Bill Dambrova’s paintings twist, bulge, and slime in a colorful explosion. They are absolutely strange and could very well be enlargements of microscope snap shots or layered fractals. There are millipedes that ooze cyanide, lizards that shoot blood from their eyes and the genetic strides for survival that humans have had to make from homo-erectus to modern day man are mind-boggling. These are the strange notions, bigger picture, that fuel Bill’s creations. His upcoming show Resilient Bodies is a visual exploration of fragility and fortitude. Bill was kind enough to elucidate on his complex painted microcosm in anticipation for this celebration of the branches of science.
December 2, 2016 | 6-10pm
1301 NW Grand Avenue Phoenix, AZ
Justine: You are a native of Arizona, a place that Max Ernst and many other artists have marked as a place with a wealth of visionary vitality and stimulation. Why do you think this is and has the area influenced your work?
Bill Dambrova: Arizona and most of the Southwest has the kind of severe geological beauty that reminds me that I am living on a tiny planet that is hurtling through space, and that I am just this even smaller cosmic being that somehow lives on it. There are places so vast that I just stand there wondering how it is possible that all of this even exists?” You can see layers of the Earth that have been sitting like that for millions of years. You can literally see time, on a level our brains cant really comprehend which brings up all kinds of questions about time and space. The desert, to some, can look bleak or even monotonous, but once you start digging around, looking under rocks and in caves you find that there are endless levels and layers of meaning that are there if you know how to look deeply. Exploring in the desert has had a profound effect on how I live my life and how I approach my work. I’m constantly questioning and looking deeper into the mystery of our existence and most of my paintings are about that.
Your work has an immense amount of layering; there are ins and outs curving and connecting with one another. What is the process like to set up a new painting, and what concepts or visuals help spur the creative evolution?
Years ago when I started looking at other artists work for clues as to how and what I wanted to paint, it was the abstract expressionists that really stood out. The paintings that resonated with me had a visceral expressive quality; long bifurcating brush strokes reminded me of veins and arteries and the bulbous brightly colored shapes looked like dissected organs or scenes you see when looking at biological tissue under a microscope. Check out Norman Bluhm’s work and you’ll see what I mean. Joan Mitchell paintings looked like colorful massacres. Philip Guston’s abstract paintings were these delicate pink backgrounds with chaotic colorful middles that reminded me of an autopsy and a box of assorted candy simultaneously. The idea that abstraction is supposed to be about nothing but pure emotion wasn’t enough for me. I need a narrative.
So my early abstract paintings spontaneously started to grow these figurative areas and sometimes I would just turn the brush strokes into veins that were tied up in knots and the ephemeral organic blobs became solid organ-like forms. The energy of the expressive marks with the biological forms captured the essence of what I imagine could be going on in our bodies. I started using layers in my work to try and show the process of time all on one plane, like the million year old rocks, but more and more the layers in my paintings started reflecting the layers of individual cells, genes, microbes, germs, parasites, etc. that work like a colony behind the scenes within our bodies. I think about all of those things and how they all actually have their own agendas for survival.
We feel like we are in charge, but are we? We have some control like making our legs move, but we can’t stop our own hearts at will, use our whole brains, or regenerate body parts. Something I’ve been thinking about lately is whether it is possible to communicate with our cells and facilitate healing. In my research, there are documented reports that prove using visualization techniques and guided imagery can actually work to heal you. I know it sounds bold to say that looking at a painting could empower people to start imagining what is happening within their own bodies and heal them, but wouldn’t that be amazing if it could?
What is the first experience you can remember with art? Did you know that your personal trajectory would take you towards this career?
I can remember drawing and finger-painting with tiny little hands, the usual kid art. My first experience feeling like there was something more to art than just illustrating or copying was when a teacher in second grade gave us all a piece of paper with a symbol on it. Mine had a question mark. She told us to create a drawing of something else using the question mark as a starting point. I added a second dot to make two eyes and the curvy part became a trunk. I made an elephant out of it transforming one thing into another. It was conceptual and magical. The teacher saw it and told me that I would make a great artist. I believed her. Positive reinforcement by a teacher set me on the path.
Education is also an important aspect of your oeuvre. You’ve collaborated with colleges, taught at a high school as an artist in residence, and have a wealth of knowledge and love for biology. What drew you to teaching? Why is art education so critical to society?
Well, I’m not exactly a teacher in the traditional sense. My experience as an artist in residence is more like when the crazy uncle shows up and gets to play with the kids, corrupt their minds, and then leave. That is my role as a “teacher” right now; I want to be more of an instigator. Schools are institutions and as artists, one of our roles is to think outside of social structures and monocultures. To me, art is about freedom, breaking rules, and expressing yourself. I like to be the one to remind students about that. Plus, I don’t have a “teacher voice”. I see everyone as an equal and I can’t tell someone to sit down and draw. If someone told me that, I probably wouldn’t do it. Don’t get me wrong; I feel that art education is essential for some artists. Not everyone is an artist but there are different learning styles and ways of interacting with the world. Some of us are visual, we need to have our superpowers honed and tuned, and some just don’t jive with the structured education system. Being a visual person and being tested and graded on work that comes from the heart can be less than empowering.
Education about art, like art history and theory is critical to society. This is a thing that I feel should be even more integrated into the classroom. Art is the heart of culture, and understanding the art of different people and communities past and present is a reminder that diversity and self-expression is a huge part of what makes us human.
What is this new solo show about, and what can we hope to see from you in the future? Any artists you want to collaborate with or concepts you hope to explore?
The title for this show coming up is Resilient Bodies. I’m at a place with my work where I feel that its time to look back and see how my earliest work that deals with the inner workings of living things has evolved into what I’m working on now. I feel that it is important for people to see that my work is really experimental in nature. I’m not just coming up with random ideas out of thin air and painting about them. One painting or idea leads to another. I’ve created ten new pieces specifically dealing with the balance of the delicate and the resilient aspects of our bodies and selected about 17 earlier works from my collection and private collections that have a similar thread.
In the future, I am working towards getting more public art opportunities and getting my work into places like hospitals and children’s museums. In the short term I am doing these paintings that I’m calling “BiOdes”. The term is a made up word that comes from the words biology and geode. A geode is a small cavity in rock lined with crystals or other mineral matter. An “ode” is a kind of poem devoted to the praise of a person, animal, or thing. So I’m creating these cavities filled with stylized biological imagery and they are in fact in praise of our physical form. Geodes are a total AZ thing you by as a souvenir. You pick out a dull looking roundish rock out of a pile take it home and break it open and there is this beautiful world inside. I’m hoping to capture that sense of discovery in the paintings. Giant sculptures of this experience are also something I’d like to play with.
As far as collaborating goes, I like crossing disciplines. I want to work with more dancers, musicians, chefs, and even doctors.