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The Wow Man

The Wow Man

Artist Andy Wauman embraces life in all its forms. Portrait: Anthony Dodds.

OK, a portrait of the artist as a young man please. Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in the city of Antwerp in Belgium. Went into skateboarding at the age of 14. Skateboarding was important to me. It was a way to express myself and it functioned as a creative outlet. At the age of 15 I became inspired by books, especially poetry. I discovered the poetry of the Beat Generation, all the poets that were connected to the Romantic era, such as Mikhael Lermontov, Percy Byssche Schelley and many others . . . I became more and more fascinated by language and started writing poetry on a daily basis.

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Tell us about your art, and where that comes from. What themes do you find yourself returning to?  

Contemporary art came at a later stage in my life. I made my first sculpture in 2003 and my first solo show took place in the same year. My writings form the source of my artistic practice. I started to translate/transform my writings into sculptures, paintings, drawings and installations. The focus of my practice is urban culture and my love for the street.

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Is your art a comment on the way we live together, and how we live in this world? 

I would like to refer to a text I wrote about my artistic practice: “Generally my work has it’s origins in my conviction that a truly living culture can only arise from social structures and that the only theory a contemporary artist can feed on is necessarily a social one. I do not recycle existing forms, I try to make new ones based on my own background. Which is what distinguishes an artist from a marketeer. I try to inject the spontaneous energy from the street into my artistic practice, and I create my own contribution to the revolution of everyday life in the shape of texts and objects.”  Therefore, a recurrent element in my work is my protesting against cynicism and a preference for the sensuality and romantic value of the materials of the street, the ones the vagabond knows better than the bourgeois. But rather than a political activist, I like to call myself a poetical terrorist.

Language is very important to your work. You truncate and create words to serve a higher message . . . where did that come from? 

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My fascination and passion for language has been in my life since I was a young boy. Playing the silver strings of the street. Sending music to the feet and heat gliding in between.

What place does the physical material you use in your work have on your art as a whole? 

The choice of materials in my art is really important. I decided to use the materials of the street, such as barbed wire, concrete and all kind of metals. I’d like to think about myself as an Urban Thoreau. Thoreau lived the biggest part of his life in nature. I live in the city, the concrete jungle.

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Is your photography from the same place as your art?

I took a break from contemporary art and decided to start travelling. I bought an old 35 mm camera and before I knew it I had six old cameras and I started shooting on a daily basis. Surf came into my life and it was one of the most life changing experiences I ever had. Being out in the ocean is where I felt truly happy, so I decided to build a life around it. I moved to California for a few months and started to get more and more involved in photography and film projects in skate and surf culture and the whole lifestyle that comes with it. I created Gutterdust – a creative agency that does art direction, film and photography. I live in Bali now and will be travelling between Australia and Bali over the next months doing projects.

I head back to Europe July/August to do a solo show. The show will be some kind of come back. The title of the show will be Tropicalization . . . a place where urban will meet the tropics. I’m going through a big shift into my artistic practice as my environment changed. Exciting times ahead.     

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There’s a visceral texture to your images, a third dimension that you include in each scene. Can digital imagery achieve this, or is it all about the analog for you? 

Analog photography is where the magic is to me. I always try to catch a vibe, a feeling. I try to create an image that dreams. The uncertainty and the imperfections of analogue photography is what fascinates me. Life is not perfect you know.

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Tell us about your novel and how that fits into your portfolio.

I wrote a novel in 2006. It’s a combination of concrete poetry and haiku, Zen poetry. It’s about a figure that walks through the urban landscape and expresses his feeling though words, poetry.     

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You’re working on a feature film we hear . . . can you tell us about that?    

I’ve been working on my first feature for a while now. It’s based on the novel I wrote. It’s going to be a film noir documentary on urban culture. We are shooting it in Paris, London and New York. A big part of the film will be shot on Super 8 and 16 mm film.     

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Do you often collaborate with other people when you work? How important is that to you?

I love working together on projects with other creative minds. My feature film will be the perfect example of that. A part of the film will be animation, a collaboration with graphic designers, illustrators and artists with a completely different backgrounds from mine.

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How much of the art world is about the personal image that artists project as opposed to the images presented in the art – i.e. is the artist at the centre of your work? 

I like to quote Picasso on that: “The artist is more important than his work”.