Monday, July 16, 2007

Art Space Talk: Tristan Schane

(Wolverine- an example of Tristan's work for Marvel Comics)

Tristan Schane jump-started his career in art during his teens as a comic book illustrator- eventually working for major labels, such as DC Comics and Marvel Comics. During those years he illustrated popular characters: Wolverine, Ghost Rider, The Midnight Sons... just to name a few. Since that time Tristan has worked to develop his own imaginative art in both sculpture and oil painting.

As a sculptor he draws a lot of technical and visual cues from the sculptural work being done in cinema special effects. It is that industry’s trailblazing use of new techniques and materials, and its exploration of radical new imagery, that has helped to fuel the direction of his own sculpture.

The painting style that he has been developing over the past few years has gone through a metamorphosis. When Tristan began working as a fine artist he was very influenced by Surrealism. From that starting point, he began to develop a language of imagery and a technique that he calls Subversive Realism. However, his work continues to grow as he searches for an art that is true to his own design.

Tristan's work was recently included in 'Metamorphosis'- a book containing the work of 50 surreal and fantastic artists- including Carrie Ann Baade, Chet Zar, and Alex Grey.

Brian Sherwin: Tristan, you have been a professional artist since you were 18 years old. You started out in your teens doing professional comic book illustration. You worked for DC Comics, Marvel Comics, First Comics, and Continuity Comics. You've even done work for Clive Barker. How did those early illustration experiences prepare you in your pursuit of creating fine art? Also, why did you decide to make the jump from your former professional to creating personal works of art?

Tristan Schane: Actually my first professional gig was when I was 15. I did a back up feature for a DC comic book.Well for one thing, I learned how to paint as a comic book artist, painting super heroes and monsters and what not for covers, posters and other comics related products. I don't know that my professional experiences prepared me specifically for the fine arts industry -- it certainly works very differently than the comics or book cover business, but it did give me some very specific strengths as an artist.

For one, the ability to make quick artistic decisions and follow them to completion. I am not an artist with many (or any) unfinished works in my studio. Comics have very tight deadlines and a lot of art goes in to each page so you have to have a very workman like attitude towards the creative process. That's a skill set that has followed me in to every medium I work in. Being creative under pressure is another constant factor in illustration of all sorts and another skill set that's useful I think in any creative industry.

Really, it was around 1993 that I started doing fully painted work for the comics industry. Up to that point, I never had any ambition to be anything other than a comic book artist. Once I started painting, though, the world of comics art started to seem very constraining and I became more and more drawn to fine arts as an environment I'd prefer.

BS: It is my understanding that you've used practically every medium under the sun. You now paint exclusively in oils. Why is oil paint your favored medium?

TS: In comics I'd often have to do a painting and hand it in inside of a few days, so acrylics or gouache were the obvious choice. There are some artists who can really get these paint mediums to express what they're after. For me with water mediums and acrylics it was always a wrestling match ending in a compromise between what I was after and what the paints would allow me to do. Oils work very naturally for me. For me, they perform as if they actually want to come out of the tubes and infuse the paintings. It's a wonderful medium.

BS: You also create life-size sculptures. Can you tell our readers about the process you use?

TS: The piece begins with an armature made out of aluminum armature wire and hardware cloth. The general contours of the piece is drawn three dimensionally with the armature wire, which is grounded in to some plumbing secured to a stand. Then I build it out the armature with the hardware cloth, creating the rough forms of the sculpture. A support structure of steel rod is designed and bent to contour invisibly to the inside of the sculpture, to carry the weight were it will be needed. This is attached at some point to a main support structure made from plumbing pipes and fittings. This whole process is an art in itself -- sculpting with wire and hardware cloth. Occasionally secondary supports will be attached if the pose of the sculpture requires it.

When the armature is all built out and secured, I cover the hardware cloth with aluminum foil. Over this I build the sculpture. I work in oil clays. After this i make a mold, either a rigid mold or a silicone rubber mold and then cast out the piece in various materials. Lately it's been polyester but I will be doing some silicone sculptures this year.

BS: You have stated that you draw inspiration from influences that are considered unorthodox for a fine artist. Can you go into detail about this?

TS: As a sculptor, I have been influenced more by the film SPFX industry than any other source. It is from reading about and talking with the those artists that I learned my sculptural technique. Generally I feel very disappointed in the technical abilities of fine arts sculptors and am always looking to the sculpts done for animatronic film effects characters as an inspirational resource for my work.

Lately as a painter, my influences are more traditional, though in my development as a painter I must confess that I have been influenced a great deal by conceptual design arts and Science fiction/fantasy book cover illustration. There are some masterful artists in those fields, and it's the amazingly imaginative way some of these artists can create realistic, but other worldly or future worldly scenes that look so comprehensive. There was a long period when this was by far the majority of the sort of art I looked to to inspire me in my fine arts paintings.

BS: Tristan, you call your painting style Subversive Realism. You have went on to say that Subversive Realism represents a fusion of the skills and sensibilities which you have acquired over the years working as an illustrator and as a fine artist. Can you go into further detail about Subversive Realism?

TS: Subversive realism was a term I came up with to try to describe the sort of visual language I am trying to develop. I am definitely an adherent of hyper realist technique, as a painter and a sculptor, but I am not a representational artist when it comes to subject matter. Neither do I consider my work surreal or visionary.
Sometimes in a painting I feel what I am trying to do with a concept is to use the image to dissect the perception of something without removing that perception so the perception and the object of the perception are both present. I don't often succeed, but that is something I wrestle with. I'm working on a new work right now which I feel may be the closest to this yet.

BS: Are you ever concerned that your art will not be taken seriously by the artworld elite due to your former profession? Or do you see the skills you learned during that time as tool to utilize in order to breathe new life into what is considered traditional methods?

TS: Yes and no. I don't know that people are less inclined to take me seriously because of my illustration background. I think my work is often dismissed for being hard to categorize as specifically this or that. Not surreal. Not hyper real. I hear the word "disturbing" a lot and I think that often signals someone's knee-jerk reaction of not really looking at the work beyond an instant and superficial response.

I have a bigger concern that not being a "trained" artist with an MA, it's very hard for me to crack in to established gallery venues. However, all I can do is pursue my artistic sensibilities where they take me and focus very hard on trying to develop the imagery and concepts that I'm after.

Beyond that I work very hard trying to establish myself as an artist in the industry. If I succeed, great. If not, well it won't be for lack of trying.

BS: So... would you say that working as an illustrator is a good stepping stone in regards of learning various skills? Does the industry teach artists more than what they may learn in school?

TS: I can't say one learns more in illustration. One learns the business of illustration and the artistic requirements of commercial, illustrative arts. There are certainly some skills there worth having. I think one has to be much more able to pursue the learning of different mediums and techniques when one learns as a professional. Anything you don't teach yourself or go out of your way to learn is just not there for you. No one shows you how to do anything.

It seems people are exposed to a greater variety of art mediums, art industries and and art styles in school. There is also a greater opportunity to network with other artists and arts professionals in the schools, which translates to having those networks after graduation. I think starting out as a professional freelancer can be a little isolating, especially from the avenues of fine arts.

Lastly, I have found that the fine arts business is very much like any other, and having gone to this or that school, studied with this or that professor and having a degree in fine arts helps open doors regardless of one's abilities which aren't nearly as accessible otherwise. Had I known way back when that I'd ultimately be a fine artist, I would have chosen to go to school rather than to work.

BS: You have stated that you started fine art painting as a surrealist (sample image above and below)... but you quickly felt that the visual language of surrealism was to atavistic for the modern world, too reliant on visual structures and styles that while beautiful were out of touch with the flavor and sensibilities of today's world. With that said, what is your opinion of Pop Surrealism and the lowbrow movement in general?

TS: Definitely. Early on it was all Dali and Magritte. When I was talking about surrealism being atavistic, I was referring largely as it applied to my own sensibilities. When I worked in surrealistic imagery, I felt I was borrowing from someone else's native millieu. An era when those sensibilities sprang from the world around them and belonged to it as a natural native. It was authentic for those artists, but it just didn't feel personal and genuine for me. It didn't resonate with my sensibilities and mindset. It didn't feel like it belonged to me or my world.

I still constantly get ideas for pieces that would make great surreal works, but I have no interest in producing them. What is called pop surrealism or low brow art are vague encapsulates that hold within those very broad band widths some very talented artists. I think the terms are very general and often not descriptive. I don't think to much in terms of this or that art movement. More in terms of this or that artist.

BS: So is it safe to say that you are searching for an art that is new... fresh... an art that does not have to hold on to old traditions even if those traditions and methods are relatively young in the span of art history?

TS: All life is progressive. I couldn't come up with an art form that owes nothing to the past. Nothing can exist in a vacuum like that. What I am looking for is within myself -- a visual language that is purely of me, my world and my time. As my world was inherited from the earlier generations and eras, so will my art, but it must be of my world and my time. It must feel to me to be genuinely personal and authentic. I am trying to find this language within myself and my relationship to my world, and I am constantly trying to avoid sensibilities that seem obviously inspired by earlier aesthetics. I have a long way to go. It's definitely a work in progress that is constantly stretching and reforming.

BS: Tristan, are you represented by a gallery or are you seeking gallery representation? Also, do you have any upcoming exhibitions of your work?

TS: No, unfortunately at present I don't have a gallery. It's been very hard for me to connect with a gallery that both appreciates my work and can sell it to their clients. Usually the galleries I have shown at do great shows, but make no money.

An artist who can't earn with his work winds up with very little time to create that work, having to work other jobs to pay the bills. It's very expensive for an artist to frame and ship work to and from a show with no sales. I have been represented by two different NY galleries in the past few years, both were in Chelsea, both very enthusiastic, but neither could promote me successfully. I am currently seeking for proper representation.

I have a collaborative show in the works -- several sculptures, but it is still in the planning/talking phase so until it's definite, it's more prudent for me to keep mum.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the artworld at this time?

TS: I could give a fifteen page diatribe about how I wish there was something like the WPA still in existence with public funds going towards commissioning all sorts of artwork, but....
You can learn more about Tristan Schane by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- Tristan is involved with the beinArt International Surreal Art Collective.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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