Pieces of wood in California-based artist’s Victoria Wagner’s hands become pieces of art. Her art series Woodrocks is a combination of reclaimed wood, geometric forms and color spectrums. The result – colorful pieces of wood that look just like massive gemstones. “We are all made of infinite amazing colors,” she says, while telling us about her artworks and sources of inspiration.
A combination of wood and paint in the form of your art works is not very usual. How did you come up with idea of using wood blocks as a material to work with?
Choosing wood blocks to work with was an intuitive accident. A few years ago, my next door friends and I had to cut down some sick trees between our two houses. We worked with an incredible, sensitive arborist to have them cut down. Taking down a full grown tree (in this case, it was a Douglas Fir) is very dramatic. I was quite affected by the process and stared at the hunks of wood for days. Before I knew it, I was handling a hunk and cutting away the diseased parts, bit by bit. My tools were very crude in the beginning as was my knowledge of the material. I was driven by a compulsion and curiosity to pour my attention and care into the chunks to somehow reveal the healthy heart of the wood. A little gem revealed itself.
My process is quite labor intense and can be slow and methodical. The wood pieces are either scavenged or gifted to me. As my work has progressed and matured, I find that people are very generous about placing wood in my hands. And I have become friends with the arborist from that initial Fir tree. I live with the pieces for a while as they cure and have the opportunity to really look at them. One will usually call to me for whatever reason…it incites my curiosity. I cut and cut and cut, removing bits at a time by hand with my old swedish camping saw. Once I have a shape that does the wood justice, I then hand-plane it down to super smoothness, then sometimes follow with a sanding. Pieces get a cleaning and shellac before they are further scrutinized, then finished with color.
As a medium, wood is a complete wonder. Each species has its own personality and temperament. Hard, soft, even, irregular grain, sweet scented, acridly sour, gnarly, compliant, and some even feel more angry than others. The enormity/vastness of working the wood excites and aggravates me, it has so much to teach me. I do love the process, the constant anxiety that a piece will not resolve itself or that I am not strong enough to execute a cut. Every time I finish a piece, it feels like mysterious forces brought it together.
Sven camping saw, several different hand-planes, sand paper, shellac and oil paint. I am about to buy a chainsaw (yikes) for a big commission piece.
Where do you usually seek for an inspiration? Or does it come naturally?
I have been curious about how we perceive sensorial stimulation since I was a kid. Always thought about the invisible, folded dimensions and how they may effect us as individuals. I look at very simple problems in my work with color and form, like the many variants between a red shade of orange and a orange shade of red. My work is an attempt to slow the process of perception down enough to reveal the spaces in between.
It would be fun to say something exciting like “it is a reflection of my ecstatic response to being alive in this moment”. But this is only partially true. The more honest response would be that I’m visually and design motivated. Emotional responses to color and pattern fascinate me. We are hard wired to develop a palette differential that is unique and self sustaining. It’s crazy and beautiful that my work elicits very particular responses that range from elation to distaste, so much to do with color preferences. I love that.
I guess all these colorful lines are not just a random mix of colors on wood. What inspires/determines the way of how your next art work will look like?
Selecting the initial hue is one of the most challenging stages. I have to sit with the wood for a long while, taking in it’s idiosyncrasies. Wood grain, direction, form and flow dictate color choices, and then I wait until I have no doubt. Once that selection is made, it grows as it goes one minimal move at a time to effect very gradual gradient shifts across the plane. The story is superficially about the beginning and end colors, but the juicy parts are the steps that it takes to get there.
What do you think about while creating?
Ha! It depends on the day. Studio work is very solitary as any artist will admit. We are quite often totally cerebral loners, true thinkers and processors. Conversations, interactions, lyrics of a song, the plot line of a story, long term and short term goals, curiosity, why this wood is so darn hard to cut, why these two colors made that ugly green when I mixed them… Sometimes it’s just a quiet concentration. Everything gets deconstructed. I am mildly addicted to podcasts as a pleasant distraction from my own processing too.
My work is about vibration and perception and that is what I try to show. If there were a hidden message, maybe it would be: “The highest vibration is love. Seek it in yourself and nature. You are made of infinite amazing colors.”