss-like uncertainty. The robots and the commentary ping-ponged back and forth through the centuries, rendering the commentary spontaneous and exciting. A connection was forged between the commentator and the viewer since we were both at the mercy of the robots and we were constantly being taken by surprise. Throughout the night there was a heady sense of suspense. Space was redefined and separated into the known and unknown. Works by Turner, Henry Moore and Damien Hirst were excavated from unusual angles and areas of light. A Francis Bacon painting of three figures seemed ghoulish in the eeriness of the dark and cavernous space whereas Gainsborough’s ‘Carthorses Taking a Rest’ was bathed in synthetic light illuminating the colours, giving it a whole new concept of technological realism. After being randomly selected, I was able to control the robots on my keypad. This proved to be a challenge for someone who has no spacial awareness. I was allocated room 4- 20th century art, which housed pieces such as Damien Hirst’s ‘shelf’. Once I learnt how to avoid hitting things, it was actually an enjoyable experience; but I lost focus on the art I was supposed to be viewing and instead became ensnared by this novel mode of transportation. For me the robots had taken over and the art was receding further and further into the dark.
One of the creators Tommaso Lanza said, “We’re not trying to give you this perfect representation of the art…It’s giving the art a different angle, and different light.”
[caption id="attachment_59284" align="aligncenter" width="779"] Screenshot of the experience[/caption]
The Tate Britain has joined the voyage into the modern, an odyssey of technology that promises to make our lives faster, easier and, in the case of art, damn right cooler, but I fear that on this journey we are travelling too fast to take in the view. Admittedly, the idea of enabling the whole world to see 500 years of British art would be impossible without this project. One of the creators Tommaso Lanza said, “We’re not trying to give you this perfect representation of the art…It’s giving the art a different angle, and different light.” He achieved this and at the same time pointed to an important dilemma; the notion that we must sacrifice personal experience for mass convenience. I couldn’t help but wonder if the robots were a fun kind of symbolism for our technologically capable society’s inability to stop and smell the roses. Often It was very difficult to see the paintings clearly since they were partially subdued in darkness and restricted by the diameter of the robot’s light beam. I could not make out the individual brush strokes, materials or composition of the pieces clearly, nor have time to reflect on the effect the art works were having on me. Unless I was controlling the robot, I was completely at mercy to the will of others, saw what they wanted to see, heard what they wanted to hear. I found it hard to locate myself and connect to the artwork in this strained compromise of artistic experience and artistic globalisation. The experience was crazily cool and solemnly sacrificial.
So between the hours of 10pm and 3am I found myself wondering how ubiquitous can art ever be if it has to be technologically transmitted within the rigid constraints of time and at the will of those few who were in control? Is this a glimpse of the future or a subtle reminder that, although the world is becoming globalised, humanity is becoming perpetually cemented in front of an LCD display?