Interview: Levi Van Veluw

597_1228249220Upon first viewing Levi Van Veluw’s photography, my mind immediately drew parallels to the resurgence in the interest in the mask, and film-inspired disguise in contemporary photography, ranging from Gillian Wearing’s diaristic and macabre facial effigies of sorts, to Hanna Liden’s gothic black metal inclinations, or even Cindy Sherman’s self-portraiture. Van Veluw’s works seemed to function within this conversation; his experiments in obscuring and fundamentally altering his own visage seemed like the logical, humorous, conclusion to prior explorations within examining, and shifting, self-image. Surprisingly, Van Veluw dismisses the heavy conceptual framework of the mask, citing it as merely functioning for “religious” purposes or as “decoration/tradition.” In a way, his refusal to acknowledge his relationship to other similar artists is interesting; they become instead private, more ego-driven explorations of himself, like a young child painting his face for the first time and marveling at his own transformation. Perhaps this is fundamentally what introduces humor into the works—we voyeuristically watch Van Veluw make a fool of his face in new and surprising ways, time and time again. 

 

SL: On your website it states that your self-portraiture are created and photographed yourself entirely in a one-man process. Can you talk a little bit about your creative process, as well as the technical aspects i.e., how do you create the abstractions on your face? 

 

LV: The work is created through several combinations of ideas. I started experimenting with portraits a few years ago. After every photo, I analyze the work and discuss with myself what is good and what is not. Therefore it is not really a portrait, but more a series of experiments. Creating the work is a one-man process. It is very important that I make every decision while I am creating the work itself because the process is part of the work. The objects really exist on my head and not through the use of a computer. 

The technical aspect is not as interesting as it looks. It is just what you see. I put the materials on my face with glue and tape, or draw patterns with ballpoints. It takes about 11 hours to create one photo. It has to be done within a time frame of 24 hours, as I can’t go to sleep before removing everything 

 

SL: Are you inspired at all by the transformative nature of stage make-up featured in film? 

 

LV: Not at all. The inspirations are more personal fascinations and obsessions. I do not know anything about make-up. 

 

SL: What do you think the implications are of obscuring the face, so that it is at once both recognizable and fundamentally altered? 

 

LV: It is important for me that everything happened for real. The end result is not only an “end-result”, but contains a short creative history. The image contains the process of creating the work itself. In that way the image will be credible. By putting everything in another context, the elements’ values have to be reinterpreted. The image is about the conflicts between the objects associations and their new values. 

 

SL: How do you think your works are related to, or different from traditional masks? 

 

LV: I think the relation is just superficial. Masks are for religious purposes or used as decoration/tradition. But a mask can be about giving someone another identity. And that is in a sort of way what I am doing with materials, giving them another identity. 

 

SL: Does your perspective change when you have these markings on your face? How does it feel? 

 

LV: When I start I feel very uncertain about my work and myself. It is very confrontational to make autonomous work directly on yourself. So I have to motivate myself every time to go through it. Sometimes it is very frustrating, nobody tells you what to do and there is nobody who supports you to go through it. But I have to make all the choices while I create the drawing, so it is not really like a meditation. When everything is finished I am always really tired. 

 

SL: There’s also a certain amount of humor in the works—it takes courage to obscure your own face in sometimes unflattering fashions. They’re not unlike the outlandish projects a small child would come up with, painting their face, becoming a mummy, or donning any other form of inventive costume. Where do you think the humor in the works derives from? Do you ever laugh at your own face? 

 

LV: I do like to make something serious with a certain degree of hilarity. Maybe it is a warning for not getting too serious, a sort of reminder. 

 

SL: Where did the idea to create your “Landscape” series arise from? How did you apply the landscapes to your face—and how long did it take? 

 

LV: It’s not just one idea but one old fascination with cheap landscape painting. I hate all the symbolism they contain. The scenery is so predictable and boring. But in another way, I really like the simplicity of the traditional landscapes. It’s nice and ugly at the same time. 

I applied the materials with glue, tape and hairspray in front of a mirror. It took about 13 hours. 

 

SL: How do you think physically placing plots of grass, trees, and valleys onto your own face complicates the traditional genre of landscape painting? 

 

LV: I tried to make my landscapes with as little symbolism as possible. So I kept the nice aspect of a landscape and removed all the kitsch, glamour and traditional aspects. 

 

SL: You also have a video in which you slowly circle clockwise, wearing a halo/ringed visor hat of a train track, as a car slowly circles counter-clockwise. The scene has two different lightings, one perhaps during day, and another at night, showcasing twinkling street lamps all over your face and shoulders. How do you think the moving image informs your static portraiture? What is gleaned from this video in motion that perhaps is not from your photos? 

 

LV: It’s not photography vs. video. Each medium has its own strong aspects. The video is a more realistic capture of reality, if you don’t fake it. It gives you another look on the work. In the video I like the movement of the scene. It comes to life. 

 

SL: In the series “Material Transfer” you once again explored a similar theme of obscuring the face, with mundane materials such as cheap carpet, pebble stones and wood. How did engulfing yourself in these materials change your understanding of the texture and materials around you? 

 

LV: The work is a result of this understanding. I noticed that every material around me has a purpose, and the values of a material are connected to its function. The “material transfers” are part of this concept. For example the carpet is part of the idea of reinterpreting and introducing the material and all the associations it has, and so changing all its values.

 

SL: One of my favorite images is “Hair” from your series Ballpoint—what was your thought process behind this? 

 

LV: My idea was to create a conflict between the real and the drawn hair. Looking the same but having another function, a conflict between real and unreal, but still being a product of Levi van Veluw. 

 

SL: Was it difficult removing all of the ballpoint pen afterwards? 

 

LV: Not at all, it was harder to get in on. 

 

SL: What other materials have you considered, or are considering currently to obscure your face with? 

 

LV: I don’t think in materials. But I try to find materials that fit my ideas. 

 

SL: If you could obscure your face or create a project regardless of scope or price, what would it be? 

 

LV: My new work. 

For more of Levi van Veluw’s work, please visit: 

Levi van Veluw 

Image Credits: 

Images courtesy of the artist 

Colors 
50x50cm & 100x100cm 
2004-2006 

Ice cream stick 
Size not Specified 
2004-2006 

Tape 
50x50cm & 100x100cm 
2004-2006 

Landscape IV 
from the series “Landscapes” 
120x100cm & 60x50cm 
2008 

Landscape I 
from the series “Landscapes” 
120x100cm & 60x50cm 
2008 

Landscape II 
from the series “Landscapes” 
120x100cm & 60x50cm 
2008 

Landscape III 
from the series “Landscapes” 
120x100cm & 60x50cm 
2008 

Sterling Wood 
from the series “Material Transfers” 

Gravel 
from the series “Material Transfers” 

Carpet 
from the series “Material Transfers” 

Hair 
from the series “Ballpoints” 
60x50cm & 120x100cm 

Spirals 
from the series “Ballpoints 
60x40cm & 120x100cm

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