Finding logic in emotions and vice versa. An exploration into untangling the chaos of the mind through tangible artistic dialogues by multi-disciplinary Dutch artist, Levi van Veluw
Levi van Veluw: a visual paradox
Despite the visual narrative of repetition in Levi van Veluw’s productions, there is nothing stale about them. The monochromatic realizations aim to seduce the viewer into an illusionary performance while simultaneously taking them on a journey of self-reflection.
As a result, he expresses a need to reclaim lost control over a troubled childhood through his affinity for patterns, symmetry, and grid-work. Thematically dissolving boundaries between his personal life and art, Levi attributes the emotive aspect of his rigid and solid structures to the preconceived notions and associations people have with shapes, objects, and color. He aims to provide the cornerstone for spectators to experience their own immersive story through his work.
Since 2007, Levi has constantly expanded his artistic domain, experimenting across various disciplines from installations and film to charcoal sketches and sculpture. This has made him a master of material manipulation, able to render sculptures that appear solid and compositionally balanced yet exude a sense of structural fragility, hinting that everything may tip into chaotic disarray at any moment.This visual paradox is intentional as Levi hopes the viewer consumes his art with an undercurrent of tension.
Levi van Veluw speaks to Lampoon
Levi van Veluw discusses the importance of questioning yourself, being transparent through self-criticism, and creating a rationale to lend credibility to self-realised works.
Aarushi Saxena: Can you tell me about your early days and where you’ve come since?
Basically, who is Levi – then and now:
Levi van Veluw: I started at art school like many other people and interned with photographer Erwin Olaf. After my graduation in 2007, I started working for myself and had an exhibition in Amsterdam. After that, it moved ahead; I got into publicity with newspapers and magazines. Now, I’ve been working for fifteen years.
AS: Your initial projects indicate you were finding your muse within yourself, and since then, thematically, the subject of your productions is almost always you.
LV: In a way, it’s a bit about themselves for all artists. We don’t produce art with a group of people most of the time, so it is an individual practice – a lot of art is autobiographical.
I started by using myself as an object, trying to deform and transform materials.
AS: You’re referring to the photographs with ballpoint renditions on your face?
LV: In the beginning, when I did the portraits, it wasn’t autobiographical, instead just me being an object. It was a basic simple concept that began as a project in school when I was still a poor student. I started making these rooms, where you zoom out and see my boyhood. The theme was about nightmares and experiences I had when I was young. Since then, I have tried to build a vocabulary to feel where my ideas came from.
In 2011, I made a photograph of my family, called ‘A gold family’ – from the series ‘Origin of the Beginning’–, where you see us in a kind of perfect family setting. Though, when I was young, it was completely different. The repetitive wooden blocks on the wall and suits symbolize me trying to find control in a disturbing environment. All the elements have a purpose, where I try to tell a story through the experience.
AS: This also requires complete transparency with oneself, where you’re able to explore the depths of your creativity and no discussion is off-limits?
LV: There are limits, though. As an artist, you have ideas and try to figure out where they came from. So that became a theme for me in the beginning. Later on, it was less critical but still is a part of my effort.
AS: How have you become comfortable sharing this intimacy of your life with the world?
LV: That wasn’t easy, but of course, you don’t share the details. If you ask somebody on the street, every person could have a story – so I don’t think mine is exceptional. But it is a starting point to create this theme that has a conflict; where you see something that looks perfect, is controlled, and all the blocks are in order yet you feel there’s a tension and something is wrong. So this struggle is interesting – and as an artist, I can make it physical.
a demand for control
AS: Characteristically, your visual vocabulary is all about patterns and symmetry, including grids with spheres that repeatedly feature across your productions on all media. Is this a demand for control that draws you to such imagery?
LV: You can see a grid on a plan if you do a simple translation. If you look at your schedule on Gmail, it’s a grid, too – reflecting a specific control. For me, these elements and symbols are solid, and I think they are for many people because you live within four walls and try to organize your life in a certain way. You must find a balance between being strict and not becoming bored. You don’t want to live in a regime – you want freedom too. So I figured out how to translate this feeling into a piece of work without explaining it by making these sculptures.
When I was very young, I had this nightmare with spheres rolling in infinite space – they were organized but then started bouncing, and it became chaos. That’s why these balls are an important symbol for me. If you put a sphere on a table, it will always roll in one direction because it’s not stable, but a block is made to be organized – if you put it on a table, it will stay there. That’s why I use these balls in my work: to represent an uncontrollable part.
AS: Okay, so introspection seems to be a fundamental part of your creative process where you face your doubts and then answer them through the process of making art?
LV: Yes, because I question ‘why am I making this?’, ‘what is the reason?’ In the end, there’s no reason coming from the outside. It is not about aesthetics; it is not about: ‘I’m going to make this work because it looks beautiful,’ but instead, it will look beautiful because of the concept in the work and the shape and material that comes from it. That’s always the way. Sometimes it is difficult for people to understand the complicated process as you said – it is introverted.
finding a logic in the madness
AS: What is the method to your madness? The concepts are emotionally rooted, yet the finished piece looks calculated and logical. How do these contrasting approaches find a place in a single body of work?
LV: In the beginning, there are all these ideas. But it’s what most people do – try to find logic in this madness and chaos – maybe there never is. Like in a dream, something that’s straight can also be bent. But if you make a real object, you have to make choices; you have to decide; you have to choose a material and color. From the idea to the finished object, it is all about choices, so it becomes something logical anyway. The process is demanding, and when it is finished – it is what it is. You do work, reflect on it, then make another one, and so on.
an inter-related approach
AS: The conceptualisation of your artistic productions is multi-disciplinary itself. Does this inter-related approach help you uncover potential flaws and mistakes?
LV: That’s true. I started with photography, but I never wanted to be a photographer. I always thought I wanted to do sculpture and maybe try other mediums. So during my career, I’ve experimented with drawing and photography and video and sculptural pieces.
That was important for me to investigate the visual language I wanted. For example, if you make a drawing, then everything is possible. Still, you have a different approach to the concept if you make an installation because people can enter it and experience it entirely differently. Though most of the time, it comes from one to another. Sometimes I have an idea for a space, but it’s impossible to build that kind of imaginary space.
So, I draw – it can be a sketch with a charcoal stick. Then, I think about how to convert this into an actual installation, possible and not. The drawings are translated into installations, but sometimes they become a drawing or sculpture. These mediums all have their purpose, and I build on that. My work is experiential but through visual languages: using color, shape, and the associations people have with objects.
the color factor in Levi van Veluw artworks
AS: Talking about color, is the dark monochromatic mood intuitive to life experiences or perhaps an indifference to color itself? Can you explain your rationale?
LV: In the beginning, it was a decision to eliminate the factor of color. When you have color, it pushes you in one direction. It’s more straightforward with black and white, and you’re just looking at light and dark – without the associations you have with color. If something is yellow, you think it will be happy. This choice was also about the deeper and more unfortunate relationship with black and white as a combination. You want people to notice the structure, not the object or color. For example, in my wooden sculptures, the wood lines are so thin that it appears to be a charcoal drawing and not a real object. Later on, with the religious theme, the color supported the concept – blue is more mysterious and profound, but it is also calm and warm.
AS: Could there be a new color in play in your upcoming projects?
LV: Maybe. I’m doing a new exhibition in London, which is a bit like what you’ve seen in Florence. Because of the pandemic, that exhibition was postponed many times, and I still want to showcase that theme in London. I will do a completely new show in Amsterdam in November at my main gallery. Though I don’t think it will be a super happy theme – that is just not me. It will be mysterious, about infinity and the constant feeling I often have. New colors are possibilities, but I don’t choose them because I like them, only if they fit the concept. I’m always trying to make new things and not have too much repetition, but you sometimes need to repeat a few times to spread the work across the world with a more international career.
AS: There is a solidness to much of your work that simultaneously co-exists with the sense that everything may tip into chaotic disarray any minute. This creates a sort of undercurrent and tension for the beholder, pushing them into experiencing rather than simply viewing. Is this visual paradox intentional?
LV: That’s the most challenging part – to find this balance. It is effortless to make something that looks chaotic or thoroughly organized. But you want this tension between these two elements. That’s the purpose for me. It’s not easy to achieve it because the two aspects are powerful, and it is easy to have one be more dominant than the other. So I try to find something in between.
This balance is the main thing humankind struggles with: our structure, a city, and nature. Most people are also fighting with these elements in their minds, trying to find the balance between organization and chaos.
the romantic part of the apocalypse
AS: One of the most apparent forms of being transparent with yourself is being your critic. Have some instances resulted in a complete change of course for any projects to date?
LV: It happens a lot. People don’t see it from the outside, but sometimes you start with a project, which becomes something completely different. The whole process of making a work reflects on it and being vulnerable. If you’re always self-fulfilled with your work, you will never change it. I think you have to be self-critical and always question why. As I said earlier, nobody is telling me what to do. I’m not changing the world; I’m not directly helping somebody, so the only reason to make it is that I think it’s worth making. That’s a big thing – sometimes you make the reason bigger than it maybe is. Don’t be blocked by your ideas and get them out of your fingers – art needs to go on.
AS: The pandemic is never-ending, climate change is bearing down upon us and social inequality still exists – do any of these themes influence you?
LV: I think everything around you will affect your ideas, but I’m not particularly eager to do works that are very to the point. My work is all about the deeper feelings, and I don’t want to make a political statement. Questions like: where does it come from, why do we struggle with nature, how does our mind work are vital. These emotions, feelings, and experiences are what I try to translate into my work.
AS: So you turn down the volume on the outside world and listen to your inner dialogue
LV: Of course, these apocalyptic themes or maybe the romantic part of the apocalypse, the feeling of being locked down, people’s struggles can, in a way, influence me.
the Florence exhibition
AS: You just recently wrapped up a show at Florence, ‘Between Belief and Delusions’ – it is a reflection on your curiosity towards religion and the architecture of spirituality? Can you elaborate?
LV: It became a theme a few years ago. I thought it would be fascinating to investigate this vocabulary. When I was very young I had to go to church – there you see all these rituals, people and the building and its architecture. I always questioned why it looks this way or how you know it should look like this if nobody knows what it should look like. It’s just imagination by people. So I got interested in this translation that people made of something spiritual and not physical – into an object. From there, I started making my objects with this vocabulary.
For example, when something is in the center, it becomes essential spiritually, which is the visual language I used in my installations. At the exhibition in Florence, I also added another factor of kinetic movement, with a spring engine that moves the object. It is the soul of the sculpture – where people are putting in the energy, so it becomes a ritual.
AS: Can I ask about how your studio looks on a typical day – does it reflect the order of your finished pieces or the chaos that inspires them?
LV: I try to find the order. I can’t have an international career and be completely chaotic – I have to be organized. When you find new ideas, you have to let everything go. My studio is a big workshop with tools and machines, and I also have an office with a giant computer – in that way, it looks normal. There’s a lot of production because the installations involve practical craftsmanship. But the chaos is always in my mind, and I try to organize it afterward.
Levi van Veluw
Dutch artist born in the town of Hoevelaken in 1985. He studied at the ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Arnhem. Since graduating in 2007, Levi van Veluw has produced multi-disciplinary works that includes scenographic installations, photographs, films, sculptures, paintings and drawings. This varied body of work has been showcased in many different locations across Europe and the United States, earning him a number of nominations and awards.