A Dose of Magic: Blue Mitchell on Louviere + Vanessa

Originally published on PDN’s “Photo of the Day” feature, July 6, 2015

Imagine walking into a gallery, and being greeted by an enormous, shimmering, textured piece depicting a ferocious wolf-dog in an act of fluttery violence. It’s hard to tell if it’s a painting, a photograph, or something else altogether. The wolf-dog, surrounded by gold leaf, encased in resin and framed at an impressive 86″ wide by 48″ tall, is imposing, formidable and beautiful. The title of the piece, “I’ll Blow Your House Down,” makes an obvious nod to the fable and, in contrast to the subject matter, adds a taste of ironic humor. Welcome to Louviere + Vanessa‘s inner sanctum.

Jeff Louviere and Vanessa Brown are masters of their craft and continually challenge conventional photography. Their work combines the nuances of film, photography, painting, and printmaking. They utilize Holgas, scanners, 8mm film, destroyed negatives, wax, and blood. Since they began professionally showing in 2004, they have been in over 50 exhibits and film festivals in America and abroad. For more on the duo, please visit their website.

Eight years ago, I sent them my inaugural issue of Diffusion with an invitation to be featured artists in our sophomore effort. To my surprise and delight, they accepted my invitation, and ultimately, became the cover artists for Diffusion, Volume II, and will be featured in our 2015 print annual. After many moons, wherein they produced seven more bodies of work (that I know of!), I have been graced with the unique pleasure of their company, and given insight into their evolving artistic journey.

Blue Mitchell: Can you summarize your style of photography?

Louviere + Vanessa: Not really! But, we’ve been described as “surreal” in that we interpret the contradictions between dream and reality. Some series (“Slumberland,” “Creature,” “Chloroform,” “Overawe and Oblivion Atlas”) are knee deep with flawed characters amidst decaying and grotesque places and situations and as such are very Southern Gothic with a realistic approach to a fantastic scene like the literary Magic Realists. Our newest work has shades of Romanticism and it’s rebellion against scientific rationalization of nature but with a strong belief in nature, imagination and the primitive. So, with a completely straight face: Our style of work is… Conceptual-Romantic-Surrealism with a healthy dose of Magic Realism! Concepromarealism, et voila!

BM: Most of your work has a variety of mixed media. What role does the photograph play in the ideation and creative process?

L+V: Photography is the primary medium for us and the door to every experiment we’ve tried. It’s the realism to our surrealism. It is an intercession, a way of advancing contact and content. The photograph is part of the idea, the techniques re-enforce, associate and sometimes undermine that idea. Our works are an organic whole, a final object that is more than the sum of its parts. But, we always try for the best photograph. If it doesn’t work printed out at 8×10 on cheap paper in black and white, then it won’t work with anything added to it.

BM: You have managed to produce an astonishing amount of work since I was first introduced to it almost ten years ago. What are some of the motivations that keep you working the studio year after year?

L+V: Two German Shepherds eating six pounds of food a day! Seriously…

OK, actually, we motivate each other. We’re inspired by our friends, our favorite bands, new scientific discoveries, old scientific rediscoveries. Sometimes we aren’t motivated at all and inspiration has to come from working… all the time. Experimenting, wondering, doing something art related every day and not worrying about whether anyone will “like it” leads to delights and tangents that act as bait for the larger ideas.

BM: What are some of the recurrent themes that you show up in your work?

L+V: Our fascination for art-making lies in the themes of duality—creation as destruction, personal as universal, and now, sound as sight—as guiding forces to collaborate. We’re honing the idea of disintegration (forming tightly defined images) and Integration (combining those concepts into a unified whole). These two modes are really just alternating rhythms of the same activity of both art-making and thinking: familiar images from strange territories and vice versa. ◈

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