Complexity and convolution can often lead to a painting’s downfall but I tend to push things in that direction despite this… I often find that the more a composition teeters towards total collapse, the more exciting it becomes.Joshua Raz
The following interview forms part of a series where I invite contemporary artists to each reflect on their personal history, meaning, and philosophy, and how those are embedded throughout their creative process. This week I talk to Joshua Raz, a British artist based in London.
Tell me about your piece, ‘On Thin Ice’.
‘On Thin Ice’ was the first of a sequence of paintings depicting figures skating on a frozen lake. Originally, the painting was one part of a larger conception. I hoped to paint several pieces, each contributing a separate view of the same frozen lake. A holistic approach such as this has always been the bedrock of each body of work, yet I hoped this series would be more immersive: when hung within the same space a viewer might have the sense of being amongst the skaters on the ice, standing upon the same fragile and fundamentally temporary substrate. I made three of these paintings then abandoned the idea in favour of different images.
Does inspiration ‘come’ to you or is it found through searching?
More often than not, searching yields ideas eventually, although actively seeking inspiration will usually do the opposite. Collecting scraps of text or screenshots from films; taking a lot of photos; reading; writing: these processes help to build a lens through which things can be seen in a different light, or at least provide an archive to draw upon if needed. Something might not be a fit for one body of work, yet might provide the jumping off point for another.
Feeling lost, stuck and without meaning are experiences we all face as human beings. Why do you think that is?
Primarily, this sensation seems tied to the age-old dilemma of human self-awareness and our ability to add context to our own actions and those of others around us. Yet, I believe that this neurosis can be exacerbated by the systems that prop up the civilisations we have created. They tether us to routines which most are not adapted to find meaning within. Meaning requires narrative, and the stories that we are told make less and less sense by the day.
How might you approach those feelings in your work?
Within my work, I paint figures that are subsumed by the environments that they inhabit. Subjects often present as dissociated in the wake of a grand or warped landscape. Despite each landscape feeling somewhat tethered to reality, each environment depicts nowhere in particular. They can only offer each figure a shaky foundation on which to sit rather than stability.
The way in which the figures within each painting circumvent each other is a consideration too, especially between the works that feature as part of the same body. In this I hope to reflect the negotiation between a desire for individual identity, and a desire to connect with others.
What is the most unsettling work of art you’ve come across?
The piece that comes to mind is Miroslaw Balka’s, ‘How It Is’, installed in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall a while back. An immense dark vault suspended on stilts with a ramp leading to its entrance, I remember seeing it on a visit aged 14 or 15. You would feel increasingly bodiless and insignificant the further you entered, until at the far wall your surroundings totally slipped away into blackness.
Depending on how much time was spent in the space, a peculiar comfort was drawn from feeling lost in the nothingness at the far end of the box, and looking back towards the open threshold of the structure became more disconcerting, like an astronaut looking back on Earth and not recognising it as the place that they came from.
Looking back at your works, what you do think of them now?
I find it very difficult to properly consider my paintings when I can still see my own hand in them. In my work I often see a tendency to throw a lot of different formal elements at one composition (or view one idea from a few different vantage points). There is a lot of superimposition in the application of the material. I think the paintings that I value most are when each of the chapters in a painting’s history are evident in the finished surface.
Complexity and convolution can often lead to a painting’s downfall but I tend to push things in that direction despite this. I put it mainly down to indecision and a lack of any real planning, yet it’s also a coping mechanism for riding out the many changes of heart made during a painting’s development. I often find that the more a composition teeters towards total collapse, the more exciting it becomes.