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The deep sea of Deams

Unique textures, happy accidents and more with Melbourne artist Deams

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Melbourne artist Deams began painting nearly a decade ago. His early work focused on multi-layered, geometric bird-like forms, but more recently he’s been combining elements of graffuturism, geometry and vivid texture to new effect. Graphic and minimal,  Deams’ latest works offer viewers a clean, soothing world to get lost in.

His September solo show Waves, exhibited at Besser Space in Collingwood, presented a collection of thoughtful works that experimented with pattern and texture in washes of blue, peach, and magenta. The new body of work saw the painter evolve once again, a fresh direction from a boundless imagination.  

Hey man. Waves saw you move away from geometric shapes to play with texture a little more. Where did that move begin?
I see it as less a change of style—or departure from the geometric work—and more an evolution in the language of the work. To be more accurate, it’s the introduction of a new language. As artists we’re always looking for modes of expression that accurately represent our views, our truths and ourselves. I think the ‘change’ you might see in my work is the product of a deeper enquiry and a feeling of the naturally chaotic world needed to be more present in my sphere of language. I’ve found this break from the regimented graphic language very liberating—it’s allowed my work to evolve. And I’ve always been interested and engaged with texture and organic structures, so it wasn’t so much a moment of inspiration, but an acknowledgment of the type of language that was already present in my life, but was yet to be represented.

You also make a good deal of work on the street. How does that process differ from your approach to gallery work?
I’ve maintained an interest in the more singular geometric language in my street work—I find it has a strong dialogue with the urban environment. In the process of creating street work, what I really enjoy most is the conversation my visual language has with the surrounding architecture. It’s the site-specific nature of any given wall that makes for a really interesting exchange, because every space is unique: the frame of a window, an ornate facade, or a deep crack in a wall can direct the work. That all allows [the work] to connect with its surroundings in ways that truly capture my interest. The approach I have in the studio may appear different on the surface, but the processes are similar at art. The real distinction between my street and studio work is in that conversation: in the studio, I’m conducting or creating both sides of the conversation.

Can you tell me more about creating the body of work that made up Waves? How did the idea coalesce?
This collection actually emerged from a more ambitious body of work I’d lined up previously. I came to a difficult crossroads in the development of said collection, which propelled me in a new direction. That’s what became Waves. I find that it’s often through periods of blockage or immense frustration that something special is born. The themes in my work always emerge through the process of exploring: abstraction is intrinsically nonlinear, and for that reason, I find it’s spontaneous feeling or emotion that directs the work rather than a concise concept. It’s only later when I find broader and more universal meaning in the work that moves it into an accessible visual language.

Your use of colour is particularly thoughtful, can you talk about the intention behind the Waves palette?
To quote Wassily Kandinsky, “Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.” Colour is an area of painting I spend a great deal of time exploring, it plays such an important role in our psychological experience of the work. The discovery of an exciting combination often moves or inspires whole collections of work for me. There are some colours that are hard for me not use regularly: Teal, Paynes Grey, Pthalo Green and the fluorescent pigments. They capture certain emotions I wish to express, creating a mood or ambience within the work. The colour choice for Waves was mostly spontaneous, a result of searching for more of a visceral pallet. In my periphery, there was an oceanic voice that drew me into water, sand, sun and salt. I’m also looking for colour combinations that confound the eyes and leave you feeling a bit bent or that have optical effects that might deepen the psychological effect of the works.

And on detail, can you talk through technique used to create the lavishly textured strokes throughout your work?
I use a range of custom-built tools to create these textures. It’s a multi-layered process of under paint preparation and dynamic over painting. A lot of it comes down to understanding the behaviour of the paint, the added mediums and the viscosity of the mix. There’s a fair amount of preparation, which allows me to paint freely, uninhibited by critical thinking. I find this is where abstraction is born, in the non-thought space. It’s a very meditative process.

Do you keep any of the happy accidents that occur during that process?
A lot of unintentional gestures and effects lead me in new directions. They may not see the light of day, but they’ll usually inform something that I’ll be developed in a new work. Perfection is just a state of acceptance within you that allows something to be put at rest. 

I get this really cosmic quality to the scenery in your work. Is that something you also see?
I draw inspiration from some very strange and unusual places. A smell can inspire a colour choice, music can motivate a texture or composition. I use photography to capture a lot of my surrounding environment, which feeds back into my work subliminally. The cosmic or psychedelic elements usually arise from dreams, but are also implemented to direct the work into an otherworldly space.

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