@studiocatherine Not in the slightest! Our printers just require a little extra time.
Jonathan Zawada’s latest exhibition Free Roam Above The Mist has just opened at Prism Gallery in LA, and features a suite of oil paintings and sculptures, conceived a dialogue between three texts: Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, Friedrich Nietzche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra and the video game Red Dead Redemption.
Zawada paints from abstracted computer renders of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. The digitised landscapes are threaded together and reformed into kaleidoscopic mountains and valleys which explore “perceptual reality, transitional landscapes, and narrative agency”. The viewer is forced to examine their place in the world, the experience of the virtual, and the loss of fidelity between those two states.
I spoke with Zawada about the work, and exactly how he’s managed to fuse ancient landscapes, metaphysics, and video games into a narrative whole.
The focus of your work has increasingly moved away from graphic design and into art, but I’m interested to know if your formal training and experience as a designer has had a significant influence on how you approach paintings, sculptures and installations?
I never had formal training either as a designer or an artist but I do think I’ve always approached my design work with strong concept based goals in mind and that has probably bled into my art work a bit. The two processes have always remained very separate for me though, I approach them both in very different ways, not as a rule but by virtue of the two things being so fundamentally different. Ironically I think I’ve become much more ambitious on the production side of things with my art practice than I ever would be with my design – I guess that’s probably because I’m spending my own money and not a clients.
What sort of impact has the move from Sydney to LA had on your work?
Living and working in LA has totally freed me up to really pursue things more aggressively. To work bigger and be more ambitious. The lifestyle here isn’t so amazing but thats kind of what I love about it, I can work all day every day and not feel like I’m missing out on anything. The cost of rent, food and just about everything else here also means I don’t have to constantly rush back to the computer to do design work in order to pay the bills, something which always reined me in when it came to pursuing my art practice in Sydney.
Where does your interest in landscapes, topography and scale come from?
I’m not sure exactly, the previous exhibition was the result of research I was doing into self similarity and the concept of a landscape silhouette came out of that. I guess that exposed me a lot to the idea of the landscape. At the time I had also been doing a bit of travelling around the southwest US and the landscapes there are so incredibly changeable and dramatic, growing up in Australia I had never experienced anything quite like it.
Free Roam above the Mist is described as a dialogue between three texts – “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Freidrich , Friedrich Nietzche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra and the video game Red Dead Redemption”. What is the connection between these texts, and how do they inform your work?
Caspar David Freidrich’s painting is an exploration of man perceiving himself in within the world, both in it and outside of it at the same time, it has an out of body quality to it. Red Dead Redemption (and the 3rd person shooter genre of video game in general) is also an exploration of this, first and foremost the visual parallels in perspective seemed uncanny to me and that is what initial piked my interest. Thus Spoke Zarathustra also uses nature as a metaphor for spiritual purity but at the same time explores the idea of the übermensch or kind of super man which I thought strangely paralleled other aspects of video game culture whereby they allow you to extend beyond normal human limitations (ie making you stronger, faster, better – at least in relation to the AI inhabitants of the game environment).
RDR for me drew an interesting tangent between all of these, connecting both the übermensch and landscape as spirituality, but in a way that is tangible and actionable in daily life, not as something separated and abstracted from it, as in CDF’s painting or Nietzche’s book. The connection between those three things forms the crux on which all of the work in the show rests. The paintings are of the same area on the German-Czech border that CDF’s painting was based upon, however I used hightfield data to remodel it to inform my virtual experience of it, in a similar way to that by which CDF rearranged its elements to highlight his emotional responses. Other sculpture, video and assemblage pieces in the show also connect to this exploration of the virtual experience and my efforts to get at how tangible they can be and what artefacts they can leave.
Your paintings involve a number of processes – notably the digitisation of landscapes into geometric shapes, which are then hand painted. What does this digital process between the image and the painting add to your work, beyond the obvious aesthetic transformation?
For me it is about the process of putting in work and claiming the digital as something that can be mine personally. By committing to the arduous physical task of painting what are initially digital images I feel like it is a way to take possession of them.
Transposing an imprecise, totally subjective and ever changing on screen colour to canvas with paint is a challenging task and the work involved acts as a kind of mirror to my emotional response to the themes that are wrapped up in it all.
How do you plan out a an exhibition like this? Do you sketch and prototype, or do you let the process guide you?
I really just let the process guide me. I start with an idea of what I’d like to achieve and start heading for that but as things progress that takes on a life of its own and I tend to start following other tangents of interest that crop up. For this show I also did something unusual for me which was just playing with the painting itself a bit, without any specific visual goals in mind and that was a really liberating process.
Your work frequently explores ideas of nature, metaphysics and the cosmos. I’m interested in how your use of technology fits into those interests. Are computers just a useful tool, or do they fit into your worldview somewhere?
Computers are absolutely an integral part of the way I see the world. Like everyone else they’re pretty much the window through which a very large amount of my experiences take place and the fleetingness and almost totally transparency of that window never ceases to intrigue me. That said, I don’t ever feel in awe of the technology itself, or want to box it up as some sort of magic, for me it always comes down to how the technology is one part of the rest of the world and the greater human experience.
Free Roam Above The Mist is on display at Prism Gallery, LA