Michael Kravagna is an abstract expressionist artist who lives in Belgium. His work http://www.kravagna.com/ is very hip and precise and I love it. Here’s our cool chat …
“… Sometimes, a painting might be reworked over 20 years by using a different process to progress. My goal is to achieve a pure, pictorial language. It’s all about material, colors and lights, which speak for themselves to the spectator…”
MICHAEL C: Hey Michael, I love your work. It's so fresh and contemporary. I love the way you use paint and color blocking to create a sense of texture. When you're painting, do you start with a concept or do you just empty your mind and start putting paint on canvas and move it around into some organized form?
MICHAEL K: My work is based on color. Material color, but also color as a reflection, changing with lights and the position of the spectator. It’s color as a medium, transmitting feelings and emotions, creating facts and existence. I’m living with my family in a former school in a little village in front of a very beautiful Roman church. I have a lot of space for my paintings. They are everywhere around me and they result from different processes and concepts that I have found and developed over time. They really constitute the pillars of my work. They represent my experience and serve as a basis for my further work. I often look at them and when I see that there is a way to progress, I work further on the paintings. Sometimes, a painting might be reworked over 20 years by using a different process to progress. My goal is to achieve a pure, pictorial language. It’s all about material, colors and lights, which speak for themselves to the spectator.
MICHAEL C: This pure, pictorial language that you're talking about; what is it saying? Can the language be understood as a concept to live by or is it more about shape, form and color?
MICHAEL K: There are things that can strongly touch me. These things can be of different kinds. It can be the slow processes of nature work, a particular expression of art or even something being in a process of transformation.
The question I’m asking myself is why these things affect me. And, in my paintings, I’m trying to find an answer to this question. Nearly every day, I’m working in my studio, so you could say that it is concept to live by, but it is mainly a way to understand. I mean, when you’re seeing something, you’re also feeling the many processes behind it, the several processes that have led to its actual condition. So is it in my paintings. In order to make them understandable, I try to construct them in the simplest way. I will for example, build a painting up by drawing lines after lines, from one side to another, from the top to the bottom. I talked about lines, but I also use points or paintbrush strokes. Following the same method, I’m putting oil colors on canvas. Exactly in the same way that spaces appear between the lines or between the points, the color layer applied with the spatula on the canvas is never uniform and left some areas out showing you what was there before. Form and distribution of these areas depends on the consistency of the color and the slow horizontal movement of application. I’m doing this after a long reflection about the right pigment and the preparation of the color, in relationship with the layers done before.
I see the process on the canvas; the painting is literally taking shape in front of me. By doing always the same movements, using a very strict process, there is something coming out, growing and getting signification. And if this “something” evokes feelings, deep human feelings, similar for everyone since the age of stone or even longer and if this painting will keep its energy over the time, then it is be a good painting.
MICHAEL C: As you well know Michael, many people who see your work may not be aware of this language. What if they see something else in your work? Is that upsetting for you?
MICHAEL K: I don’t want to do any illustration and I don’t want to tell a story that could be told in verbal language, that’s why I’m speaking about “pure pictorial language,” but language is maybe not the right word. There is no form of codification. Provoked by different processes, sometimes over a long period of time, to get more intensity by differentiations, the painting will come out of the canvas loaded with energy. Fruit of its own story totally present autonomy. It will be a part of the world, affecting in a direct way who wants to have an exchange. That my paintings are important for other people and that they become a part of their lives, this makes me very happy! I don’t think other people will be touched by my paintings in a fundamentally different way from mine, but everyone’s feelings come from their personal story, from a personal way of seeing. In my work, I’m mostly interested in what is common to every ones feelings, but very personal feelings can be evoked by the painting as well.
MICHAEL C: Your work looks like it comes from a very Zen-like place. It gives me a sense of peace and serenity. It seems minimal and balanced. Is this the kind of environment that you need in which to create? I mean, I can't imagine that you paint while watching TV or listening to the Rolling Stones or acid rock!
MICHAEL K: Thank you for your feedback; it’s a real compliment for me!
When I was a young painter, I had a clear image of my ‘dreamed’ atelier; white and empty, a lot of light coming from above, but without windows in order to have a lot of walls for my paintings. I was really concentrated on my ideas and I thought that wherever I was, I would do the same work. I’ve been working now in a room with a lot of windows for twenty years. And while I’m working, I see the sky changing light outside, clouds passing, grass growing up. I feel energy, evolution, change and simultaneity. There is no direct influence, I will not paint what I see in the moment, but my paintings are coming out in this kind of environment and the same happens with music. Concerning music, I’m very interested in the concept of the composer and the way he used to create this piece of music. Great music often comes out of rigorous, regulated work.
MICHAEL C: Yes. I completely detect silent symphonies in your work; something concrete and complicated arising from nothingness. Cool. Your work also seems so rigorous and disciplined. Does that describe your daily routine? What's your daily routine like?
MICHAEL K: I love being in my atelier and going on in my work. There are also many things that need to be done before I can even begin to paint. First, I have to stretch the canvas on the frame, then I do the preparation of the primer, following the methods of the old masters and then I apply the grounding. This last part is determining a part of the way the painting will follow: some things will be possible and others not. Then rubbing/milling the pigments with the binders e.g. linseed oil, poppy seed oil, egg tempera or casein. All of these successive steps are important for the development of the painting. When you’re involved in this preparation process, you get another relationship to the materials and some intuitions about the way you can use it and what you can get out of it.
All of what I said was about the preparation, about these things that need to be done before. Now, I’ll tell about the act of painting itself. What I’ve painted, what I’m now painting and how I’ve painted and how I paint has always been driven by different, evolving and cyclical concepts or ways that impose on me. Most of my paintings actually take a long time to be finished and they follow different ways. Developing all these aspects of my work needs a lot of energy, organization and determination.
MICHAEL C: You use your imagination to create concrete things like paintings. As you know, paintings are full of inspiration and creativity. Do you ever use your paintings to create other things in your life? What are those things?
MICHAEL K: Where and how I’m living, things that are happening around me and exchanges with other people nurture my work. I’m very interested in the work of my wife as well. She's a primary teacher and we talk a lot about transmission of knowledge and learning. She also has a very good feeling for space used in a way that offers a lot of different possibilities to everyone living there to imagine and to be creative. We talk a lot about art and we love to go for long walks. Our children and their friends show us how they see the world and how things are changing. The talents and personalities of our three children and their way to develop is very different to each other, but even if not all of them are artists, they have this imagination and this capacity to create. Paintings develop my way of seeing, paintings determine my way of being. But would I be really different if I were doing something else? Or is the way you do something and the way you live more decisive about the person you are?
MICHAEL C: What do you think about the art world and how it functions? If you could change anything, what would you change?
MICHAEL K: What I prefer doing is watching art in galleries. There are a lot of different galleries in Brussels (it’s not really far from where I live so I’m quite often in Brussels) and there are more and more international art galleries opening. These are often located in really old buildings and houses, but the inside is totally transformed into a contemporary architectural unit. I really like the way these old houses are transformed from the inside into something really contemporary while respecting and keeping the original street side building.
I visit art fairs as well and I sometimes see art works from artists that I don’t know and who are coming from other countries and continents and who are actually working on the same ideas as me. I sometimes feel that the painting could be from me. This really touches me because it means that in very different places around the world, people are working on the same things and ideas. People are not doing exactly the same thing that I’m doing of course, but I mean that the ways followed by different artists are sometimes coming across and then diverging again.
The art world is developing like the real world, with the new media and globalization the world is getting more and more uniform, local and national cultures are lessening but, on the other side, the world is more and more differentiated. Societies inside the society are emerging (or maybe it is better to speak about subcultures inside the culture), the limits of which aren’t matching anymore with our traditional geographical representation.
Behind each single thing recognized by our society, there is money is at stake. The only unquestionable value in our society is the money; from an exchange unit in the beginning to a regulator, it has become the sense of our system. So is it in the “upper” level of the art world. And if I could change something, I would give more focus on art and try to find and make the use of other values next to the money.
MICHAEL C: Finally Michael, I could go on and on chatting with you, but I'll make this the final question. What's the point of art? Why should people even care? I mean, we're not curing cancer here.
MICHAEL K: Art is the starting point in the development of our culture and so many things around us are based on art ideas. The potential to do, to live art and creativity is common for every human. Art is speaking about existential questions concerning everyone. Art touches in a direct way, so you don’t have to do studies to understand and art doesn’t speak only one language. Art is universal and that’s the point.
MICHAEL C: Thanks Michael. Cool chat.
MICHAEL K: Many thanks for the interview. It was a pleasure to answer your questions!
Check out Michael Kravagna at http://www.kravagna.com/.