in conversation with
Alex Nodopaka: Matt, just checking on the subconscious whereabouts of your state of existence.
Matthew Rounsville: It currently resides in the capital of the state of panic!
How are you?
Alex Nodopaka: Did the panic or the state swallow you?
Matthew Rounsville: Neither
Alex Nodopaka: So glad that we connected again. I'll start the history of my news since we last parted.
Here in the last 5 years there has been a lot of commotion. From having participated in a negative way in the real estate bust of 2008 to acquiring diabetes. But all in all I have been blessed with the validation of my artworks and some poetic writing. Let's see, without boring you, my art has been featured inside and on covers of on-line and in hard copy of some 95 magazines since 2003. Following my stint as art editor for another art and poetry magazine I am now the art editor for Vayavya, a magazine of poetry and art from New Delhi.
Matthew Rounsville: It's great that you've been so busy and productive. I haven't really drawn in several years and hardly write anymore. I have ideas, but they tend to be in various media such as architecture, fashion, music, objects, on top of painting. There is this caesura-- partly because I live with a woman now and am not good at juggling things, and partly because I want to do subtler things. Maybe that is a delusion of sorts-- I have always had a pretty strong expressionistic side-- but as I age I find myself less interested in how I feel, save for the occasional dip into the abyss.
I moved to Vermont a few years ago. The slower pace of life suits me, but I miss contact with the arts-- I favor the avant-garde, so the traditional standards that filter their way here do little to sustain me. I'm going back to school. I'm in the honors college of the University of Vermont, studying Chemistry with a minor in Physics. It's extremely arduous, since my mindset is so much more aesthetic than calculating-- there is so much work involved, all done in a way that is new to me. The goal, I tell myself, is to become a materials scientist-- to basically come up with new materials with special properties... of course in my mind, the inutile has a special place. It's kind of like sculpture, but at a small scale. A sort of art at the sub-Hilliard scale. It will be interesting to see how I focus into real world problems and results, when the biggest determining factor in my life has been fantasy/imagination.
What sort of art have you been doing lately?
Alex Nodopaka: You're so inordinately poised in your answers that I hardly recognize your joie de vivre of then. Of course I notice a sobriety that you yourself are aware of & I hope you have more satisfactions in your life today.
Well, this artless period you speak of is relatively normal for us all. It seems yours has lasted several years but then I suspect you have more peace of mind? I'd rather you be sane than on the brinks of in-sane.. ha! However, I undeniably miss seeing any of your latest works since I haven't seen anything new since about 2005... it's hard to believe so many years have already passed almost unnoticed in retrospect. I think that period in life was in turmoil with you looking for a place to live on your own.
In respect to my art it develops as I do... I think it stagnates with some crawling forward. The creation of original images in original renditions is limitless so I had lost that inane desire to always create "something new" a long time ago. There's nothing ultimate but for a brief moment & is particular to each and every individual.
I have been looking lately over the many artworks of yours that I saved when you were posting them. I don't know if you have them stashed on a website now, but I have enough to reappraise them in my mind. Of course I'd love to see some that you created during our communication gap.
I'm birthing the idea of writing a retrospective blurb about your art but I do not want to relight a fire you may not be interested being lit again. However, the twist on my story is that if would develop as our communication develops here and in effect and as an end result it is YOU that would be writing most of it from your present perspective. Frankly speaking I am impressed by your intellectualism & ease with words and I feel this proposed write-up could present several facets to the evolution of a particular artist, you of course, but also understanding others who have lived and still live a similar process. What's your opinion on this project? No harm if you say no.
In respect to that portion of your letter mentioning the urge for perfection is challenging. Especially where you define it in addition as annihilation and bliss. I may never have thought of it in such terms but your verbalizing struck a familiar cord. That familiarity of feeling comes from the common statement "I'm so happy I could die". Anyway that's how I relate to it. Apparently it is a common feeling and I'd love to hear you develop it.
I also pick up on your statement "art as an object of desire". Well, do we address this as obsession or fixation or even fanaticism? As far as I am concerned, in my case it is a form of fixation in that whenever I see something well-made and especially hand-made or painted in a certain classic genre from surrealism to impressionism and everything in-between I want it. Not that I can always buy. Which is why I am loaded with "affordable" art that is as good as anything hanging in any museum of the world because effectively, I came to realize that, it is all man-made fantasies from mostly a political PoV and substantiated by economics.
BTW I also recall you were getting heavy on the musical side of your artistic pursuits. As a matter of fact I listened to an online performance where I heard your grunts... haha!
Matthew Rounsville: Apologies for the delayed response. School has been intense--whatever free time I've had has mostly been spent recuperating.
My art. I feel a sort of shame about it. The spark to create is always greater than the final image (which always feels bare, naked, exposed as an object). My first conception of art as a teenager came via Michelangelo--epic, powerful, enormous. This is at odds with my personality--aloof, distant, questioning, splintered, confused, intimate at turns--I am a person who recedes to an extentless (sic) point when faced with the world, yet I feel an almost terrifying power--how does one reconcile inexistence with existence that burns and engulfs?
I drew a little today for the first time in years. Automatic drawing based on a friend's sketch--tangles of innards. Detail--the lead never fine enough, the grain of the paper like a rolling landscape compared to the intricacy of my vision. I wish I could draw under a microscope sometimes. Surrealism is something I once took part in--it's sort of a denial of art, taking away the aesthetic object and replacing it with a metapersonal outpouring--it's hard to analyze, impossible to rank, merely exists as some "other" issuing from within. This is what I've usually drawn--following a vision rather than dictating what I want--following the desire that is melded with my innermost mind instead of demanding realization of an image. For all the creativity, the images, despite swirling on the page, are static in effect and content--biological horror, maybe--an inside out vision.
I'm too willful to be satisfied with that, though, coming through me but not from me. In the past I drew a lot figuratively--Puvis de Chavannes, Moreau, blue period Picasso, Moreau, Schiele--communicating what/who I am, what I yearn for, what I need and fear (often the same thing). Disconnected from reality, oneiric, a little dithyrambic, sexy, haunted. It's all a retread on what's been done before, but like music, in which the same 12 notes are used by everybody, it is somehow my own, my conception of beauty.
As I get older I want to simplify, to whittle down a vision to its most essential. I love seeing, love the mystery of being confronted with light, and regard abstraction as a commitment to that love of seeing--a love so intense that it seeks new forms, things beyond its imagination. There's a conflict in me between minimalism and maximalism. I want to be like Caravaggio--spare light emphasizing what is important--to isolate the image like a self-contained thought. I'm obsessed by asymmetry and amalgamation and texture (Pollock, Redon, Soulages?). My problem is that I cannot see something without seeing more--the moment my vision coagulates into an image, I see all the things it could also be. There is never one thing before me. The barnacles start growing. The walls turn into jellyfish. Shadows become circuit fields of tortured cells. An image is never static. So how does one keep things simple when one's vision never fixates on wholeness but continuously alters everything? What is simplicity in chaos?
So there's confusion. I love beauty, have a very personal aesthetic. At the same time I have a terrifying need for self-expression. At the same time I have a tortured yet indefinite psyche, so I need to find distance from myself (amalgams, automatic drawing). How does one coalesce all of these into something coherent--the beauty and sensuality that haunts me, the need to explode into the world, the need to recede and record, with an intellect that never stops questioning and yearns to distill an art that is aphoristic, sensuous, mysterious, evocative?
Alex Nodopaka: I was very moved by your letter for several reasons. One that it addressed my questions in such spiritually profound and philosophical manner and secondly that it was written in such literati style that I became envious of it.
In answer to you, of course, as we mature, and we do until the very end, our feelings about the same ordinary and routine events in our lives change with them. The answers to our silent questions come from a deeper self, fuller with accumulated experiences, and our never ending desire for new directions. I'd say that the wish for and search for novelty, despite all the dangers lurking in the process, is a uniquely human characteristic.
Do not feel sorry about your thoughts about your personal art. Not that I am a great example but art is like a dream. I paint and sculpt so much better and with so much more ease in my dreaming imagination. Most of the time, the tangible results hardly resemble our visions. But I always remind myself that it's the doing that gets things done. The odd thing that in truth the last 30 years or so I've been subconsciously questioning the need for art at all. Well, at least in its most contemporary forms that literally are about nothing and made up of nothing. Art about nothing? That's a serious quest.
I appreciated to no end your description of simplicity and that it took complexity to describe it. Maybe that's what it is all about. Getting to the essence of things is first smothering them in creative juices. I mean what's a bouillabaisse? An amalgam of intricate details resulting in that particular flavor.
God must've had those same problems and needed to create all that stuff surrounding him to blot his mind as he must've been going nuts before knowing what he was after... haha!
Have you pursued your musical interests? I remember you introducing me to some of your instrumental sounds. My ears are still ringing... haha!
Well, keep doing what you're doing at the rate you are doing it. What are you studying?
*Alex shares some of his art works with Matthew through e-mail*
Matthew Rounsville: Thanks for your words and your art. I'm studying Chemistry--these pieces remind me of microscopic views of crystals. The way most things aren't in a perfect lattice like theory would suggest, are sort of like variations around a general organizing principle, asymmetric in outer form but not in generation.
I don't make music anymore. Improvise on the piano a little, but it's not the same, not as immediate, appeals to a different side of me. I'm in a pretty domestic situation, don't quite know how to integrate the presence of another with my need for creation, which needs withdrawal to be potent. My music, as it developed, was probably all about desire, headlong, aiming at a union of physical and metaphysical. That kind of dosage is too much when I'm around someone for hours per day, when practicalities come to play. A lot of my creative impetus stems from that--domesticity, rootedness, a challenge when, at heart, I'm a wild breed, albeit a wildness that is largely silent and still. Music is like a spell to me, conjuring what is absent--so I'm not quite sure how to do it without jeopardizing what is present, without an element of destruction and chaos. I never used to care about what was around me, and now I fear that losing that would be a resumption of my past, beautiful but dangerous--essential to me but with a cavernous kind of isolation.
You're right about it's the doing, the act that is important. I never feel like I am myself when I'm not writing, drawing, singing. A blankness covered by the world, a lack. But when I come across the page, the screen, suddenly I can exist. Maybe everything has been a failure, not the glory I envisioned when I was younger, not the pristine beauty I longed for as I matured. But maybe the flaws are part of the point, the nicks and lacunae the part that makes it all real, the intention, the seeking, the constant returning, the themes that I've turned around in my palms so many times that there are welts in them and me, never quite demonstrating them as I intended the real beauty, in which even the best draftsmanship, the choicest arrangement of words, could only intimate. It's like a lover who never becomes familiar--only the impulse towards is the constant, always fumbling towards. Both beauty and meaning to me have always resembled that sort of honesty Poe talked about that if really expressed, if truly written down, would incinerate the page. A sort of absolute power, terminating beauty, maybe a death of sorts. But the world doesn't work that way; properly speaking everything is a fragment.
Alex Nodopaka: I really like how you describe that sort of art. I call it sort of art because in many different forms I recognize the general but common direction of many artists who have not been afraid of performing it in their commercial lives at the expense of risking their reputations. Of course most that have pursued their art to its what I'd call final stages have achieved their reputations and status and the filling of their bank accounts to a comfortable level that allowed them to freely express themselves without financial restraints. Of course they are few in between the masses of art starving artists but that's because their grazing grounds have been left unattended in the USA for at least the last 60 years.
Matthew Rounsville: I went to school years ago for philosophy. Phenomenology was my main love, although I dabbled with testing the boundaries of symbolic logic. Undiagnosed schizophrenia at the time. I was brilliant back then, but my mind was out of control--Daedalus, flying to where it shouldn't be. I left school, telling myself I would go back in one of the sciences. It took longer than I anticipated, but here I am. Chemistry is a strange fit to me. I don't think linearly--switches of perspective, sensual way of imagining. So being rule-bound is uncomfortable, having constraints placed on me. I'm waiting for the point where I can use my imagination, but so much knowledge is required to do that.
Music. I miss it, a lot. 6 years. I've always had this disembodied experience. Floating, all mind, no body. Years ago my art was my physicalization (sic), my way of embodiment, but it became too extreme, destructive--this line had been crossed, and there was a blur between violent art and violence to self. But music was this process, taking voice, the most ethereal action a body could do, and using that airiness to locate my body. It also had the benefit of being a form of expression that was entirely immediate, instantaneous, compared to art, where the initial conception was like that, but completion is a deliberate task, a slow unfolding towards a goal. In the end, when I was simplifying, finding rawer and more direct means of expression, it also aroused a sort of humanism in me, a tenuous connection to the world, when I tend to lounge in more elysian (or infernal) realms. Maybe I'll try again, find what I can find in sound, find some elbow room and work at it a little.
A little drawing today. That micro vision, overseeing, repletion. It's based on an Eva Hesse pen and ink, circles, mine uneven, background my old visual noise, semi organic, dense, tiny figuration, microorganisms, guts, liquid machines, like looking very closely at something alive, or colonies of something, not knowing what it is. It's a tiny drawing, but it will likely take many days due to the detail. Gone are those days when I could draw for 14 straight hours. This need lately to look to external sources, to find simplicity outside myself.
I used to have such a grand conception to art, what it should be, mean. Now it's a form of intimacy to me. There's no loss of intensity--sometimes it's harrowing--but I still think of art as a gift, as giving something real, the flesh words come from that never say enough or are never accurate enough. I think the trouble I'm having now is that it used to come from a very self-involved place--personal vision still matters to me, but I also want it to feel like there is a point of contact, that it's not simply looking into me, that there are different parts of me involved, different wills.
Thanks for writing. I haven't been able to talk art and creativity much for a while.