Sun Woo

The Trip, 2022

Exploring the intersection of technology and the human experience

Sun Woo (b. 1994, Seoul, South Korea) is a visual artist whose work embodies the intersection between two cultures and generations, and the way technology can inform and transform artistic practices. Born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, Sun Woo migrated to Canada around the age of ten and despite the challenges of being an immigrant, the experience of growing up between two cultures has deeply informed her identity and artistic practice, especially in a time of rapidly shifting technological landscapes.

Her compositions evoke traditional paintings with a precision almost only possible digitally. By integrating digital tools into her practice and merging them with analog approaches reflecting the generation and cultures in which she grew up, Sun Woo explores the intersection of technology and the human experience. Her work reflects the sense of in-betweenness that characterises the contemporary experience and questions the location of the body in today’s technology-filtered reality.

Sun Woo discusses with NR her upbringing, her creative process and the messages behind her recent exhibitions. She explores how her experience growing up between two cultures has influenced her work, why she chooses to use a combination of traditional and digital techniques, what she hopes to convey through her art and her perspective on the merging of cultures and technology in contemporary art.

You were born and raised in Seoul, South Korea but left for Canada around the age of ten. What are your earliest childhood memories there after migrating? How did those two places aliment your desire to create and paint?

When did you start creating? When did you realise this was something you wanted to pursue?

Moving to Canada was not an easy experience as I had to leave my life at home behind and adjust to a completely new environment. Even in the company of friends, I constantly felt alone and never fully understood, which naturally led me to seek other things that could help fill these holes. These first became movies and magazines rented from my aunt who ran a small variety store in town, and later on, new devices such as computers and online platforms began to emerge. They allowed me to remain connected to my community in Seoul, but the physical distance still made me feel like I didn’t belong anywhere.

“I think this kind of upbringing and the sense of groundlessness strengthened my desire to create and paint, as it gave me a voice that was free linguistic and cultural barriers.”

When I moved to New York to attend college, I began to pursue my practice more seriously. Placing myself in a community of artists triggered me to dive into art making as something I’d like to continue to pursue. So after receiving my degree, I moved back and got a studio in Seoul, which is where I’ve been based since then.

What would you say has been most impactful from the merge of these two cultures? Is there one you feel more strongly attached to?

Your compositions evoke traditional paintings but with a precision almost only possible digitally. Airbrushing, hand painting, photoshop are some of the traditional techniques and digital tools you use for your artworks. Why have you chosen those? How do you think technology and analogue coexist together?

I think both my identity and practice have been heavily informed by the experience of growing up in between two cultures and generations. Being an immigrant in a time of rapidly shifting technological landscape allowed me to reach my homeland any time through the screen, while staying physically tied to the cultures of a foreign country. At first, it was difficult since I was born before these devices were introduced and had to teach myself how to utilise them. But they gradually became an intimate part of me, both as a friend and a channel into the world beyond physical bounds. This experience naturally led me to integrate digital tools into my practice, merging them with analog approaches as a way of talking about the generation and cultures in which I grew up. Through this process, I also wanted to reflect on the time that we’re living in, the sense of in-betweenness that comprises a large part of the contemporary experience.

“I often find that my identity bears resemblance to today’s digital images — the way they wander without an anchor.”

Circuit of Requiem, 2022

On one hand, I think this sense of empathy drives my urge to take these images out of the screen and ground them in the physical space of a painting. Because I imagine them as virtual bodies floating in the online environment, the process of distorting and augmenting them on Photoshop reflects my interest in exploring the transformative aspect of contemporary body, fostered by its increasing interaction with technology. By bringing them out of the web, giving them a tangible form through bodily labor, and putting them back on the Internet, I’m trying to question the location of today’s body — including my own — especially after much of our activities have transitioned into the digital sphere after the pandemic.

Could you tell us about your show ‘Memory of Rib’ curated by Jeppe Ugelvig with a special screening of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Mouth to Mouth (1975) and your show ‘Invisible sensations’ at Carl Kostyal in Milan in May 2022? What were the messages behind these exhibitions?

‘Memory of Rib’ was a show that brought together a group of artists whose works evoke or deal with the idea of corporeality. It explored concepts like the body’s instability, limitations and contingency by looking at the ways in which it interacts with today’s technology and sociopolitical landscape, while also thinking about how we detect and identify with images of the flesh seen in commodities and media. It included a diverse range of artists in terms of age, sexual identity and cultural background, especially with Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, whose work from 1975 provided a historical anchor to which younger generations of artists could contribute their discourse.

The works that I presented in the show, titled Silent Companions and Baggage, developed from my research on prosthetics and medieval armours and weapons — tools that have evolved to complement physical weaknesses and came to function as literal arms, legs, and skins of an individual.

“Weaving these histories with the relationship between today’s body and technology, I tried to construct compositions in which the organic intersects or collides with the mechanic to become something transcendental.”

Through images like melting meat-candles and strapped rock-flesh, I tried to address how it feels to be a body in a digitally mediated world, which at once “enhances” you and nurtures your feeling of insufficiency.

‘Invisible Sensations’ was my solo show that opened earlier that year, and it also dealt with the emotions and sensations related to inhabiting a technology-filtered reality. It included paintings and 3D-printed sculptures that evoke body’s limits, vulnerabilities, and struggles to resist their mortal fate, as well as social constraints that continue to oppress the female and coloured body. Images of my own body parts, including medical scans that I carried with me at the time to treat a prolonged illness, were collaged with elements that allude to mechanical presence, becoming fragmented, reconstructed, and translated into otherworldly beings. Through this convergence, I tried to look into the fragility and endurance of today’s bodies and question the extent to which their unification with technology can liberate them or transform the atmosphere they inhabit.

Diligent Heart, 2022

How is the process usually for you when putting together a solo show?

In my past interviews, I’ve revealed that I collage images via Photoshop. But even though my works are presented as images, they actually begin with text. From stories to dissertations, various sources of written materials provide inspiration for my work. Despite this, I am interested in creating something that can only be communicated by being in the presence of my works — something that is to be experienced and surpasses the written language.

“Paintings are not simply re-enactments or something that fits perfectly into an existing theoretical frame, but they are a result of materials that I channel through my own body and create to evoke a response that cannot be fully harnessed by rationality.”

Sometimes, the exhibition space also determines what I decide to paint, even when it’s a white cube. It is important to me that the works speak to the space and vice versa, and that the work is presented in a way that reinforces the viewing experience. As a result, I tend to spend a lot of time contemplating on such a dynamic, which often determines the work’s size and form.

Detail crops from The Crimson Letter (Triptych), 2022

 Your work also interrogates Korean societal desires and more specifically the ways in which female bodies are viewed and represented. Could you talk more about that? How do you think gender roles and stereotypes surrounding being a woman in Korea, will evolve?

Because my practice interrogates today’s social condition and technological landscape through the lens of my own psychological and bodily experience, many of my works are inevitably tied to my identity as a Korean woman. In result, they often speak to the experience of being a female body in both online and offline environment, as well as a body inhabiting two different cultures.

In addition to my painting practice, I’ve also been working on a project called Dadboyclub with an artist and friend, Sangmin Lee since 2021. Dadboyclub, to both of us, is a platform to channel issues specifically regarding the experience of being a woman. For the first iteration of our project, we exhibited virtual ‘products’ that each house a story about womanhood. Objects like an inflating, studded baby pacifier that obstructs a woman’s throat, or a ‘flower’ with a rolling eye that detects and destroys hidden-cameras with automated spears, reveal the conditions and violence women may experience in society through a long-winded joke. These products do not actually exist, in real life nor as NFTs — so they cannot be sold — which was an important aspect of this ‘virtual store,’ which was also a commentary on how female narratives embodying pain are consumed as entertainment online or through popular media. 

Sinkage, 2022

Absurdity is a driving force of this practice, as we navigate the ways we can express our discontent with inequality as well as emotional pain that is regarded as superfluous. Whether it be a small feeling from a failed relationship, to discovering violence embedded in the myth of Psyche and Eros — Dadboyclub re-situates women’s stories, old and new, revealing a prickling truth of reality that was often disregarded as minute and obsolete. We believe the personal is political. 

There have been some progressive developments over the past few years regarding gender issues in Korean society. There has been a change of perspective regarding parenting and housekeeping especially, which have been regarded as female duties up until very recently. More women are speaking up about sexual violence and trauma, which have been looked down upon before the Me Too Movement in Korea. But at the same time, there still remains a local issue of victim-shaming and the taboo of publicly claiming yourself a feminist, grounded in the society’s age-old history of Confucian patriarchy.

“Discussions regarding female equality are voiced more often, but with the growing polarisation between a progressive agenda and right-wing counter-movements — which seems to be a global phenomenon — the backlash hits harder, making it difficult to gauge whether we are moving forward or simply repeating the past.”

Which other mediums and tools would you like to explore? Would you consider using AI systems such as DALL·E?

Actually, my current practice already involves AI in a way, since I often use images that are fed to me by my search engine and social media — which, after analysing and machine-learning my interests, provide me with new sources. In this sense, I often allow my devices to become the agent rather than controlling all aspect of the process, and the resulting work becomes a joint product of these voluntary and involuntary selections. Even so, I sometimes find new programs like DALL-E quite haunting. How do artists justify their practice when AIs actually produce artworks on behalf of them? What new roles are we to take on?

Detail crop from Diligent Heart, 2022

There is a certain longing for the 2000s in your work. Is there any recent pop culture events that has marked you? What are some of your favourite music albums and films?

I think my works embody a sense of longing and empathy in general, not only for the 2000s but also an older past or even the future. They sometimes long for a certain time, place, or person that I’ve physically experienced but also ones that I haven’t. I find this faux-nostalgia, a longing for a time that I do not know, to be an interesting cultural phenomenon that I also engage in. In this sense, the convergence of the physical and virtual plays not only into the process and medium with which I work, but is also echoed throughout the narratives and depictions that drive the work.

No-landing Flight, 2022

How do you feel our hyper consumption of media is shaping us? Do you think we risk to lose ourselves if less time is spent on building connections or do you think it is an inherent part of shaping our identity?

In this new age of technology, how do you ground yourself?

I also find it hard to navigate a time like this, where you’re seeing so much and being surrounded by so many people, especially through social media. From a certain angle, I feel like the world seemed much smaller when we were less connected, as it gave each of us more presence and weight. Now it seems to be the other way around. Our sense of importance seems to dwindle as we become exposed to the lives of so many strangers and ours constantly displayed alongside theirs. We’re endowed with more options of things to see and people to meet than ever, but simultaneously, we also become one of those options as well. These are some of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately, and how do I ground myself in an age like this? I still don’t have an answer to that. 

Dadboyclub, Camouflower, 2022. Website

 What was the first piece of art you saw that left an impression on you?

Francis Bacon and Louise Bourgeois were among the very first, and they still continue to inspire my practice. 


Artworks · Courtesy of the artist and Carl Kostyál Milan, London, Stockholm.

Yein Lee

Lee’s biomechanical forms

After completing her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Seoul, South Korean-born artist Yein Lee went to the Academy of Fine Art in Vienna, Austria. She stayed there to live, refining her technical prowess into an intensely profound body of work. And she is far from done.

Combining her past experience, dexterous innovations and interest in advancing technology, Lee has exhibited her work in numerous locations, showing her work ten times just in the last year. Her sculptures have approached the world with the strength of a cyborg. Their creator has constantly developed alongside them, her mind evolving with the same creative mental software that transforms these objects into personable, breathing beings.

Her work has an unrelenting originality. The sculptures are crafted into augmented forces. Lee approaches the overall composition with creativity in mind; she creates the presented proportions, and her treatment of the fabricated flesh can be felt through panels and poles. Lee installs biomechanical forms that brush against the fabric of a wall. The dark, drooping and dagger-sharp bodies poke out of the white walls of a gallery. Xylophoned rib cages jerk out with splayed bones, like arachnid arms reaching around a polymer and epoxy heart. Loose limbs fall like sinuous vines bleeding black and stretching into nothingness like the electrical wires that they are. These forms are obscure and anything but human. However, they hint at a humanity that can be found within ourselves, only with multiple jabbering mouths sealed in polymer paralysis. If humans are contorted in hate and loosened by drink, Lee’s hand-made creatures are intensified with the cold glitter of a PVC plexiglass and wires that twist like wilted willows.

These are not merely artworks in stasis. They transform over time and have a life of their own. Lee transfers the essence of being into objects with an actuality and reality at their core, giving the pulsations of a creature with a soul.

You originally studied traditional painting in Seoul and then moved to Vienna. Since finishing up at The Academy of Fine Art, you have continued to live there. It has been almost a decade since you graduated from University in Seoul. Why did you stay?

I had no idea about the city at all. Soon, I decided there was a young, active scene going on, and there were many spaces for artists to produce, especially considering the smaller scale of the city. Many artists were around the city, and everyone was working around me, and I enjoyed this input and movement. Now I really have a sense of community here.

Did this sense of belonging come immediately or over time?

My friends are here, my partner is here and my studio is here. I now know how to source my materials, and I know how it works here when it comes to running my studio. This usually takes some time. You have to get used to a German-speaking country and then deal with the art bubble (which is all in English).

Your material practice has branched out from the norm and has spread into the realms of technological components, metals and alloys, and plastics and organic materials. At what point did you move towards sculpture?

Through my BA in Seoul, I focused on Asian painting, and then for my Masters, I followed a more modern path with Contemporary Art Direction. I went to Berlin and then went to Vienna for the Academy of Fine Arts, where I continued in the painting class. I struggled a bit as I couldn’t find my own visual language through paint. At the time, the whole Zombie Figuration discourse was going on (in the mid-2010s), and there was an overwhelming overload of paintings.

So, what did you do?

I tried to forget everything I had built so far, and I decided to leave Vienna and go to Shanghai for an Artist Residency Program. But I didn’t bring any material with me, on purpose. In the program, there was a lot of leftover material from the previous residents, so I just collected it all and began using these random materials that artists had left behind. Leaving my old studio behind and starting with new tools was really helpful. I started using hot-glue guns, plastics, acrylic colours and polyurethane. I started working with these new materials, and after that, my painting became more sculptural. When I returned to Vienna, I kept experimenting with different materials and processes, and learning casting and welding helped me get closer to what I was looking for.

The scale of your artwork varies, yet the forms depicted remain relatable. One can see a drill-motor heart and limbs of steel, a chest with spread combs like fork prongs and body positions that feel so human. When you returned to Vienna, how did you start collecting the materials for your sculptures? Are there human elements you search for which operate as surrogate body parts for the forms?

I like that it feels human. In 2018, I really started getting into sculpture. I turned to casting and melding metals out of curiosity, but soon I fell in love with it. After using these plastics and metals for painting, I began making the frames for the works, which later became structures in themselves. As I explored these forms of matter, I knew I needed an anchor to communicate with the viewer, as my visual language of monstrosity tends to be less communicative and more framed. Using the human form was a translator. There has always been a presence of organic matter in my work. Even before I went to Shanghai, I had always used bodily elements; when I returned, I deepened my research on organic structures and was influenced by pop culture and movies. This all helped push out my creativity, and body machine parts started working as surrogates, but sometimes they just expanded on body parts.

Technical skill is a quality by which sculpture is evaluated. Does your practice involve meticulous working and reworking until you are happy with the result?

Every time I work, there are millions of possible next steps to creating the sculpture. For example, how much should I bend this piece of metal? But I like that. It is nice to explore these possibilities and refine the options for finality.

“Finding what’s ‘right’ is a thrilling feeling.”

And how do you know when to stop?

I could pretend to be a genius and say, ‘I just know’, but there are rules to follow for basic forms; I have an individual formula, focusing on the completeness, content, consistency of form and ratio of texture to balance in the composition. When everything fits into what I want to talk about, I know it’s done. I’ve definitely grasped more of an understanding of finality, which came over time and through more experience with my materials. The experience gives me more choices in what I can do. The experience makes it easier to see what is possible.

“The point of arrival for artwork is the ability for the piece to be presented.”

However, for many artists with a strong technical focus, the mastery of a process can be overlooked for a purely aesthetic interpretation; it can become cold. Despite this, your pieces have a lucidity, a sense of being which can speak. 

How do your technical skills allow you to grow such a concept?

Coming from a painting background, I came into sculpture with quite a messy and dirty technique, but I let it be like that, and it turned out that I liked doing it the ‘wrong way’. For instance, with latex, I was supposed to pour it carefully into the mould, but actually, I did it the wrong way to try something new. It gave me a more instant expression. At times, being used to traditional techniques makes the work enter a certain frame, whereas what I wanted to say about sculpture and how I wanted to expand my work was more fluid; let it drop and overflow. I thought, ok, let’s break some rules, see how far they can be broken and how I can use the pieces, whether they are ‘failures’ or not.

Do you wish for your sculptures to communicate with the audience somehow? Do you want them to breathe like us or remain objects for opinion?

I always have my own intentions and ideas about my sculptures. Sometimes I have favourite parts of a work and what it is supposed to be. However, once the sculpture is out of my studio and leaves my hands, it is not mine anymore. Sculpture should have its own agency, and it should be able to deliver certain things to different people but without the arrogance of a god. I like to leave it up to viewers with what they see. Sometimes it is very different, and I think, ‘that’s ok’.

How does it feel to separate yourself from them? And how do you feel about your work as a whole?

I feel strange. I do a lot of drawings, but they are not necessarily related to the outcome. Some parts of a drawing can be involved in this outcome, but the journey is only partially planned. Once I have finished a piece, I think, ‘what are you?’. Sometimes I feel alienated from the sculpture, and other times I feel attached to it. It’s a weird mixed feeling because I never planned to make this sort of work. After completing a sculpture and it is sitting in front of me, whether it is the scale or material elements, It still takes me by surprise. 

They also possess a depth that seems personal. Rather than being shells or a disregarded snakeskin, they could almost be seen as extensions of your personality. Is your working method related to this emotional connection?

I make my sculpture in a way that fits my personality. My working method is who I am. I am always slightly rushing, determined and sometimes slightly clumsy and rough. But my character is shown throughout my work, and it’s funny to see it, but the gestures do show.

Are they autobiographical?

They express how I feel, but they aren’t autobiographical. Many artists take inspiration from their experiences, so some of my experiences are embedded into the process and final outcome. But then, for me, it often gets separated; the initial idea that exists when I start a work sometimes changes while I’m working as my thought process goes into a meshed structure rather than a linear method.

When you are in the process of making these artworks, what do you feel and see? What sort of environment do you put yourself in (besides the physical surroundings of a studio)?

Not too often, but sometimes I get into a trance. It feels like a buzzy, feverish and floating sensation when I really concentrate, but that could also be the caffeine and exhaustion. When I get highly focused and concentrate so much, I get absorbed into the process so much that my body disappears and it is just my brain and hands.

How do you want people to react to these works? The sculptures are hardly embodiments of peace and harmony. At least in the conventional, Edenic sense. Sci-fi characteristics emerge when words like ‘hybridism’ and ‘cyborg’ are thrown around. Still, your work takes a step further by removing the past and melding present silhouettes into alien forms articulated to a raw framework you have created. How do you react to sci-fi labelling and labelling in general?

Hybridity has been such a significant term that has circulated, but it is now a natural concept at this point. With sci-fi, the concept is a current metaphor for our imagination and society. It is a present-term idea that moves around our dreams and narratives. There are many bodies today that are very attached to artificial material, and I see the hybrid concept as a phenomenon that already exists. I was always more into manga and animation, so I got more ideas from these magazines than from traditional sci-fi; I didn’t grow up with it, but lately, I’ve been watching all the classics, but only as an adult. My works are about what I see and observe, but people can receive them as one ‘type’ of art. It is the same with science fiction: it gets categorized as one thing. The artist Ivan Pérard says, ‘Sci-fi’ is a modern fable’, which I very much agree with. Animism and mythology operate around nature and culture, and science fiction mirrors society just as much. It is about our life as it stands now.

And what do you want to change this attitude?

It is essential to keep talking about art in a way that doesn’t limit terminology and simplifies the language that describes it. In my work, there are lots of languages of monstrosity, and people immediately think of the artist, H.R. Giger and how many monster-esque forms are coming back in art.

“The sculptures embrace distinct ambivalent emotions.”

For me, the works are in a status of becoming. I want people to discover hope in the form of reflection on our current society. It is necessary to focus on the details and have more sub-categories to be aware of.

Do you think your work promotes that concept?

I hope so. I have been trying to find a way to communicate it with metamorphic presences, blending the ‘me’ and ‘you’ and ‘us’. For that reason, I worked more into the human form to express a language of monstrosity that is less misunderstood and more anchored. Making these forms relatable makes them beings you can communicate with. Components resembling human body parts communicated and specified what I wanted to say.

These sculptures have their own weight. They possess a dense mass that stands perfectly. They support themselves just like Francis Bacon’s creatures in his Crucifixion paintings did. There are various rods and stabilising factors involved. However, these prodding protrusions make the artwork whole by grounding the body and creating a proportionate form. How do you want your work to stand?

Through wires and steel supporting the sculpture’s weight, they can look weightless and rooted to the ground at the same time. Being in the air is a nonhuman thing, and my works take components of human anatomy beyond bodily function. I want them to stand with natural and artificial elements growing from this body coexisting.

And towards what environment do you see them moving?

I want to explore all sorts of locations. I don’t just want my work in white cubes. I’m working on this sculpture park exhibition in the Netherlands which will be interesting; the surroundings there are radically different, which will also dramatically affect how the sculpture behaves and how it is interpreted.

Your production has led to your works avoiding the limbo between weightless futility and a heavy, immobile mound. In many senses, the fact that these works float yet are still weighed down by gravity makes them appear as embryonic creatures captured in stasis. Do your choices in materials and proportion impact the presentation/display of your works and their ultimate impact on audiences?

Proportion is only one part of the decision-making on form, so it’s hard to say it’s the ultimate effect, but it is crucial that my works have a certain openness. With Devouring Chaos (2022), I liked having a balance between the human anatomy, electrical wires and wooden branches that poke out of the skins. The branches make the piece float in the air and, at the same time, stay rooted to the floor as if it were a plant. I like having a duality and coexistence of weight and weightlessness, a growing and wilting being. I find that concept really interesting, and I want to explore it further in a different direction.

A word that sparks to mind when observing your work is protuberance. Not only in the content of your subject matter, (as it juts out of a human shadow with the suddenness of a razor-sharp guillotine) but the context of these protrusions. Do you want your artwork to jut out from the norm?

“I want them not just to jut out of the norm but to stretch out the norm and expand normativity. These forms convey that we are all simultaneously different and alike; it is the form that decides the content just as much as the content decides the form.”

How do you decide what form these sculptures will ultimately take?

In the beginning, the size of the works themselves is planned. Because of shipping, the scale is regulated for practicality. When I started working on my latest pieces, I fixed their average size first. However, the forms then develop and grow out of my imagination, and with Devouring Chaos, I got the idea of this fazing face and legs frozen in motion from a long exposure picture. Showing constant movement across frames in a particular image was an interesting visual element that led to a transition in the movement process.

Your expertise in gleaning used and disregarded materials comments on the extremes of consumerism and assists in communicating the issues regarding the state of the environment today. How do you see your art playing a part in the way we move forward?

I would like to embody specific thoughts and concepts in my sculpture. They are metaphors and suggestions. Let’s say a viewer could see a broken iPhone cable as part of my work and wonder, ‘Yeah, I do have a couple of broken smartphone cables somewhere at my home, too’ Then it’s a good start.

And the ultimate goal for them?

Being born abroad and living in a foreign country is frustrating, and you sometimes feel like you do not belong. Even the concept of nationality is weird for me here, and within Vienna, I live in a bubble where I only speak English. It is weird but interesting. I want to explore the possibilities of representing the body in this way. For example, the issues of hyper-consumerism and the ecological crisis come up in my sculpture with aesthetics and materials providing belonging in an extended body. I want to embrace more possibilities of the body. I am not just ‘me’, but I am a human. I consist of thousands of cells, fluids, and microorganisms living with me. This comes out in the work with not only the mechanical components and broken machines, but also branches and formed figures that look like microorganisms and then faces. I try to use macroscopic with microscopic imagery to comment on both the body as an individual entity and the world as a whole.

There’s no missing one of your works. Not only do they jump out with their presence, but they are wholly yours and could be produced by no other artist but you. The structures you make are transformed into a veritable presence that catches the eye in a second. Is there more to be done?

I want to keep creating and working on my career. The practice I want to promote is one where humans are not in the centre of the world, but I want my sculpture to coexist with the world in a way that expands certain areas of thought but not in a ‘core’ social sense. I am happy with what I have been able to make, and I try to give credit to myself instead of just being a perfectionist and asking myself every time, what more should I have done? But sometimes, you just can’t push it further because of budget, time or energy.

Are you confident in the artwork you produce?

There is always room for improvement, but the best thing is to be able to learn from your work and improve upon it the next time. Looking back, I did my best work within a limited time, and although it is difficult, I always want to improve. However, I am happy with what I have done and what I will continue to do. Sometimes you have to move on and keep working on the next piece.

“My confidence is in my desire to explore more possibilities.”


  1. Yein Lee & Nour Jaouda, Installation view 2022, Paulina Caspari, Munich. Photography by Thomas Splett
  2. Detail, devouring chaos – growth of reconstructed time, overflowing bodies, and static electricity. Photography: Courtesy of the artists and Loggia, Munich/Vienna
  3. Yein Lee & Nour Jaouda, Installation view 2022, Paulina Caspari, Munich. Photography by Thomas Splett
  4. Yein Lee & Nour Jaouda, Installation view 2022, Paulina Caspari, Munich. Photography by Thomas Splett

Miriam Cahn

Miriam Cahn, Aus der wuste, 2016
Oil on canvas, 145 x 190 cm
Photo: Oliver Roura. Courtesy Private collection.

The compelling and ethereal paintings of Miriam Cahn: seeing the unbearable and revisiting rules 

Miriam Cahn (born 1949 in Basel, Switzerland) started her career in the 1970s and initiated painting at the age of 45 in the 1990s in Switzerland. Awarded the 14th Rubens Prize of the City of Siegen (previously obtained by Cy Twombly and Francis Bacon) on June, 26th, 2022, an honour combined with a solo exhibition at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen, Cahn is one of the most highly regarded artists in Switzerland. Having her work exhibited in numerous international shows and exhibitions, including documenta 7 and 14, Kassel (1982 and 2017), the Venice Biennale (1984), Kunsthalle Basel (1983), Museum of Modern Art, New York (1984), Fundación La Caixa, Madrid (2003), Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (2004), Badischer Kunstverein (2014) and Kunsthalle zu Kiel (2016) and many diverse exhibitions across Europe in 2019. When I first discovered her work at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Milan (2022), at the GEZEICHNET exhibition (curated by Alberto Salvadori and Luigi Fassi) I was instantly taken aback by her use of the sometimes garish colours in her oil paintings. Cahn though initiated with black and white charcoal drawings. She states her method of painting and drawing was back then similar to a performance whether it was on the floor until her back could not take it any longer, or on tables, or standing up with the canvas against the wall as she proceeds now, with oil painting. With a more diversified use of colours, Cahn was able to monumentally picture real scenarios.

Miriam Cahn, Mutter kind kind, 2016 + 19.03.2017 Oil on wood, 118 x 88 cm
Photo: François Doury
Courtesy of the artist

Ghostly bodies form compelling and ethereal paintings which in turn express the incredible vulnerability of human beings, the uncertainty of life and death, the fragility of nature and what humanity in this day and age is. Womanhood, fecundity, strength, sex, intimacy, violence, war, refugee crisis, oppression are some of the recurring themes in Cahn’s artworks. It is exactly because Cahn is human that she explores these thematics. As the Swiss artist puts it, “everything is influence” for her practice. Flora, fauna coexist with mutilated bodies and brutal sex forming an absurd quasi monstrous but deeply emotive complexity which is mankind not her “invention as she explains. 

Miriam Cahn, Blutungsarbeit, 10.11.1994
Chalk on paper, 54 x 77 cm
Courtesy Private collection, Switzerland

Cahn’ works from the last five decades show her artistic development as well as the evolution of our world and its contradictions, engaging the viewer in seeing the unbearable from genocides, war, displacement, and discrimination ultimately shaping human nature. One may remember Stephan Chorover’s book ‘From Genesis to Genocide: The Meaning of Human Nature and the Power of Behaviour Control’ (1979) in which he explores the blurred lines between psychology and politics, between meaning and power. Chorover stated that theories of human nature linked with society’s efforts to solve serious social issues could be seen as powerful instruments of behaviour control.

Miriam Cahn, Weiss schlägt schwarz, 22.07.2018
Oil on wood, 50 x 54 cm
Photo: Markus Tretter
Courtesy Private collection.

A step into learning from our mistakes to be able to make progress as with Cahn’s paintings, we are invited to reflect on the horrors of the past and the violence suffered. Endless possibilities are left to explore in Cahn’ canvases in the aim of revising rules already established by societal norms trying to conform us.

Miriam Cahn, Rennen, 2013
Oil on canvas, 280 x 200 cm
Photo: Reto Pedrini
Courtesy Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, and Meyer Riegger, Berlin/Karlsruhe

As human, Cahn succeeds in portraying everything that attracts us and repulses us and delivering a contemporary take on the world as it is now. When asked her opinion on the world as it is now, Miriam Cahn states “the classical: NO COMMENT!”

Miriam Cahn, Gitterhaus, 1982
Chalk on paper, 210 x 245 cm
Photo: Oliver Roura
Courtesy Galerie Jocelyn Wolff


Paintings · Courtesy of Miriam Cahn, Private collections and Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, and Meyer Riegger, Berlin/ Karlsruhe

Elizabeth Glaessner

Elizabeth Glaessner, Ocean Halo, 2021

Therapeutic gateways to an inner world, Elizabeth Glaessner uncovers the realms of the psyche conjuring up a surreal universe in a constant state of metamorphosis.

Elizabeth Glaessner (born 1984 in Palo Alto, California) is an American painter and artist whose work express meanings beyond the figures she paints. Inspired by heroes of symbolism such as Edvard Munch, Odilon Redon, personal memories and art history, Glaessner places the visible at the service of the subconscious and re-contextualise mythological elements in her dream-like paintings. With her distinct use of colour, such as the recurrent visceral acid green as well as her technique of dispersing pure pigments with acrylics, oil and water, Glaessner creates visually striking works that tap into our primordial unconscious, opening a world where surroundings and people are intuitively blurred. There is a sense of fluidity and openness in Glaessner’s work, inspired from her childhood memories and an understanding that the world as it is today cannot be limited by binary thinking. Glaessner thus pushes the conventional societal boundaries and moral codes, and uncovers the realms of her psyche conjuring up a surreal universe in a constant state of metamorphosis. 

Therapeutic gateways to an inner world, Glaessner’s paintings are indirectly a reflection of our time and a window to possible futures.

When did you start painting? Were there family influences at all? 

My mom studied and taught art, so I started drawing and painting at a young age. Her dad  was an art lover as was my grandmother on my dad’s side. Her twin brother Friedreich was a textile designer and my great aunt Mitzi was a watercolor painter. 

Elizabeth Glaessner, War in the Middle Ages, 2022

You are originally from Houston, Texas but moved to New York. How have those two distinct landscapes influenced your practice? 

I grew up in Houston, my parents moved there from California when I was 3, and I moved to New York in 2007.  Houston is a large sprawling city with lots of space. It’s hot and humid and the vegetation and landscape is pretty swampy. It also flooded a lot so it’s a pretty wet climate on the east side of Texas. Lots of frogs and lizards. I’m not sure how much has changed over the years with all the new development. New York is much more fast-paced. Everything is compact and efficient. I love being able to commute without a car and my community is very important here. I’ve gained so much from being able to visit friends’ studios and having access to so many galleries and museums. But it’s very different working here than in a place like Houston and it’s getting more difficult with out of control rent and limited space. There’s always a tradeoff.

Elizabeth Glaessner, Earth Bound, 2022

There is always a sense of fluidity and openness in your work, on different levels, pushing away moral codes and societal limitations. Bodies and genders are interchanged and intertwined. Why those particular thematics?

I grew up in a pretty chaotic environment. When my parents divorced, my mom met an ex nun who moved in with her. The nun was obviously very religious and used fear tactics and violence to maintain power and control. We grew up in two very different realities. My dad’s parents were Jewish and escaped the Holocaust from Vienna so he grew up agnostic and didn’t impose religion on us. Eventually the nun left, I remember feeling overwhelmed with a sense of freedom. So I learned pretty early on the destructive effects of imposed morality, fear and repression and also became aware of our incredible ability to adapt and change.

“I also quickly became aware that we’re quite complicated and can’t thrive in a world limited by binary thinking.”

Elizabeth Glaessner,
Professional Mourners, 2020

Your work feels like an invite into your psyche and dystopian spaces in which the subconscious and conscious coexist together. Do you see your practice as a therapeutic tool and thus liberatory? 

Yes, initially painting was a way for me to escape but also try and understand a surreal and oppressive childhood full of contradiction. I started seeing a therapist at a young age but couldn’t talk about anything.

“Drawing and painting was a tool to deal with experiences in a non-literal way that I wasn’t ready to communicate verbally.”

It’s a survival tool for many people. I’m lucky that I had that.

Elizabeth Glaessner, Misfortunes of the City, 2022

You have cited Edvard Munch, Odilon Redon as references. Who/What else inspired your style?

The first works of art that I spent time with as a kid in the museum of fine arts in Houston were Bougereau’s the elder sister (but just for the feet), Derain’s landscapes with red trees and Turrell’s tunnel. These aren’t artists that I look at now but I think the effect that they had on me at a time when I was forming memories is relevant to subconscious decision making in painting now. I have looked at and continue to look at so much art throughout history – it plays a large role in how I conceive of my paintings so it’s very difficult to just name a few. I look at different artists for different reasons. For example, Cranach the Elder and Carroll Dunham because of how far they are able to take one idea or theme and stretch it with subtle formal variations. Or someone like Chris Ofili or Francesco Clemente for color or feeling, Birgit Jurgenssen for the body and so on.

Elizabeth Glaessner, Escapism, 2022

Some of your favourite readings? What is something/someone you have recently discovered and has marked you?

I’m currently reading Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. I think he’s a brilliant writer. I also loved Never Let me Go. Haruki Murakami is one of my favorites. I’ve recently been thinking about Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider, especially “uses of the erotic: the erotic as power” and how she writes about language in “Poetry is not a Luxury”. And my friend Aisling Hamrogue recently suggested I read a chapter in A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari called “One or several Wolves” discussing the body without organs which made an impression.

The colours used in your paintings offer such vibrant hues. Where does this palette come from?

It’s incredible how personal and associative color is. I have visceral reactions to certain color combinations. It’s often the thing that causes me to repaint a painting – if the color isn’t working with the content, I’ll start over with a different palette. Usually the under color shifts the tone of whatever is on top which can lead to unexpected combinations. There’s an element of intuition but I also think about symbolic associations of color – both my own which have been developed through repetition as well as learned associations. 

Elizabeth Glaessner, Charley Horse, 2022

Some colours are more recurring than others, such as acid green. There is something really appealing to it but it also feels like a warning. Why that green in particular?

I’ve been drawn to that green since I was a kid. I’m sure it comes from many places. Houston is a swampy green city and I was always outside. I was very close with my grandmother who introduced me to painters such as Klimt and Kirchner who also use that green. It’s a color that I feel comfortable with.

“That acidic quality oozes an uneasiness which I think is reflective of what it feels like to be alive.”

Elizabeth Glaessner, Heat Map, 2022

Which mediums other than painting would you like to explore with? 

There is an endless amount of learning I still have to do within painting. I’ve done silk painting – which is something I’d like to do again at some point. I’d also like to explore paper making, priming my surfaces in different ways, experimenting with different mediums when I’m pouring paint. I’d like to do some monotypes in a print studio and try different printmaking techniques. I’d love to play around with clay more but painting is keeping me pretty occupied at the moment. 

Elizabeth Glaessner, Sphinx and Friends, 2022

Could you tell us about the process you go through when you create? 

I usually start with several works on paper that are done pretty intuitively. Some drawing, some ink and gouache. First I pour and then use the color fields to find forms which I meld with preconceived ideas so there’s a balance of control and freedom. I look at these works on paper as I’m making paintings on canvas on linen, whether it’s the color and theme, or just the composition or energy. The surface of the larger paintings is often pretty built up because I change so much as I’m working. Sometimes the composition will work on a smaller scale but doesn’t feel right when I’m working large. I usually get to a point about halfway through where I feel like I’ve completely lost the painting and then have to make some big move to totally change it and dig my way out. But I’ve learned that that is just part of how it’s made so I trust it.

What are you working on at the moment?

I just finished my solo show “Dead Leg” which opens September 3rd at Perrotin in Paris. I had a pretty busy year so I’m looking forward to traveling a bit, taking some time to set up my studio again, finishing some books I started, doing some color exercises and starting a new series of works on paper. 

The theme of this issue is IN OUR WORLD. Are your paintings a reflection of our time or are they a window to the future you envision?

I think they’re both. 

“Definitely a reflection of our time which wouldn’t exist without the past and which hints at possible futures.”


Artworks · Courtesy of Elizabeth Glaessner and Perrotin

Patrick Bienert

East End of Europe


Photographs · Courtesy of Patrick Bienert

Amia Yokoyama

Amia Yokoyama, Słow Moon Sink

What the immaterial creates, the material makes

The lack of contentment governs the persistence of Amia Yokoyama to unfold the transaction between permanence and impermanence, fragility and strength. She tells NR about the void she desires to fill with whatever gnaws at her at the time she falls under its spell. She always seeks something, always on the hunt to uncover more, the reason she keeps sculpting and producing videos and animations. Somewhere between these works of art, she finds the depth of herself, the truth she owns that lies within the realms of her material and immaterial creativity. When she describes her practice, she lends her audience a piece of herself, and they soon realize the fidelity she upholds, questioning the elements of the Earth, the states of matter, the spaces that live within the physical and the memories, and the existence of layers in the digital world.

Whatever theme she touches upon, she borrows from other cultures, such as the prowess of Anime in Asia, to magnify, and sometimes distort, her objects, videos, and installations. In one work, viewers can find two naked feminine figures in euphoria as one caresses the skin of the other, beneath her breasts. In another work, a talk show occurs, hosted by two tech-driven figures who look the same. The Japanese-American artist gravitates towards pyschedelic approach to her practice, offering drugs to satiate the high-maintenance affairs of her viewers towards modernized, digitized, and sensual art. For NR, she taps into the poetess in her, layering the narratives about her art, self, and beliefs in a nature that reflects what she creates.

Amia, how has your journey been so far with your work? Was it easy achieving the creative process you have today?

It has been long, unruly, twisty, and unpredictably slippery at times, but I would not have it any other way. My process has been guided through searching for moments that trigger my creative spirit. These moments are the catalyst for my motivation. I get excited when these senses are tickled simultaneously like intellect, feelings, sensory, emotions, beauty, and tension, to name a few. When all of these are activated as I work, I know I am on the right path. If they are not, I keep searching.

“This journey means reaching for a visual language that can sing when lyrics alone do not quite cut it.”

Amia Yokoyama, Untitled (red) Ed 1, 2022

Having a Japanese-American profile, in what ways do your cultural background and upbringing influence your art and the way you make it?

I think that my early acknowledgement of my childhood and the feeling of not belonging encouraged a propensity to imagine and create worlds where I did feel I belonged.

“Inside my head, it was much more exciting, nurturing, and generous than my external social world.”

I began to develop my own relationship with my environment rather than a relationship that was heralded by my parents, teachers, or peers. 

I grew up in a multicultural household isolated within a vast sea of homogeneity, so differences, misunderstandings, and uncertainties were regular companions. This gave way to always feeling and knowing I was sutured of diverse and often disparate parts that do not fit into the ways the world told me they should.

“This understanding left the needle and thread in my hand to sew, take away, and ultimately give permission to myself to be something of my own desire.”

Amia Yokoyama, Slow moon sink, 2021

When the world told me that I did not make sense, I began the process of liberating myself from their idea of this ‘sense’ and allowed myself to expand the rules of existence.

“The childhood process of building sanctuary within my inner world has propelled me into my practice as if art were the overflow.”

Do you see the world – in general – as a symbiosis of humanity or dependent on self? Are you dependent on anything, artistically speaking?

Neither, or both, plus everything else. Humanity suggests a human-centric understanding of interdependency. I feel dependent on everything, all the spectrums of living and non-living things. I also know that the division between those two categories are not so exacting.

Amia Yokoyama, Slow mon sink, 2021

I see that you have this penchant for constant movement in all directions. Where does the affinity for this concept stem from? What is your opinion about those who map out their lifeline up to its finest details (go to college, find a job, earn money, buy a house, have a family, etc.)?

I have never experienced life as something linear. My experience in life moves in all directions, so I know nothing other than that. Being alive is ecstatic and chaotic with so many forces at play. I sometimes imagine it as a hurricane or a tornado whose energy needs humidity, dryness, coolness, and warmth, all happening at the same time.

Amia Yokoyama, In Our Embrace Eternal, 2021
Porcelain and glaze

The energy that I conjure feels like all those factors. They need to happen to create the core force that pulls things into the center.

“This movement, the tension between the core and the outer winds, is ultimately what gives the tornado its visible form, a form that can build and grow in this energy or dissipate just as easily.”

The idea I am trying to embody might be located at the center – in that stillness in the middle, the eye of the storm – but I may never arrive there. And if I do, it might only be moments before I am thrown back out again into the chaos of the surrounding energies at play.   

Amia Yokoyama, Biding Time For Enrapt Demise, 2021

You have mentioned that when it comes to your art, you are not interested in judgment and relation. Could you elaborate more on that?

I believe you mean that I am interested in relation. Judgment is arrival, a fixed point, a decision, something definitive. Whereas relation is something that is more wayward and present, something interstitial. For me, that is the intriguing part.

Amia Yokoyama, Deliquesced in the Valley of Heaven, 2021
Porcelain and glaze

A sense of femininity and feminine prowess is present in your sculptures. The softness and hardness of the edges complement, an overview of Yin and Yang. How do these concepts influence your life as an individual? What other themes do you convey in your sculptures?

With clay, there is a loud and constant negotiation between permanence and impermanence, fragility and strength. There are moments of transformation that happen throughout the process, when earth and water come together, when the air hits the water, and when the fire hits the earth. This flow between states of matter or the shapeshifting of material identities is something I feel connected with.

With my video and animation practice, it swings between dimensions, materializing and dematerializing from 3D to 2D space, back into 3D, sliding into 2D again, and back and forth.So much of my existence resonates with this multi-dimensional translation. When these various modes of existence play out at the same time, and this back-and-forth is engaged, there is an illusory or almost binaural experience where the mind simulates something that is obviously not there in a physical sense.

“This is the space where the alternative forms of being are born. This is the place I seek.”

Amia Yokoyama, Harbinger (Tengu), 2022

“I am interested in another layer of existence which is the dematerialized, the digital, and the fragmented projections of the self.”

The characters in my work come from notions of digitally rendered, animated, non-human figures bearing feminine shapes. They are Anime-inspired erotic and aesthetic objects that can traverse existence between the physical (clay) to the digital (dematerialized).

Anime is one of the most visually distinctive, largest exported and consumed contemporary media from East Asia. They embody borderless beings who increase their collective life force through rhizomatic reproduction. They are an amalgamation of bodies, fluid, and overflowing desire and excess.

“The portion of their bodies seduces by promising ecstasy and ultimately death.”

They are literal and abstracted in their philosophical underpinnings and poetic in their materiality.

Going through your video installations, your works engage the meeting between utopia and dystopia. How do you conceive these realms? Are they based on personal or external experiences?

I would say they are based on both my internal and external experience and perhaps even more so where those distinctions begin to overlap. I do not think of the concepts of dystopia or utopia when I am conceiving of these realms. I think of them more as personal mythology.

“Utopia connotes perfection, and perfection has no place here. Dystopia connotes something harmful or undesirable.”

That being said, I do like the literal translation of utopia – “no place” – as if it were a space of refusal.

Amia Yokoyama, Measure Wants the Seam, 2021
Porcelain and glaze

How is your artistic world unfolding these days? Is there anything missing that you want to look for? Also, how would you like your art to influence the world?

There is always something missing, always something I am looking for, always more to uncover, which is why I keep making. I like to keep the carrot on the string and the garden growing within the trampled ground beneath me, you know?


Sculptures · Courtesy of Amia Yokoyama and Sebastian Gladstone

Bianca Fields

Bianca Fields, Got something for You, 2022

“What inspires me to create at this time is finding a way to articulate the nature of noise in America;”

Bianca Fields (born 1995, Cleveland, Ohio) is a contemporary artist, currently based in Kansas City, Missouri. Fields is one to watch in the contemporary at world scene as she strikes with her highly charged paintings. NR had the pleasure of conversing with Fields, delving further into the influences behind her deeply-emotional body of work, the process supporting her craft as well as her future endeavours in Seoul and London. 

When did you start creating? When did you realise this was something you wanted to purse? 

I have always been musically inclined, since about 6 years old. Once I learned the transcendental process of painting/mixing colours in high school, I  became interested in painting — practically obsessed. I never had the intention of pursuing it as my career. I started off at a community college with high hopes of weakening this idea of pursing art, but shortly after was confronted by my painting professor, saying “he suggest I not come back next semester,” following that I should apply to the Cleveland Institute of Art, using the computers on the floor above us. 

You are originally from Cleveland, Ohio but moved to Kansas, Missouri after graduating in painting at the Cleveland Institute of Art College in 2019. Why the relocation and how does your background inform your practice? 

I met my partner who is also native to Cleveland, in art school. He is also an artist; a product designer. Prior to me graduating, he moved around a bit with designer jobs. By the time I received my BFA, he had settled at Garmin International in Kansas City. I love the midwest. Being from the midwest and living even closer to the center of America is very odd. It’s also very wholesome. The culture is like a big bowl of warm, wholesome soup. I spent a lot of time in art school hanging out with my friends who didn’t attend art school. I still would consider them some of the most creative, complex and innovative artists i have ever met. Because I’ve spent the vast majority of the pandemic in Kansas city, I’d still consider it an offbeat, yet fulfilling journey. I think it has forced me to turn within a bit in my work — it’s become a bit more introspective. 

Bianca Fields, I told you, you wasn’t gone b in the mood, 2022

One thing that is striking at first sight in your artworks is their powerful yet youthful energy within the colours, lines, text and texture. How did you discover and fine tune your craft?

As a young girl, I spent countless hours watching the American Animated TV show, Tom and Jerry. “Tom,” the fictional character from Tom and Jerry, has become a protagonist in my work that contribute to this series of highly charged paintings.

“I always think about how his character was limited to words, practically mute. It remained up to me as a viewer, as a young girl, to put sound, color and imagination in order to make sense of this anxiety-inducing show.”

What was the first piece of art you saw that left an impression on you?

The works of Allison Shulnik. It seemed like something funny or absurd to do, but when I found myself working in this fashion, I couldn’t imagine painting in any other way. 

Although your body of work bursts with vibrant colours and is almost cartoon-ish (with ‘Soul Tap’, ‘Rejected Rep’) I find myself exposed to artworks presenting a deep palette of emotions. It may also be because of a certain way I feel in this present moment whilst looking at your artworks, but there is a particular mirror effect to them. As the artist, how is your relationship with your work? 

I refer to a vast majority of the 36” x 24,” (medium to small sized pieces) as my “Mirror” pieces. These paintings particularly recall being a 6 year old girl and simultaneously looking at/through myself. The copper-chrome works are also that of my complexion — bringing damage, curiosity and vulnerability into the indestructible space that holds my world of paintings together. It also brings the metaphysical power and urge to come closer to the glistening; unusual but captivating. An overwhelming presence that I often experience as a black female artist. 

I also like to think of the palettes for my paintings as a subconscious strive for a “bruise” quality. bruises are beautiful, but I find it very frustrating to replicate the palette in an almost artificial way; challenging this idea with electrifying colors. I will always take risks in my palette and will continue to fearlessly allow the decayed rotten colors to seep through the cracks of the work. 

Would you consider your pieces therapeutic? How do you engage with your work and vice versa?

“Even though these works may appear as haywire or almost deafening, I experienced a paradoxical state of extreme silence and fragility when creating these paintings.”

The thick, obliterated rendering of the mouths of these yelping creatures are slow and silent. Working in a more (expressionistic/intuitive fashion) the mouths are where I slow down the process of rendering. ‘Pressed out like Peanut Butter’ and ‘Smeary Eyed’ were made pretty close in time to each other. I think this is when I started examining the process of what the depiction of the yelping mouths meant to me. I started to see them as portraits of myself; laying within the screams of these creatures.

“I started to feel like I could truly see myself during that era of making. “

Bianca Fields, Hold My Purse, 2022

You have also done some sculpture work such as ’Five and Below’, in foam, resin and papier maché, with a weaving comb on top. It reminds me of how the afro comb was worn in the hair as a symbol of union against oppression during the Civil Rights Movement. Was it something you had in mind when creating this piece? Could you talk about its significance? 

This idea certainly came to mind. I very much view this specific character within the realm of my work, as a caricature/symbol of black femininity. Pairing this sculpture work with the painting, “rejected rep,” had me thinking about the representation of the athletic black female body and the process of stripping femininity away. I consider myself a very active person who works out on a daily basis. Adding elements like the comb and wig feel like “ornaments” to the subject; signifiers of non conformity.

What is your favorite part of your practice?

I would probably say when i reach the end of the painting; where i start to slow down. There is a lot of chaotic, fast mark making in the process of making these works, but I think the viewer is actually left with more of my slowed down, brutal process of covering it all up. I will usually take a large brush and completely close the subject in with thick walls of paint. I will also take whatever leftover paint on my palette, scrape it into one large wad, and intricately place it somewhere inside the work.

The theme of this issue is IN OUR WORLD. What is it in our world that inspire you to create? Who/What are your influences? 

I think what inspires me to create at this time is finding a way to articulate the nature of noise in America; essentially operating in a regimented social environment.

“The tropes of the internet world also inspire me and affect the way that I see/process. I find it a challenge to think about the spaces between language, images and culture— and where representation of the black female body fits in between.”

I’ve recently started to reread Julia Kristeva’s essay on abjection, ‘Powers of Horror.’ The last time I’ve thoroughly read it was in undergrad. Her writings inspire me to unpack a bit of tension that I’ve yet to bring to the surface in my work. Actualizing different pieces and part of my body that I have once neglected. It also helps me compartmentalise my symbolic realm of thought when making these paintings. In other terms, things that are very close and fragile to me. 

You have had your first solo exhibition with Steve Turner, Los Angeles. What did this mean to you and what can we expect from you in the forthcoming months?

It has been a pleasure working with Steve Turner; they truly have great trust and faith in my visions and processes. We have such a great system. The turnout of my most recent solo show has me super eager to flesh out further ideas within this realm. Next I have untitled art fair Miami (Steve Turner), KIAF art fair Seoul, Korea (Steve Turner), and Frieze London (Carl Freedman gallery) . 


Artworks · Courtesy of Bianca Fields and Steve Turner LA

Veronica Fernandez

Veronica Fernandez, Before I’ve Existed, Now I’ve Lived

Collective intimacy  and the impermanence of emotions

Veronica Fernandez (b. 1998) is a mixed media artist from New Jersey, who is currently working in Los Angeles, California. 

Fernandez’s work investigates relationships between people and their environments: drawing from her own memories, she attempts to illustrate the complexities of domestic life, giving space to intimate moments of the everyday. Pulling from a variety of source material – from images of family members taken from photo albums to art historical references – Fernandez blurs personal recollections into emotive scenes that evoke a shared nostalgia, or a sense of  colelctive recognition. She purposely reworks aspects that feel familiar into unfamiliar territory, taking what is hers and morphing it to better relate to a general consciousness. Drawing attention to the impermanence of emotions, Fernandez imbues her work with a sense of unfinishedness, allowing the narratives to remain open-ended for the viewer to make their own. This sharing of experience allows her to speak to a community and discuss our foundations as human beings: where we come from, what shapes us, and how we interact with one another. 

Veronica Fernandez, Trustfall

If you had to describe your body of work and what drives you to paint, what would you say?

“My body of work I would say is a form of storytelling about people and the places their bodies live through, depicting the impermanence of emotions.”

My initial drive to paint came from unpacking my own experiences growing up and spiraled really into these conversations about the human experience and how we adapt to change and the different moments in our lives, in the attempt to capture a fragment of intimacy and explore how it engages with others.

When looking at your work from a first glance two things hit immediately: size and color. Going back to this idea of intimacy and its actual space, could you tell me whether there is a link between the size of your works and this concept of entering one’s world?

I have always been in love with large scales. I started working on large scales in my New Jersey bedroom in 2019, testing wether I could transpose smaller sketches into larger surfaces. The intimacy that comes with a larger piece is different as opposed to when I work on my sketches and smaller pieces, which serve more as a form of  personal release, like a page in a diary.

“My larger paintings deliver a sense of intimacy, of acceptance, that I feel absorbs people, almost as if it were a portal.”

Space is something that I never had growing up, it was never something set in stone, so for me, it was exciting to create art that could take up actual space when I finally had a little to take advantage of. I want others to become absorbed in these works about people that want to be heard, understood, and seen, so they can also see themselves and feel to some extent that they’re taking up space too.

Take me through your working process: how do you select a moment in time that you want to depict? Does it always start from a family album or is it also a moment you experienced, or the impression of someone you recently met?

My paintings primarily stem from my experiences, then most of the time I’ll find which photographs I think work best that I can deconstruct or pull from. When I think about starting a painting, there’s usually an essence, a general sense I want it to have,  which then drives me to search for poses, gestures, facial expressions, colors, shapes, or objects from my references. The paintings usually consist of the combination of a few photographs (around 4-5), which shape the ground for a new sketch. It’s not until I get into the actual canvas that I can step back and see how to truly alter the first draft. As I work on different layers I usually incorporate different moments in time that I think will really bring a special element to the painting or change the original direction for the better.

Veronica Fernandez, Watch A Leader Cry

The only moment where my process is more directly linked to a physical photographs is when I find a picture that I think is absolutely stunning, whether it be the colors within the image, the facial expressions or the composition. Then I start from that singular element and work around it.

The role of memory and recollection is thus pivotal to your work. How is your relationship with the past, and how do you transform it to something you engage with in the present?

Throughout my work process, I try to alter the familiar into unfamiliar territory. To create the works, I do reflect on my own experiences and engage with my personal memories, captured in photographs. The final idea I work with comes from stripping down these photographs and really reconstructing them and see what they transform into in the final imagery on canvas. When I work with my personal reference material and find myself altering the original picture  I feel like I can see it at a distance and really step back and comprehend it.

“What once was a memory from my past can become a person from that memory in a new environment, with a new expression or new overall depiction, possibly surrounded by new figures I’ve created.”

The original story becomes thus a new idea that can be universally absorbed. On a formal level, I love using color, texture, and other techniques to bring a new contemporary palette to the soft pastel undertones of the older photographs I have.

I have noticed that the subject matter in many of your works are children. In relation to what you talked about before, the impermanence of emotions, do you think that childhood is key in this research towards change and possibility? Because youth is change in its purest form I guess – the openness to the future in both temporal and conceptual ways.

Children are definitely representative of openness to the future and have this kind of unpredictability hovering over them in relation to what can become of them in my work. The early years of our lives shape who we become. This sort of tabula rasa at one point everyone starts off with that slowly but shortly accumulates all these perceptions is very interesting to me. Everyone has their own specific stories, experiences, struggles, wins, losses, and even when we are too young to fully grasp the totality of every situation, we still feel and live through them. 

“This whirlwind of emotions that come from the earliest point of our lives really tie into how human beings can adapt to their experiences later on in their lives, and reflect the layers that make up each and everyone.”

The child’s mind creates that first layer, and I think that incorporating them in my works  llows me to play with these innate curiosities human beings have and how they navigate themselves in the world over time.

Titles are always very specific in your paintings. Contrary to many contemporary artists, you always seem to describe a work with precise accuracy of words. Could you tell me more about this particular attention?

The titles of the pieces stem from many places, sometimes I’ll hear my family members say phrases as forms of life lessons that I think are special, and I’ll remember them and think about how I can alter them to make them stronger, more accurate. Recently I’ve gotten into poetry, and will take a line or two I think can really stand on their own and apply it to paintings that I am already planning on making.

I think it’s important to utilize everything I can to get closer to the viewer, I want people who see my work to be able to envision themselves in it and allow it to touch them in some way or another. I think it’s interesting that very often titles are left out in gallery displays, and sometimes it isnt until you get the information written somewhere else that you can see another side to the work. I want people to be able to experience my work right away, not simply through just a title, but through what the title is to me, which is in fact poetry. I think this purposefulness can be a tool I can offer them as a chance to express that as an artist I am trying to have a conversation about people, and I am actively reaching out beyond the image.

Veronica Fernandez, Superheroes

Talking about the viewer and ways to reach put to him/her,  in which way do you try to combine the autobiographical source in your works with the outside world, in the attempt to leave space to the audience’s own gaze?

Sometimes the stories are represented through the imagery, and other times the painting evokes just the underlying emotions that come from those experiences, even though the actual source is not as recognizable. The figures in my work are depicted in different ways, some are more realistically rendered, others are recreated in odd colors, like full red, or many are altered to be irrecognizable through painterly gesture.

“Altering the identity of the figures helps me to create the distance from it that is so pivotal to its reconstruction, enough for me to continue it as anew.”

I also throw in a lot of made up elements into the paintings, to the point where the original ideas that inspired the painting become just a starting point, a vague compass, leaving the openness necessary for the viewer to incorporate his/her own elements into the story. 

Veronica Fernandez, Through Steam (Lay Your Burdens Down)

In relation to the magazine’s theme –in our world – how do you think your work translates the sense of being in this time – from this current sociopolitical climate to this specific creative dimension?

We live in a strange world, where so many people feel that they are not being seen, heard, and overall understood. As I mentioned before, many of the figures in my work are asking to be understood or acknowledged in their positions too.

“I try to create an opportunity for compassion, curiosity and most importantly for conversation.”

Regardless of the way the paintings are received, I always try to make them accessible, to leave space for the other, to aknowledge the viewer and telling him/her that they are welcome, and their experiences matter.


Artworks · Courtesy of Veronica Fernandez

George Rouy

Abstraction and distortion in art come out intuitively to George Rouy along with human emotions and relationships

In his earlier artworks, George Rouy would paint elongated facial features for the wide bodies of his subjects. He would stretch the figures on the canvas through his strokes, and at times, have them sit or stand side-by-side as if conversing.

Then, around 2021, a shift took place.

Gone are the visible features of the face, replaced by intentional marks and lines guided by the haze of the moment, his creative spirit being summoned to life. Smudges of paint brush against a mosaic of splatters. Flecks of color shower dedicated spaces on the canvas. The figures still appear visible, yet invisible at the same time. They might be tall or short. Their genders, androgynous. They are colliding, manipulating the viewers first, then they sync, re-arranging themselves like puzzle pieces and letting their viewers know everything falls into place in the end. Rouy, an aficionado of abstraction, has transitioned, and he is introducing an evolution of his artistic practice.

The bodies in Rouy’s artworks evoke an innate sense of connectivity and transcendence. They trespass the realms of the physical and the beyond, almost anchoring an indescribable reason they visually came into sight in the first place. They might be five different characters Rouy brewed in his mind, but they could also be an individual with five versions of themselves. Deciphering the intention of Rouy’s paintings depends on the viewers, but the artist creates a two-way channel in his works. For every painting the viewers see, Rouy seems to ask them to trust him with their deep-seated thoughts, emotions, and fears and let him paint them through his style. For every painting he creates, Rouy stirs human sensations until he delivers.

NR wants to learn more about the psychedelic nature of Rouy’s works and mind, the desire that powers the artist to pick up his brush and lose himself in the moment of painting. When we caught up with the artist, he was in the middle of finishing some artworks for his next show. He would be flying out of the UK in the next couple of days, leaving the 12 paintings he was working on simultaneously for a while inside his studio in Kent, London. At one point, Rouy tells us he paints intuitively. He scraps off planning and gears toward illustrating what feeds his mind, whether based on his experiences or observations. Somehow, themes of interactive relationships, self-growth, therapy, and psychology bubble up and simmer in his paintings. These nuances might be implied, but one can see how they linger in Rouy’s works, drawing in whoever lays their eyes upon his paintings and locking them in there.

At first, NR wanted to ask Rouy whether he had always wanted to be an artist, then move along wherever the conversation would take us. But even before we asked him the question, Rouy had already let us in on what he would be doing in the next few days. A lot of it involved traveling, ruminating, finding breathing space, and looking at his artworks as he sits or stands before them, idling. The moment he spilled all these thoughts, we shifted our questions, inverted-pyramid style. From the role of energy in his artworks to the culmination of his present style, Rouy talked us through his artistry, influences, and life as an artist, revealing parts of himself that might be under wraps from the public’s eye. 

We started with his travels.

Does consistent traveling affect your creative process? 

I think yes. What I have found over the years of doing this is that I have times of concentration or intense work then a break. I have found that my creative process works a lot better now where I relentlessly paint all the way through before I try to find breathing space. For instance, I have solidly worked for a month now, and I will be taking a few weeks off just to ruminate and process. Then, I will come back and look at my works with fresh eyes. I see what I have done objectively and more since I have taken off some emotions and am now able to see what needs to change or shift. In that respect, traveling works well. 

I also often find myself preparing for a show, so it is good to have the works just sitting in the studio for quite a while, just to live with them. They can breathe and have their own life without me working relentlessly on them all the time.  

What is your breathing space? Do you intentionally create your own breathing space, or do you just do random activities? 

Walking, for instance, on a day-to-day basis is breathing space. Strolling in the countryside is a great way for me to process parts of the day, especially in the summertime. I find it harder to find my breathing space in winter because of the lack of light – it is always dark when I leave the studio – but I love to think of other ways to take some time off. Currently, I am between here (Kent) and Paris.

In Paris, I work more on the computer, study my art, and think about where the series is at. I was there a month ago looking at the paintings I already had in the studio, took photographs of them, then looked at them through Photoshop, just to process everything in a different way. Then, I am just actively looking at my works, and I think it is important. The act of looking also takes up time since my paintings become jigsaw puzzles, and I try to work out the next parts. Sometimes, it just does not quite click at the moment, so I let it simmer for a while before looking at it again. 

I have come to a point where I need to take some time off and come back to the studio once I feel rested because I get so caught up in the energy.

“I think painting is about having and regaining this energy and preserving the excitement, impulse, movement, vibrance, and emotions, especially because the works become a lot more abstract in areas.”

These works also need a sense of clarity, so I am trying to find and maintain that as much as I can. When I have a few to 12 paintings at the same time in my studio, I often jump from one artwork to another, so the energy gets transferred quite easily. I am conscious that when I quickly shift, things stagnate, or when I work on one painting for too long, something sucks the magic out of the artwork. It loses the spell it once had. 

Since you put it in this way, does painting ever get overwhelming for you? 

There is this idea that you have higher expectations of yourself at times, and you are constantly searching for more discoveries, so you never get quite content with the discoveries that you have already found. I think the overwhelming part is to maintain these high standards of and by self. When you reflect or get to a point when you look at some of the works you did that you felt successful, you look back to how you did in the past.

It is not that you are trying to top or match them, but I think this is where it gets overwhelming, when these successes are not happening now. When this happens, you push through it – you work through it until things reveal themselves.  It is like when we plant a seed, it takes time before the plant fully grows. 

I notice that some of the facial features of your subjects are blurred. Is that intentional? 

The faces anchor the work and the composition. They can also be a distraction that ultimately defines the work – it is about having the right amount of purpose to them. I am into abstraction, and the blurred faces break emotions and sensations by delivering physical marks in the painting. When I start to apply them, I begin to see that everything becomes emphasized while they also contradict each other. The face is about having blurred moments of life, and having these pushed out in distorted ways allow the works to have the same breadth. 

Sometimes, it is hard to explain. They just have an energy about them and a certain feel that is not of this earth – it is not from here. It is not even photographic. There is a clear distinction between these faces when they appear right, but when they do not, there is this balance between the ugly and the beautiful – transcendence and out of this world. These days, I am more into computer-generated faces or AI and the historical representation of a figure within a sculpture. Here, I can distort the face, making them heightened versions of humans. I also think about the idea of distortion or blurring as something that is not quick, but a time-based movement that links with the rest of the marks in the painting. They turn out to have the same amount of flow and energy.  

Would you say then that your paintings are energy-based? 

Not entirely energy-based, but they have an awareness of the physical in terms of their anatomy, time, and movement. So, the act of distortion can be hidden – you cannot quite tell how long strokes took or where the moment began. Other things can be visible such as the dancing figures in some paintings. 

I notice that you often use lush or dark colors for your paintings. Do you resonate well with the dark palette or do you have any intentions in the near future to shift to bright tones? 

Some of them have become brighter, but gray still is important in my work in terms of it sitting between the realms of dark and light and how it can emphasize contrast and complement well with the shades I use. I also like how gray can have different hues like pink gray or greenish gray.

I also notice that you have a lot of bodies on your canvas. How did you arrive at this point that you wanted to turn bodies into the subjects of your art?

It is an uplifting movement for me to have these bodies in my work a sense of connectivity and purpose – of flow, movement, and rhythm. I would say I am someone who has been into exploring figurative painting and how to achieve a painting that has multiple figures in it without giving a headache. I think about the figures as organisms who could be versions of themselves. There could be two people but split up into five figures. It is less about a collective, but a depiction of those you know in a space or non-space.

On the other hand, their meaning depends on how the viewers perceive them. Sometimes, the viewers place themselves in the realm that I created. Other times, they deem my paintings as romantic and soft. There is always an underlying intention to these figures and how they interact. Then, there is also this feeling of morphing, a shaping of an internal representation, of one’s psyche or being, and I think these are massively involved in my works. We are living in this life full of intricacies as an individual and as a collective, and I am thinking about these internal pressures, whether that is beauty, ego, or something else. Similar to how we show other people love or compassion, we have these intricacies that form part of who we are.

I did a painting last year called Shit Mirror (2021), and it was on how you can perceive yourself one day and have a good feeling about yourself then the next day, you have a completely different representation or idea of yourself. It is erratic when it comes to the human mind, and I try to represent it with marks, movement, and contradictions because ultimately, nothing is static. I think we live in a world where maybe we have the ideas of what and who we are, those that we think are set in stone or in one journey, then we realize they are endlessly moving.

In this matter, do you think psychology and the study of self are two of the many factors that have helped you develop or pursue your style today?

I have gone through a large amount of therapy and have to dig deep into parts of my own self-growth that there have been a lot of things I have had to tap into with myself that naturally comes out in the work I do today. I have always had this keen interest in these features of my experiences, and being able to express some of them, even hint at or allow them to just be present there, feels resonating.

I think you sometimes get forced into doing a lot of self-growth. In my case, there has been a lot of digging into internal beliefs, both rational and irrational, and they appear over time or I generate them. Then, they distort the sense of self and what is my reality in relation to other things. I have dug deep into layers of my deep-seated fears too, and I think when we start to embrace and understand these, we allow ourselves to push deeper into those areas of our mind and sensation.

Do you have any other sources of influences? 

My work is so intuitive. I can go away and experience experiences, but the ideas that I have just sit in the periphery and do not fully sit in. It is not like I am going to do a painting about this or that, no. It all just comes out in an intuitive way. Also, being around other people and having interactive relationships are important too. I often spend time on my own, painting figures. From there, I have these two extremes where I spend so much time on my own – I also live on my own – and doing these paintings about figures of human interactions and about human sensations. All of them are intense experiences to live through which then can be parts of my influences.

Have you always wanted to be an artist, then?

Absolutely. Being an artist and painting have always been my natural ways to communicate. They have never felt like a struggle. School was hard for me since it was difficult express myself through drawing and art even though they felt natural to me.

“I have always wanted to be an artist, but it was challenging to tell that to my teachers because one needs to understand how to be and what it is to be an artist to fully understand the life of it.”

It has been a huge process, overall, and I am very lucky to be doing this.

Do you have any artistic rituals before you paint?

Yes, I have got rituals. I do some exercise in the morning and in the evening. Then, I go for a walk after painting in the studio (if there is light outside). I make sure I do not work overtime. Then, I have a bath every night because I am normally covered in paint, so having a bath every night is a moment – my moment. So, not many rituals, I think.

How do your immediate surroundings influence your artistic practice today?

Living on my own, going at my own pace with everything, and not being in London were massive shifts in how I operate. There is a lot more consideration and pace that is not rushed anymore unlike in London where I had always felt urgency. Now, it is more just about looking, taking everything in from my surroundings. The thing is that in London, I would commute to the studio, step inside, and tell myself “I have to paint now.” It was a lot frantic. Whereas here in Kent, I could just come here, do a little bit of painting, and sit and look at them. Sometimes, maybe even not paint and just look at them. This is where the surrounding influences come in.


Talent · George Rouy
Photography · Markn and Brigita Žižytė
Fashion · Emma Simmonds
Creative Direction · Jade Removille
Special thanks to Rosie Fitter and Thibault Geffrin at Almine Rech


  1. T shirt Vintage LAURA ASHLEY at LONDON.VINTAGE, paint splattered jeans and shoes George’s own, boxer shorts SUNSPEL and all jewellery George’s own
  2. Vintage YVES SAINT LAURENT wool suit at GASOLINE RAINBOWS, shoes CHURCH’S and jewellery George’s own
  3. Dress, archive GHARANI STROK at THE ARC
  4. Jewellery George’s own
  5. Vintage YVES SAINT LAURENT wool suit trousers at GASOLINE RAINBOWS and belt, shoes and jewellery George’s own
  6. T-shirt in red ribbed jersey, archive HELMUT LANG AW1997 at ENDYMA and classic tailored trousers in polished calfskin, archive HELMUT LANG AW2000 at ENDYMA, crystal drop earrings Stylist’s own, shoes CHURCH’S and all jewellery George’s own
  7. Vintage YVES SAINT LAURENT wool suit trousers at GASOLINE RAINBOWS and belt, shoes and jewellery George’s own
  8. Leather shirt and trousers BOTTEGA VENETA and all jewellery George’s own
  9. T-shirt in red ribbed jersey, archive HELMUT LANG AW1997 at ENDYMA and crystal drop earrings Stylist’s own
  10. Archive HELMUT LANG SS 2004 cut out Nipple tank at ENDYMA, Archive HELMUT LANG 1998 Painter Jeans at NDWC0 Archive, Paint splattered shoes and jewellery George’s own
  11. Black wool suit BOTTEGA VENETA
  12. Archive JUNYA WATANABE, SS 2002, Poem shirt at NDWC0 Archive. Black jersey strappy top, archive ALEXANDER MCQUEEN SS2002 ‘Dance of the Twisted Bull’ at THE ARC, classic tailored trousers in polished calfskin, archive HELMUT LANG AW2000 at ENDYMA, shoes CHURCH’S and all jewellery George’s own.
  13. Vintage YVES SAINT LAURENT wool suit trousers at GASOLINE RAINBOWS and belt, shoes and jewellery George’s own

Andres Serrano

Andres Serrano, Pieta (Early Works 1984-1987)

The transgressive art of Andres Serrano, an introspective window into the past that continues to feed our present 

Andres Serrano (born 1950 in New York, United States) has been recognised for his thought-provoking photographs and installations. Although the public might mostly recognise his famed Piss Christ, 1987 installation, featuring a small figurine of crucified Christ immersed in the artist’s own urine,  the photographer has created an archive of series reflecting on societal themes ranging from death, religion to torture, racism and more. The scenes and subjects of Serrano’s painting-like photographs provoke the mind exactly like one would hope art does. Trained in sculpture and painting at the Brooklyn Museum Art school and inspired by Baroque and Italian Renaissance art, rituals and religious iconography infused by his Roman catholic upbringing, Serrano’s transgressive art is timeless. Representing the destitute and the marginalised (Residents of New York, 2014), sharing an  authentic and personal take on Cuba (Cuba, 2012), portraying one of the most infamous leader of our generation (The Game: All Things Trump, 2018-2019) are only a few of the many themes and subjects Serrano explore. No matter the matter, Serrano manages to bring its beauty and inherent peace to the surface as the subject takes precedence in his work. There is a confrontational aspect to Serrano’s body of work and that is the success of his challenging work. Serving as a tool for introspection and engaging the viewer to see what it is not easy to view, Serrano’s art is an invite to reflect and not perpetuate the horrors of the past that continue to feed our present. 

Andres, it is an honour to interview you. I have discovered your work  a few years ago and have been fascinated ever since. Thank you very much for taking the time to participate, I am delighted to have you as part of this issue. I would like to start from the beginning.  I was watching an interview with photographer Joel Meyerowitz (How I Make Photographs: Joel Meyerowitz in conversation with Amanda Hajjar) and he was reflecting on a life changing moment that made him see a realm of possibilities in front of his eyes: being on set with the great Robert Frank, in New York. Have you had an event like this, that changed the course of your life or initiated the beginning of your career? 

I’ve had a few life changing moments, some good, some not. The problem with those moments is that you don’t always realize how profoundly they can affect you when they’re occurring. I used to see my life as a fast train not making any stops.

“The journey was more important than the destination. When you look back, you can’t say, “I should have done things different.” If you could, you would have, but you didn’t. I’ve fucked up more than once but I’m still here.”

There was one pivotal moment: when the Beatles came to America. I was 13. They were followed by the Rolling Stones and everyone else. Soon after that I discovered Bob Dylan and I was set for life.

You were born in New York, grew up as an only child raised by your mother. Your mother was born in Key West, Florida, was raised in Cuba and thus only spoke Spanish that you then had to learn at a young age. How did these different cultural identities impact you? 

The good thing is that I had to learn Spanish at an early age. The bad thing was that I didn’t like my mother. We fought all the time. But that was also a good thing because she was tough so I had to be tougher. The only cultural identity problem I had was when Castro came into power and a kid in the fifth grade discovered my mother had been raised in Cuba. After that, the little prick would tease me by calling me “Castro” or “Cuban.” It would piss me off and also embarrass me. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 was a big deal and no one wanted to be called “Castro” or “Cuban.” 

Andres Serrano, Bedroom with Jesus (Cuba 2012)

60 years later you would think that kind of stigma wouldn’t matter but apparently it does. America still acts like Castro and Cuba are its biggest enemies. It’s easier to pick on someone you don’t need or fear than to stand up to the real strongmen. 

When President Biden went to Saudi Arabia he went for oil, not to confront the Crown Prince about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. And when he tried to bring it up the Crown Prince responded by telling him America wasn’t so clean either. What’s Biden going to say to that? “You’re wrong, we don’t kill innocent people or put children in cages.”

Andres Serrano, Magdalena, 2011 Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels

I tell you what impacted me more than anything else. As a child growing up, my mother had several schizophrenic episodes. She would be fine for two or three years then she would have a nervous breakdown that would last a couple of weeks before she returned to normal. I was always trying to figure out what was going on in her head during those periods. It taught me to read people, to get a sense of what they were thinking and feeling.

Some people are obvious. They are what they appear to be. I would always shake my head when the political pundits on television would spend so much time trying to figure out what Donald Trump meant by the things he said. Trump is transparent. He means exactly what he says.

What was it like to travel there and discover it, later on, as an artist for Cuba, 2012 (exhibited in Brussels, 2014)?

I loved your documentation of the interiors of the houses and the portraits specially of the women. Did you feel attached to Cuba?

I loved Cuba when I finally went. I waited my whole life to go. I don’t like to travel except for work. I needed a reason to go to Cuba and the reason came when Jorge Fernandez invited me to the Havana Biennial. Actually, I think I asked him to ask me. I participated and at the same time I went to do some work. I felt very much at home there. I feel at home whenever I go somewhere to work. 

Andres Serrano, Cuba, 2012

The Cubans were very welcoming and I had a blast working day and night. Work, especially when it’s your work, gives you tremendous energy. I had my wife, Irina, my assistant from New York, some friends and comrades and a driver that drove us in a large SUV from one end of Cuba to the other. Talk about a great road trip! What I like best is driving in the middle of the night not knowing what you’re going to find. I don’t drive but I like being on the road, especially at night. 

Andres Serrano, Cuba, 2012

The people are amazing! Cubans speak Spanish in a very precise way. They enunciate their words clearly. Once, in Havana, I saw a large stack of bread in a bakery that I wanted to photograph. I use lights and need time to set up for a shoot so I decided to go back the next day to photograph the bread. But the next day the bread was gone. They explained that the bread arrives early and would start selling immediately. So I bought all the bread in advance that was coming the following day. The next day, after I got to the bakery and took my picture, I told them, “Ok, now you can sell the bread again.”

I never talk much about myself in terms of ethnicity because it’s not important. All you need to know is that I was born and raised in New York City. But there are always people who like to get into your background, like it’s meaningful or the most important thing they can say about you. If you’re Black or White in America they don’t question you, but if you’re in a category that’s not easy for them to define, they try to define you anyway. My mother was born in America. I was born in America but they still want to place you somewhere else. I remember when we got back from Cuba I was telling someone about the trip. A couple of minutes into the conversation they say to me, “So what was it like going back to Cuba?” and I’m thinking, “Motherfucker, didn’t I just tell you I had never been to Cuba!”

“I don’t like to be called a photographer, but I have been called worst things.” At 17 years old, you studied painting and sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum art school. That background in painting can really be seen through your photography with the descriptiveness of the titles, the colours and the texture of the photographs. Why did you engage with photography as your preferred medium?

After two years at the Brooklyn Museum my scholarship ended and I didn’t have a studio to paint or sculpt. But I lived with a girl named Millie and she had a camera so I started taking pictures with Millie’s camera. I always knew I wasn’t a photographer but an artist who chose to take pictures as his art practice. I never went into a darkroom or printed my photographs (I still use film.) Photography has been a means to an end and that end has been to create art. I’ve always said I learned everything I know about art from Marcel Duchamp who taught me that anything, including a photograph, could be a work of art.

When I was in my twenties during the Seventies I wound up in the East Village taking and selling drugs. It was a period when I stopped taking pictures because I was not an artist at that point but a drug addict. 

Andres Serrano, Blood Cross, 1985 Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels.

I can’t say it was a bad time because I was having a good time. But it stopped being a good time when the people around me started dying and I knew it was time for me to leave. If I had gone from the Brooklyn Museum Art School to being an artist I probably would have been a different artist although I can’t imagine how. Everything is going to have an impact on you one way or another but you might stay the same. 

Andres Serrano, Caged Meat, 1987
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels.

The 1980s in New York, what did this mean as an artist in terms of starting out, getting recognised by galleries, having shows etc? How is it now?

The 1980s in New York was an exciting time for me. I met and married my first wife, Julie Ault, in 1980 and got back into art shortly after that. Julie had just formed an artist collective called Group Material along with Tim Rollins, her friend from Maine. Group Material was a group of several artists who mounted group exhibitions of other artists’ work that addressed social and cultural issues such as AIDS, consumerism and democracy. I was never a member of Group Member. Julie was doing her thing and I was doing mine, but it was through Julie that I became aware of what some artists were doing. I met some great artists like Leon Golub and Nancy Spero who were always super nice. They were very encouraging to other artists. 

It was Julie, who, upon meeting Felix Gonzales-Torres invited Felix to join the group. Felix didn’t need Group Material to make it but Julie recognized his talent early. Back then I wasn’t thinking about the art world, I was just doing my work. Julie and I lived on East 10 St. and when the art scene moved to the East Village several galleries, including Jay Gorney Gallery and P.P.O.W., came to our block. Interestingly, art, punk, graffiti, new wave music and street culture all came together in the East Village. Even the Post-Modernists were there. The first time I saw Jeff Koons work was at International With Monument on East 7 St. where Jeff showed his basketballs in water.

Andres Serrano, St. Clotilde II, Paris 1991
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels

The Eighties were also important for me for another reason. It was when rap and hip-hop appeared. The first time I heard Rapper’s Delight I knew it was something. I spent the whole decade listening to and collecting rap records. Music has always moved me more than art. Art does not touch me in the same way music does and rap was riveting.

Julie and I separated after ten years. I spent the Nineties going to clubs and listening to dance and house music at night and creating pieces during the day. 

Things are different now. People come out of art school knowing what galleries they want to get into. There’s Instagram and social media. I’m not on social media. I still use a flip phone. If it wasn’t for Irina, 

I wouldn’t have any idea of what’s happening in the art world. I still don’t. I think art and culture is now defined by algorithms.

Controversy and provocation play a huge part in your work. Was that something intentional?

With Piss Christ,1987 for instance although some viewers may see it as a blasphemy, it is important to note the attention brought to the act of crucifixion and thus dying. As Sister Wendy says in an interview :’An abuse shouldn’t take away its use’ (‘Sister Wendy in Conversation With Bill Moyers’ 1997). As a religious person, how does your faith interact with your art?

I’ve always thought that being an artist was the least controversial thing I’ve done. My life has been much more intense than my work. I remember when I first heard Dylan sing “And if my thought-dreams could be seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine, but it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only,” and I thought, “That’s ridiculous. How could anyone get mad at you over what you’re thinking?”

Andres Serrano, Piss Christ, 1987
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris

I was born and raised a Catholic and have been a Christian all my life but who cares? Certainly not the people who label you “anti- Christian and blasphemous.” There are people who think only they know what it means to be a Christian. You can’t talk to these people because they’re convinced that only they know the answer. It must feel good to tell other people how to live their lives. Personally, I don’t have that luxury or want the responsibility. 

I like what Sister Wendy once said about me in an interview. “Serrano is not a terribly gifted young man but he tries.” I was in my late forties at the time so I was flattered that Sister Wendy called me a “young man.” I also liked when Senator Jesse Helms got up on the Senate floor and said, “Andres Serrano is not an artist. He’s a jerk who’s taunting the American people.”

Piss Christ made me think about the installation of Italian artist Maurizio Catalan, The three hanging kids (Untitled, 2004) that had been taken down almost immediately by the Italian authorities. When asked about the work, Catalan wondered if the real tensions and horrors of contemporary life should not shock us more. The Klan, 1990, Torture, 2015 and Infamous, 2019 are very confronting for instance, to the tainted history of the world. In your eyes which role art should play in society? 

Art should play the role it wants to. It’s not for me to tell the art world what to do or not do. They wouldn’t listen to me anyway. I’ve never been a political or activist artist although there could be some element of that in my work.

“I’d rather let the work speak for itself. My work is a mirror that’s open to interpretation. People see what they want to see.”

Half the people voted for Biden and almost half the people voted for Trump. It’s up to you to decide which side is more fucked up. I never voted in my life until I voted for Obama. Twice. In the last election I didn’t vote for Biden. I voted against Trump. If a tomato had been running for president I would have voted for that tomato.

Theoretically, Democrats talk a good game but often can’t deliver. On a practical level, the Republicans won’t raise your taxes. People try to shame you into voting. As an American you have the right to vote and you have the right not to vote. Even the Supreme Court sometimes says, “Let’s sit this one out.”

Since the theme of this issue is IN OUR WORLD, which themes would you wish to see more tackled in the art world?

The art world is not the real world so it’s hard for me to see how it could tackle anything other than itself. There’s a feeling of sameness in the air, same people, same faces, same chatter, same agenda. It pretends to care and promote inclusivity but that inclusivity only includes the people who fit the demographics they’re looking for. You can’t deviate from the status quo otherwise you’re left out in the cold. 

I left Paula Cooper Gallery in New York in 2008 and since then I’ve been a stranger in my own country. 

Andres Serrano, Denizens of Brussel. Cristo, 2015
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels

I’ve had a great many museum exhibitions in Europe and around the world thanks to Nathalie Obadia and Yvon Lambert. I was even appointed a Chevalier in The Order of Arts and Letters in 2017. 

But I’ve only had one museum exhibition in America and that was in the 90’s. I recently saw Adam Weinberg, Director of The Whitney Museum of American Art, at the Whitney Biennial and told him, “You know I’m an American artist and I’ve never been in the Whitney Biennial. I guess you’re waiting for me to die before you show me.” Adam laughed and said, “We’ll do something long before that.” 

Andres Serrano, Chris Sharma, Rock Climber, 2006
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels

When I was a junkie in the East Village I felt somewhat distant from the people around me. “I am with you but I am not like you.” I still have that feeling. 

Could you talk about your breathtaking series The Morgue, 1992 and those portraits. What was the reason behind the series and how was that experience considering that you were photographing people who had passed away. How was the interaction between them, yourself and the camera?  

The inspiration behind The Morgue series was simple. I wanted to look at death. My interaction or involvement with the dead was as an artist who wants to find that inner peace that comes from an art that gives you spiritual and aesthetic comfort; the thing that brings stillness and tranquility. You could hear a pin drop in my work. It’s a moment frozen in time. When a song is right, when a picture pleases, it makes you feel like everything is right with the world. There’s beauty and grace everywhere, even in death.

With The Morgue, 1992, I think the titles indicating the causes of death in a way engage the viewer to wonder about the personal lives of these people. By this interrogation, it adds texture and life again to the stillness of death. That’s why I dont feel a sense of voyeurism but dignity and beauty. You have mentioned before that you are passing through. Could you delve into that? 

The truth is we’re all passing through going from one thing to another, one place to another. I always title my work in such a way as to describe what you’re looking at. In the case of The Morgue, the cause of death tells you what brought these people to this place and everything I know about them.

“People change and in death they change even more. But the sense of humanity lingers on even after one’s demise.”

It was this essence that I wanted to capture. The soul and spirit of a person cannot be seen but it can be felt.

Could you talk about your collaboration with Supreme and how did that unfold? Which other brands would you be interested in collaborating with?

Supreme came to me and said they wanted to do something with my work. They had ideas and designs for sneakers, sweatpants, sweatshirts, hoodies and a skateboard with my work. It was an easy collaboration. All I had to do was say yes. In 1996, Kirk Hammett and Lars Ulrich from Metallica came to me and asked to use one of my images for a new album they were coming out with called, Load.

They following year they came out with Reload, the follow up to Load and again asked for one of my images. They also made t-shirts and other merchandise with my work. I’m always flattered and open to collaborations of my work with good artists and brands. I’m very proud of Load and Reload and the Supreme collection. 

I’d like to collaborate with Gucci, Dior or Balenciaga. Sometimes the design houses are more cutting edge than the galleries. They know it pays to think outside the box. When people like you, they like what you do and these brands are well liked by their clients. The reason they’re liked is because their goods are well made and of good design. People always look forward to the new collections.

Do you have a favorite piece/body of work that you’ve realised?

I always have my favorites. I used to call them, “masterpieces,” the images from a particular series that stood out for me. There are many such images from The Morgue, The Klan, Immersions…etc.

Andres Serrano, Black Jesus (Immersions 1987-1990)

Piss Christ did not stand out for me until it was controversial and then it became one of my favorites! The favorites usually get a lot of attention. 

Your new series, The Robots, 2022 will be shown this November in Paris at Nathalie Obadia gallery. Could you talk about the series?

The Robots was inspired by NFTs and the Metaverse because before the Metaverse, there were robots. I like working with real things, not reproductions. And when I decided to create portraits of robots I went looking for vintage robots. I bought them on Ebay and other auctions. They’re mostly from the 60’s, and 70’s with a few from the 80’s. Some of them are rare and desirable.

The Robots is about race, childhood, science, science fiction and human nature. The word robot was coined by Karel Capek, and appears in his 1920 play, RUR or Rossum’s Universal Robots. It derives from the Old Church Slavonic word, “rabota,” which means “servitude or forced labor.” There are references to the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, Kaws and Andy Warhol in The Robots, intentionally and unintentionally. 

I did enough work for several exhibitions because as I started making them I realized they could be a book of robots. There are all kinds of robots: Japanese robots, European robots, black robots, white robots, …. Some of my favorite pictures are those of the very simple children’s robots. I love Mickey The Robot, Mr. Rembrandt Robot and Chuckling Charlie The Laughing Robot. All of these will be included in the exhibition at Nathalie Obadia Gallery. 

I once told Leon Golub about a bad review I got in The New York Times. I said to Leon I didn’t want to take it personally but it hurt my feelings. He said to me, “You should take it personal because when they criticize your work, they criticize you.”  Leon was right. I am The Robots!


Artworks · Courtesy of Andres Serrano