DARYA KOSILOVA—I want to start by addressing the fact that you have gone through a transformation as an artist from your previous body of work as I used to know it. Maybe you can start by telling me about how that happened?
BP LAVAL—It’s a reinvention really, right? For me the process has been that I’ve actually found myself in a situation where I took some time away from the art industry to reevaluate what I was doing. The previous works that I did were these kind of big minimalist landscapes that still follow me because I still have them out there and whatnot. I was in the bush for 12 years living in a cabin on the beach, dreaming into the horizon. I lived that for a long time and to paint those things was me processing what I was living like at the time. That meditative, dreamy aspect of being in the landscape and seeing through the mist of the ocean into the distance was very appealing to me. And the paintings were commercially very successful and at one point I just got to a point where I said, “If I draw another fucking horizon line I’m going to blow my brains out.” It became a job for me. It was making money and I was away from that environment and it just felt like I didn’t choose to be an artist to make money, I chose to be an artist to be able to explore life with an artist’s eyes. I was in a situation where I just stepped back a little and thought, “Well, what is really interesting to me? What’s around me?”
The process is a big thing for me. As a painter you are in your studio alone working alone for chunks of time. Like, for me, watching paint dry is a good time! I think it’s fun. I love the process of just finding an image in the canvas and bringing it out and making it into something. My question was “What am I responding to in the world?” and the world has changed a lot since I was doing those landscapes. We are bombarded with images all the time. We have images everywhere we go online and on our smart devices. So much of the imagery we’re experiencing right now is really violent, in the sense that the media brings the worst-case scenario stories into our living room every single fucking day. So you wake up in the morning, you go online, and you check up on the news and it’s the worst possible stories around the globe that you hear. All of those stories are in our psyche now, nonstop. I wanted to find a way of being able to respond to everything I’m surrounded by. And I wanted to find a way that I could do that quickly and capture an essence of what I’m feeling, what in fact we’re all feeling as we’re wired in today’s time.
DK—Looking at your new body of work there are certain voyeuristic qualities to it. Where the paintings are part textural and abstracted, where it’s not a direct clear image, but within the mark making you can definitely make out a thrash of sexuality and violence which I think kind of speaks, not just sexually, but as a whole to what you just said regarding being constantly bombarded with images. Why have you chosen to work with this theme of flesh, rawness, group sexuality? I have noticed a lot of your subjects are amidst an altar-like, sacrificial setting, or some kind of dark night-time park.
BL—Absolutely! That idea of contained space is interesting to me. For me it’s very theatrical; it’s almost a stage in a sense. There’s a painting where I have a woman sitting on this stage and there’s a guy standing beside her, looking at her, and it’s in a sports arena, in fact, a hockey arena, and in that painting there’s those cameras that we always see in the corners. The idea of privacy for example now is so blurred because we are constantly being filmed, constantly being watched. The voyeuristic aspect is really interesting to me because the distinction between you as a human being and you as being viewed in society is a very blurred thing. We’re constantly being viewed.
That sense of being viewed and that sense of being public and no longer private is really an interesting thing for me. The whole idea of where is the public, where is the private, has really blurred. For me the sexuality is just because it’s a part of my life; it’s a part of everybody’s life. The intensity of sexuality is a huge motivator and fabulous thing in the world. It turns into lots of negative aspects, but the underlying aspect of it is procreation and we’re genetically wired to procreate. The power of sexuality is strong in all of us and it’s fascinating, for example, take Hollywood and I think it was Jack Nicholson who said this: “You can slash a tit, and its PG, but show a tit and it’s R-rated.” We’re OK with extreme violence but we’re not OK with ourselves as being sexual. It’s definitely an aspect of the work.
DK—How long have these concepts been ticking in your mind, BP, because I would have never identified you as this kind of artist before.
BL—This is going back to what I used to paint when I was an art student 20 years ago, but in a very different way. When I was an art student I was very interested in what was around me, and I was dealing with my life, and sexuality plays a big part in everybody’s life, and that played a big part in the artwork that I was doing. Now, 20 years down the road, I’m in a situation where I just feel like I don’t give a shit about what anybody else thinks about the work, which is so freeing. I can paint what I want. I just want to create images that resonate and deal with what I’m experiencing.
There’s a work of mine where there’s a pickup truck and a tailgate party, and the inspiration for that came from a horrific story that I heard. It’s a news story about these kids who were driving to the airport and they were being tailgated by this pickup truck, so they pull up on the side of the road and got out of their car and the guy in the truck turned around. It was a road rage situation. He zoomed at these young guys in their twenties and one of them jumped out of the way, but one of them didn’t and he was killed. That instance of road rage kind of really sparks something for me. The ability to be so un-empathetic that you don’t think that in your rage you’re possible going to impact somebody’s life.
That’s one of the things that I really like about the way I’m working right now is that the paintings start off with this glimmer of an idea and then they build into their own thing. So that started off as truck hitting somebody and then it turned into this whole other spectacle. Within that there’s a dog growling, and there’s somebody beating this person and it’s me responding to the stimuli that I see in the world. That’s the way I want to be able to work. Absorbing everything that I have or that we experience and turning it into its own story. You create two figures on a canvas and there’s a narrative that develops just because of the figures existing. And I love being able to just stand aside and let it unconsciously develop into its own thing. The freedom to be able to let that happen, to be able to create an open-ended image, is a real strength of painting, in the sense that it’s only up to your imagination and then the imagination of the viewer.
DK—You definitely have to wonder about the power of imagination. In the news we hear about exceptionally horrific and tragic events and then, thanks to ultra-violent movies, it’s almost as if when we hear about an act of violence our mind expands into further detail about it.
BL—It’s so fascinating that we, as a society, bring the worst-case scenarios into our living room every day. I don’t actually understand that. I absorb it, I’m part of it too, but why is it that the major information we get about the world is the worst-case stories out there?
DK—Maybe it’s because our nature is to prepare ourselves for these things. I think it’s a natural reflex, a defense mechanism.
BL—I agree with you. If you look at our evolution, the point we are at now in our evolution as civilized human beings, what is it, like one per cent of our evolution from primitive man to now, we carry so much with us that is influencing how we are looking at the world. We think we’re so sophisticated, and we are sophisticated, and so technologically advanced, but at the same time we’re still afraid of the dark. The way we were hiding in caves, telling stories in the flicker of candlelight, and drawing buffalos on the walls. In my mind, that’s really what our core carries, so no wonder we’re fascinated by the dark and by the evil and by the unknown.
DK—I recently heard a quote from another artist who is particularly obsessed with the concept of death, and it went along the lines of, “Death happens when the soul takes off its clothing,” which I thought was a really beautiful way of directly acknowledging this fear we have when we do think about these worst-case scenarios.I thought the quote was a very calm and fearless way to think of dying.
BL—That’s very interesting. I mean, we don’t know really how to deal with death in society, at all actually. If you think of yourself dying, which, you’re so young that I’m sure you can’t imagine it… I can’t imagine what your idea of dying would be. What is your perception of death?
DK—It’s really difficult to imagine that I won’t breathe one day; that I won’t hear my own voice inside my head; that I won’t have a head! I feel like I’ve been around forever because my concept of time began the day I was born. Yet I know that it existed before me, and it will exist after I die. Maybe a dreamless sleep is as close as we can experience death. I sometimes imagine that I will dream forever after I die. What about you?
BL—I’m surprised to be alive actually. My father died fairly young when I was in my early twenties. I always thought that when he died he had a full life, he lived his dreams and did the best he could, and then he died. And it just kind of made sense because that was his life’s path. I always think that death is very close; I don’t think that I’m going to live forever. The idea of living forever is not interesting to me at all. It’s very possible we could die now. You could die tomorrow. I could die tomorrow. And that has really colored the way I live my life. I always want to do what I feel is valuable to me doing. The fragility of life is a very real aspect of my world. Within that context then, as a painter, what is your legacy? What do you leave behind? And for me painting is none of those things. I’m not interested in leaving anything behind in that sense. I’m more interested in leaving real connections with people, like the way I’m talking with you now. We have an emotional connection based on what our conversation is, and that memory in itself keeps us alive.
I hear so many artists talking about creating work that outlives them and that’s not something that interests me at all. What does interest me is the ability as a painter to process thoughts and create images that talk about the existence of the moment. That is good enough for me. For me, my work now is really about dealing with my immediate life, and once I finish painting something it’s all about the next painting that’s coming up. The idea of these “precious pieces,” I don’t think like that at all.
DK—You’re also a dad of two children, who I went to high school with. Do you feel, as a dad, that your interpretation of legacy and being able to let go of the concept of preciousness has impacted the way you connect with your children?
BL—I think the one thing I’ve learned, because my kids are the same age as you are, is that when you’re in your early twenties and off living your own life, you leave your parents behind. I don’t know if you noticed but I have my Skype on all the time these days. I never usually do that. The reason is because my son is in Peru right now and the only way he contacts me is through an iPod over Skype, so I’m online with Skype all the time. But he never fucking calls me! He’s living his own life and I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be actually. Yes, I feel like my kids are carrying on a part of me in a sense, but my life is all about letting go right now. Not holding on to any of that because you’re all individual adults living your own path..
DK—If you could use one word to define yourself up until this moment in your life, what would it be?
BL—[Laughs] Darya! Jesus Christ, man! One word?
DK—Life doesn’t need to be complicated. One word.
BL—Alert. For me, I want to wake up in the morning and I want to be aware of what’s going on. Also I’m a positive person so when I wake up it’s like, “OK, another day in paradise.” One of the beautiful things about being an artist is that you can enrich your world because you can imagine into the world and develop a vision of that world that is multi-layered. I like the idea that I’ve been painting for over 20 years and I have no clue how to paint; I have no clue what I want to say. I literally feel that when I’m in front of the canvas I don’t even know how to do this. And then you get into it and hopefully it’ll turn into its own. I want to not know, so that when I go to work I can surprise myself.