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"my search for a classical form in the emerging medium of digital art" - harvey rayner

The Zen of Geometry and Art: Carlos Primo interviews Harvey Rayner

Carlos Primo is a brilliant Spanish art critic who has written for a number of noteworthy Spanish publications. Last month Carlos launched a new blog In this site Carlos, hopes to illuminate emerging web based artists and provide a critical eye to this new genre and evolving artistic language. Below are some of the questions Carlos asked me for his blog and my way too serious answers:)

The full interview and an introduction is written on Carlos’s site in Spanish although he informs me a English translation of his introduction will soon be available.

CP – How did you get to create works with a mathematical basis and inspiration? have you ever been accused of doing “cold” art?

The geometry in my work is not there as an underlying structure which organises an additional independent artistic language, but it is the very fabric of the work. The choice to derive the work using specific families of geometric relationships has to do with limiting my options. This is limiting my options in terms of where and how I can create one element relative to another and relative to the entire work. In poetry and music, we call this ‘meter’. Meter in art is as old as art itself. Actually all artist’s subconsciously and consciously create meter in their work. It is what determines the style of one artist compared to another. For instance, Picasso, when he was young, limited his palette to predominantly blue hues. There was much more to his output at this time than just this, but as a simple example this stylistic limitation, or meter, as I call it, gave the young Picasso the artistic freedom to express something very precisely. I believe limitation is just a necessary condition of creative expression and it’s the invention and variety that is found by the artist within the limits that gives an expression power. Of course, this again is nothing new. The ancient Greeks talked about it in terms of ‘variety within unity’. From Zen we have ‘All in One: One in All’, in Zen however, the whole of reality is like this, not just art.

CP – You work with geometrical figures, but what are your other aesthetic (or ethic, maybe spiritual) influences and inspirations? because your images are complex and interesting, but also so beautiful…

I think our interests and personalities inevitably find there way into all our creative work and activities. In my case I have broad interests in many things, such as technology, architecture, mathematics, engineering, and, of course, all areas of art and design. Perhaps what influences my work the most, however, is my practice of Zazen. This is Zen sitting meditation. Through this practise I am learning to breath with my eyeballs and see with the pit of my belly. This is the most important skill for any artist. Without this, an artist can not make one original mark.

CP – Why so many black and white images? something to do with minimalism?

My use of a greyscale palette is again about limitation – ‘meter’. Actually, for the first few years that I was developed the Root2Art canon of work, I only used three tones: white, black and a mid grey. A large majority of my more recent work only uses 5 or 7 tones.

Sometimes, when I am struggling to resolve a piece of work I use colour, but once I become clear about how I want the structure to work, then I will be able to define the piece in monochrome. Introducing colour to my work would be like playing a piece of music composed for solo piano, with an entire orchestra. The Orchestra would bring with it a certain richness and complexity, but more often than not at the cost of structural clarity. For me, it is about revealing precisely and clearly the compositional invention of a work. I think this is best done without the distraction of colour. We can reduce colour to a tonal monochrome structure, but not vice versa.

I remember clearly, over ten years ago, looking at a pebble on a beach and thinking – “How can I create anything that adds something to the infinite complexity and richness of nature. Even on the surface of this simple pebble is a beautifully subtle texture and an infinite variety of colour. If I am to make anything that is a genuine contribution to the visual diversity of the world, then it would be futile to try and beat nature at its own game. “Using a limited monochrome palette and eliminating all texture is therefore also about removing the more sensual aspects of art, simply because this is something that can always be found in boundless abundance in nature.

As for minimalism I don’t know what minimalism is! Isms are really just the creation of the art theorist and historian. When we place a piece of art in to a category we become partially blind to it. If we think we understand what a piece of art is, then we’ve already lost sight of it. Me, here today, talking about my own work is also like this. I am much worse than any art historian. People who’s job it is to talk about art don’t know any better…LOL.

CP – You have worked in projects that are nearer to design (e.g. the greenhouse) Are you interested in the relationship between art and daily life?

When I make art then this is my daily life. When I am designing greenhouses, fixing the car, cooking dinner, talking with friends or playing with the kids, none of these activities produce or require a state of mind different from that when making art. When I am fully concentrated on what I am doing then that activity becomes a creative activity. Creativity is not something I draw from a certain place and wilfully apply to making a work of art or solving a design problem. As I see it, creative problem solving is about seeing a problem clearly and completely. Since when we look at any situation with our whole body and our whole mind, when we are fully present, then we see that every situation is unique and unique appropriate responses and solutions naturally arise. If we are fully present in daily life, them we will naturally find the ability to express ourselves creatively in all our daily activities. Yes, this can be the case, even when going to the lavatory…LOL

CP – Which kind of reaction do galleries and public have when they look at your works? do you consider yourself a successful artist?

I do not know what kind of response I would get from commercial galleries if I were to take my work to a random selection of them today. I gave up trying to find a gallery to represent my work about five years ago. The typical reaction I used to get was that my work was somehow something other than art. A parallel to graphic design was often drawn but my works relationship to anything more meaningful was often not apparent. It is not surprising to me that I have been unable to locate my work within any noteworthy gallery because at the end of the day these places exist to earn money despite any genuine motives to champion new work. If any art is immediately recognisable as being contemporary then its language must already be widely permeated throughout visual culture. When a work not merely reflects, but creates truly new visual language, then we should expect that work not to be instantly recognisable, not even as art. If something is not seen as art then how can you sell it in an art gallery?

As for success, how do we gage it? In conventional terms my ‘career’ as an artist is pretty woeful. In over 15years I’ve never made a dollar from it and I am still an unknown entity within the wider (offline) Art World. My exposure on the net is steady, but I’m unsure how a large percentage of this traffic is responding to my work.

Its funny, occasionally I’ll get an email from a student asking how I became a successful digital artist? Some people assume from looking through my site that I must make a good living from it. So in conventional terms I have managed through my website to at least, create the impression of success…LOL. Very funny, because to pay the bills, I clean industrial cooling towers, which is physically tough, wet and filthy work. It is one of the least glamorous jobs you could hope for.

I have learned this much in my life so far: if we place importance on abstract notions of success, then we will also place importance on the perceived absence of success. Both success and failure are both an illusion. The life of a man who thinks he is ‘successful’ is not always happy, and the life of a man who thinks he is a ‘failure’ is not always sad. The life of a man who sees no reality in success or failure is beyond disturbance…LOL

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