Interview: Roni Feldman. The Face Behind the Colors.
There is a powerful energy that occurs in crowds. I depict it. I use hundreds of photographs and digitally montage them into a unified composition. Once montaged, I render my compositions in airbrushed acrylic. Along with the flat, even application of airbrushed paint, all of this heightens the similarity among the figures and allows for better comparison. In my work, whirls of figures celebrate, mourn, protest, consume, dance, and embrace alongside other figures that drown, burn, and dissolve. My crowds evoke the power and ecstasy of unified intention alongside a potential descent into mob mentality. The works recall the utopian pursuit of 1960’s psychedelia, van murals, and other airbrush art forms. Even in illustration and photography, airbrush is often used to idealize.
Tell us about yourself, where did all of this begin for you?
Roni: I have been painting for as long as I can remember. My mother claims that when she was pregnant she prayed that i would be an artist. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but my aptitude for painting was consistently encouraged by family, friends, and teachers. I specifically remember being six years old and drawing a bird– a black frigate bird with a deep red throat– and how all of my school friends were awed by it. I was proud of it and their applause. I recognized then that art was something I should pursue.
What has been your most rewarding achievement as an artist?
Roni: Being an artist is a very solitary affair spent quietly in the studio thinking and painting for months in preparation towards a public exhibition. So what makes me very happy is when someone sees the work and really connects with the imagery and understands the content. Those moments are are like seeing the fruition of faith or proof of a theory.
When you first started, what was your biggest dream? And have you accomplished that?
Roni My goal was to be a professional artist– to spend my life making art and to exhibit it in a critical context. But in college I had this numbskull idea that if I wanted to do that, I better also learn how to wait tables until my career took off. Fortunately, after a month, I realized that if you create backups for yourself, you lose focus on your true goal and can wind up doing your backup instead. So I quit and put 100% of my energy into becoming a better painter and marketing my work. I set up a business doing prints and in my first day earned more than I did in a whole week of waiting tables. Prints helped me make a living doing what I loved, giving me time to be in the studio until my work was developed enough to be exhibited in galleries.
Who’s your favorite artist and who do you draw your inspirations from?
Roni: I think of my work as a cross between the opticality of Light and Space artists and the elaborate figuration of Baroque Painters such as Rubens. Lately however I have been looking a lot at LA painters Steve Roden and Allison Schulnik who use unconventional, even awkward, composition structures to make some really exciting paintings. Although my paintings are quite calculated, they inspire me to leave room for intuition and the chance to discover something that may be smarter than I intended.
What has been your favorite work to do so far and why?
Roni: I am currently involved with three bodies of work. I couldn’t describe any as my favorite, but rather I keep coming back to these techniques to respond to new ideas or contexts. For example, my next solo show at the Pasadena Armory will have one room with my iridescent black on black paintings, and an adjoining room with a seven by twenty-five foot long, white on white, blacklight painting. For that piece, I airbrush hundreds of smiling, embracing, jubilant figures in acrylic on white tafeta fabric. The fabric glows an ethereal blue under blacklight, but the acrylic remains dark. It is kind of like painting in inverse. I have not done that technique for seven years, but it became relevant again as a way to confront sincerity, cynicism, and the psychedlic, utopian history of airbrush.
What are two things that you cannot leave home without?
Roni: Whereas I used to take a sketchbook with me everywhere I went, I now always have my laptop with me. I do most of my sketching and note-taking digitally. I also have found that it is incredibly important to my career to remain connected. I have had sales or wound up in some shows simply because I was the first to respond to a query.
The other object I rarely leave home without is my camera. My paintings are usually photo based and it seems that every time I leave my camera at home, I miss a good photo op. With these two things, it feels like my studio is never far away.
Has art always been a part of your life – Is it something you’ve always planned to do as a career?
Roni: There was a long period of time as a kid that I wanted to be a marine biologist. I even went to nine years of marine bio summer camps and learned to scuba dive. Eventually I learned that marine biologists don’t get paid to hang out in submarines and look at fish all day. There is a lot of time spent doing math and chemistry in a lab. I think the artist in me just wanted to stare at colorful creatures all day.
When did you know you finally made it as a professional artist?
Roni: Although there have been various milestones that made me feel successful– my first gallery show, an award, or big sale– being a professional artist is a decision I make every single day. I do it because it makes me happy and I love the challenges it provides. I consciously decide to wake up and focus on my work despite the many incentives to follow a more structured route. It may sound extreme, but as soon as I stop making art for a couple days, I have a guilty feeling that I am no longer an artist.
What are your feelings in regards to availability of images to the general public, why did you decide to join ArtStar.com?
Roni: From marketing prints during college, I found that almost everyone likes art and will buy it if it is accessible and affordable. Art enriches peoples lives in that is helps us better understand our relationship to the world. I would like to see more art being collected not just by the wealthy, but by the middle class. And as a result of this, I hope there are more middle class artists– not just those who are starving and those who are art stars. I think that ArtStar.com is one of many venues that provides that accessibility, but what sets it apart is the excellent curation of artworks. I am pleased to be included amongst such an engaging group of artists.
What is life like as a artist in 2011? How has your career adapted to meet the changes needed?
Roni: A few decades ago galleries took a much more active role in their artists careers from arranging other exhibition venues to even purchasing their supplies. There were other modes of support, too, including large NEA grants. Increasingly, artists have had to chart their own course, but there are many new digital tools, publications, and organizations available to support them. In light of this, I co-founded Durden and Ray, a democratic collective of artists and curators whose mission is to push the creative, collaborative, and commercial boundaries of art. We curate exhibitions in the US and abroad, collaborate on projects, and provide a database of knowledge and networking for each other.
What’s on the horizon for you?
Roni: In 2011, I will have solo exhibitions at Sloan Fine Art in New York, the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, CA, and group shows in Sydney, Corsica, and Buenos Aires.
Read more about Roni Feldman at ArtStar.com