Doug Welsh: So much of contemporary art is about hitting you over the head with gore and blood and sex and violence; being big and bright and overwhelming. I think we’ve lost a lot of slower, more contemplative types of art and that’s something that I’m trying to reclaim.
Bates Review: Thank you so much for meeting with us! Tell us about your beginnings. When did you decide to become a Studio Art major.
Doug Welsh: I had always made art. Through elementary school, middle school, high school. I got to college and was like “art is important to me but I don’t want to study it right now.” I thought I knew that I loved art, and so I wanted to explore different things. I did a semester without an art class and was so unfulfilled. I realized it was my passion, so why not study art? I needed to rediscover it, in a way. That’s part of being an artist, go through cycles of doubt and realize why you want to paint.
BR: What was your art education like in high school?
DW: I went to two different high schools, one in Oslo, Norway and one in Scotland. I did the IB (International Baccalaureate) program. The whole premise of International Baccalaureate is…through learning, so you are taking responsibility for your learning, and that was really empowering. As a young artist I was very self-driven. I changed a lot in college.
BR: What were your early creations? Did you experiment a lot with different mediums and modes of expression or were you immediately drawn to painting or mixed media?
DW: IB has a two year art program, with the idea of trying a lot of different media, different approaches, different styles, different techniques. I experimented with drawing, painting, sculpture, photography … I didn’t get the opportunity to work with oil paint because of technical issues with oil paint. I didn’t experience that until college, and that totally changed my love for paint. It’s the most remarkable material because it can mimic all other types of paint. It’s manipulative.
BR: When did you decide to incorporate that into your thesis work?
DW: Junior year, during my first painting class at Bates. I also recognize that my other classes, ceramics classes, drawing classes, have all influenced my work in one way or another. Print making, for example, taught me to work in layers. It also taught me to work in quantities; to try many ideas before committing to one. Ceramics is very cool because they are so many things that can go wrong in creating a piece of ceramic ware. It forces you to lose control and take more risks and not be so precious. That is definitely part of my thesis work: freeing yourself from this notion of what you think you want to achieve and in doing so you arrive at more interesting alternatives; letting the work create itself as opposed to having an idea and just getting it; letting the process inform where you end up.
BR: Can you talk a little more about your process, specifically in this collection.
DW: I had taken an Advanced painting class junior year with Robert Feintuch. He comes from a background of Abstract Expressionist painting. Many of his mentors were Abstract Expressionist painters working in New York City in the 50s and 60s. That unlocked a world for me, looking at Abstract Expressionist art, and its focus on active, experimental, physical painting, as well as materials and how they can be manipulated.During my first semester of thesis, I experimented with a number of materials and arrived at hair. I collect hair from my friends, myself and Stylz, the hair salon in Lewiston. I made friends with the owner and he gives me hair as I need it.
BR: How did you arrive at hair?
DW: Sometimes the most important things that artists does are almost entirely subconscious and then you realize how important it was. In the moment, its just something that happens. Over time I learned to use the material in a way that suited my artistic needs.
BR: Did you have a lot of these moments, of epiphany?
DW: Not necessarily, which is why you need to be in the studio everyday, and produce a lot of work, to keep track of those moments of clarity. Because so much of it is uncertain.
BR: How did the drips, and the idea of collecting the drips evolve?
DW: I think there’s danger sometimes in saying too much, as an artist, and revealing too much about your work. I will say that part of this series is about dichotomy, the meeting ground of different tensions and forces that are at play. Control and release, fluid organic forms meeting structured ordered forms. The drips are special to me because they are both: the control is making a drip, but you can’t expect what the drip is going to do when it interacts with the board.
BR: Can you talk a little bit about the dynamic in your studio, working in such a small space with three other incredibly talented artists who are doing completely different things?
DW: I think if you gave it enough time we’d all end up painting the same thing. When you’re in an environment creating work intensively with three other talented, young, ambitious artists who are also extremely prolific and hard working, you notice the connections more.
BR: Could you see yourself creating a collection of representational art?
DW: I did two years of self-portraits in high school and the majority of my work in college has been representational. It has been extremely important in getting to where I am now, with my real interest being abstract painting and non-representational painting. I don’t see myself going that direction in the near future but I don’t think anything is definitive. That could be meaningful later.
BR: I know you’re very active in Multi-Faith, and other forums for spirituality on campus- can you talk about the spirituality you imbue into your art?
DW: I think the process of creating art is inherently spiritual, whether or not people put it into those words. I see my work on one hand as being spiritual and on the other hand an open ground for people to see what they want. My work embraces ambiguity and uncertainty; it can be topography for one person, it can be muscles being ripped apart for another person, it could be just hair…I’m interested in how one thing can be many things to different people, which I see as a spiritual notion, maybe other people don’t.
BR: Do you crave feedback? Do you actively seek out people to guide your process?
BW: I do, I actually keep a running journal of the things that people say about my work and it is completely revealing about the way people think and what they see. I’ve gotten all kinds of interesting answers, like dead things, industrial buildings that are rusting, water, clouds, the cosmos…I like keeping track of them also because it helps keep it fresh for me and I can continuously see new things in my work.
BR: Have you avoided imbuing your work with an explicit form to allow your audience to benefit from that ambiguity?
DW: I want people to see the connection between these organic forms and the grid which is structured and ordered but I don’t necessarily want to impose what I think those forms are.
BR: Can you talk a bit about your color palette?
DW: I work in limitations, as I think any artist should. One of those limitation is color: I work in a very reduced palette, which suits my needs.
BR: Do you see yourself as approaching art constantly in a different way?
DW: Yes- I constantly make new work, because while older work is important, it becomes less meaningful over time.
BR: Are you done painting this collection?
DW: My thesis work is drawing to a close. I look at all of the works as one body, and edit individual pieces as needed. After alterations, I bring the work back up here and meditate a little bit longer.
BR: Do you think you’ll ever see your works as done?
DW: [Laughing] I don’t know, I hope so. I think we’re never quite satisfied as artists. That’s up for debate.
BR: Do you already have some new ideas for a collection that you want to devote a significant period of time to as you have for this collection of work?
DW: Yeah, I have some ideas of where I want to go from here, things I want to try. Related to the work I’ve been creating, but slightly different as well.
BR: What is your relationship to literature, writing, film as a creative person to you find yourself intrigued by other forms of expression?
DW: I see myself as largely inadequate in all of those, but I appreciate them and love them.
BR: Do you feel as if a little part of what draws you to this field is talent, and a knack for expression?
DW: I think it’s more that I feel this is the way I express myself best. It feels like I am charged to do this, because this is my way of experiencing the world and my way of communicating that to people.
BR: Would you say you have favorite artists, or is that limiting? How do you classify your inspiration? How sensitive are you to influence?
DW: One day its one person, the next it’s another. There are so many artists who I admire and deeply respect, and not all of them are abstract and non-representational in fact probably the majority of them are representational. Agnes Martin and … are probably the most important artists for this body of work. But the Abstract Expressionists: Rothko, Pollock, Kline, Frankenthaler…you’ve got all of those greats, the big names. It’s an endless list.
BR: Would you ever like to meet them?
DW: Oh absolutely. I would hope that it wouldn’t change my opinion of their work, but I would love to meet them.
BR: Would you separate someone’s art from their personality?
DW: That’s tricky. You would hope its objective, that it’s just about their work…I can’t say exactly.
DW: It’s strange talking this much about my work. It feels like I have a bunch of children whom I care a lot about but are being exposed to the world for the first time. My artwork has been sitting in a dark room collecting dust for almost a year, after all. This is all a learning experience, and I am trying to understand how to not say too much about my work.