Interviews

Meet the artist Naomi Devil, painter

You in a nutshell (nationality, medium of work …)?

I was born 1987 in Budapest Hungary. I live and work in Budapest and Vienna. My time is divided between the two cities. I had my first exhibition at an early age, I was only 16. I spent 12 years studying at three different universities and finished successfully two of my studies. I did not only study painting but I explored digital art, architecture and design as well. All these different fields influence my artistic approach.

Your encounter with art: how did you first get interested in your medium, and what draws you to it?

I do not exaggerate in saying that I learned to take delight in my own creative capacity when I was still in nursery school. In all educational institutions throughout my life, my heart was filled with joyful expectation before art classes and I enjoyed them enormously. Still, my vocation and strong inclination to an art career did not come into my own awareness until the tenth grade of secondary school. This lack of awareness regarding my own true interests is partly due to the growing pressure and increasing obligations I faced in a private secondary school. Moreover, my mother hoped that I would carry on the family tradition in science, especially in mathematics. I spent innumerable long afternoons solving difficult math problems and preparing myself to take part in mathematics competitions. Although I never enjoyed these hours, and indeed I even found them depressing, upon looking back, I do not think that the time was spent in vain. In fact, I have to give thanks my mother’s insistence on mathematics for the clarity and logical structure of my way of thinking.
From the second term of grade ten, I finished my secondary studies as a private student. I had to learn by myself in the seclusion of our home and I rarely had the chance to meet others of my own age. In this period of my life, at the age of fifteen and a half, I began to draw some fashion designs and paint in order to relax and take a break from the exhausting pace of learning. Since I was longing for the company of my peers and wanted to meet youth of my age group — at least during the summer — I enrolled in the International Academy of Fine Arts in Salzburg.
The course, tutored by London designer Caroline Broadhead, was titled Wearable. The atmosphere of the academy was so captivating and inspiring that it prompted my decision to pursue a career in art. The art world had a strong magnetic effect and mystic influence on me, and I deeply enjoyed the notion of creating something tangible. I found great joy in fashion design and, I admit, having to say goodbye at the end of the course even made me cry. I did not want to return to my boring school subjects and to abandon the community now so close to my heart. I was certain that I had found my own world. I wished to rid myself of the entire burden of secondary school, and I girdled myself to finish the last two years in two semesters. I managed to finish two classes in one year and I took the final exam at the age of seventeen. In the following year, I enrolled in the International Summer Academy of Fine Arts in Salzburg again. In 2006, I got a scholarship and could return to this fantastic community of artists once more.
Before my experience in Salzburg, I had an ambivalent attitude towards painting. My grandfather used to paint landscapes, but this genre was far removed from my circle of interests and it did not affect me in any sense. It took quite a long time until I learned to appreciate the virtuosity of his impressionist technique and the opulent vibration of his lavish colours.
It was first in Salzburg and later in London that I finally started to discover and explore the richness and versatility of the painting medium. Parallel to the fashion design course, there was also a painting class at the academy. There was a great variety of evening programs in the city organized by the academy, including lectures, exhibition openings, excursions, and parties. It was my first close encounter with contemporary art, and it captured my attention and enchanted me. A few months later, at the Saatchi Gallery in London, I saw the works of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, and other members of the group known as the Young British Artist Generation. I began to realize that contemporary art was far more rich and colourful than I had previously supposed. These experiences had a great impact on me and they led me to reconsider my attitude towards art and design. I realized that creating visual worlds interested me more than fashion design.
In the wake of my visit to London I started to prepare for the admission exam at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, since I had missed the chance of taking the exam at the Hungarian academy. In Hungary, one has to apply in February and submit all marks from the first term of grade twelve. Since I had begun grade twelve in January, my performance was not yet evaluated in February. In Vienna, fluency in German and completion of secondary school studies were not among the requirements.
During the summer, I created fifty works to include in my portfolio, among which were paintings, charcoal drawings, and a series of self-portraits. Due to the deep impressions of the Summer Academy in Salzburg on me, most pieces of the portfolio were related to fashion. A photo from Japanese artist Shoichi Aoki’s street-style fashion book Fruits inspired my very first painting. I was fascinated by the diversity of subcultures; young people who regarded their own appearance as a means of self-expression attracted me.
By this time, I was firmly convinced that painting was not a dead medium. It depends on an artist’s own world of ideas and power of expression whether an artwork comes to life, whether it is a masterpiece. It does not matter how the pigment was put on the surface of the canvas; it is irrelevant whether it was sprayed, splattered, printed, or applied with a fine brush. The artist’s ideas, personality, and sensibility are the only factors that count.
It was my father who helped me acquire the basic technical skills for the entrance exam and constantly develop my professional expertise, as my grandfather did not have patience to teach. In the case of my father, he entrusted his best friend, Endre Szász, with the tuition of his own son in painting skills. The subtractive-additive technique which he acquired there, and later taught to me, still constitutes the fundaments of my artistic practice. I work using a subtractive technique on the bottom layers of paint, while the upper layers are applied with a purely additive method.
My father regularly bought me books to make me acquainted with the greatest contemporary artists. I had had, from the very start of my career, an inclination towards realism, but after I came across Gottfried Helnwein’s catalogue, I was completely enchanted by his style. I was fascinated by the incredible subtlety and acuteness of his observations, by his precision, and by the deep social message that characterizes his works. Under Helnwein’s influence, I tried to develop a very precise and detailed technique, and I created all the works that were included in my portfolio in this spirit. Owing to this underlying global concept, my portfolio for the entrance exam seemed to be the work of a fully-fledged realist painter with a youthful attitude.
I was very fortunate because, when I applied, the professors Marcus Muntean and Adi Rosenblum were the examiners during the admission procedure. They are renowned realist painters and the subjects of their paintings are very similar to mine. Hence, I was admitted upon my first attempt and they became my professors. I am not sure whether I would have been successful with the other examiners in subsequent years. Knowing the strict requirements for drawing skills in portraiture and nudes at the Hungarian academy, I could hardly believe that I was among the select few. I found out only later that the unimaginative and lifeless portfolios created during the typical, conventional drawing workshops get rejected in the first round in Vienna, and the examiners look for students with innovative and unconventional ideas, regardless of whether they master the technique.
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Your artistic singularity: what are the major themes you pursue in your work?

Over the last 15 years I’ve spent painting I pursued so many interests it took 12 pages to describe all my topics briefly in my catalogue that was published recently. The catalogue was meant to celebrate my thirtieth birthday and to review, on this festive occasion, fifteen years of work I have accomplished. I like to experiment and these experiments lead to innovations not only what the choices of topic concerns but my technical skills are developing as well. In this regard my recent series “Hedonati” is a good example.
Since 2014, I have been working on a new series that combines digital print with oil painting. This is a mixed technique. The working process comprises different steps, including 3D modeling, photo manipulation, collage, and oil paint. Hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure and sensual self-indulgence, is illustrated on these canvasses. Human beings seeking amusement and gratification appear in special kinds of situations that allow feminist tendencies to be traced.
The concept and main idea of this work cycle are related to the beginnings of Google Art Projects. Thanks to Google Art Projects, the whole collection of several major museums and prominent galleries can be found in high resolution on the Internet. At first, I only studied and analyzed these pictures in order to learn the technical tricks of old masters.
At this time, I was already a graphic design student at the Academy of Applied Arts in Vienna. It is due to the fact that, even after four years as architecture student at the Technical University, I felt that I had neither achieved anything appreciable, nor grasped the essence of the profession. It felt a bit like learning to ride a bicycle theoretically; I believe that practical studies would have been easier. I received good marks in design; however, because of the foreign language, physics, statics and other highly theoretical subjects were simply too difficult for me. Ultimately, I lost my patience while studying long legal texts, which required linguistic subtleties. My studies in architecture remained unfinished and I applied for graphic design studies at the Academy of Applied Arts in Vienna. I hoped to find there the same free atmosphere that characterized the Academy of Fine Arts.
We were working on poster designs for the annual fashion design class exhibition. The concept was to be based upon the keyword alchemy. I was experimenting. I was using the 3DsMax software to create golden liquids and a golden skeleton. I wanted to add these elements to my poster. During work I stumbled upon the idea that I could use the paintings I had found on the Internet — due to Google Art Projects — to create collages in which I mix classic paintings with prints of my newly created golden models. This is how the first eclectic piece of the series was born. It initiated an explosion-like surge of my creative energies.
I started to wonder how to give a Velazquez painting a contemporary touch. I had several ideas. For example, in one of the paintings it was eventually realized by using the simple gag of adding a laser sword to the hands of the figure. Humor was meant to be the essence of this series. I am snatching these classic paintings out of their conservative, stiff, and rigid world in order to place them into a more cheerful, contemporary context. I am kindling a spark on the canvas not only by my use of color, but also figuratively by letting figures and elements characteristic of different eras clash with each other. Frills and ruffs of starched lace, velvet, and silk are contrasted with golden skeletons shining through the bodies. It creates a thrilling tension. The emphasis is on hedonism and lavish lifestyles. My aim was to bring some humor into these classic paintings and to modify them in such a way that they no longer seem outdated or stiff.
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Which techniques do you use?

I paint like old masters with oil on canvas most of the time but there are a couple of mixed media works as well. The working process in this case comprises different steps, beginning with the modeling of various three-dimensional elements in 3DsMax. These models are mapped with different textures. In the next phase, I work with Photoshop, making a collage using high-resolution renderings of my 3D models and parts of classic and new paintings.
In the first phase of the “Hedonati” series (2014-2016) the collage was printed on the canvas, which was then painted all over with oil paint in the final phase. It may seem easy, but the whole process demands a great amount of skill and hard work. When the canvases arrive from the print shop, they are absolutely dull and lifeless, with flat color dynamics. My challenge is to bring life into the picture. As I regard it, the print on the canvas has the same role as the first layers of old masters’ paintings, which are sketches transferred onto the canvas by apprentices using a square grid, and a toned and shaded ground. When the canvasses arrive from the print shop, they are absolutely dull and lifeless, with flat color dynamics. My challenge is to bring life into the picture. I have to highlight the important details and to push everything of secondary importance to the background. The dramaturgy of the painting is created in this last phase. My work is similar to that of the conductor of an orchestra, who decides which musical instrument should play the key role.
In the second phase of this series I call “Dolce far niente” (2017) I gave up printing the images on the canvas. I‘ve drawn the motive on the canvas by hand, and built up the picture layer by layer with oil just as old masters did. I´m used to posting an image of my painting process every day on Instagram.
AAC_NaomiDevil_07

An artist or an artwork which particularly inspires you?

Earlier in my career I found certain artists and artworks inspiring which might have had an effect on my development. However I believe the influence of other artists has never been significant. Over the last few years I recognized having a strong interest in artworks that are completely different from my own ones.
I appreciate artists who explore the possibilities of technical and technological innovation.
Development is part of our lives, and it is the duty of artists to integrate new discoveries into the working process and to experiment with recent inventions.
I am a big fan of light art. Light, the immaterial artistic medium, puts me under a spell. The Targetti Light Art Award exhibition and the light art exhibition I saw in the Zentrum für Kunst und Medien in Karlsruhe are still deeply stored in my memory. Artists working with materials like metal, mirror and glass also fascinate me.
These are still a couple of genres with which I would like to experiment, but everything has its financial implications as well. In the world of art, creating even a single piece can be extremely costly. For instance, I once created a cybernetic sculpture for the Hungarikon collection, integrating Nicolas Schöffer’s sandglass into an engine-powered kinetic sculpture. The rotation of the elements creates a Moiré effect resembling the mathematical infinity symbol. The costs of the realization were considerable.
On the other hand, although electronic and high-tech art are very attractive, I have some reservations because of long-term changes in their apperception and because of the generally shorter lifespan of such works. I have thoroughly studied the oeuvre of the pioneers of kinetic and cybernetic art. Most of their sculptures, which were created in the 60’s, were at that time incorporating the newest ideas and the most recent stages of technical and scientific development. Nevertheless, compared with today’s standards they appear somewhat outdated and technologically obsolete. I would find it frustrating if my work, which, at the time of its creation, deserved the adjective cutting-edge, would seem to be a freakishly old-fashioned contraption after only a couple of years.

For more information about Naomi, please check following pages:
Website:naomidevil.com
Facebook:www.facebook.com/naomidevilart
Instagram:www.instagram.com/naomi.devil

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