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Navigating new paths: a journey accross mediums and places
Hello dear readers! For this edition, I’m pleased to welcome Luis Colan. Luis is a Peruvian-born artist and graphic designer now living and working in New York City. With a background in fine arts, Luis has been influenced by notable artists and professors who have pushed him to experiment with new techniques. In this interview, we delve into his practice and discuss how he uses both his sketchbook and the monotype printing process to create his unique landscapes. Join us as we explore Luis's journey in art and how he continues to grow as an artist.
Working as both a fine artist and a graphic designer, how do you navigate the intersection of these two disciplines, and do you find that your graphic design work informs your art, or vice versa?
Graphic Design is fairly new to me, actually three days ago I hit the one year mark of being in my first design job. I decided to go back to school in the beginning of 2021 and get a design certificate. After COVID shut the world down, the possibility of losing my job and not having a plan B in place shook me to the core. I had been thinking of design as a way of getting out of my work situation in 2019, but COVID gave me the nudge to go after it. There are many things that design and fine art have in common, such as color, form, and composition, but the way they are applied is very different. With design you have to always keep in mind the audience you are creating for. Everything depends on the receiver and the brand's ideals, tone and purpose. You are a visual mediator for the two. With fine art it comes down to the artist and the work, it's a personal relationship, and the audience comes after. Design has yet to influence my artwork, but my drawing skills have definitely been put to use when creating certain assets and designs for my current employer. I have created illustrations by hand, in illustrator and Procreate, which have been used in marketing emails, printed flyers and mailers, and window graphics. In recent weeks I have been thinking a lot about how I can bring a digital aspect to my work. I'm getting some ideas that I think I might turn into paintings, but at the moment they are just ideas and I have not had the courage to try it out yet. We'll see where this goes.
As a primary landscape artist, it's unexpected to see you based in one of the most vibrant cities on the planet! In what ways has your art evolved since moving to New York City?
I always think about the perception people have of me as an artist living in NYC who works with "traditional" landscapes. It's a funny thing to me as well. I shake my head and laugh about it from time to time and ask myself how did I end up here? To be honest though, New York has been a huge player in my growth as an artist. Although I grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, which is a two hour drive north from the city, it was still a different world. There were not many outlets for serious artists there. Moving to the city was what sparked a growth I don't think I would have had if I remained in Connecticut. In New York I met so many different artists working in different media and approaches. Many conversations happened, which led me to learn new things that come from the experience of a working artist. There are many different schools and studios one can attend to keep perfecting their craft as well. The access to museums and art collections is like no other in the country. All this has a tremendous effect on the growth of an artist.
When I moved to NYC I was working as an abstract artist, painting large scale works; but that came to an end when the reality of small apartment living with someone else finally set in. As I scaled my work down it began to suffer. I was no longer able to move my arm the same way, I felt constricted. So, my answer to that was to scale down even more and go back to something familiar...still life painting. I had been painting still lifes in the early years of art school, but now my use of color opened up more. I encountered the work of Vermeer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I wanted to recreate his use of light. The Met has been one of the greatest sources of inspiration for me, it is there where I encountered Corot and other landscape painters. At one point I decided that I wanted to paint a landscape, I was working from photographs, and although the first two paintings came out alright, they were missing something. Another fellow painter saw them and immediately he could tell that I was using photos, and he suggested that I paint in plein air. And that's exactly what I did. I enrolled in a plein air painting class which took place in Central Park, and from then on I was hooked! I loved the feeling of sun on my face, the sound of air rustling the leaves of trees, the way light flickers as it moves in space. For a number of years painting in Central Park during spring and summer became very important to my work. Later on I began painting in Prospect Park (Brooklyn) with another painter friend, and that also had an effect on my work. New York is known as a concrete jungle, but it does have areas and parks where nature can be experienced. I don't paint in plein air anymore, at least not at the moment, but all my experiences I've had while doing it have been collected in my memory card and I pull from that to create the work I'm currently doing. In all, every aspect of me as an artist, and in life, has been shaped by this city.
Your drawings often have a unique atmosphere to them. What is your creative process to capture the landscape's mood?
Light and atmosphere are very important to my work. Those were the things I paid attention to when painting outdoors. I found an element of magic in them, and I'm constantly thinking about how I can replicate that feeling in my work. It's like when you see a beautiful film or documentary when it captures places at a specific time, in slow motion, and it makes you want to be there because it seems like there might not be another more beautiful place in the world. That's the feeling I'm always trying to capture. Whether I'm working with a pen drawing, monotype, or painting, the main tools I have to get this feeling across are tone and mass. I have to create light and dark areas, moments of wispynes that fade into the background, and balance that against more solid and sharper shapes. It also comes down to understanding your materials, and pushing them to get your vision across.
You share a lot of your sketchbook work. What makes it an important part of your practice?
It's a funny thing that sketchbooks have become so vital to me as an artist. When I was in art school, I was instructed to keep a sketchbook and plan my work ahead. I hated the idea because I thought that I could work out all painting problems directly on the canvas. Well, I was wrong and foolish. I began keeping a sketchbook after moving to New York, it was a good way to jot down ideas, plan out paintings, and it was also portable. I was able to take it with me everywhere, and whenever I had down time, or when "inspiration" hit, I would put it to use. As I began to dive deep into monotype printing the use of my sketchbook increased. I began making thumbnail sketches for compositions I wanted to try out, I was preparing myself so when I was able to print I was ready to go. I don't own a press, so every minute is valuable when I'm able to use one. After time, the thumbnail sketches began to grow in size and complexity, and soon the sketchbook became the artwork itself. My time is very limited because I have a full time job, and also life in general can keep me away from the studio, so having a sketchbook on hand at all times keeps me productive. It also keeps my mind sharp. I'm not going to lie, sharing my sketchbook on Instagram helped me get a bigger reach, it made me realize that there was something special there. More people were connecting with the sketchbook drawings than the rest of my work, and I enjoyed it. I later realized that a pen (or pencil) and a sketchbook are more accessible and relatable to people around the world, and that creates a sense of community because we all have something in common. Not everyone has access to oil paint, canvas, a proper studio, a printing press...but most have access to a writing tool, paper, and time.
What aspects of the monotype printing process do you find most appealing, and how has this medium allowed you to explore new dimensions in your art?
What I love about monotype printing is the immediacy. It's also the perfect marriage between painting and drawing; I'm able to push ink around like paint, while at the same time not having the stress or fear that I may ruin a perfect (and expensive) canvas if it all goes wrong. This gave me more freedom to live in the moment and to just let my emotions take the driver seat. Especially one night when at the last minute I put the sketchbook away and I began to free flow on the copper plate and began pulling ink out, and pushing it here and there, to then create a landscape from imagination. From then on working from imagination has become the main source for most of the work I do. Monotype not only gave me more freedom, but has also provided a new way of working. After years of collecting the ghost prints (second, faded print after original is printed) I found a new way to make use of them. During lockdown I began drawing over them with pen and ink, and gave them new life (no pun intended). This series continues and I'm enjoying the process.
Can you discuss a particular piece or project that has been especially challenging or rewarding for you as an artist, and what you learned from the experience?
I can't think of a specific piece per say because each one brings its own challenges and rewards. The main challenge I face as an artist in general is staying true to myself. There have been so many people who give their opinions about where they see my work going, what I should draw or paint, or how I need to scale up my work; but in the end I have to look past it and focus on what's in my heart, because that's what's leading me to fulfill my vision. It's difficult not to compare yourself to other artists and say "oh maybe I should try that," or "why am I not as good as they are?" In the end I have to put my head down, continue working and do my best and let my work develop on its own. One of the best pieces of advice I received from a professor in art school was no matter what medium or aesthetic I was working in, the most important thing is to keep it honest. People will see that and have a positive response to your work.
Thank you so much Luis for sharing your art with us. If you want to see more of his work, you can find it at the following:
You can buy original artwork directly on Luis Colan’s website.
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— Adrien @adriengonin
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