Interview: River Saunders
Luca Curci talks with River Saunders during CONTEMPORARY VENICE 2021 – 8TH EDITION and CONTEMPORARY VENICE 2021 – 9TH EDITION, at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
River Saunders is an Oregon-born and raised artist, a graduate of California College of the Arts with a major in illustration and a minor in writing in 2017, and since moved back to Oregon. Working mostly within forms of acrylic, he pushes a fantastical reality onto tangible things using the flow of line and color. It is important not only the catch the eye but to hold it and give it room to play as the brain puts the image together on a path of discovery. Most of their inspiration comes from nature from the macro to the micro and the meta; the fundamental connecting fibers that allow us to ‘read’ the world.
Luca Curci – What is art for you?
River Saunders – Art is communication at its most fundamental level. The need to express something, anything, to another being and have understanding and recognition. As we look into the far corners of the art world and art history, it starts with sharing a thought or feeling. Exploring those methods of communication is exciting and leads to discovery and more understanding. For me, it is a necessity for growth.
LC – How did you get to your current artistic practice?
RS – At first I was really concerned with the pencil. I was convinced for some time that it was the only way to finesse my ideas. The ability to erase and re-render was hard to give up. The paint was so final, and the backgrounds were too intensive. Soon I realized if I really wanted to express more of myself and my world I’d have to push myself and my arsenal of visual tools. The more I learned, the more confident I became in my linework and color choices. I am always brought back to the flexibility and mixed media opportunities that acrylic gives me. The beauty of natural patterns still informs a lot of my inspiration. My styles and mediums are tools to bring those feelings forward rather than the focus themselves.
LC – How do you choose your subjects? Is it a reasoned or an instinctive process?
RS – It’s usually about relationships. Sometimes it’s between colors and values, new palettes I haven’t tried or have vibrating effects. What those are applied to, I tend to find out later. I like giving myself room to change my mind. Sometimes it’s my own relationship with a subject, how little or how much I know and can expose. Interesting challenges arise when I struggle with subjects I haven’t tried before out of habit. Sometimes the relationships are deeper, figures in nature, our sometimes overlooked similarities and psychological impacts that arise.
LC – Do you use art to express something in particular? Is it your medium of expression?
RS – Writing has always helped me clarify and solidify my thoughts. It is a useful tool, another art created from our desire to communicate, but not all-encompassing. I find the more visual arts can create deep visceral impact, where words, regretfully, are often glazed over without consideration. An illustration holds the eye and gently guides its movement. It can become a conversation, an art in itself. The pattern, the narrative, is put together right in front of them, coming alive. For myself, I have found this method to be the most effective for how I need to express that which cannot be expressed any other way and I use it in my daily life.
LC – Did your style change over the years? In which way?
RS – At first it was a simple desire to draw people and faces. Book illustrations and comics were all I wanted to imitate. As I learned more from art history I discovered my love for the curves and edges of nature, whether a person’s face, a large branch, an intricate gate. I found this was reflected in art nouveau especially. Once I figured out how to translate my pencil technique and flow of line into painting, the possibilities for greater expression and style became immense. I started to abstract subjects and drift away from realism. Studying the patterns and shapes the old masters used has given me great insight into forwarding my own expression. Since then, reading Arabic pattern techniques, Celtic knot formulas, and other ways of creating intricate forms and compositions across the world have also driven my style. I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable limiting my style as I would regret limiting my expression, but the flexibility of acrylic and flowing natural lines always draws me back.
LC – We were attracted by your last artistic production, has the artworks presented been created for the exhibition or as a part of preexisting works?
RS – Some of the pieces are part of an ongoing challenge to myself. For many years I was unwilling to draw a tree. So at some point, I decided to only draw trees for a while. Then I moved to paint trees and I found that I enjoyed staying in that moment and I have since tried various shapes and varieties of trees. The ones that survived the sketch rounds turned into larger projects and I’ve only become more interested in exploring those shapes. Combining that with my love for figures and portraits has been the natural next step.
LC – In which way the works presented in our exhibition are connected with the exhibition’s theme?
RS – The relationships we have with nature are fundamental to our survival, and our peace. There is a tendency to believe that humanity and our existence remain somehow outside of nature, two separate entities. Our connections run deep, our identities and bodies inherently combine with our environment in ways that we don’t readily comprehend or even notice. In my work I merge these spaces to extend the identity of the self to the entire space it inhabits and into spaces unseen, all playing off the other in a constant rhythm. A future of fluidity and change is how I go about my paintings as well. I am prone to changing my mind midway and letting the piece itself take the lead, I’m never sure how things will end.
LC – What do you think about ITSLIQUID Platform?
RS – I am new to the platform but have only had good experiences, there is a lot of outreach and events that draw quite a few art lovers! It is always an honor to show art to people who really love to experience it.
LC – Would you suggest a collaboration with us? What do you think about our services?
RS – Having a collaboration with ITSLIQUID has been a great learning opportunity for me, and I can only expect it would get better. I was given a lot of help and patience as I haven’t shown internationally before and everyone was very kind.
LC – Do you think ITSLIQUID GROUP can represent an opportunity for artists?
RS – The focus on connecting art collectors/lovers with artists gives us a better platform to find those who would love to see more and see more variety to inspire our own works. Sometimes an artist can feel they’re only creating for other, similar artists, which can create an echo chamber of sorts where no challenges arise and style becomes stagnant.