Interview with Christian VinckTuesday, April 7, 2020
The following interview is the fifth of a series conducted by the Venezuelan artist Ángela Bonadies. Her conversations with Latin American visual artists and filmmakers continue the CPPC's tradition of preserving first-hand cultural testimony.
Christian Vinck (Maracaibo, 1978) is a Venezuelan artist who defines himself as belonging to a long tradition of amateur painters. Christian generates rhythms that make his brush a drumstick that taps upon the tension of the frame and grants a glimpse of an emotive, explosive pulse. As Juan Pablo Garza points out, “Christian is a very prolific artist. He is always processing and translating into his work a world of information that he accumulates. His subjects of interest vary from antique documents to newspaper cuttings, landscapes, baseball cards, photography collections, album covers, book covers, domestic objects, ships, historical encyclopedias, portraits, airplanes, soccer matches: a truly long list...One of the things that most interests me about Christian’s work is the fact that it is very straightforward. It does not really ask for too many explanations or justifications. In any case, sometimes, in order to read his work, you only need a little bit of context.” We can find this context as we turn the pages of his book Cuaderno Caribe. There, the maximum is on display, and his interests move in visions and dimensions that are as all-encompassing as they are intimate, from a window and a horizon, the birds, the trees, the buildings that fill them, to the furniture, the drawers, the bookshelves, the armoires and all that we keep and store in them—all objects become gestures that comprise the ID card of an artist who touches and mixes through painting.
From this place of concentrated action and atomized details, we spoke about what motivates his daily work, his pictorial language, the contexts and the paths of wonder that reach the canvas and overflow.
Ángela Bonadies [AB]: The other day when we spoke, you commented that you have always painted, but that in some way, painting as a trade, as work, caught you by surprise when you were doing other things. What was that moment like, when you turned toward painting, and what did you paint at first? Are you following that same line, or is there even a line?
Christian Vinck [CV]: I think painting has always accompanied me. I suppose, as with everything, the more you do, the more you learn, and you are filled with wonder. As time went by, painting embraced me more and more, and up to today, it brings joy to my life.
AB: How do you decide to start a series, to make a series? What astonishes you?
CV: Each work is born differently. Some come from a very abstract idea and others from some concrete motif that really shakes the ground beneath you and speaks in your ear—it punches you in the stomach. Wonder is presented in mysterious forms and it moves us. Personally, I think it happens to me with the most simple things in life. This weekend I finished a bird-related work, a ton of portraits of finches, especially the three most common in Darwin’s work. Then, as I was making coffee, I turn around and find one singing, inside the house. It makes me laugh to think that it had escaped from a painting. Without a doubt, when I paint, I sense that the brushstrokes give off sparks, and with a finished work, I never know clearly how it came to be what it is, starting from the white canvas. It is deep belly laughter.
But, going back to the first question, I like to think that the work determines the line. It’s not something that's calculated. I’m not interested in having total control of the painting; I think that that’s how powerful things happen. You wind up conversing with the work, and doubtlessly with others and with yourself.
I think that, in the long run, to follow a line of work is death, and very boring. There is a whole universe to discover. As Claudio Perna said, "backpacks and enlightenment.” There are many paths to travel and paintings to paint.
AB: It’s quite beautiful to follow this trajectory. The finch that was in your house came out of one of your paintings, and some of the paintings came from Darwin. It's another way of tracing the line of the theory of evolution. Does your bird-related work originate beyond or before Darwin? I’d also like to know how you interpret Perna’s phrase, "backpacks and enlightenment.”
CV: You’re right, the history of these birds is fascinating. Beyond Darwin and the great study by Peter and Rosemary Grant, we keep learning from them. They are mischievous little things. Personally, this work is a journey within. Someone once told me that my last name means "finch" in Dutch, although I don’t know if that’s precisely true as there's an extra “c” hanging out there. For months, I dedicated myself to making their portraits and to learn how to paint them; in pajarístico [bird language] as Juan Luis Martínez would describe it. There are works that are like climbing mountains: they give you vertigo, they are intricate. Others, like this one, seem more like time spent fishing, in which patience is everything, the wait for a magic moment.
For me, “morals and enlightenment" is an invitation to give yourself over, to discover the wondrous universe in front of us. To leave the classrooms and go out to take a walk.
AB: A walk during which you see things and paintings. Other paintings and other works. What do you find outside that brings you wonder, that makes what you have inside, that finch, rise in flight? What gives potential to your work and drives you to action?
CV: I am self-taught, and I feel that I am part of a long tradition of amateur painters. I’m moved by illustrations of flora and fauna—they are the most gorgeous gouaches and watercolors—as well as the work of many of my artist friends. Also, those mysterious maps that were frequently made by many hands, with one purpose. I’m amazed by animated drawings, that pile of images that make a truck move or a bird fly. Goya’s profile of a half-submerged dog, which is one of the paintings I love most in this world. It is always on my mind.
AB: Are you interested in working in another medium, with other people?
CV: Painting is work that is almost always solitary; all you have in front of you is a canvas or a board. That’s why I really like to work with other people. For a while now I've been hard at work on a project about baseball with Abdul Vas, one of my favorite illustrators. We call ourselves AV/CV, and the project is MLB y todo su poder [Major League Baseball and all its power]. Hopefully we can put out the first chapter soon. We made it during some amazing sessions of African rock, for the pure joy of painting, mixing oils in garbage cans like witches.
At the same time, I’ve been making a small collection of stories linked to aviation and Latin America, a kind of celestial cartography, which I feel is also the work of many friends who, along the way, have told me some of these stories. For example, Juan Yolin, a Chilean poet. Also, I've done a few things with Ernesto Montiel (a musician and visual artist), Juan Pablo Garza y Raily Yance. That’s also how I made the valise / la valija, a collective publication between seven Latin American artists; my work springs from Cesar Aira and his book Un episodio en la vida del pintor viajero.
Yes, I’d like to make works in other media. In the future I want to work with a friend who does Foley sound and audio for film. But we'll see, for now painting is what I do.
AB: I see you're a music lover, and that there’s also a bit of dance in your line. What would you do with your friend that does audio for film? Speaking of noise and music, I get the impression—which is rare and beautiful—that your paintings make sounds.
CV: Maybe a sonata. Thank you for that last comment. It makes me glad that you hear little noises and dance in the paintings. Music is fantastic company, a friendly ghost. Look at Talking picture by Man Ray, from 1957, where the radio signal and time make it infinite. It’s a great painting, radio-painting, a great artifact. Peter Greenaway says that he makes films because paintings don't have a soundtrack. Even so, I can relate some works to a certain series of albums. I suppose it happens to all of us, the soundtrack of our days. One day, talking to Luis Arroyo, he told me, “Painting makes sound,” and I agree with the master. Every brushstroke has its own song.
AB: What is the project with Abdul Vas about? In case you’d like to reveal it, or just let a part peek out, like Goya’s dog. And, if you would, tell us about your work with Juan Pablo Garza and Raily Yance. Do you still want to do something together?
CV: I’ve already given a peek of AV/CV, and also the dynamic duo, Garza/Yance, who just a few days ago opened PACH PAN, a project with a really lovely curatorial spirit, it has lots of duende. After Amazoteca with Raily at the beginning of 2017, and La pesca automática de la papa criolla and Días ejemplares, I was left with more desire to work with the two of them and with more friends.
At home with my partner Pauli, we’ve made “Paulistanos.” There, we made an artist's book, a Japanese printing workshop, and polychrome clay. But when one talks a lot while cooking, the food gets burned. Better if we continue.
AB: Tell me about Amazoteca, from La pesca automática de la papa criolla and Días ejemplares and the work you do with Paula, the “Paulistanos.” Though painting is solitary work, it seems you’re always in some kind of exchange.
CV: To share and to listen is necessary. To communicate has always been an objective of painting. When we’re kids, before we speak, we paint.
We make the Paulistanos together, as a workshop, hand in hand. We make polychrome ceramics, a very popular art in Chile, and a tradition we really admire. It’s gorgeous and very pictorial.
Días ejemplares is a spirit and a conversation with Yance and Garza. La pesca was a few afternoons with Romero Henriquez picking Chilean potatoes, during the days that I was moving out of my workshop, before moving from Santiago de Chile to Madrid a couple of years ago.
The last time I was in Maracaibo, I went to Raily Yance’s house and he proposed that I do a show at Consultoria rota (an art space there at Yance’s house). I wanted to play a collection I’d been gathering, of music by native Amazonians. Yance had the sound system, so we put together that “miniteca” remotely, with the help of Paola Nava. It was therapy, and I think the only one who danced was El Petete, Jose G. Hernández, my close buddy. That’s how Amazoteca happened.
AB: Do you show your pieces while you work?
CV: Yes, I show works as I’m making them. Painting takes time to finish. In the process of making them, things always happen. At home I talk with Pauli about the works as they’re coming together, because we live with them, until they forge their own paths.
AB: Painting is a solitary activity and on occasion has retreated from the eye of the spectator, but it always comes back. It’s a support, or a technique, or a language that is maintained, is renewed, gets beaten up, takes out the ruler and the compass, hides them, lets the earthquake pass and accumulates more layers. Once I read, and I don’t remember if it was in Wittgenstein (a book that I didn’t understand except for a few phrases), that “the whitest part of a painting is the canvas.” That terrifies me about painting, coming from photography: when the pigments accumulate they make an impossible color that tends toward some kind of unmanageable hue. How are colors chosen? In photography, they’re already there.
CV: The canvas, of course. An open sea. When I can, I like to paint on linen; it’s warm, it has a wonderful toasted color to start from. The colors are in the air and the light. When you’re playing in the kitchen or in the countryside, it makes them appear on the palette, then in the painting—with a little luck and determination, other shades mix in.
AB: Would you think about taking themes from painting and installing them as sculptures, as spatial sets?
CV: My workshop is small and I don’t have a storage space, the space is an endless game of Tetris. In my case, to store an installation could be a nightmare. For now I stay portable, but in the future, who knows? To put up a show is a spatial game in itself—gathering the work, installing it all, talking to it, getting the message out at all cost. I think that painting is a noble medium.
 Venezuelan artist (Milán, 1938–Holguín, 1997)
 This is a play [Morrales y luces] on Simón Bolivar’s famous phrase, “Moral y luces son nuestras primeras necesidades” (Morals and enlightenment are our first necessities).
 Paula Lavanderos, a Chliean/Venezuelan architect and artist.
 A journalist and researcher. She is currently studying to be a magister in Art Theory and History at the Universidad de Chile. Since 2016 she directs the independent literary magazine INSILIO as well as editorial projects such as Vibraciones Locales, among others.