Michael Xuereb meets Vasilisa Forbes for a conversation about something that’s not important

Seeing you’re here, something tells me you love art supply shops, with all those acrylic tubes lined up, bottles of oil paint, canvases, brushes, sculpting tools and that brush drying gizmo that everyone buys and never uses… an artist’s paradise! But are the materials and mediums we choose to use that important to bring our artisitc ideas to life or are they just mere tools? I had a chat about this with multi-medium art student Vasilisa Forbes.

 

Vasilisa Forbes

 

What mediums have you used?

Drawing, photography, illustration, ummm… drawing on photographs, I also do a bit of writing and poems. And I do sound as well, like electronica, just using a synth.


Do you remember what medium you started off with?

I started with film – actually (!) I started with painting!


Of course! if you want to be an artists you HAVE TO start with painting!

Yes! That’s what you do when you’re young. I remember myself copying old master drawings.


You have those photos with yellow squares on top… are those your own photots?

 

Ghost by Vasilisa Forbes

 

Cross by Vasilisa Frobes

 

Yes, you can call them collage, but that can give the impression that they are found images which they are not because I took the photos myself. Sometimes I add the yellow shapes digitally, other times I cut pieces of yellow paper and re-scan the images. Those were done just as tests really. They were initially for a friend’s book. It was about obscuring. There are people in the pictures actually and they’ve been ‘obscured’… You can tell I really like John Baldassari!


Was the book like a novel or poetry? And what was it called?

It was called ‘Dachau Leisure Centre’. It’s a picture book. Like a concept book. And Dachau was a Nazi concentration camp. I’m Jewish but didn’t find it offensive and it was something I wanted to be a part of.


Do you think that certain mediums are inferior to others? For example a painting is ranked higher then a photograph or an image is ranked higher when printed compared to it being displayed digitally.

I don’t think it applies anymore. But people who think in old fashion terms think that it takes more time to make a painting then to take a photo. But sometimes that’s not even true anymore. They can both take as long. I think painting used to take so long before because there were no other medium in existence that can do what it does. And obviously if a painting takes a longer time to make, it doesn’t mean that it’s inferior to a photograph or other ‘quick’ medium!


And what about a photo when it is printed compared to while it’s still digital? Take one of your photos for example… is it the same thing for you when it’s on the computer screen or projected on a wall compared to when it’s printed on paper?

No for me it’s the same, but I can see how it can be different for others.


Do you feel it’s ‘temporariness’ when it’s not printed?

Yes I feel that. I think that’s why I like to shoot on film. It’s like I want that something that exists in my hands. Yes I prefer film and I’m glad people still use film might be because I’m a supporter of vintage things. For me digital images take so much effort to make them look organic. But film stills are instantly organic for me.

Mumfagor by Vasilisa Forbes

 

 

Is it important for an artist to experiment with multiple mediums?

Yes definitely. Art schools encourage you use different mediums. When they saw me drawing on paper they said why are you drawing on paper? And I was studying drawing! They wanted me to try sculpture. Which can be good and bad, because maybe I wasn’t interested in sculpture, because for me my complete idea was the drawing.


Have you ever felt that artists working in multiple mediums are viewed as less mature and still in their experimental state?

Interesting…


I’m asking you this because I felt it personally. I remember being seen as the artist that hasn’t made up his mind yet!

Maybe there’s nothing wrong in being always in the experimental stage? Why would you leave that stage? That’s the best stage! After that it all gets boring!

 

From Here On by Vasilisa Forbes

 

Do you wish you’re an artist of just one medium?

I can see the advantages of it, because you would really become great in that one medium…


I’m not talking about yourself, I’m talking about how you present yourself to whoever is going to see or buy your work.

Like saying ‘I’m just a painter’?


Yes. Like what do you think sounds best – saying for example “I’m a photographer” or saying “I’m a photographer and I also do painting and collage, and I do choreography and sound and this and that…” ?

Yes it’s tricky! Because when you say it like that it does sound immature and like you want to do everything! But I wouldn’t want to stop working with all the different mediums that I work with. To me they are all the same, they all come out the same way. The mediums you use isn’t important.


…and when you think of an art work you want to do, do you also think of the medium it will be?

No, not really. I don’t think I ever think of the medium first, or do I? I don’t know. Well sometimes I do. It depends really. I start with a concept, then everything else follows.


I know. It depends on the art-piece obviously. In my case, at that moment when the idea sparks in my mind, I don’t exactly know all the details of how the art-piece is going to be done and how it’s going to end up looking, but part of the initial idea is a sort of ‘language’ that forms in my mind that helps me tackle any decision that needs to be made in relation to the new art-piece I’m thinking about. Sometimes ‘what medium to use’ is part of this inception stage, other times it’s not.

I always start from one medium, and that would be drawing. It can end up being a drawing, but also a sculpture or a sound piece or something else easily. Nowadays there isn’t a definition on an artist anymore. You don’t have to be a master of one technique.


Yes and part of the reason why art has evolved to become less technical and more conceptual is because artists have more accessibility to different mediums, and therefore the idea has a whole variety of mediums to chose from to become something tangible.

Fluxus Flight by Vasilisa Forbes

 

 

*  *  *

 

So what do you think? Is the medium nothing more then a tool for artists? Or does the medium define the people using it?

I’m in total agreement with Vasilisa about not giving much importance to the medium. I don’t think artists should be defined by their medium of choice. It’s like a chef who sometimes needs a whisk and sometimes needs a knife – that’s how art mediums should be to artists. On the other hand, arts collages are inflating it by making us choose a subject when all we want to study is art. I’ve never understood how there’s degrees in photography, degrees in sculpture, degrees in painting, then there’s degrees in art!

In my opinion an artist shouldn’t be classified by the medium he/she uses, like for example he’s a ‘painter’ or he’s a ‘sculptor’. An artist is an artist and true artists shouldn’t be tagged by the medium they use, but instead simply tagged as ‘artists’. From where I see it, it’s the way of thinking and the line of thought that defines an artist in comparison with everybody else. And I can’t help myself not mentioning that painting on canvases or drawing on paper doesn’t automatically make one an artist. I’ll even take it one step further – there are people who I know well, who’s hands never met a paintbrush and have never produced anything in art form – which I’d happily consider fully fledged artists. I say this because I know them personally and I know the way they are.

I’m sure not everyone would agree with this, but for me it all boils down to one’s thought process, the way they come up with their day to day ideas and the way they view the world and react to it that makes someone an artist in my book – and not if they dabble with art material. Good summer. Comments below. Peace.

 

About the author

Michael Xuereb
Michael Xuereb is a conceptual artist and writer. He is originally from Malta and now based in London. http://www.michaelxuereb.com

16 Comments

  1. Peter Giltay says:

    Abstraction came from painting because the painter wanted to be in direct contact with the medium.

    An artist should not be defined by the medium of choice, perhaps, but to be real should an artist make a choice for a medium.

    “collages make us choose a subject”

    That seems right. This seems simular to the problem that painting reality is rather reconstructing it than having anything to do with painting. At the same time colour can only be beautifull if it is imaginative. Therefore a subject seems
    to be required.

    To bring the medium to abstraction whilst it still is imaginative seems a contradiction.

    The problem with a collage of mediums is that it gets less related with the abstraction of the medium.

    And that is the whole point more or less: if started with a concept it is not possible to bring the medium to abstraction.
    Because te concept itself is more or less the medium.
    Although the concept itself can’t be a visual art because it is an idea. And also an idea on itself is not an art. This means that the concept runs the risk of becomming a story rather than a direct real experiance.
    Or perhaps that the concept as only an idea is static.

    But does a way of thinking automaticly make one an artist?
    I would say it’s a combination of a way of thinking, understanding of the medium and bringing the medium to the abstraction of the way of thinking. Thus conveying an emotion.
    Emotion is more or less abstract thought.
    Or the other way around.
    A painting is similar to a body. In the human body emotions arise and come to conciousness in abstract thought. The human body is the medium. The same way the medium of painting has to become concious.

    As I see art, the medium is not a tool that you can use for a purpose, no,… it is a body that has to be resurected, with a life of its own.

    Still there is a medium. Iff it is one’s own body. However the question is if it is about resurrecting ones own body or merging in the resurected life around.

    For me the transgression is more extensive.

    Reply
  2. Project M says:

    Lovely interview / article. Totally agree. Sometimes I want to use acrylic, other days I want to use found objects or plaster moulds etc. You are so right. All we “artists” need to do is create and get our ideas out there in whatever medium we want to. If people like what we do then that is a bonus.

    Reply
    • Peter Giltay says:

      I totally disagree. If there is no respect for the medium there is no real creation. To just swap from one medium to another is opportunistic, without a response to the medium. It is running straight forward into a dissaster. Probably this whole attitude
      is responsible for the economical crisis right now.

      Reply
      • …and global warming.

        Reply
        • Peter Giltay says:

          In Holland the government drastically cuts spending on art.
          Is Art related to the economical crisis?

          A thesis is:

          The banking system caused the financial crisis by selling contracts without assets. In other words concepts with no medium..

          The question is:
          Is this a culture adopted from conceptual art ?

          Since the aim of concept is exclusion of the medium, exclusion of assets.

          Reply
  3. Project M says:

    @Peter, it would be so nice to see your work so that we can see how well you use your chosen medium. Unfortunately it seems you do not have a portfolio on this site….

    Reply
  4. Thanks for your comment Project M, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. i saw your comment on facebook too

    Reply
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