A few familiar faces haunt a sickly green room. Jesus sits on the couch next to a ghoulish Grim Reaper, as they both placidly watch TV, lounging next to a casually-leaning scythe. These are some of the seemingly significant paraphernalia filling one of Willem Weismann’s hectic paintings, which range from bursting internal scenes to crowded outdoor spaces. Titled Basement Odyssey, Weismann’s latest series of paintings are imbued with thick, purposeful strokes, which form his collection’s in-motion visuals. The artist’s dynamic point-of-view resonates in each of his lively renderings of cluttered locales. He mentions Orson Welles’ expansive filming techniques, referencing scenes in movies like Touch of Evil as inspiration.
The message behind the disarray translates to the artist’s consideration of his own contributions, while simultaneously trying to scale the daily output of creative work. In a discussion with Artfridge, Weismann speaks about his personal struggle to retain as much information as possible: “To me, personally, it also presents the overwhelming experience of browsing through YouTube, Wikipedia and Google and perhaps the impossibility of remembering all one’s own experiences in life. There’s just so much knowledge and material in the world, it seems increasingly difficult to separate facts from fiction, and as a painter, I’m only adding to this pile.”
The Creators Project also spoke to Willem about some of the motivations behind his paintings about how the joint influences of history and modern technology weave their way through his work:
The Creators Project: Your artwork speaks to the normalcy of living in a world with so much creative history. How do you approach reconciling the past and channel it into a single canvas?
Willem Weismann: The history of painting itself goes a long way back. There was the development of the use of oil paint as perfected by the van Eyck’s in the early 1400s, or you can go back 40,000 years to the Lascaux cave paintings at the start of human civilization for example. So I think its own presence throughout history lends itself well to this, as if it is an innate quality of painting.
I like the juxtaposition between the stillness and passing of time that a painting can evoke. Even in a frozen moment, there can be a sense of the immense history of all that has come before and in that way there is a movement. Instead of trying to express motion in the painting, like the Futurists, in the series of works at the Zabludowicz Collection, I intended for the viewer to move through the space of the paintings. And as they move into a building and down into its basement there is also a sense of going back to the beginning of time.
So it’s not really reconciling the past, but acknowledging the presence or influence of the past. When you see a neat little pavement, there’s all these sewer pipes and wires right underneath it, and if you go deeper, who knows what you can find? It’s like taking a look under the hood. But there is also an inevitability that everything around us is eventually ground up in the wheels of time and will inevitably become part of this past.
What are your thoughts on today's dependency on technology and the internet?
It is just what it is. really, there are very good and bad sides to it. I think Werner Herzog’s recent documentary Lo and Behold, really sums it up well. It’s helping scientific breakthroughs, but over-dependence can ultimately be very damaging when something goes wrong.
As for myself, I am more fascinated with how everything has and can become digitized. It’s very strange to me that all music, film, and art can and have been broken down into 0 and 1s. It’s all become part of the same fabric sitting next to each other on your hard disk. As a painter and especially when it comes to larger canvases, it’s very strange to see them reduced to a tiny picture on a mobile phone or laptop. There is a video of David Lynch getting uncharacteristically but incredibly pissed off about people watching his films on a phone, but he is right. There is an incredible loss and it changes the experience completely. I calculated that it would be similar to looking at one of my paintings from 50 feet away. Another example is that on a screen all colors are built up from red, green, and blue. But there are many colors of paint that are made up of very different pigments that were for example metals, stones, crystals. It puts everything on the same ethereal plane, and as a painter, it’s really made me think about the physicality of my work and its experience. Not just its size and colour, but it made me think about concepts of gravity, friction, and resistance both in the making and the looking at them.
In your painting career, are there certain themes you see your artwork routinely addressing?
As I think is normal, over the years my work has gone through many changes, But definitely there are certain things that keep coming back and although things have changed, I think there’s a thread throughout that you can follow and that hopefully makes sense: First of all, I guess there’s always been a certain deadpan humor in my work. It’s just something that happens, it just finds its way into the work.
I didn’t really set out to be a painter, so from the start I’ve always been thinking about what it means to be a painter and especially today, when there are so many options. In relation to that, for a long time I’ve been looking at ideas around ethics and the philosophical idea of the good life, what it means to live meaningful life. Anachronism, obsoleteness, and usefulness are themes that keep coming back in different ways. This, for example, has taken Pop Art-ish forms where I took the cheesy, old Dutch cartoon character of a marmalade mascot, Flipje van Tiel, to utopian ideas of self-sufficiency and withdrawal from society, like Thoreau’s Walden, and more recently there’s been a lot of paintings about trash and books. They are different ways to explore similar themes that change as I get older and my interests change.
See more from Willem Weismann on his Instagram and on his website, here. Basement Odyssey shows at the Zabludowicz Collection’s gallery in London from November 10–December 18, 2016. Find more information on the exhibit, here.