Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ten Questions for Samuel Araya

Paraguayan illustrator Samuel Araya was completely off my radar until he was referred to me by Jon Schindehette as someone I might want to contact for our first Art of Roleplaying Games show back in 2012. I was sent a couple examples of his work, which was cool enough but relatively tame (for him). I choose to have him send me a piece called House of Flies, which was a digital painting he did for an RPG.
House of Flies
I remember it was almost swamped by the myriad of work in that show (over 72 pieces), as most RPG fantasy is very bright and action-oriented. However, it caught the eye of Nicole Lindroos of Green Ronin Publishing, who was drawn to the starkness of the piece. Green Ronin became quick fans of Samuel.

Around that time, the Seattle Opera was looking for a new artist to illustrate elements of Wagner's Ring Cycle for August 2013. Karin Kough visited the Art of RPG, and impressed with the quality of the artwork, asked me to send a Call for Artists to the group. Several illustrators responded enthusiastically (including myself): Wagner's opera cycle (a five day marathon of over-the-top opera) often makes superstars of it's artists, as it's the Creme du la Creme of the opera world. Samuel also answered the call.

Sam was picked out of 1200 applicants to be the face of Seattle's Ring Cycle. He beat out many illustrators with weighty resumes, and when I saw his pieces (which we will be making print sets of in the near future), I immediately understood why he got the job. 
Die Walkure, one of five illustrations for The Ring
Samuel was gracious, charming, and professional, which is why I asked him to do a solo show in May 2013. He sent me 11 artist proof prints of his digital work, five of which had been painting upon with a waterbased medium. We still have some of these works; I think viewers fall in love with his images but don't understand that these are more than just "prints". Digital work is still a bastard son in the art gallery, which is unfortunate.
Inconnu, hand painted giclee on archival paper
His show was well received, and after showing with us he showed at Cloud Gallery on Capitol Hill in Seattle. We were sad to know that he would not be able to come up to see the Ring Cycle when it opened in August, him being in Paraguay. For the hell of it I started a fundraising campaign to raise money for a plane ticket to Seattle, and many many people from all over donated to it, thus allowing him to visit the US, see the Cycle (which he loved), meet artists and publishers, see the sites and attend the Cloud Gallery's closing reception. He also talked at the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association's convention alongside myself and Brom (who was the Artist Guest of Honor), who happened to be a hero of Sam's. Let's just say he was floating amongst the clouds.

Since then, he's been accepted into this year's Spectrum annual. He's been swamped with book covers and commissions, and has built a vast following of fans from all over. Seeing as it's extremely expensive to ship artwork to and from Paraguay, we worked out a deal to represent Sam here at Krab Jab Studio. 

I asked Sam if he would answer our 10 questions, and he did, albeit just 9, but with much thought. Enjoy!

1. What is your educational background with art?
I studied graphic design for two years, which I would say it was a complete waste of time, but I got to admit that it helped me to gather my resolve to be an artist or die trying, instead of compromising the journey and confine it to something to do the weekends, whilst keeping a day job in order to buy shit I don't need and be happy only during vacations. So I decided to teach myself how to draw and how to take photographs via books, internet tutorials and almost everything I could find, which was an interesting experience.

Later on I was blessed with a scholarship at the now defunct “The Art Department”, I had the chance to see some of my personal heroes working, like Rick Berry, George Pratt and Jon Foster, I also meet so
many talented students and instructors whose work I currently admire, particularly Vanessa & Ron Lemen, Anita Kunz, Sterling Hundley and I will stop the name dropping now, but seriously it was an experience
like no other. The most important lesson I learned was ironically to shut down all outside influences and concentrate on building a personal voice.

2. what type of art or artist has been an inspiration for you? You can name more than one.
Christopher Shy was the artists that originally got me interested in art. I have a funny story, through highschool I convinced myself I could never ever learn to draw, and when I saw that Christopher was
using photographs I thought “Man, that would be easier than actually painting someone”. Only to find that such folklore was pure bollocks and now I will need to learn how to paint and take good photographs as
well if I wanted to work with that combination. Christopher's work is simply wonderful, he is such a great designer, doing haunting images of primal beauty.
To Stephen Kasner, hand painted giclee on archival paper

There many other artists, like Gary Kelley, Mark English, Jon W. Waterhouse, Beksinski, Enki Bilal, Giger, Junji Ito, Phil Hale, Kow Yokoyama, Stephen Kasner, Denis Forkas Kostromitin, Austin Osman Spare
and the list will go on, but I gotta say that the work of Nicola Samori was a turning point. His art taught me that there is only one act more sacred than the one of creation, and that its destruction. It made me break down the barriers of the ego, if you wish to get esoteric. No longer I was held by the idea of my work being precious or immaculate, by incorporating the of tearing down a piece to the very foundation as a means to find something which speaks more intimately about the nature of beauty and memory.

3. What kind of literature or game do you see yourself illustrating for in the future? Do you like one kind of illustration over another?
I look forward to do more book covers for novels in the horror/fantasy genre. So far the response to my forays into that field has been tremendous. I love books that deal with fiction… truth to be told I would love to illustrate something like “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy as well. I favor illustration that have no clear narrative and doesn’t limits itself to describe the text, but adds a counterchange and starts a mental dialogue between the image and what you are reading.

Alice Walks, digital painting for book cover of same name
As far as gaming, I love gaming, but its not something I'm actively pursuing these days, of course there is always exceptions, there is a lot of people and games in the industry that are very dear to me, but
my path leads elsewhere.

You can guess I'm not much into doing concept art or all that stuff, working with style guides as well, but again its a question about how much the themes of the property resonate with me. I'm fine with almost
every kind of illustration job as long as there is that emotional connection, but I have not interested in being a “wrist” that serves to articulate someone else's ideas without question nor space for re-interpretation.

4. Do you plan to stay in Paraguay or consider moving up north?
I would love to move up north, I fell in love with Seattle, you already know that! Seeing so many people committed to their art was something new for me. Besides any city with more crows than pigeons
gets my vote any time of the day. I don't like the idea of “belonging”, but the Emerald City won me over by the time I stepped out of the plane. Besides I love traveling, I just need to figure out how to make my

studio set-up mobile! Logistically it will be also an interesting move, since being in Paraguay limits a number of important choices that range from the materials I can access to the people I can reach with my work. Yes, I'm considering, if not completely decided.

5. You have a very dark vision and touch to your work. Does this reflect your view of life, or does it reflect a specific ideology?
To quote Nick Cave:  "Nothing happened in my childhood — no trauma or anything, I just had a genetic disposition toward things that were horrible."

Samael, hand painted giclee on archival paper
I believe there is a profound irony in us building barriers and totems against the horrors of the dream world, while being constantly attacked by the monstrous notions of reality, watch the news and marvel at the atrocity that man can commit and celebrate the damage we do to each other, but shun the idea of  letting open the floodgates of the nightmare, because madness, destruction and nothingness are things of beauty only when we do them in the name of politics or material wealth, not something we are suppose to write or dream about, god forsake if we decide to portrait these. Spoon feed the bitter fruit of a history so dry and without sense that we cannot contemplate the idea of tapping into the great depths of some abyss unknown just because it might corrupt and stain the picture of our precious little world of make believe. I don't want to justify the dark nature of my art, but rather laugh at the need to seek some form of validation for what I
do, for my only concern is that people may view my work as an attempt to exorcise personal demons or such nonsense, when the final intend it's quite the opposite.

6. Is there a repetitive element that you subconsciously or consciously add to your work?
Yes, a lot of them actually. I have a very specific plan when I start, everything that serves for the structure of the image, the collage or the underpainting, its carefully researched and set, the most common elements are traditional magic or religious symbols and of course, my favorite subject, the female figure. This is the framework where the element of destruction its incorporated, through layers and layers of paint being worked, then swiped, then rebuild, and so on. This stage it's more reactive, or subconscious if you wish. For example, lately I have been doing some small ink pieces, where I decided to apply automatic writing and sigil making. After a certain point of careful rendering has been completed,  common patterns began to emerge in these, like the spiral and the devil's tail; their meaning is a bit too personal to talk about in public but always in the right direction into developing of a my own symbolic language.

Ring the Deathbell, digital painting
I try to shoot most of my photos of subjects during the dusk, not only for technical reasons but because my work has been always in this threshold between painting and photography, and always found it was auspicious that the threshold between day and night held the kind of light I want.

Lastly, I use water based media again because of that synergy of what's associated with the element, mutable and irrational. I must confess, however, that finding low odour or odorless turpentine in Paraguay is impossible, so that contributed to seal the deal regarding water based mediums; all of this, of course, must be just a coincidence...

7. Do you have other interests or activities you enjoy other than art?
I used to enjoy singing, but I been quite out of practice, I'm currently working on that. I love tabletop wargaming, but found that miniatures are taking much of my time and priorities lie elsewhere. As a side effect, I'm into model kit building as well, but it has been years since I finished or painted anything, I just cant help it, Japanese mecha are things of beauty, but again, time is the essence that I must devote to other things. 

Pisces (Rusalka), mixed media
Lately I've been really into Tarot, I use the cards not as a tool for divination but as a complex and beautiful system of symbols that can enrich human experience, and I got the hang for it rather quickly, with some very interesting results. I have been writing an essay about that, but painting and illustration are consuming labours. And finally, of course, reading almost anything I can get my hands on as long its not self-improvement
or motivational crap.

8. What are your thoughts on the future of illustration in the publication industry?
I think that there will be always a need for a creator of good images. I don't think I can anticipate anything else. I do like the model that Sterling Hundley proposes, of the illustrator as an entrepreneur
rather than the classic business model, I think it's the next logical step for the field. If you are not familiar with it, I recommend you urgently Google interviews with the man and carefully listen to what he has to say, anything I would write to describe it wouldn't do justice to his vision, and while we are at it, check out his Legendeer workshop:

9. If you could show again in the States, what kind of theme or body of work would you consider doing? What medium would you use?
At the moment Im working on a series of mixed media pieces based around “The king in yellow”, the book by Robert W. Chambers,  it occurred me that the figure of the king relates to Citrinitas, the yellowing stage of the alchemical magnum opus. Cassilda's song its obviously Nigredo, the dark night of the soul, the blackening and Christ at the garden contemplating martyrdom, the unmasking at the ball, obviously the Cauda Pavonis, the turning point in the play and for the alchemist. At the moment I'm a bit swamped to clearly see the future, but another show on the States certainly will explore a similar roadmap, revolving around the relationship between visual art, literature, religion and the occult. Another theme that I been working on was the relationship of art and memory, however, I'm still in the writing stages and it will be a while before I can explain it coherently.

Plutonian Shore, mixed media on paper
As for the medium, it will be mixed media; as always, it keeps me alert, albeit rather messy! Lately I've enjoyed working with ink washes, because they reminisce me of the alchemical process mentioned earlier,
from the blackening, the whiteness of Albedo emerges. I enjoy seeing these connections, all lovely accidents, of course...

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