Thursday, February 12, 2009

Focus On: AncientArtiZen

Align Center
Our art tells a story -- a story of our deepest feelings, a story of how we see the world around us, and a story of what we learn as we go through this thing called life. Here is some of the life and photographic collages and images of Ancientartizen, aka Chris Beikmann. His images are deliberate, careful and well-researched as well as breathtakingly beautiful. There is much to learn in the details. Meet Chris...

Ann Wilkinson: In your Etsy profile you say you are "first and foremost a photographer." How did you get started?

Chris Beikmann: I started in photography when I was 15, after I was given a camera that belonged to a late uncle. I received an art scholarship at that age that allowed me to take evening courses in photography at a local arts center, and I learned my way around the darkroom. I did a lot of friends' senior pictures, prom pictures, and family portraits on the side to pay for my darkroom addiction. I was more fascinated by the technical darkroom aspect of photography than the photo-taking itself. The idea that I could manipulate and layer exposures in the darkroom was inspiring, and I became known as the "Darkroom Wizard" around my high school. Soon digital photography came along, and I got started learning Photoshop, where I've focused more of my manipulated efforts for the past 15 years. Though I specialize in digital collage, I do not sample stock images in my artwork. I only use my own photographs -- if it is my collage, it means I photographed it first. This requires me to keep libraries of thousands of images in a relatively organized system so that I can create the art that I do.

AW: You've transformed from film to digital quite smoothly. It sounds like you came into Photoshop-land on the ground floor. Have you always worked with Photoshop, or do you have other photo-editing/design programs you use?

CB: Yes, I started working in Photoshop very early on -- probably around Photoshop 4.0. Even back then it was an amazing program. I have occasionally ventured out playing with Corel software, and I do occasionally use third-party plugin software. I also use a tablet with interchangeable mouse and pen, but I'm most skilled with the mouse.

AW: You definitely are an ethical artist. And that you have your own personal library of images is very impresive. But I have to ask: Why do you feel the need to explain that you don't sample stock images? Your Etsy profile mentions this, too.

CB: There is a bit of a stigma that anyone with Photoshop skills can be a collage artist. Digital photo collage work is often snubbed within the fine-art and photography community. I have heard a wide range of reasons by other photographers and art curators, the most common being, "it's not photography -- it's digitally-collaged stock images and samples."

It is true that many digital collage artists use little of their own photography when creating. It does not make it any less art, in my opinion, it still requires a great deal of skill, artistic talent and inspiration. However, I do show my work in galleries and am usually required to state my methods and sources in order to qualify for photography competitions. It also helps to sell my work, as I can tell a collector exactly how many individual photographs were used and where every image was taken. People usually find this fascinating, since many of my photos were taken in foreign countries, and I tend to merge cultures, religions and symbolism throughout my collage work.

AW: Does your collage work that combines cultures and religions ever incite controversy?

CB: Yes, I don't shy away from controversy. I guess you could say I'm asking for it just by combining multiple religious elements into one piece of art. I actually just sold the first of the edition of one of my most controversial pieces, "Open Rapture." It is a Universalist depiction of heaven filled with golden light and clouds surrounding a Buddha, Jesus on a crucifix, Hindu angels and ancient Hebrew and Tibetan script. It is a statement about tolerance and universal acceptance. I also have a few pieces that focus on the historical absorption of primitive Pagan cultures and practices into Christianity. Those tend to ruffle a few feathers, too. Being controversial is not my goal. I wish to enlighten and educate through art and to spread a message of tolerance. The world's religions are so intertwined, the many faiths have more in common than they have differences. I want people to understand the amazing beauty that religion brings to life, and also to understand there are many misconceptions and much misinformation spread about various religious practices by competing religions.

AW: Does your photography inspire you to travel?

CB: Yes, and vice-versa. The list of countries I plan to visit in the near future is very long. It's just finding the time and resources to do it. Greece, Turkey and Egypt are very high on the list. I hope to do all three in the same trip.

AW: Your work reminds me of Old Jerusalem -- one of the holiest worship sites for Muslims is adjacent to the Jewish Wailing Wall there.

CB: I haven't been there yet, but Jerusalem is also quite high on my list. It's so rich in history and culture. Maybe I'll be able to add it to my Mediterranean tour along with Egypt, Turkey and Greece -- Israel would hardly be out of the way.

AW: Have your living experiences abroad worked their way into the day-to-day fabric of your life?

CB: Yes. The biggest impact is in the food I eat. I love just about all Asian foods -- Indian, Malay, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Japanese. That is no doubt associated with my travels around the Pacific Rim. I consider myself drawn to more metaphysical beliefs when it comes to spirituality, but I was raised German Lutheran. My change in spiritual practices is certainly attributed to the influence of Buddhism from living abroad along with increasing knowledge of Pagan faith concepts and early Christian doctrine from the historical research I do for my artwork. Meditation has also become a big part of my life.

I have a lot more questions for Chris, but he's in the midst of getting ready for a big show at an Asian fusion restaurant in the Cherry Creek area of Denver. You can find more information about it on his blog, and you can see more of Chris' work on his website, AncientArtiZen.

Divine Sacred Topaz

Thank you Chris!

A world traveler and self-taught photographer, look for Ann wandering around city streets and tromping through woods and hiking trails with her camera. After owning an international transportation business for many years, Ann has found her creative spirit again through the lens. See more at Ann's shop and her website.


From My Eye said...

Wonderful interview and amazing images!

Lucie Wicker Photography said...

Gorgeous! Love the Karma Clock especially but they are all great pics

C. Wade said...

Fascinating interview!

I consider it pretty important that Chris makes the distinction that all of his source images are his own; his work is truly original.

m. campbell-zurek-Urban Junkies Photography said...

winter peace is stunning! all of chris' work is just amazing! great interview guys!

Ann Wilkinson said...

i "met" chris last summer while i was struggling to figure out how to set up for an art show. he gave me some great advice on how to best display photography, and his photos of his own art show "shop" are very inspiring. take a look at chris' website for more of his work. i agree that it is so vital for him to disclose his images are all his own, and i believe it's important to know how much research and thought chris puts into each piece he creates. i only wish we could have talked more!

AAZen said...

Thanks everyone for the kind comments. It was a pleasure doing the interview with Ann. I'm honored she selected me.