I am like all over the place,” he said before bursting into laughter. He was not wrong after all and he meant it in a positive way. Josh Ziltener’s expressive and artistic journey started through music in early 2005, as he took up playing the guitar solo and in a band. Only seven years later, stuck at home due to an injury, a Francis Bacons’ catalog caught his interest – the first call to the world of painting. He then traveled to Asia, through Malaysia and Indonesia, exploring the culture, detaching, and surfing; and it was only after that when he decided to finally immerse himself completely into painting. Among one of the many “myths of the artist”, it is often heard that one must have artistic talent from an early age, but in many cases, the so-called “talent” is just a matter of practice, continuous research, discovery, and experimentation until one finds what brings her or him passion. The time it took Josh to discover his interest of his own would have seemed to many like a long wait or a late bloomer, when in fact all that went before was undoubtedly crucial to his artistic development and maturation. “It is better that I am doing what I am doing now than when I was in my early 20s. It is like as if everything fell into place.

Using art as a way to communicate emotions was not new to him, for having played music for a long time, he was aware of its power to convey feelings. Josh points out that abstract painting is very similar to what music can do: they don’t need words, there is no explicit subject, and likewise, both can resonate with you or not. “What I like about certain art forms like abstract painting and music, it is that it has nothing to do with words, with rational thinking. It is just feelings.” I wholeheartedly agree with that. 

I recall how my old professor always believed I was going to study philosophy, but I always thought, — no, I do not want to dig deeper in the thinking, but rather into the not thinking, into the feeling. This is what art allows me to do.” 

Although music and painting do have similarities, he explains that there is a particular aspect that differentiates them interestingly. In music, one might argue that one must have a minimum of knowledge to create listenable sound, while in painting one is not required to have technical skills. At least in today’s contemporary world. By hearing such a statement,  I had to play devil’s advocate and tell him that by saying so, the ambiguity of defining art becomes more and more confusing. How could he defend his art not as a trivial and common activity but instead as a real, considerable, and important form of expression? 

I believe that today when someone declares their creative output is art, it simply is. We have constantly tried to define everything and to categorize it, but now those walls have turned down, making art even closer to people.”  Art is what makes you question it in the first place. And perhaps, this is the most beautiful aspect of this extraordinary world. Today’s art may tend to disrupt our constant need of putting everything into a rational framework, leaving us bare and uncertain, reminding us that steadily outlining our world pushes us away from purely being in it. We expect everything to have a specific, functional outcome, and most of the times art does exactly the contrary. Forcing you to leave behind logic and coherence, pushing you to observe what simply resonates with you, one is left with no need of explication. It is perhaps this kind of genuine relief that is so hard to accept. 

Failure is also a major component in art-making. Back in the days when his passion for painting arose, all sketches and drawings had to be perfect to his eye. Composition and color had to fit impeccably to his wishes, which I can imagine lead to a limiting approach of creativity. Little by little thought, he learned to take a step back to the result, to distance away from it, to enter in the state of flow with not much concern of the actual final outcome and more in the process itself, therefore allowing much more inspiration pour in. “Some time ago, I had finished a big painting I had meticulously worked on, and some pigment was leftover. It would’ve been a waste to throw it away, so I used it carelessly and quickly on another canvas, and believe it or not, it is by far the work I’ve had more compliments for”. It is possibly this carelessness, this detachment, this state of intuition, – that something “beyond the pretentious and the rational” – that a more resonating artwork can arise.

When I first saw Josh’s work I was impressed by these big canvases and seemingly effortless-looking lines, dynamic composition, and bright colors. Many of his paintings are strongly influenced by Francis Bacon and Twombly, however, he also showed me a series of paintings that depict the representation of one same subject repèately. For seven weeks, Josh decided to analyze and paint over and over again a common everyday cardboard box. Yes, a very normal-looking brown box. Why would he ever paint such an ordinary thing, over and over again, with a different point of view, lightening, and positions? 

This presumably boring object raises the question of what it is worthy to paint. Overwhelmed by a world filled with possibilities, this type of freedom may push us to raise our expectations or drown in the ocean of opportunities, therefore leading to paralysis. Not very different happens in the art world. Nowadays it takes a certain amount of courage, a not-so-obvious attitude to step back and realize the simplicity that surrounds us. Like an ordinary cardboard box, which in the eyes of an artist, is not ordinary at all. What I aim to say is that to partially limit oneself is perhaps necessary to direct ambition, determination, and attention in the process of maturing oneself, one’s art, and skills. Without the need to rush towards the grandiose, the spectacular, even in the simple surroundings one can find the greatest wonders. (Check out here the two photographers who work on this topic as well). Just as Josh claims, “art-making puts you in a context of being, of conscious presence.” How wonderful is that? 


Lastly, Josh Ziltener aims one day to share his experience as an artist to younger aspiring ones, probably by teaching whilst working on his private artworks. His interests and well thoughtful approach in his abstract art not only make his pieces visually stimulating but furthermore conceptually enriching and provoking. I am convinced much is yet to come and hopefully, you reader, are too. 

All images were authorized. Copyright @JoshZiltener


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