Interview with Colin Raff
q) What is your name?
a) Colin Raff
q) Where do you live and work?
a) I’m currently based in
q) What is your creative process like?
a) Ideally, it should proceed like a Prussian magpie building a solid and sturdy nest out of oneiric jetsam.
q) What is your favorite medium?
a) Image manipulation. I begin by selecting elements as for a collage, but today’s exciting appliances further allow one to scale, skew, fondle and otherwise perturb the source material so that the result is alien to the ingredients.
I should mention that I am actually a writer (by trade, temperament, and grander intent), and view this visual work simply as ornament, subordinate to the text. When a piece of mine is purely graphic, I see it as assuming the condition of text, and when it operates completely outside of narrative, then to me it has adopted a complementary role by performing some extra-literary function. These relations are always present, if not apparent. Anyway, synthesizing an original image out of found sources is not unlike composing a sentence out of extant words.
q) What is your current favorite subject?
a) It seems clear to me that the choice of subject is important only in how it accommodates or challenges the artist. I personally favor the variety of a rotating, steadily replenished buffet service o’ subjects, with repeat helpings of certain high-yield motifs — like masks, for example, or speculative invertebrates. I keep the cutlery sharp, the plate at arm’s length and abstain from autobiographical confections of any kind.
q) How long does it take for you to finish a piece?
a) Usually too long, except when a time constraint warps the fabric of necessity.
q) What has been your biggest accomplishment so far?
a) Probably a few still-unpublished texts. I believe the visual work is improving as it goes along.
q) Are there any contemporary artists that you love?
a) They tend to die whenever I namecheck them.
q) Can we buy your art anywhere?
a)I haven’t exhibited in a while, but things have been appearing in magazines and I did print a small booklet last year, many copies of which are still floating around. I can’t escape the idea of the book-format as being the ultimate goal. I focus hermetically on my work and am bad about promotion.
q) Anything that people should know about that we don’t?
a) Yes. The Calabrian setabaretta or silk-finger centipede (S. digitalis) is a midsized example of the Scolopendra family, reaching up to
q) What is your best piece of advice for those who would like to rise in their level of artistry?
a) Decide who the masters are of whatever you want to do. Select what you consider exemplary works by them to examine, thoroughly and ruthlessly. Vivisect that shit in your mind in order to isolate those vital elements of technique which pertain to your own process. Don’t worry about spoiling your appreciation: Genuine beauty endures scrutiny. (If the initial merit of something dissipates on closer inspection, then what you admired actually came from you, and now belongs to you.) Some artists will frown on the idea of being critical like this. Yet it’s the only way I’ve advanced.
Here’s a recent example: To get an understanding of how to use color, I’ve been anatomizing several paintings by Delacroix, because he’s the best. Now, from reading his journals, it turns out that he was engaged in just the sort of conduct that I’m flogging: He would probe selected surfaces by Rubens, Rembrandt and others, determine how they juxtaposed hues, rendered shading, etc., and apply the findings to his own violent but consummate color arrangements. In this way, Delacroix honed his talent throughout his life. He’s not someone I would presume to argue with.
q) What inspires you to keep going when the work gets frustrating or tough?
a) The awareness that this frustration is a fixed juncture on a familiar circuit, and will eventually give way to the next stage.
(Pragmatic answer: I take a DVD break and watch Lee Van Cleef shoot people, then go back to what I was doing.)
q) How do you describe your work to those who are unfamiliar with it?
a) I’d rather not, but if they’re armed, I might tell them it’s grotesque (a term which, if they looked it up, gets its name from the grottoes unearthed in Rome in the 15th century (which turned out to be rooms in Nero’s villa (with murals depicting hybrid animals, torsional shrubs, and mythological crime scenes (corralled neatly into harmonious partitions)))). That might explain things. Or I could just say that it’s artificial and imaginary without being “fantasy” as that word is currently understood (i.e. wish fulfilment, escapism, boilerplate allegory, etc.). I just think of it as fiction, straight up.
q) Do you think that leaving a plaquean of rohumbabisque on the stump of a marble column can provoke more zudith than just placing it on a table somewhere?
a) You’re the first person to ask me that! And I’m so glad you did. I agree about the column, but its shaft should have flutes (Tuscan won’t cut it). And if you really want to bring the funk, the rohumbabisque should be lightly früned, then buldered with a trusque of ventch.
q) What kind of training did you have which helped you achieve your current level of artistry?
a) None formally; only the methods mentioned above.
q) Is there a tool or material that you can’t imagine living without?
a) No, but my present work requires a camera, a scanner and naturally a Macintosh – even if this wheezing pre-Intel beast will have to be put out to pasture in not too long.
q) Who are your influences?
a) A concise answer would be impossible. I live amid untidy ziggurats of tomes. The impulse is to simply vomit out a pantheon that would suffer from criminal omissions regardless of size. Bruegel made the first lasting impression (visually speaking), and his sense of space and composition has stayed with me. My first grown-up reading was Poe. Ovid is central, as is Roussel, Mallarmé, George Eliot, Gibbon, Petronius, De Quincey, Gautier — and at this moment, I could add Goya, Ernst, Buñuel, Manet, Bava, Fritz Lang, European exploitation cinema in general, Klinger, (here the floodgates open) Klee, Hogarth, Robbe-Grillet, Jess, Hamlet, Himes, Piranesi, Gourmont, Botticelli, Dix, Duchamp, Blake, etc. etc. etc. etc. already. While some of these names are constants, this maddeningly truncated and grocerilistic inventory would be different if rattled off a month from now. It could also be even shorter, or twenty times as long. This has been a frustrating question.
q) What inspires you to create?
a) Being not dead yet. There are no spare raisons d'être in my gondola’s glove compartment. Only gloves, and maybe a few centipedes.
q) …your contacts…