Brady Walker: How do you think about your own creative license in a collaboration like this?
Arne Spangereid: I felt a great degree of creative freedom in this collaboration. I enjoy working from photographs in general, and when the reference material is as interesting and beautiful as Olga’s “Pauline” is, it inspires me. Furthermore the curator of this collaboration, Animus, also encouraged me to feel free and take as much artistic license as I want. I imagine that I am like a musician doing a cover of a well-known song — it is just as important to put your own spin on it as it is to do the original justice. After all, being yourself is all that you can do.
BW: How did the process of painting the work change your perception of Olga’s photo?
AS: The process of painting involves studying the subject at hand closely, and that in turn leads to new discoveries. Olga’s photo immediately struck me as beautiful, mysterious, and with clear nods to the old masters of painting.
Working from the photo for hours made me admire the incredible attention to detail and how much skill and effort must go into staging a shot like that. Take for instance the model’s intricate hairdo — it must have taken hours to create. And how did she manage to get the ermine, an animal, to behave so perfectly with the model retaining her serene expression?
I began to imagine Olga as a movie director on a big set, with so many elements to get in place in order to make the scene spring to life. I feel grateful to be allowed to work from such a fabulous reference photograph.
BW: Did you feel pushed out of your creative comfort zone with this collaboration? If so, how? If not, why?
AS: Being put out of my comfort zone is precisely why I enjoy challenges like this: it makes me work on ideas I might not have come up with on my own. Sometimes that can lead to new discoveries that influence the general direction of my artistic practice.
Portraits are not what I normally do, so that in itself was a step out of my comfort zone. However, it was also a natural progression from a series of works I did for the Duchess of York, where I painted four canvases with many faces in them, but none of them full-on portraits. Animus, who has helped me a lot on my NFT journey, selected it because he thought it would fit my style and suit my artistic interests. What makes me most uncomfortable, however, is the thought of viewers comparing my painting to the incredibly beautiful original photo.
BW: Can you describe the process of adapting this photo to a painting? Did you take the prompt literally? Were you entertaining any directions that you ended up not taking?
AS: Since I am a figurative painter I guess you can say I took the prompt figuratively 🙂 Which means I decided to stay quite faithful to the photograph in terms of representing the beautifully arranged model — but putting it through the filter of my own style. I did entertain ideas of trying to paint much more realistic; to make her face and hands more detailed. But when I worked on some sketches in that direction, I noticed that I started to feel cramped, frustrated, and losing my energy. I believe the energy I feel when I paint shines through in the final result. I will rather take a bold stroke with a big brush and risk ruining the painting, rather than fidgeting with some small detail for hours.
As a final touch, I added a layer of GIF animation of letters and scribbles around the figure. That made it pop and also rebirthed the painting as a native digital work. “Pauline Redux” as I call this artwork, is scheduled to be in an exhibition with the legendary Richard Bernstein in Croatia. The GIF elements give an echo of the POP art Bernstein was influential in establishing alongside Andy Warhol. In other words, the concept of the future exhibition served as a further source of inspiration for the work.
BW: How would you advise artists entering their first collaboration?
AS: Try to find someone who complements what you do — that often means working differently from you. I have a guiding theory: nature has ordered it so that life does not clone itself in reproduction, but two sets of DNA are combined to create new life. It is not healthy to have sets of DNA that are too close — avoid inbreeding. If you are a painter you could for instance invite a graffiti artist to spray paint over your precious oil painting. Or if you are an animator, find someone who creates interesting sketches to animate. In my case, Olga is a photographer, and I am an oil painter. It allowed for a process where both work with freedom and confidence to do what we do best. Think about peanut butter and jelly 🙂