The following interview was conducted in John Aslanidis Fitzroy studio evening of Monday the 4th of March 2010.
Interview by Steven Asquith
BP – When was your last solo exhibition?
JA – My Last solo exhibition was at Gallery 9 in Sydney in April 2008. The title of the exhibition was Sonic Network no.3, it comprised of one major piece which was 244 x 304cm as well a series of smaller and mid size paintings, which has become indicative of my solo exhibitions of more recent times.
BP – Why do you make art?
JA – Making art cultivates my voice and communicates my personal perspective on the world. I believe abstraction manifests a political vision and creates an optimistic and contemplative viewpoint. This is important in a society, where we are bombarded with images and ideas that persuade us to conform and consume.
On another level it’s paramount to channel the origin of inspiration, whether it comes from travel, daily experiences and music and sound. From this inspiration one creates a vision that inspires others. This dialogue and collaboration with other sound and visual artists is exciting.
The creative process is cyclic. Comments from viewers about my work also give me new direction and make me aware of issues that are embedded in my work, which I may not have been be consciously aware of. I feel there is a collaborative consciousness that happens between the artist and the viewer(s).
As an artist I feel I am a conduit for expressing ideas and energy around me and in many ways I feel like a conduit for channeling this energy. I see this type of art practice as being diametrically opposed to one, which centers on the notion of career, ego and making art which panders to fashion.
BP – Please tell us about the artist run space you started and its contribution to the Melbourne’s art scene in the late 90’s.
JA – The gallery was called STRIPP, which was on the corner of Gertrude and Napier St in Fitzroy, Melbourne. I was invited to curate an exhibition there initially in 1997. I came on board in March 1998, and at the time the other committee members were Paul Quinn and Larissa Hjorth. It had been going since 1997, so I wasn’t one of the founding members. Paul Quinn asked me to get involved and I moved to Melbourne from Sydney. It was an exciting opportunity. There were three gallery spaces, one with a revolving wall which could divide the space length ways to create one large space or divide it into two smaller ones. It was really innovative as the space keptchanging according to the nature of the shows we had. Our agenda was to offer a space were we could have four solo exhibitions or one large curated show that could take up all the gallery spaces.
Our contribution to the scene was one were we were prepared to show types of art that weren’t seen together in other art spaces. We showed painting, drawing, sculpture, video, installation altogether at a time when this was frowned upon. Our agenda was to break the mould and exhibit prominent artists along side artists that were not well known and had little exhibiting experience. It was received really well in the art scene at the time. We were into doing exciting exhibitions and taking risks which made the gallery really exciting. We exhibited artists from all around Australia and overseas which wasn’t common at that time. We had on average four exhibitions a fortnight and launched the careers of many well known artists today.
Artists approached us, we could show them without a lengthy process based around formal proposals. This sense of immediacy combined with the expansive space we offered meant that we could offer artists who had exciting ambitious ideas, The opportunity to realise them with a sense of immediacy. In addition to this the fact we took risks and had innovative programming really energized the art scene at the time.
BP – What differentiates artist run spaces then as opposed to now?
JA – Artist run spaces in the 90s were places were you went to see exciting and innovative art. They built their reputation on being ambitious and critically rigorous. They were exciting because there was a mix of emerging, mid career and in addition some established artists exhibiting there. Artist run spaces today are seen as places where young emerging artist’s show, with the view to getting an exhibition in an Institution or commercial gallery.
BP – You travel overseas a lot, what do you think this adds to your practice?
JA – I can say that my art practice would be radically different today if I didn’t travel, I really enjoy seeing ambitious art produced on a large scale, which I’ve seen in major Institutional and commercial galleries in The USA and Europe. Its effect on my work is most evident in the Sonic Network series. The different sensibilities in the way colour is approached in different countries has also had a profound influence on my work. Japan and Europe come to mind in this regard. Meeting other artists overseas is always amazing. It gives me important insight into my practice as an artist based in Australia, as well giving me valuable points of view in how I approach and contextualize my work. It also makes me appreciate the advantages of being based in Australia.
BP – Which artists have inspired you historically?
JA – As a high school student I was influenced by Don Laycocks large atmospheric paintings, and I remember seeing a documentary on him and really amazed by his painting process. I really liked a lot of the painting coming out of the USA and Germany in the mid to late 80s when I was at art school. Artists like Gerhard Richter. But once I left art school and started on the transit zone series in late 1991, most of my inspiration came from electronic and other types of contemporary music that came out of 90s subculture.
BP – Tell us about the Museum surveys your work has been included in, was there an exhibition in Russia at some point?
JA – The two most prominent are the op art exhibition at Heidi curated by Zara Stanhope titled “Good Vibrations” and the exhibition which Pete Tobey (Director of Tobey Fine Arts) curated at the Moscow Artists Union in Moscow Russia which was titled “Abstraction 100 Years Later”. The Good Vibrations exhibition was a really interesting experience in that it made me more aware of the emotive element in my work, especially when seeing it exhibited alongside 60s op art. The exhibition in Moscow was an amazing experience on many levels also.
The most profound experience was when an elderly Russian sculptor, who made a strong connection with my work gave me a book that he had published on sculpting techniques that he signed and wrote a comment in. This all happened despite the fact he couldn’t speak English nor I Russian. He was really moved by my work and I gave him a catalogue of from a recent exhibition of mine and signed it for him. I imagined his history as an artist in soviet Russia and my history as an Australian artist. Both of us from different generations and despite this we met and made a really strong connection.
BP – What differentiates your visual language from the pioneering op-artists of the 60’s?
JA – 60S op art to me is quite stark and Graphic. I feel my work is more layered and spontaneous in the application of paint in the areas which I mask up. I saw a survey of Bridget Riley’s work at The MCA in Sydney and some of the visual distortions and physicality she achieves from the work is really amazing. However the downside of it to me is that it has a singular effect of mesmerizing distortion, but lacks depth in the sense that everything is on the surface. With those artists you feel that the work is conceived from a working drawing or study which is already resolved. This process lacks the improvised element, the graphic stark nature of it lacks emotion, a sense of randomness and surprise.
In my work I juxtapose this sense of order with randomness in my process. When I paint a specific area I can imagine what it looks like but I cant see it. There is as much surprise to me as there is to the viewer.
In my work there is an emotive element that is created by the atmospheric shifts between the colliding picture planes, this couple between the interaction between the shifts in colour, tone and and line in addition to the compositional configurations creates a perpetual movement. These factors make the paintings look different every time you see them.
In my painting the visual vibration created by these perpetual shifts creates a sensation that resembles sound. I feel I am creating a dimension that is between vision and sound. Something we can feel but we can’t see. In this sense my work goes beyond the field of painting.
Evidence of this was in the late nineties and early 2000s when, I was represented as an artist on the Zonar recordings electronic music label. My paintings were represented and regarded by Brendan Palmer as being the visual equivalent of electronic musician. This sense he himself noted by representing me as a sound artist.
BP How are your images constructed?
JA – I draw concentric circles with a beam compass and use lots of masking tape. I work on alternating layers and sometimes applying oil paint or airbrushed acrylic paint. With the larger paintings the Sonic Networks I use intervals that go back to a compositional structure which I discovered in a painting in 1990. This allowed me to never have to worry about doing lead up drawings. Subsequently I could improvise and place circles or other forms in predetermined measured spots that related to a symmetrical formation. This enabled me to work on assymetrical compostional arrangements and the image would always be resolved.
BP How do you decide on the palette as colour plays such a pivotal role in your images?
JA – The colours I use now slowly evolved from a limited palette, which I used from the early 1990s. It was predominantly mars orange painted over black under painting. Mars orange underpinned with red underpainting both blended with irredescent titanium white. This was juxtaposed with indigo blended with titanium white were fumed silica was the thixatrope or filler is fumed silica, this was the alternation series 1993. From then its expanded slowly introducing other colour with stronger chroma gradually.
In subsequent series, this was all oil paint until I moved to Melbourne from Sydney in 1998. In 2000 I started exhibiting at Fireworks gallery in Brisbane, I started using earth colours against the subconscious influence of being around and exhibiting with indigenous art the major shift happened around 2002 when I introduced airbrushed acrylic in some sections. This allowed me to introduce more saturated chroma, which became really pronouncec after visiting japan in 2003 and I was exposed to mesmerising saturated lime greens pinks and purples and blues which were evident in the graphics in advertisements in magazines.
This influence is the most predominant in the sonic fragment series, which I exhibited in 2005 at solo exhibition at Tobey fine arts In New York. My photographer, who documented my work at the time Rick Allen, suggested I work in greys. After seeing a Liechtenstein sculpture survey at the Gagosian gallery in 2005, an image came into my head of a painting with grey background and a flat ultramarine blue spot in the centre. I came back to Australia and did this painting and then embarked on a series of Grey paintings which I exhibited at gallery 9 in Sydney in 2006 alongside sonic network no.2, which had saturated bright complementary colors.
Another important breakthrough color wise came from a trip Berlin in 2007, on my way back from an exhibition I curated in New York of Australian artists at Tobey Fine arts, was at the Hamburger Bahnhof. I saw some drawings by Dieter Roth the palette gave me an idea of how to integrate pastel pinks and lime greens with greys. I used this palette in some of the sonic paintings in the exhibition I had at Gallery 9 in Sydney in early 2008. At this point Im intrigued by working with blacks, the evolution of my palette allows me to go back and sample earlier phases, and change the tempo according to what mood or idea I want to investigate.
BP What role does scale play in your work?
JA – The Sonic fragments and the sonic paintings are small to mid sized and predominantly centrally focussed and symmetrical; to me they are more like objects, which represent a fragment of infinity. Where as the Sonic Network paintings are asymmetrical improvisations which allow me to improvise and immerse the viewer in a mesmerizing field of energy the large paintings are important for me to break out and sample earlier phases of my work, like a DJ creating a remix can have the equivalent of what would happen in three of four paintings simultaneously.
BP When approaching the BLOCKPROJECTS exhibition what did you have in mind when constructing the exhibition?
The Block Projects exhibition gave me the opportunity to focus on creating four major pieces from the Sonic network series. While working on this exhibition I was conscious of creating four distinctively different paintings working with starkly contrasting palletes. It was a real challenge as I had to draw on different phases of my repertoire. As Id never done this before it was also very mentally and physically challenging, as there was no respites I went from major piece to major piece. This was a contrast as to how I had previously worked on a major piece every year to eighteen months, which would allow me to develop new ideas on a smaller scale between major pieces. The two smaller canvases were painted intermittently between major pieces.
article from ArtInfo