David Herrle SubtleTea Interview with David Ubben
D: Your pen and ink compositions are surreal but not surly, busy but not cumbersome. They're other-worldly yet disturbingly familiar: maybe stolen from some common fairy zone in all of us; and they tend to feature shy, impossible creatures or "Easter egg" secrets that peek out from dense Beardsleyan flora and décor. Something about your environments is inviting despite some light sinisterism. Everything seems alive and burgeoning and in flux. Your work is fecund and wombic, musical and kinetic; it moves around reposed human subjects. When I encounter one of your pieces, I get a Maurice Sendak, Michael Kaluta and Pauline Baynes vibe with an occasional (non-horrifying) Dorothea Tanning tone.
Please tell us what drives you to create these odd scenes (and recurring images) in this nowhere world. Does your work deal with childhood fixations or recurring dreams? Why do you portray females almost exclusively? (I love that you do.) And there's something about their faces. A few have slight hints of smiles; most have a...look. What is that something about your faces?
U: My images are a slice of the story of my life. They are a reflection of my state of being; they are an organic union of the paper, the pen and me. I think more than anything they are an emotional expression of all that I feel: a world between hope and despair; of joy and fear. They are the courage to go forward and a way of looking backward. One thing I noted a long time ago that there is no going back: each is a progression, never to recaptured. Lost like the past moments of our lives. It is a lined memory, which like all memories becomes distorted with the passing of time. The drawing freezes this, the progression of thought, for a few days or hours.
Why women? To me it is like a question why the sky is blue? It seems evident but simultaneously there is a mysterious, eternal and omnipresent puzzle. I think as a man, the relationship to a woman is as close as you can be to any other human being. Yet there is an insurmountable wall of vast height between us - for that matter, between us and any other human. The image is a way of exploring this, of looking a little deeper in the soul of another. These images are my being edging towards impossibility.
D: Who and what are your major influences? Any Ernst? Delvaux? Art Nouveau? Any Mucha?
U: To recount the journey I have taken through life is to talk about what has influenced me both visually and emotionally. Rather to distill this, let me comment on a few aspects of visual art are close to my heart.
The concept embodied by the intense symbolism used in medieval painting and book illustration (for instance, the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry) has forever fascinated me. The painters value all aspects of the illustration, and endow it with messages in a symbolic world of fauna and flora. The message of the illustration is in the background as much as in the primary subject. Details of the story make the up the beauty of the visual object.
I think one of my influences was the work of Albrecht Durer. His engravings and wood cuts, such as Melancholia, are inspiring. The complexity of his composition enriches the image. Durer believed that an artist builds on the everyday richness of visual experiences in order to imagine beautiful images, which go beyond the single memory.
In a list that could be infinitely long, let me mention the works of the Pre-Raphaelites, such as John Everett Millais. In this context, allow me to refer to his Ophelia. Another example is Dante Gabriel Rossetti. These artists combine romantic yet often tragic themes, very often revisiting the roots of medieval symbolic painting which I mentioned before.
Doubtless Art Nouveau, with it is floral, stylized, flowing curvilinear forms, has played into my art. The musical lines and flow of image are beautiful and decorative. However, the idea of the "belle image" is a concept which I struggle with. This idea which is omnipresent in the movement, stating that the soothing floral lines and intertwined lines create images which are simply beautiful. I don't agree that this is enough to create art, though very often I find myself drawn to it as a means to an end.
D: Tell us about your appreciation for Japanese artists. (You are right to call Masaki Shinozaki's work "exceptional." Mother Mercy!)
U: My first introduction to Japanese art was the Zen gardens around Kyoto. The notion, mirrored by Shinto reverence for great rocks, still lakes, ancient trees, and other "dignitaries of nature," is a concept very close to me. The stylization of mythical mountains, islands, and seas adds to the secrecy of the thoughts illustrated in these oases of reflection. Finding the peace in vision, discovering some inner door to a place beyond time and the flow of emotions which consume our day to day lives is a mystery which can be approached by the beauty. It teaches us that beauty is everywhere.
The great serene movement of Japanese woodblock cuts Ukiyo-e (I love the translation of "pictures of the floating world") is exceptional in its depth and tranquility. Allow me to mention Hokusai's series: Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. Each one is inspirational. Japanese art evokes an ordered tranquility which has no parallel. This same mystery is found in some of the great movements of modern Japanese illustration and painting. In many ways, the Japanese society can not be fathomed by us, but it can be observed.
There are the playful etchings Mineyo Uemura, the fantastic world of Yoko Kitami, or the elegant screen paintings of Mizuno Misashi. The mysteries painted by Shiori Matsumoto are some of my favorites. The list is as long as the culture is intense.
D: I consider comic books to be deeply important art. They are the efflorescence of our modern, moral mythos. Do you appreciate comic books? What about superhero comics from the U.S. in particular? Japanese manga? (U.S. comics and manga have been involved in creative cross-pollination for a long while.) Would you ever consider creating or penciling/inking a comic?
U: The art of comic book is an important art genre. I am enamored by the fascinating Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay. The illustrations in the comic of Moebius bring the reader to a world far way, with luxurious details and seemingly unending imagination. Images in sequence with a story approach a more movement. I
The world of Japanese Manga is fascinating and vast; it is interesting how it intermixes with the world of Anime. The technique of illustration is violent and rapid, with an exaggeration of facial features (especially the eyes), indicate the emotional and physical state.
I don't think that I could create a comic, though it's a tempting thought.
D: Share your favorite music, films, and books. By the way, have you seen Kurosawa's Dreams (Yume)? It's a visual and moody tour de force that seems to be a film that you'd like.
U: The list would be too long, and would change each day. Perhaps one of each.
Music: Death and the Maiden (or Der Tod und das Madchen) by Franz Schubert. Film: Crash, directed by Paul Haggis. (I have never seen Kurosawa's Dreams, but will have a look.) Book: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky - evenly tied with The Glass Bead Game (or Das Glasperlenspiel) by Hermann Hesse.
D: In Man's Search For Meaning, philosopher Viktor Frankl wrote: "The existential vacuum which is the mass neurosis of the present time can be described as a private and personal form of nihilism; for nihilism can be defined as the contention that being has no meaning...[T]here is danger inherent in the teaching of man's 'nothingness,' the theory that man is nothing but the result of biological, psychological and sociological conditions, or the product of heredity and environment...This neurotic fatalism is fostered and strengthened by a psychotherapy which denies that man is free."
My favorite jazz musician/composer, John Coltrane, describing his Meditations album: "Once you become aware of this force for unity in life, you can't ever forget it...My goal...is to uplift people, as much as I can. To inspire them to realize more and more of their capacities for living meaningful lives." Your impression of these clips?
U: Beautiful. Existential thinking haunts modern man, and has haunted me for a long time (especially as nihilism is its logical consequence). I living in a world of science and rational explanations.
Is creation of art a partial remedy to existential emptiness? Does the being during the moment a line is drawn or an image formed give meaning to that instant? Sometimes, I sense that it does. Other times it is like a dinosaur footprint now captured in some ancient stone, focusing our attention on the slumbering path of an unknowable creature. Yet, even then, it evokes the time and being that was once there, and lifts our minds to a place so different to what we know that it fascinates us.
When drawing becomes more than just the lines, more the just image, then it becomes a message to the viewer. No matter what the art, we are inspired by the act of creation and of the devotion of the creator. I think imagination defies the coldness of being.
D: David, I'm pleased to have encountered your lovely, mesmerizing work. I wish you blessings on you path. Any closing words for readers and fans?
U: Thanks. This interview has been a reflective time for me. In the speedy world we live in reflection, is a good thing.
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