23 Dec Interview with Witold Riedel
A LIFE DEVOTED TO CREATIVITY AND BEING HUMAN
Everything is interconnected.
Everything is in balance.
Everything is destined to change.
At the beginning of October, at the opening ceremony of the Arte Laguna Prize finalists’ exhibition and the awarding of the winners, a wonderful thing happened – the prize, very deservedly, was received by an amazing artist and photographer Witold Riedel. It was a tremendously touching moment, which he shared with his baby boy set on his lap and the entire international audience of the online event and the guests, who were physically in the Venice Arsenal. We would like to introduce this person, artist, and winner to you!
What was your path to art?
Well, I was born in Poland at the very end of the 60s, we escaped to West Germany at the beginning of the 80s, I spent over two decades in New York. Then London. I have worked creatively literally around the world for decades. Did a lot of applied creative work from television graphics and music design to some very major global advertising, analogue and digital work. But throughout that time, I have always worked on the personal exploration of art and creativity. Always. I guess the balance has been shifting more recently.
My art got me through some very scary patches in life. I have also found some of the happiest and most fulfilling moments and places through my drawings and photographs. At any point, it took the entirety of my by then experience to enable me to create my work. I hope that will continue. I believe in the interconnectedness of everything. I want to somehow make sure to have a certain innocence when seeing the familiar, and at least be open to the possibility of learning from everything. That’s all a long way to say that for me art and creativity in their many permutations have been my path. They have been necessary to discover everything else.
Art is like a requirement for life for me.
“My thinking and methods links me to art’s ancient purpose. What I do makes it possible to summon and connect to a higher force. I work similarly to many before me, around the world, sometimes since before they realized to be human”.
What work of yours can change the world and why?
Over the years I have done a lot of commercial work. Marketing is very finely sharpened to shift something, with very specific audiences. Advertisers have often just split seconds to push someone deeper and deeper into a sales funnel or to plant a certain thought in them. In order to make this work, they need to be very aware of what they say, how, to whom, in what context. It’s fascinating, it works incredibly well (still) but it is also very dangerous. Marketing can be used to save lives and the planet, but it can also be used to push us all closer to extinction. We see the results of some successful marketing on our burning planet.
Knowing this, I did whatever I could to work only on projects that had the ability to somehow change things for the better. I even co-founded companies based on that idea.
But my art is also a counterweight or the other side of the spectrum to the commercial work.
What I am most interested in is the thinking and the emotions that are deeply embedded in all of us. So this is a much more universal look at everything and also one that inspires and hopefully nudges to better reflection.
We seem to be a bit like explorers on a time limited journey of a discovery that needs to happen through us. Each one of us has to cross an ocean of impressions, memories and some mysterious energetic experiences. So what can we do with all this?
When I deal with my personal memories I attempt to turn them into objects or images. And I also contemplate how the process happens the other way. I do this with whatever tools I have available to me.
The results take often years to complete. Some are very open or not quite what they seem. And many are not compatible with how we consume our world through our thumbs. But sometimes yes.
Ideally some of my art would allow the viewer to reflect on their own existence and how we are all connected. (A lot of what I just said is completely universal to us all. It’s the context and the tools that vary, the path taken so far varies.)
One of the problems is that much of how we look at the world is done through stamp size objects on a shiny screen, surrounded and often soaked in advertising that has been brilliantly designed to distract or push them down a sales funnel. Even before someone arrives at an exhibition, they have usually seen the work or parts of it. In that context. The Metaverse will make things different but also not.
When you look at the work that helped me win the Arte Laguna Prize 15 (in the painting category), then the drawings are a reflection on how we as humans are not really great at organizing the resources we find on the planet.
On one hand it is exciting that we can drill into the crust of the Earth and find stored the energy that was collected by forests millions of years ago.
But only now are we slowly able to realize that tapping into that locked away energy source in a too greedy way can possibly wipe out a lot of life on this planet and destroy a lot of what we have accomplished. And there is no planet B, of course.
If my work helps the right people to become move viscerally aware of this process, then we might end up with ideas that could save us. By looking at some ideas in a new way, I hope to also help others to do something similar.
My work around memories and the ability to transform often negative experiences into beautiful objects is another instance where possibly someone could feel inspired to deal with their challenging thoughts in a new and beautiful way. I am thinking of my new photography, like the one I just recently exhibited at the Hampstead School of Art in London. Thousands of photographs amalgamated into work the looks like paintings.
I create because it is the time and place to create. I am transforming what’s around me into something that has gone through my very personal experience. This has a lot of potential to change the world. But it will only happen when more stars align.
It feels like this current complicated world has more stars than ever. Aligning them becomes more and more difficult.
Easier to see and find. More difficult to align.
If you only had 10 words, how would you describe your creativity?
We’re waves on the ocean of consciousness. Everything is interconnected.
How do you look for meanings, images?
Sometimes my approach is quite playful and innocent. I find that when learning a new language, for instance, it is best to just become open to it: To welcome ideas and meanings that were created by someone many thousands of years ago, or maybe last month. That soup of meaning, when just eaten by the mind, allows to then discover a new world, one that is a bit closer to the one of the people who invented that particular language. And what’s true for language is equally true for images and sounds and everything around us. It is faster to look for shortcuts and to increase the speed of communication or transmission. But being able to just open oneself to the world and to try to let the visual language wash over us, can be incredibly rewarding. Some of us specifically assign rituals to having that kind of experience. Meditation for instance is the deliberate process of putting oneself into a state of openness. I try to have a certain openness as much as I can. Even when what I do does not look like meditation or openness at all. (Though meditation can be done in more ways than just by sitting still, of course.) I want to keep a childlike curiosity alive in me but also a childlike exuberance in some ways. And that’s where the meanings emerge and where images emerge.
Some come again and again. Some are born out of rituals.
Do you have any special rituals in the process of creating works?
When I worked on my grown drawings about 20 years ago, I would literally place what I called “seeds” onto the page and then let the shapes evolve, grow from there. The work looked like moss perhaps or like fungi. I am still very interested in the beginning of something.
When everything around me is floating and I am part of that dance of everything and everyone forever always, placing a little seed into this allows for the work to evolve. It’s like putting a tiny rock into water perhaps. Or sinking a ship in it. Burying a bone under a tree? (Not the best examples.)
If you look at a lot of my work still today, you can often see the beginning of something. The seed planted into infinite chaos.
I am actually currently working on a series of drawings called 888 beginnings. It will take longer to complete than I had originally anticipated, but the drawings are exactly that: they are the initiations of something that will then continue.
A project I worked on for a year in 2015 was called Views of my Tea. I drank 888 bowls of Matcha tea. (I took a single picture of every tea right before drinking it) When I started the project, I only knew that I wanted to find out more about the tea I was drinking.
A year and 888 bowls later I was connected to master Kyoshitsu Sasaki and I began to understand the significance of my bowl, which he created, the story of the original bowl, the Kitano Kuro tea ceremony and so on. That allowed me to learn so much about myself and the world; myself in the context of the world. Myself in the context of history.
My work grows into what it is. I let it grow into what it wants to be. But I am also aware that I am in one way grasping something intangible and turning it into something tangible. But I am also always creating something that has the potential to inspire something I could never imagine.
Where are you filled with energies?
I guess all the time. And I am quite aware of many. It was not until I turned 50 or so that I discovered that I might be part of a line of very sensitive men. I see how emotionally sensitive my father is, I see how incredibly aware of energies my sons are. And while I do not know much about my late grandfathers, what I do know is that they also somehow managed to survive despite being emotionally very open. It’s a blessing and a curse. On one hand I am excited to work on ideas like memories and emotions, visible and invisible particles. But on the other hand, I might not be able to watch a lot of what’s broadcast today. And I might cry in some unexpected moments. I cried when I received the Arte Laguna Prize.
What is the brightest impression in your life?
I think the births of my sons would have to be that. But I do experience brightness and heightened energy in some much much more subtle moments, that might look much less connected to the miracle of human life.
I love the connection we still have to nature, or versions of nature. And this might be through walks with my partner on Hampstead Heath in London or on the bank of the Main River in Offenbach. Nature can also be in small objects and living things. Each rock is on a journey much bigger than ours. Each tree is a living intelligent being, adapting to the place where it has somehow managed to survive.
So much brightness in the giant circle.
What are your impressions from participating and winning Arte Laguna Prize?
Even submitting my work to the Arte Laguna Prize felt really good. I felt welcome and understood. And that was before I was even chosen as an artist in the spotlight, finalist or winner.
Not sure how to describe it. From the beginning it felt like I was connecting to a community and to people who actually genuinely wanted to do something to support artists. I think I even sent them a message after finalizing my submission that I really liked how it all felt. I wonder if it is the energy that Laura Gallon wanted to have in the competition all along. It’s great.
Once I became a finalist, it really felt like I was being welcome to a group of friends. I have actually since become friends (as one as one can become friends in the age of Covid) with some of the artists in the current exhibition. Silvia Inselvini’s work blows my mind. Yumi Nishimura creates very beautiful objects and then there are the other winners Samuelle Green with her fantastic sculptures and Leonardo Sinopoli, who expressed something so important.
I have not been able to visit the exhibition in person. But I have always felt included and valued. And I am also grateful for the additional opportunities that are connected to the Prize. So many interesting new avenues. Such brilliant people.
And now my drawings will also be taken under the wings of a collector I think very highly of. So, this is excellent news.
I am also very grateful that my work was so well understood. The jury expressed what was important to me when I was creating the work. And so it is such an incredible honor to have been chosen.
And then there is obviously also this interview. It would have not happened, if everything before that had not happened. Because of trees that lived many millennia ago, we are now having this conversation. “Drawings from a liquified forest” are small windows into the process that connects us all.
What projects are you currently planning?
Oh, there is a lot happening at the moment. I am continuously working on my adaptive or growing drawings and paintings. There is a huge expansive area I am currently developing and that’s photography that looks to depict emotions rather than surfaces of things. I just had a show at the excellent Hampstead School of Art here in London. The photography series in the show are based on significant emotional experiences, some current and some as far back as a decade. I used AI to transform hundreds and hundreds of photographs I took around the time of the experience to then melt them into what felt right emotionally. The photos are less like what we are used to see from the medium. They become vessels that allow the viewer to experience feelings, not just check boxes of seeing objects they are familiar with. Isabel H Langtry, the Principal of the school said that my “work is essentially a new way of looking, feeling, seeing,” and I “turn the visible into a memory, while turning memories and emotions visible”. Quite flattering description of what I indeed am trying to achieve.
There is so much ahead. So much.
Interview by Tatchers’ ART Management