Angela Dwyer: “We often assume that all artists are progressive, but unfortunately the political persuasions of artists are pretty much the same as the rest of society”
I have been following Angela Dwyers work since the late 80ies. Her textures, thick layers of paint; rich colors and abstract forms, reminded me of the Native American tapestries, my father had collected and displayed in our house in NYC. It did not surprise me that she named the Maori as an inspiration. The 80ies Berlin art scene in comparison mainly hyped black and white, charcoal minimalism which mirrored the end of the cold war perfectly, but which I found depressing. Angela’s paintings seemed to glow in this darkness, a touch of warmth brought over the ocean from her origins in New Zealand.
Their deep glow survived the fall of the wall and her work developed consistently throughout the decades into a luminous stream of consciousness. Language began appearing in her work; another facet I enjoyed as a spoken word musician and the fact that we obviously shared the same taste in music, meeting each other in clubs and concerts regularly. She was interested in underground musicians and writers such as Nick Cave and William Burroughs, which I admired as well. Over the years words became a prominent part of Angela’s paintings, squeezed at the bottom of a monochrome painted canvas or written in large white letters on black paper. In every form they held a fascinating mystery, an elegant uncertainty or question, which would never fail to catch my attention.
During the pandemic she started showing a series of her abstract drawings on Facebook, accompanied by a sentence or quote by known writers or poets. It was definitely one of the most interesting projects I experienced during the long lonely months and her posts were once more a soft and comforting light radiating through the dark. I am very happy to be speaking to Angela Dwyer here today.
Angela Dwyer: I’ve always done colour studies, colours change how we look at form, and I’d been looking at platonic solids – forms that fit inside spheres. I had taken this geometry for granted, and had assumed that I already understood how it worked. Doing the drawings every day during the lockdown became a ritual, and a discipline. The texts were after-thoughts. I started adding them like an entry into a diary, to allow others to find another way into the geometric drawings, while sharing my own personal projections and associations. I like fragments of texts that are taken out of context because they take on a new meaning when isolated. I choose them when the drawings remind me of something I’ve read, that I find relevant to what I am experiencing now, just differently relevant. It is like during Covid; everything outside looks the same, but it is different.
How would you describe your style in general? It is mainly abstract but you also work with language and sometimes-figurative objects.
The way I approach my work is more like a wolf circling its prey than any strategic concept or style. I work with themes, mostly as abstract thoughts that I try to make concrete. Through a process of sifting, interpretation and distortion or deconstruction, I prepare and research, and play around with all sorts of materials- metal, oil, aquarelle as well as do figurative drawings and texts alike, until the best medium emerges that will bring me closer to my central theme, that itself takes its time to crystallize into a specific thought.
I am an observer, I look, I read, I borrow and steal, I ask questions.
I think that all art is abstraction, whether I’m drawing a classical head or writing large or building an installation. The very act of drawing and painting determines the abstraction, and we all project meanings onto paintings and sculptures with conscious and subconscious associations. I am interested in taking these projections as abstract ideas and translating them into concrete forms.
What motivates and inspires you?
I find beauty in irregularity and the imperfect. I paint in order to learn how to see or to find out how things and abstraction functions .As I develop a work, I try to merge form and content to discover the structural essence defining the material form, but I love slight differentiations of colour, compositional imbalances, blemished uneven surfaces and uncut edges.
I am not judgmental nor am I making statements, I am interested in making art that lingers, moves people and stays with me longer than any idea or finished product.
What do you look for in other art?
Presence. I want a work of art to be greater than the sum of its parts. Presence is what gives art the right to exist in its own right. I am.
How did the pandemic affect your art/ life?
Covid has been a time of general insecurity, and has brought changes to how we interact with each other. It has created the need for our central values to hold strong, while at the same time, a shuffling of priorities is taking place.
I’ve been thinking about the myths of identity having a subjective structural basis: Who are we, when we are left to ourselves? We adapt quickly to new rules, habits and procedures when they are required and necessary, but in so doing we change not only our personal interactions with the outside world, but also how we think about ourselves. Whereas in my previous work, I looked for the abstract way of looking at physical disruptions to human existence like earthquakes or floods, or the construction and layering involved in rebuilding a city on top of its ruins, my work done during Covid has been searching for a more solid representation to understand where we are now, in this one place and at this particular moment in time.
But the real effect of Covid on my life has been that I will not be able to see my sister again.
Are you academically trained?
I’m still learning how to paint, but I’m getting better at it.
I did a year of Art Conservation when I was 17, and there I learned how to do 18th Century watercolours and draw like Rubens. It gave me a healthy respect for technique and also a love of life drawing. But at Art School I was more involved in organizing campaigns against Apartheid and protesting cuts to education. It was also the height of Happenings and Performance Art, and Punk was new, and seemed much more interesting, I was pretty much left to my own devices, until I came across books about the Bauhaus.
Does climate change influence your art at all thematically?
The temporariness of settlement and the constant battle between nature and man is a theme that I have returned to in my work for decades. In mankind versus nature, nature always wins, because it adapts. Mostly I’ve been looking at our insignificance in the face of Earth’s tenacity and endurance, and how despite reoccurring epidemics, droughts and ocean surges, we humans deny, dither and do anything other than change, even in the face of our own destruction.
Do you think art should become more political considering all the social, gender and migration issues we are all facing, or do you think art is an internal personal private study?
I think it was Tina Modotti who said, “The personal is political.”
There is a difficult line between using art as a medium to express political ideas, and the danger of it being propaganda or simply preaching to the converted. Political Art is an art form in itself, and political artists I respect like Kara Walker, Diana Arce or Barbara Kruger have developed a finely tuned language over years, ensuring that neither their message nor their art becomes weakened or compromised. Also, we often assume that all artists are progressive, but unfortunately the political persuasions of artists are pretty much the same as the rest of society – is it still art if we don’t like what they say about migration, climate or gender?
What has been the strongest impact on your work in the last years?
I started working on sculptures/objects, and this gave me more understanding of form and space in the drawings and paintings.
Reading Foucault’s essay on Manet, where he asked where the light source came from, and triangulated the subject, the light and where the viewer stood in the painting. It really was like switching on a light bulb. Once you’ve seen something, you can’t unsee it.
What are you working on momentarily and what are your future plans?
I’m looking at Proxemics, also known as the space between us. In drawing, we tend to think of forms in space as perspective, as lines on top of a surface, or positive and negative space, not seeing the invisible geometry of solid platonic shapes holding everything in place.
And, I’ve been learning do-it-yourself editing; I just directed my very first music video, which is very exciting.