Barcelona-based artist August Vilella combines the surreal with the intuitive, two concepts that merge on the canvas with no sketches and no preconceptions of theme. Vilella’s hand is simply a conduit for his subconscious mind; his surreal-intuitive method creates concepts—of curiosity, desolation, wonder, or anxiety—rather than characters. The wide-eyed subjects in his work can be both whimsical and introspective, but, most importantly, they are created and meant to be experienced in a state of conscious ‘unintentionality.’
Art has always been a part of my life and my personality
While he likens his craft to musical improvisation (e.g. Jazz), not unlike a writer of fiction, he encourages viewers to attribute their own meaning to his oil paintings. Shrouded in darkness and multiple, rich layers that create depth, Vilella’s paintings draw the viewer into the large, hypnotic eyes of his figures, and, perhaps, their own subconscious.
Vilella’s works have been exhibited in major cities worldwide. Among some of his accolades, he is the recipient of the 2016 Tokyo International Art Fair’s Best Artist Award; the award for Best Innovative Art at the 2017 Global Art Awards of Dubai, and the winner of Taipei’s International Artist Grand Prize and the Chairman’s Award in Art Revolution in 2018. In this interview we will be getting to know more Augusta his work, insipration and more.
Q: First thing’s first, why do you do what you do?
A: As long as I can remember, art has always been a part of my life and my personality. Previously, I was into music and writing, that is why I enrolled in the Faculty of Philosophy at university and founded several music bands. Then I started with oil painting and I discovered in this artistic expression a more direct way to express myself and for communicating with others, because there are no linguistic and cultural barriers. From the first moment I held a brush I felt that was what I wanted to do the rest of my life.
Q: What is your inspiration?
A: It’s difficult to say from where my inspiration comes because I create oil paintings by means of a surreal intuitive method. Thanks to this method, and without using any previous sketches or ideas, I give shape to my subconscious mind. As an intuitive kind of painting, all the elements that appear on the canvas are doing so unintentionally. For this reason, when people ask me about the meaning of my artwork, I answer them with the same question: what does it mean for you? Because, like an intuitive kind of artwork, the meaning is completely open and each person is free to find his own way to connect with the painting.
Other characteristic aspects of my works are the eyes and the look of my characters. However, like an intuitive and automatic painter, I don´t know the real reason why they have these kind of big and expressive eyes—maybe because they are the mirrors of the soul and through them we can express endless emotions. Through the eyes we can look into the innermost depths of the human soul and, often, the eyes of my characters become some kind of mirrors for people, because looking at them they can see themselves in some metaphorical, dreamlike and philosophical way. All of this makes the observer connect with the artwork in a deeper level, instead of only the aesthetic or superficial.
Q: What is your creative process when you’re creating?
A: All my topics, characters and iconography are represented with a very refined technique and with very small brushes, putting many slim and transparent layers of oil paint and playing with lights and shadows. Also, at the end of the artwork I put many layers of different varnish, which I mix in a special way to reach a special smoothness and brightness of my paintings that remind us of classical museum paintings. All these dedicated processes give my artwork a very deep atmosphere and vibrating colors. On the other hand, the creative process turns out to be completely intuitively improvised and unintentional so that the message of each painting comes out only when the work of art is completed. I’m used to saying, “When we remove the will of the artist regarding his creation, each painting becomes a work of art of the world and for the world; a piece of art in which all people can ﬁnd themselves reﬂected and, above all, a work of art with a life of its own that wants to be seen, to wake and to be felt.”
In some way the process is similar to Jazz music but in painting. When I work in my art pieces I´m used to losing control of the brush and the shapes start to appear automatically like when we observe the clouds in the sky, and this starts to form some elements that we think to recognize. Actually, I usually say that I don´t choose the topics and characters of my paintings, in some way they choose me.
Thanks to that, each character that appears in my canvas becomes unique and each artwork unrepeatable. All this turns each of my paintings into an Odyssey, which moves into the depths of the vast subjective ocean, and whose outcome is always unknown, different and unexpected.
Q: Which is your preferred surface for working on?
A: I only work in canvas (linen).
Q: What would you say is an integral part of the work of an artist?
A: I think there are two parts and both of them are very important. On one hand, create something personal and unique and work so hard to improve it (spend many hours in the studio). On the other hand, do a lot of networking, as it´s very important to go to as many shows, art fairs, and events as possible. [Having] contacts is one of the most important things today.
Q: What is the reason behind your use of surreal visualization in your works?
A: There is no reason. I don´t know why I produce a surreal-intuitive method of painting. If we had to choose only one word to comprehend all my art it would be “melancholy”; my world revolves around this feeling of extreme sensitivity that opens the doors of the soul for other realities. I just flow and an automatic-meditative state gives shape to this feeling in form of strange characters, who through these big eyes are looking from the canvas and calling us, to tell us their stories and secrets; hidden stories and secrets about ourselves.
Q: How do you know when a piece is finished?
A: It´s just a feeling, impossible to describe. I just hear inside me a voice that says to me: enough.
Q: What is your favourite piece from your collection?
A: I have two favourite pieces: “The Poet” (2016) and “Giri-Giri” (2016)
Q: How did you feel when you did your first solo exhibition?
A: Extremely happy. It was very hard for me to hold my first exhibition; I still remember [it]…it was in Tokyo.
Q: What is the most rewarding thing for you about being a part of the art Industry?
A: For me it’s doing what you like to do and having the chance to travel a lot and meet many interesting people around the world.
Q: Is there anything that worries you about how social media is affecting the promotion of artists?
A: I think it’s a good way for promoting artists. Of course, the most important [aspect] are the live exhibitions, but between shows social media is very useful for promoting ourselves and connecting with gallerists, collectors, managers, etc.
Q: In your opinion, do you have any advice for artists on how to manage their social media image? Or does it even need managing?
A: I just can advise them to make very professional photos of their artwork to create a nice portfolio and website. When they have that, they can start to share their art with as many magazines and sites as possible. You never know who will see your art. It’s like a lottery; for as many numbers as you can buy, [you have] more possibilities to win.
Q: Do you have any advice for artists starting and don’t know where to begin?
A: Believe in yourself. Doesn’t matter what people will say or how difficult or far your goal will look. Just be focused on yourself. Don´t try to imitate any teacher, artists or style. We are all unique in the world, and in consequence we can produce something unique. If you really wish [for] your dreams and you work hard, you will reach them.
Q: What would you say is the best way of getting your art noticed in the age of the internet?
Like I have said before, the best way is to create something unique and personal. People don´t have to check your signature to recognize your work.
Q: Are there any places where you feel art and technology really shouldn’t overlap?
A: (I’m not sure if I understood this question) In my case technology is just an instrument for promoting my art, but for other artists it’s a tool. So, I think they do not overlap each other; we just have to know how to benefit ourselves using technology.
Hind Berji is a freelance writer and museum professional with experience in arts reviews, blogging, and sociopolitical criticism. She has written about topics ranging from opinion pieces and features on the Arab World to literary essays and poetry.