Paul Vîrlan | Interview
We talked to Romanian young artist Paul Vîrlan about his recent project, “Space Odyssey”. Learn more in an exclusive interview for The re:art.
You have been recently working on a graphic project, more specifically an illustration book called “Space Odyssey”. You were inspired by the book of Arthur C. Clarke and the film of Stanley Kubrick. Why did you choose to approach this theme and is it a result of your own vision of the world and human evolution?
I was looking for a theme for my graduation thesis and experiencing a very chaotic period at that time I wrote a lot on paper as I do not keep a journal. There were ordinary things, wondering what I do as a human and why I feel the need to climb up an imaginary ladder to be better. I decided to use this topic in my thesis and I remembered this “Space Odyssey” story. I kept the name because it was well known and very easy to interpret. I documented how this sophisticated topic was transposed in the film and book, then I fixed my own version.
The book has three chapters, referring to different interpretations of birth, life and death. Let’s start with the first one – “Origins”. Tell us more about this chapter, where we see interpretations from the Bible, the Big Bang, the theory of evolution and even the Roman myth of Romulus and Remus. And what about the geometry and the chromatic of this first chapter?
The ORIGINS chapter offers an interpretation for the beginning of the world. A creating hand, self-confident and laborious, opens the gate to life, which I represent in a chaotic manner. I used Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” in order to express this.
In my illustration everything looks schematic somehow keeping only the basic idea. I gave up portrait because in the following chapters I describe the fact that man is made in the “image and likeliness” of his creator, but I do not depict a wise and serene portrait, but rather one resembling the ape. So I gave up the portrait of this creator to separate the “creator of the world” from one of his products, man, who is influenced and adapted to resist in this world.
“Geometry is the science which restores the situation that existed before the creation of the world and tries to fill the “gap”, relinquishing the help of matter.” (Lucian Blaga)
In the hundred thousand years that followed… the ape men did not invent anything. But they began to transform, they discovered abilities that no other animal possessed. They went to sleep in the evening on a branch as chimpanzees and woke up in the morning, on the grass, as men.
The chapter continues with introducing the relation between man and ape, which at the beginning appears as a dominance of the ape and then as a relationship of affection (an ape offering a fatherly kiss to a human, opening his way in life).
We are apes. And primates. And mammals. And vertebrates. And eukaryotes. And we love each other.
Also to describe man’s most precious thing, life, I used the image of birth, but related to abandon, the rupture between mother and infant.
Loneliness is my most sincere feeling as a man and I tried to highlight it in the illustrations. Alongside this image I depicted an adoption, using the symbol of the she-wolf with Romulus and Remus. These two illustrations are my favorite in the series because they have a powerful symbolics and can easily describe the whole story. The she-wolf is represented as a Cerberus, the one Greek mythology tells us was on the threshold between the living and the dead. The two brothers live in different worlds and so I strengthen the idea of solitude from the previous illustration.
At a chromatic level, I perceived life through yellow, orange and violet. I also tried to maintain a balance between warm and cold.
In the second chapter, you try to highlight how the world is perceived by man and how the medium where we live influences and transforms us. We sense a little irony here, however all seems to look pretty destructive – man fights in order to survive, and evolution is not easy at all. What do you believe were the most important moments in human history, including failures, and what do you think has the power to change man today? Is change always determined by a destructive force?
This chapter opens with a scene describing evolution, as you said, violent evolution, because this describes man best: the desire for supremacy, hatred, but also the will to create.
The image introduces the viewer in the scene, reserving him a safe place behind the rocks to watch the scene closely. We can say we are still in the cave but after the scene described by me we can evolve more beautifully. The composition of this work is ascending to show evolution, and the end is stretch. I cannot know if man is capable or not to climb higher. The superior character carries a flag, which can be interpreted as “the first flag on the moon”, an action which satisfied man opening a little more the diaphragm of the device he sees the world through. It also can be seen as a white flag, a peace flag, something that might determine him to change.
Irony appears in the illustrations that describe two funny experiences for me: Sending the Pioneer plaque in space, engraved with information about life on Earth, which I parody into a bar of chocolate and the Voyager Golden Record which I represent thorough the 4:33“ piece of John Cage. What can human intelligence be for a superior race if not a little sweet besides a coffee? Man has little to say, but feels the constant need of communication going from social networks to sending messages to the stars hoping that up there someone full of mercy and benevolence will help him.
Earth is beautiful, its sounds express life, but after man’s intervention all is masked by noise. Simply noise! Taking this into consideration, the sum between pleasant sounds and noise can be resumed to calmness. All this year I felt like a spectator at John Cage’s concert.
A man can change another and I think this is the solution. Groups of people who develop powerful filters and immune systems resistant to stupidity.
The FORMATIONS chapter presents a scene I like, Saint George fighting the dragon. We observe a vicious circle where evil revives. The scene is viewed by a group of spectators, in a parallel universe, commented, applauded and hooted, but without intervention and moral. So, the lonely man, Saint George, fights all his life without achieving his will to defeat.
I represent this will through a leap without destination, a decay of man only to be enlightened by his goal. I imagine this as a dream, and as after every dream you wake up, I also depicted his fall, a hand begging for salvation. This image offers a little spirituality, a decomposed scenery where light leads towards the symbol of salvation: the cross.
Man! Detach yourself from reality and leap towards your will. It will defeat fear and it will become reality.
Finally, the third chapter is called “Destinations” and it seems to be defined by chaos and madness. Is it how you picture death here?
As you said, this chapter represents chaos leading to the end of humanity. The design is simplified, chaotic, dominated by line. Color tends to get colder, with a focus on violet, a clear symbol of drama and sadness. I represent death in a simple way, through a fallen character. It seems a theatrical scene, as if in the spotlight. I am certain applause will be heard again at this scene. Theater plays end with applause even if the public understood, loved the play or not!
The body will become earth brought by waters and the soul will turn into a star.
Take my dreams one by one. I repeat. Soak them in mud in the black pond.
“It would be frightening to think that in all the cosmos, which is so harmonious, so complete and equal to itself, that only human life is happening randomly, that only one’s destiny lacks meaning”. (Mircea Eliade)
Why is your story not taking place on Earth, but in the immensity of the universe? Is it because these 3 phases (birth, life and death) are universal and you believe that they apply to all living creatures?
Indeed. The 3 chapters are universal and through them I tried to describe life from man to the point of linear evolution, then the planar evolution. I think that the applied style of the illustration forms a suitable couple with the theme.
We are also interested in your digital technique and how it highlights each aspect of the story. Would you have explored this theme in any other way?
I decided to work on an installation to complete the idea, it will be a lamp, an interpretation of the monolith in the film. I think this source of light may be a guide for this lonely man. At least this is what I can do, light a bulb.
Will the book be printed and if so, where and when will it be available? The images will also be accompanied by text or do you think words are unnecessary in this case?
The book will also have a few lines of text which I think will help the viewer to be closer to the correct interpretation of the image. The book will be made by myself with glue and cardboard, but in the near future I will try to look for sponsors, perhaps we will see it in libraries as well. For those interested, I will sell prints, numbered and signed, sized 100 x 50 cm and 50 x 50 cm.
Any other thoughts related to your current project? What are your expectations? Is it just your first? What’s next?
It is the first project that I’ve been working so long for, and I think it is also the most extensive. It is conceived to arouse questions in the mind of the viewer, not to offer answers that I do not have. This is my expectation, that the viewer asks questions!
I am working on another project, “Space Iliad”, and I hope to finish it until next summer. This is all I can say for now.
All images © Paul Vîrlan