Interview: Joel Douek
Luca Curci talks with Joel Douek during FUTURE LANDSCAPES, third appointment of BORDERS ART FAIR 2021, at Palazzo Albrizzi-Capello, during ALCHEMIC BODY 2021, at ArtFix, and during CONTEMPORARY VENICE 2021 – THE SECRET GARDEN, CONTEMPORARY VENICE 2021 – 9TH EDITION, and VENICE INTERNATIONAL ART FAIR 2021 – 14TH EDITION at Misericordia Archives.
Joel Douek is an established artist and sculptor originally from London and currently based in Los Angeles. Through solo and group shows as well as private events and commissions, his international client base continues to grow. His latest solo show in Los Angeles – “MetalMorphosis” – drew a resoundingly positive public response, including praise from LA Times art critic Liesl Bradner. Joel works principally with raw metals, reclaimed and recovered woods, using a variety of oxidation techniques to harness the striking natural colors and textures these materials reveal. He explores themes of change and impermanence, often contrasted against the enduring permanence of gold in the form of gold leaf. His artistic life has happened in tandem with a successful career as an award-winning music composer, scoring many of the documentaries of British naturalist Sir David Attenborough, along with feature films and hundreds of television episodes. Joel’s working career has been one of organic, experiential, and elemental creation throughout. His threads of art and music are closely intertwined, adding dimension and color to each other.
“Where one person might see an imperfection, a fault, another sees beauty. Yet for nature, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. It is a mysterious and pervasive quality that expresses its own internal striving for survival and betterment, whether observed by humans or not. A piece of bark, a fractal pattern in the rusting of iron. It doesn’t need us. It already has a purpose. But when we find its beauty we can also find and pull on that thread in ourselves to see where it leads. We can be observers, critical and in judgment, or we can remember our connection to the forms and articulations of the natural world. We can feel our connection to nature because it gives us life every day. Plants, animals, trees, bark, exacting functions refined to a point of extreme elegance by millions of years of attrition and evolution. We can participate. We can rejoin. In much of my work, I bring together wondrous natural woods and metals. They appear to contrast starkly: the metal, brutally hard, melted and molded by powerful man-made machines. But metal is still natural. Its tendency to rust, an expression of its own vulnerability but also the way it blooms into color as rich as a flower. The ever-present forces of entropy. Always giving. Always taking. Always singing the eternal song of Change. Once these colors show themselves, either through time or a gentle nudge, I often apply gold as a symbol of enduring permanence in all this entropic chaos. A constant, to radiate and illuminate. I create this art so you might see yourself reflected in the beauty, the change and the permanence that are the essence of nature. To remind us that we are part of it, playing with it, destroying it then nurturing it back to life. As many contradictions as a species can bear. Where our role as people is acutely undefined, even as we tell our story”.
Luca Curci – What is art for you?
Joel Douek – I love this quote from Thomas Merton when I think about art: “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”. I think this is true both for the artist creating a piece and for the viewer experiencing the artwork. We can each discover a new perspective – one that might defy linguistic thinking, such as an abstract or even a paradoxical idea – or simply feel that we live our lives without any real answers. Art invites us to explore these contradictions, how they apply to ourselves and to the world around us. On a personal level, I approach creating my artworks with a sense of risk, adventure and curiosity. Since I often work through various oxidation techniques on metal, I retain only minimal control over the final outcome. Nature is in charge and I can only nudge things this way or that. I enjoy the freedom that working as a partner to natural processes gives me, rather than it being about just my own self-expression. This way, rather than being a two-way conversation between myself the artist and the viewer, it is a three-way dialogue, one where nature, entropy is asking all the questions.
LC – How did you get to your current artistic practice?
JD – Many years ago I was asked to help gild an entire wall with gold leaf. I remained fascinated with this material and wanted to play with it further, to see what could be created with it beyond the more traditional uses such as in picture frames. Also, as a keen observer of natural objects and materials, I find beauty and inspiration in the particularities, even imperfections, in pieces of old wood or rusted metal. Magical colors and fractal forms that reveal themselves over time as they age, constantly changing. This impermanence is something I like to contrast with the enduring permanence of gold, one of the most inert elements found on Earth.
LC – How is being an artist nowadays?
JD – I’ve been working as a music composer for much of my life and creating visual art is a relatively new pursuit, so have only started to form ideas about the art world and being an artist. But I do already see that it has many commonalities with working in music. For both, the creative ideas ultimately flow from a subconscious place, tangents and happenstance, rather than a fixed mission. I’ve learned to honor and make room for this process and strive always to keep ego and the conscious mind out of it. On the commercial side, making music and making art are equally bewildering in how value gets assigned and whether the creation ultimately resonates with people or not. But I prefer not to get hung up on questions of taste and subjectivity, hoping instead that others will find meaning and interest in my work without the need for an existential, social or even political message.
LC – What is the most challenging part about creating your artworks?
JD – Letting go of control and letting mistakes become champions and the seeds of new directions. It’s challenging, but it is also the most enjoyable part of my process. And just as with my music, it can be difficult to stay vulnerable and sensitive so I can ‘go deep’, even when there is criticism and rejection or worst, intransigence, while I am creatively so exposed. But I accept and embrace that this is the nature of the artist’s life!
LC – How do you choose your subjects? Is it a reasoned or an instinctive process?
JD – As most of my artwork is abstract, I let myself be guided mostly by the materials I use. The final result becomes something of a Rorschach test, driven by the human mind’s propensity to see patterns in abstract forms, faces in the clouds. We cannot help but see and interpret, so the ‘subject’ becomes applied retroactively and often individually by the viewer.
LC – Do you agree with our vision of art and what do you think about the theme of the exhibition?
JD – Yes, FUTURE LANDSCAPES really resonated with me. For a lot of my art, I have very little control – I submit to nature’s way.
LC – What is the message linked to the artwork you have shown in this exhibition? How is it connected to the theme of the entire festival?
JD – It aims to capture both the changing and enduring aspects of life as it progresses through the effects of time. Contradictions that can and must coexist. In this, it becomes an exploration of an infinity of possible futures.
LC – What do you think about the organization of our event?
JD – It was wonderful to be able to participate and to be there in person after so many months indoors. The quality of art and curation was outstanding and the location of the exhibition at the Palazzo Albrizzi-Capello in Venice was so beautiful and unique. It was a dream come true to have my art exhibited in such a place!
LC – Would you suggest a collaboration with us? What do you think about our services?
JD – Yes, absolutely! The feedback and support from the staff were enormously helpful and it was very professionally put together from start to finish.
LC – Do you think ITSLIQUID GROUP can represent an opportunity for artists?
JD – I have very much valued my collaboration with ITSLIQUID and I would not hesitate to recommend them to other artists. They provide a unique and important opportunity to independent artists across all mediums.