Derek R. Audette is a Canadian artist based in Ottawa, Ontario, working in a variety of mediums including photography, painting, mixed media, musical composition and various forms of conceptual art. He has also published two books of poetry — one of which, entitled A Condition of Experience, was selected for, and currently resides in, the Harris Collection of Contemporary Poetry and Plays at Brown University. Audette has also had a notable musical career, with musical works appearing in countless film, television, video, radio and video game productions.
Excerpt from interview appearing in “Zine Artoplexy” 2012:
What have you been working on recently?
All manner of things. I’ve got a photographic project I’ve been trying to put together for some time now, but it’s proving difficult. And, I was painting fairly heavily for a stretch, but that seems to have left me now. I think the goal right now is to buckle down on this photo project and try to get it working within the next little while. I’m having some trouble finding the right model for it, though.
You work in quite a number of mediums, can you tell me why that is? And, do you have a favorite?
I’m not one hundred percent sure why that is. I seem to have a generic need to create. It’s not about needing to paint, or create photographs, or anything like that. I’ve just got this drive to create and I’ve never quite found the perfect medium for it. No one medium or method, on its own, completely suits me. I’ll get the urge to paint and I’ll start painting for a while. I’ll do that for, perhaps, a couple of months or so and then I get bored with it. And so the interest will wane and I’ll start getting ideas for photographic works, and I’ll be obsessed with that for a few months. Then I’ll get the urge to write, or to work on music, and so on. I’ll go on like this, bouncing around from medium to medium. I’ve always been that way.
So you don’t have a favorite?
Not really, no. I suppose my greatest and oldest love is music. But, the love for music itself outweighs the love of creating music, and both have been waning for some years. I’m not nearly as passionate about it as I used to be. But it comes and goes. I used to be absolutely obsessed with it, years ago. If I had to pick a favorite creative medium right now I guess it would have to be photography. But, photography, as a medium of creative, artistic expression is much more difficult than other mediums. Perhaps with the exception of music, I guess, but music is an entirely different animal altogether. It’s not a visual medium. It’s not really in the same category.
Really? You find photography more difficult than, say, painting?
Oh yes. Well, in many ways. Generally speaking, yes. Painting is a more difficult medium, I think, to develop proficiency in, but once you’ve developed proficiency, painting is much easier than photography. Much easier. Photography is always a frustrating hassle. If you’re a painter you wake up in the morning, lock yourself in a room for a while, and when you come out you’ll have a painting. With photography it can take me half a year or more of tedious work to get a single photograph. I’ll spend weeks, or sometimes months, developing a concept. Then I have to hunt down everything I need to build a set. Pieces will need to be constructed. There might be various props that need to be designed, purchased or constructed. Costumes will need to be designed and made. I’ll sometimes need to scout out and secure locations. Then I’ll need to find models; hair and makeup people. I’ll need to work with everyone to coordinate and juggle schedules for the shoot. Sometimes you’ve got weather to deal with. It goes on and on. Every time I set up a project it feels like I have to spend months moving heaven and Earth in order for the final work to be realized.
And, everything that can go wrong usually will. Models will not show up. Lighting equipment will go down. And on, and on. It seems as though, in my experience, nothing can ever be easy about it. Every little thing is always a chore. It’s always a string of problems that need to be overcome. I once needed a simple pair of white stay-up stockings for a shoot. Not one single place in the whole city had a single pair. I went to lingerie shops, theatrical supply shops, costume shops, every place in the city. Everywhere I went online was sold-out or didn’t have them. Every place had black ones, green ones, all kinds of different patterned ones, like checkerboard and what not, but no white ones. I finally had to order them from a supplier in Hong Kong, and it took two months for them to get here. For a simple pair of white stockings! I’m sure that, if I hadn’t needed them for a shoot, every place in the city would have loads of them. It seems as though it’s always like that, with every little thing. I think, perhaps, it might be a test, or something– there’s some rule to the universe, or something. It almost seems that way. The art gods throw all of these hurdles at you in order to test whether or not you’re worthy of creating your art. If you can overcome them all, they’ll grace you with your art. If you don’t, you were never meant to create it.
Do you not find any enjoyment at all in the challenge of it?
Not really, no. I know that some artists are all about the method; the practice of making art. That’s not me. I’m about the finished thing. I want as little resistance on the road to completion as possible. In my ideal world I’d just lie down, close my eyes, and think a work into physical manifestation. I suspect a lot more artists are like that than let on. Or, who knows? Maybe its just me. But, I think a lot of people find some sort of nobility in letting on that they welcome challenges and gain enjoyment in overcoming them when they actually don’t all that much. Well, I guess I do get some enjoyment– some sense of satisfaction that’s rewarding– when I do overcome challenges. But, all in all, I’d rather not have them. Challenges are delays and provocateurs of frustration and torment. Fuck challenges. I much prefer finding ways of avoiding challenges rather than meeting and defeating them.
You use nudity a lot in your photographic work. Is there a reason for that?
There’s a few reasons for that. Some respectable and some not so respectable, I suppose.
Can you share your reasons? Or, is that one of your artist secrets?
No secret, really. Well, I don’t like giving away the meaning behind any of my works, so I’ll have to be careful in how I explain this. But, with a good portion of my photographic work, I use nudity to either represent innocence or vulnerability, or some mixture of the two– usually innocence, or a state of non-corruption or pre-corruption. Very often in my work a nude figure represents the pure human– a representation of the human-being without all of the affectations and accoutrements of society and culture. A sort of Eve character, if you will, maybe, before the whole apple debacle. And, I’ll very often use sparse costume elements on a mostly exposed model to represent certain things– things like some of those affectations and accoutrements we pick up in our psychology due to societal influences. Or, I’ll use them to say something about the character. I guess that’s the most artistically respectable of the reasons.
And the not so respectable reasons?
Well, one is that I’m just an enormous admirer of the female form. I truly believe that it’s the most beautiful physical thing in all of creation. The beauty of an attractive female figure is unchallenged in the physical world. Maybe truly spectacular sunsets and the starriest of night skies come close; awesome auroral displays might come close, but they certainly don’t surpass it. And, as an artist, there is a part of me that wants to capture beauty. I don’t need all of my work to be beautiful; beauty isn’t a necessary ingredient or characteristic for a work of art. But, I have an overwhelming love for beauty– of all things beautiful. And, I have an interest in my creations containing beauty at times. Sometimes a work needs to be ugly– I wouldn’t use people for those works. I don’t see any person as being ugly, honestly– unless they have an ugly spirit. Some people have ugly spirits and sometimes that can be detected in their visual appearance. Sometimes it can’t. So, that’s another reason. I’m not sure if that’s a respectable reason or not, but it’s not as artistically respectable, I think, as as the first reason.
Also, I think, the most non-noble reason is that it’s really an easy cheat. Maybe I shouldn’t be admitting this, but it really is. The only sin that a work of art can commit is to be boring– to be pointless. To have no reason to exist. And, it’s just human nature; if there’s a person with no clothes on in your photograph, it won’t be boring. People are interested in seeing other people without their clothes on. They just are. Different people are interested for different reasons, but they’re all interested. So, if there’s a nude in your image, you can be assured that at the very least it won’t commit that one cardinal sin that it can commit. It won’t be boring. People might not like it, but they won’t be completely disinterested in it. Truth be told, however, I never really choose to include nudity for that reason. But, it’s certainly a real benefit to using nudity in an image. Even if your picture sucks, people will still want to look.
You do seem to use women a lot more than men in your photography.
Women are far more interesting photographic subjects than men. To me they are, anyway. Men aren’t nearly as interesting photographically unless it’s a certain type of man who has something of a real deep character that really comes across in their appearance. They have to have a story in their face. Whereas almost any woman makes for an interesting subject. If you just grab some average Joe off the street and put him in a picture, I find it difficult to make them very interesting in a photograph. It’s just some guy– big deal. They must already have something of an intriguing story to tell and that must be present in their face for them to be really interesting– someone who life has really dragged through ringer, or something. And, I can’t create that. They just have to have it, and few men do. Whereas, you can grab just about any average woman, put them in a photo, and most of them will just be interesting on their own to some degree. I’m not exactly sure why this is. I guess it has something to do with the fact that I’m not a woman, perhaps. But, I’ve spent my whole life absolutely surrounded by women. I come from a very, very close family and there’s just something in our gene pool– we create mostly females. There’s almost no men on either my Father’s or my Mother’s side, and both families are fairly large. And, we’re very close, as I say– very, very tight-knit– always have been. So it’s not that I find women unfamiliar or mysterious, really. I don’t know why it is. I don’t know if it’s subjective or objective. Maybe, I think, women are just naturally mysterious in some way. I think, perhaps, even to themselves. And, maybe that makes them interesting subjects.
Derek R. Audette, fine art nude photography