We met with painter Andris Eglītis and talked about his solo exhibition and its accompanying text - what form should it take. When reading monographs, the most absorbing thing appears to be the artist’s own text, and not the art historians’ theorising, “blabbering”, so we decided to publish the conversation with the artist. Although, after the interview the artist conceded: “now I have the feeling, that during the conversation I did not even talk about my relationship to nature, to being Latvian, to art, to anything. It’s all just clichés.” It is quite likely that Andris Eglītis can paint his worldview in a way that is impossible to put in words, yet this conversation contains threads, that can be of use, when interpreting the essence and appeal of Andris Eglītis’ art.
Have you verbally formulated the principles of your artistic creativity?
I dislike the word “creativity” very much.
Okay, I’ll ask differently - what is it that you do?
Yes, I have thought about that and arrived at certain conclusions, but that is not the “final version”! I want to do that which I find essential. To speak about things.
Visual art is contrary to language, which is linear and logical. Art is multi-layered, figurative and illogical, allowing a broader and more precise expression, a reflection on the world in a manner acceptable to me.
Visual art is ancient, but its role and functions have changed. We are as if always trying to define it anew, but it is, essentially, works of art, created as a result of an experience. Art is alive, it can have an impact.
What causes the impulse to create new works?
My works take form, when my thinking fuses with or runs parallel to some visual images. For example, there is something I am thinking of - something that doesn’t leave me alone, something that seems unintelligible and significant. Concurrently, various images appear that lock together with my thinking.
In my perception, your art invokes thoroughness and seriousness. Observing what is happening all around, one sees irony and play often dominating in art. Do you ever find it paradoxical, when comparing it to your own art?
No, I do not see that, because I think all noteworthy artists work very seriously. I know nothing about jokes.
It is a bit more complicated with irony. Irony can take on many guises, but usually it is used to take a comfortable position in hiding, and at this point a question arises - what exactly is your position? What are you prepared to die for? I am not interested in irony as hiding, it is more important to find things, and also to formulate my standpoint directly.
You generally work on groups of works, where you explore activities surrounding human life: The Way of Things, Under the Roof of the Sky, Works of the Land.*
Generally I work in cycles. It seems, I am circling around until I reach the nucleus - a small, significant thing to say. The themes of the works in this case are as an entrance for reaching the very essence.
The exhibition Conditions of Life was outside of series or cycles, there I was painting every work as significant in itself.
What are the main keywords that you would use to characterise your own works?
Recently I had to write about myself, and I tried to formulate certain things. Through various themes I try to grasp the unfathomable - to compare myself, the puny human, to the whole surrounding world - society, history, the cosmos, etc.
Do you reproduce reality faithfully when you paint? For example, when walking through a field, is it possible to recognise your composition?
I have concluded that reality is the most evocative. Reality can be both unpretentiously documentary, naturalistic, and multi-layered, associational - that is the way I paint it.
A place doesn’t exist as a constant, it is changing. There are places, where I perceive feelings and images that are important to me. As a result, reality causes the impulse in my head for a painting, although not always, sometimes several components are necessary.
You choose the materials for painting very considerately. To what extent do they direct, determine the end-result of the work?
An image can be created in various ways, but, I think, only in painting there is a special materiality, substantiality and structure. That is one of the reasons I arrived at mud, as I find materiality and its self-expression very important.
An impression of reality does not come from finely worked details. I am fascinated by artists of previous eras, the way they mastered systems of various materials and structures, creating an impression of reality.
I am also fascinated by the relationship of the material to reality - we can simultaneously see it as an autonomous value and as a substance, with which to depict. This relationship exists in parallel, and I find it very interesting.
What does soil mean to you? Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky in one of his novels claimed, roughly, that soil is a gift of God, only humans continuously leave their putrid traces on it.
I agree to the idea that soil is a pure “thing”, but, paradoxically, when one says “mud”, it connotes filth. I considered it important to show, that soil, an apparently crude and primitive material, can also be very fragile, noble, tender and nuanced.
That is one of the most important aspects of the mud works - soil is outside civilisation. From time to time we encounter a situation where we, the civilised, come face-to-face with something completely feral.
Outside the big cities the force of nature is more perceivable. Houses, that humans don’t look after, get overgrown with moss, taken over by birch trees, until they crumble.
Indeed, it is very obvious in nature! For a while I was considering a different title for the exhibition - “Footprints and Impressions”, that stresses the permanence of nature and soil, and mankind’s fleeting attempts to take a foothold in it. Thus man and nature intertwine and form layers. For example, a place called “Vecpiebalga” has acquired, with time, an entirely different meaning. Now every farmstead is different, but cultural history is ever-present and adds its own layer.
Regarding the question of national identity. Since time immemorial Latvians have had a special bond with nature, it is like a common thread, through which to express one’s feelings. Are you also an exponent of this tradition?
Curiously, the land bought in the countryside is becoming ever more important to me as a place to work. I must think about soil/nature/human relationships, which is my “thing”.
I have reflected on, what would happen if the standard amenities associated with the civilised life were taken away from man. When man ventures into nature alone, he is no longer able to survive. Under the influence of civilisation he has become distant and foreign to nature.Latvians are not interested in stately matters and grand plans, rather they want to tend their flowerbeds and revel in the change of seasons. I don’t deny this aspect of being Latvian in myself.
Looking at your exhibitions in general, it seems, you are ploughing one “massive” furrow...
It would be wonderful, if that were the case! I think, every artist has one “thing” that he incessantly is trying to say as precisely as possible. For example, when someone says “David Hockney”, you instantly know what they are talking about... what this artist has fought for, how he has worked.
When I finish a series, it appears exhausted, I have to find something else again.
I should arrive at such a “thing”, on which I could work perpetually, although this approach has certain hazards - a specific handwriting forms and the artist merely replicates himself.
In your “feral laboratory”, which is surrounded by bird songs and whispers of the trees, even more apparent - not only in these mud works, but also the other works - is an expressive silence.
Yes, quite possibly that is the case! I have not really thought about that.
In this context, there is a theme that is important to me. How you and your puny human nucleus, when all social masks, nationalities, etc. are discarded, stay alone, and how he then feels in this world. Possibly, such a human being can be approached the closest in silence.
*Titles of Andris Eglītis’ previous solo exhibitions: The Way of Things (2009), Under the Roof of the Sky (2009), Works of the Land (2011).