Mike de Sousa works with light, sound and words – sometimes in isolation, and often together. Indebted to the music scholarship system in England which awarded him free piano tuition through his formative years, the artist has since gone on to creative photography and visual art based around this developed passion. Aesthetica caught up with the artist to discuss his creative practice and the role of contemporary art.
A: What drives you to create public art?
MdS: I consider the creation of art as part of the human condition. My reason for making is to share. What I share might be an idea, an aesthetic exploration, or an articulation of something that I have been moved by or feel strongly about. I wish for the products of my expression to be freely available so as many people as possible have the opportunity to experience them.
I view “public art” in all its form – visual art, sculpture, dance, drama, film, music, literature, etc – as art that is free to access, whether in the real world or through a digital medium. Public art in this sense is distinct from community art (art created in partnership with a community), and I mention this as they are sometimes mistakenly thought of as the same.
My firm conviction is that exploring our creativity is the world’s best hope for peace, cooperation, and constructive communication.
A: Have you ever considered devoting your attention to a particular artistic medium?
MdS: I view each artistic medium as having its own strengths. I love the beauty and forms that light gives and enjoy creating images immensely. When something moves me I often turn to music to convey my emotional response, and if I want to articulate an idea, there is no better way than through words. Of all my senses, I value seeing the most.
A: Do you view digital art as lacking certain qualities that only the plastic arts can deliver?
MdS: Ten years ago: yes. Now? No. Perhaps it is easier to consider digitally recorded words and music before turning my focus to visual art.
The essential qualities of words are that they are meaningful, contain rhythm, and that when they are spoken, their meaning can alter depending on tone and context. Whether words are on a paper page or digital screen however makes no difference to their meaning, although we may have a preference or practical requirement for the medium we read from. Because of this, words are easily accepted as having equivalent value within the digital domain.
Performance art may contain digital elements (perhaps the inclusion of digitally recorded music or film), so if I think carefully about your question it’s clear the answer is far from straight forward as creative people begin to move more freely between using a mixture of real-world and digital expression. Whether I paint with a physical or digital brush, the work’s composition, colours and textures are my choices, and it is my gestures that are recorded for others at a later time to view.
The capture of sound and images in digital form is fast approaching the resolution we experience in the real world. The recent meticulous three dimensional print of a “new Rembrandt painting” demonstrates the immense changes that are taking place in both the creation and production of art. At present, the physical medium of a painting conveys three dimensional textures that are not apparent in digital form, however the advent of more sophisticated recording devices and 3D printers are changing this so, to the viewer, a digital reproduction of a painting will appear visually identical when compared with the original work.
The resistance to embracing digital artwork within the art community seems to occur because of one of three reasons: fear of change; issues surrounding exclusivity (a significant tool of persuasion to assert the economic price of artwork); and the desire to protect the interests and status of artists and the many commercial industries that have developed around them (commercial galleries, publications, artist representatives etc.).
A: Would you talk about your work The Stillness of my Life?
MdS: I began working on this piece when asked to consider the theme “Still Life”. As I thought about these qualities, I imagined how unimaginably difficult not moving for any length of time would be. This led me to consider the plight of those who suffer paralysis of all voluntary muscles in their body, yet remain aware and cognitively intact. In addition to the work’s central focus I wanted to create a piece that encouraged people to think about the nature of still-life in art. Life is characterised by movement, and yet we are intensely captivated by its absence. It is because of this the painting and photograph will continue to enchant us, despite the enticement of moving images.
A: Much of your work has a philosophical or political subtext. Do you view the role of artist as an agent of change?
MdS: Yes. Some view the value of art as purely aesthetic, and in this, art has the potential to give great dis/pleasure. Many artists are satisfied by eliciting an emotional response to their work, and others wish to provoke thought and discussion through their art. An artwork can make us feel, but it only begins its journey to becoming an agent of change when it also makes us think.
An idea is the fuel of change, but change only happens when an idea moves a person to act. Art can be an expression of love – love of people, places and living things. Art is the treasury of our best and worst, but perhaps art’s greatest value is that it can lead to change – a change of heart, action, or intent.
A: What are you currently working on?
MdS: A thousand and one things! I write a little something every day at www.ThinkThis.Today, and I continue to explore the beauty and hardship of people and place. I am also seeking support for the project www.PublicArt.World which has the potential to stimulate the commissioning and appreciation of public art.
1. Mike de Sousa, The Stillness of my Life. Courtesy of the artist.
2. Mike de Sousa, Under Sky of Blue. Courtesy of the artist.
3. Mike de Sousa, Art and Danger. Courtesy of the artist.