An Artist's Perspective on Inspiration and Making Art

2015-07-22-1437525055-8260467-photographsbyannaagoston.jpgUntitled #149, #157, #171, Archival Pigment Print, 2014, Anna Agoston

My art is of my soul. It is a fabrication of my internal machine, an organic engine powered by my conscious and unconscious minds. It is, however, more visceral than intellectual.

I am an artist! I first said those words in October 2013 and since then I have been serious about making art. Saying those words meant I could no longer not make art. Six months earlier I had been laid off from a job that was time-consuming and stressful. My senses were numb and I was oblivious of my surroundings but in the month of March, 2013, when buds, stems and leaves began to sprout, I felt as though I had never seen spring before. I took in the world with my eyes and soul. And I gave in to the urge to make art.

When I made the first picture in my Untitled series I knew I had something strong. I couldn't stop looking at it. I contemplated it for days on my computer monitor. It was a picture of a part of a plant stripped of all references to its environment. I loved its simplicity of shape, its complexity of texture, and what these evoked in me. I knew that I had found my way.

Looking back now, my path makes sense. I know what structured my internal machine: I grew up in the center of Paris, France, where for months at a time I saw no nature. I lived with my father, a chemical engineer turned German Expressionist painter; my mother, a serious amateur photographer; and my younger brother. Camera, darkroom, and oil paints were all intrinsic to our daily life. We were a modest household in a bourgeois neighborhood.

While my brother embraced our artistic heritage at art school, I was more curious about human behavior. Studying psychosis in an undergraduate clinical psychology program gave me insights into how the mind works. I went on to medical school with the idea of becoming a psychiatrist and discovered a fascination with anatomy and with cellular biology's focus on the cell, its form, and its function. After I failed to enter the second year, I took some time off and enrolled in life drawing classes, where I continued to explore human anatomy. I used my portfolio of nudes to apply to architecture school and went on to earn two master's degrees in architecture.

Everything came together for me in architecture school. I took classes in anthropology, sociology, and art history as well as architecture. Architecture embraced all my passions: man and art, anatomy and the cell. My maturing internal machine made consciously meaningful but simple statements. In a memorial I designed to commemorate the police killing in 1986 of 22-year-old Franco-Algerian student Malik Oussekine, one entered into a dark downward spiral and emerged into a sky-lit space surrounded by concrete monoliths.

My aesthetic sensibility, informed by what I have seen and felt, is intrinsic to my internal machine. One of my first memories is of color combinations on a kimono in a museum where I was taken when I was about six years old... the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen. When I visited Japan in the summer of 2000 I was again moved by what I experienced of the traditional Japanese aesthetic. It spoke to my soul and confirmed what I love.

In my Untitled series I see the influence of the traditional Japanese aesthetic whose source is the concept of wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi originated with Zen Buddhism and was introduced into Japan around the 12th century of the common era. Developing in isolation from the rest of the world, it was to become an internal cultural machine that Japanese people find difficult to explain in Western terms. As Leonard Koren writes in Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers, "Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble." A wabi-sabi artifact suggests a natural process. It is, Koren writes, "irregular, intimate, unpretentious, earthy and simple."

I was already in my 20s when I first encountered the sculptures of Constantin Brâncuși at his reconstructed studio in the Georges Pompidou Center. Seeing his use of basic, essential shapes to evoke behaviors like flight and sleep I imagined that his work was less a product of his mind than it was of his internal machine, shaped by his sensory experiences in the land where he had grown up. I think of my Untitled series as being more sculpture than photography. Its emphasis is on each subject's shape and texture, and what they may evoke in the viewer.

When my internal machine goes to work, it is the creator while I become one with my subject. I think less than I see and feel. I am entirely in the present, existing only to choose which raw natural elements enter the internal machine to exit as images that will hold my gaze and thoughts.