In conversation with California-based designer, educator and artist Richard Poulin.
Can you talk about your journey into or interest the arts and also the difference commercial design practice has to some of the more personal collages you have been making?
My introduction to the visual arts first occurred in grade school and my first visit to a museum. This was truly the beginning of my interest in the visual arts and design disciplines. In high school, I went to a New York City technical high school where I was introduced to and trained in everything from drawing, painting, wood shop, metal shop, foundry, drafting, graphic design, and industrial design. Throughout college, I was torn between fine art, specifically painting, and graphic and industrial design. At the time, I was inspired by artists such as Joseph Cornell, Kurt Schwitters, Richard Diebenkorn, David Hockney, and Louise Nevelson. While ultimately design won my internal battle, I continued to pursue fine art when I could find the time.
With regard to my commercial practice and running a design consultant firm for the last 40 years, my personal work (currently mixed media collage constructions) is a completely different world for me, but at the same time, very similar. Both involve self-discovery and self expression. I believe that if you are truly committed to being a creative spirit, it is your sole responsibility to constantly evolve your own creativity and imagination. The difference is that with my commercial work, the client was a critical part of the design process and one I needed to always take into account. With my personal work, I only need to consider myself and how I am feeling and reacting to my work at any given time. I am able to flourish with a new found freedom – no limitations or restrictions – which is truly empowering but at the same time frightening.
Do you use a sketchbook, can you talk about how and why? I’m interested in what a sketchbook means to you and your work.
I do not use a sketchbook for any of my fine art work. I have never felt the need to use one since my process in approaching my work, as well as executing it, is completely organic and intuitive. No two pieces are ever the same and each approach is different based on what I may want to say at any given time and what visual material I may choose to convey that narrative.
Your collages have a freedom and expression that is arguably hard to embed into more commercial practice. Do you find the process of creating this work relaxing or therapeutic? I’ve become increasingly interested in the relationship of the work to the artist.?
I wouldn’t say my process is either relaxing or therapeutic. I would describe it more as revelatory and freeing. It allows me to explore unknown creative territory within myself on a continuing basis. It also reminds me not to repeat myself and rely upon approaches I have taken previously. Every new beginning is a new learning experience for me. At the completion of each piece, I always understand something new about myself, my experiences, and my emotions about so many things in my life – past, present, and future. It is extremely fulfilling this late in my career to find a new energy and a new creative process to be so intimately involved with.
Can you talk about your process of working. How do you work, how often, is there a particular pattern?
Specifically, I start with one constraint: the size that I will be working with. The work that I am involved with at the moment is on 12 x 12 inch birch plywood panels. This is as much due to space limitations that I have in my home, as well as a conscious decision to explore pure geometric form. I then rifle through the boxes of material that I have collected over the years, everything from printed ephemera, photographs, correspondence, magazine clippings, and the like, until something strikes me. For example, it could be the juxtaposition of two materials, images, colors, textures, or typographic forms. I look for visual relationships that may be a springboard to pursue a specific visual narrative.;
With previous work, I have explored my relationships with family members, my sexuality, growing up, love, loss, and desire. All of these narratives evolve as I explore and build a potential composition. Sometimes it may be very intuitive and fluid; other times there may be more of a struggle to reach that desired end result. I don’t really worry anymore about the end result, as I did with my professional practice. I am now much more excited about the journey. To pay attention to it along the way so that I can always learn something new about myself and what I want to express.