To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Inside the mind of an artist: Alfredo Gisholt

Alfredo Gisholt, assistant professor of Fine Arts at Brandeis, spoke to The Brandeis Hoot about the thought process that occurs behind his art.

Last semester, Gisholt took his sabbatical. According to him, Brandeis allows professors to go on sabbatical every seven years for “personal development.” In Gisholt’s case, this meant working full-time in his studio on Moody Street in Waltham. Although he has been at this studio for 10 years and has the ability to go there between teaching his classes, he described the fact that he was able to go to his studio Monday through Friday for eight months as “amazing.”

He originally thought that he might be doing a residency somewhere, but he decided not to because he has a family at home that would have made leaving home for a month difficult. He decided instead to take this time to simply be in the studio and “see what happens.”

He describes himself in the studio as “rigorous” and “disciplined.” He does have some exhibitions currently on display—there is one in Houston, Texas, that opened in September—but he says that he goes to the studio regardless of if he has to paint for a certain project or not.

In fact, his most recent project came about when he least expected it. He had been priming some canvases that were pretty large, so they began to take up too much space in his studio. He said he was getting anxious about not having time to paint, because it takes a certain amount of time for canvases being primed for painting to dry, and he likes to prime canvases all at the same time before he begins painting. Because of this, he started painting small panels in the corner of his studio. What began with 10 small panels turned into many, and within about seven months he had made about 140 paintings.

He describes these small paintings as “surprising”—he also uses this term to describe his favorite paintings that he has made. He uses mainly oil paint, but he says he “would use anything.”

His paintings all have a very particular way about them, which he describes as very influenced by the world around him. He noted that as things have been happening in the world around him, his paintings have begun to get darker. He describes himself as having a certain “painting language” that he “uses to communicate” through his work. He likes to “live with an image;” he says that he goes through transformations with his paintings, and also establishes an emotional connection with them. He knows his paintings are done when their “presence…is as real as anything I’ve ever seen.”

This presence is established through a combination of Gisholt’s painting whatever he feels, whatever comes to mind, and objects that he sees around his studio. He says that his paintings are “very unpredictable,” because they change so often as they are being made. Part of this comes from the fact that he works on his paintings simultaneously. However, this is an important part of his artistic process.

“I don’t know all the time. But that’s a nice place to be, because if I don’t know it means that I’m…going into unfamiliar territory and I surprise myself sometimes,” Gisholt said.

Because he delves so deeply into his art, adjusting to teaching at Brandeis again was a bit difficult. He occasionally had visitors at his studio, but for the most part he was alone. For this reason, he says that the first few days back at Brandeis he was “winded in conversation.” However, it is important for him to be able to share his experiences as an artist with students. He does not have a favorite class that he teaches, but he says that he does experience “special moments” when he teaches–people “surprising themselves,” or where “some sort of magic happens…because of circumstances known or unknown…Those moments are possible whenever.”

Gisholt believes that everyone should try making art, because of the way it requires people to dedicate themselves fully to their work.

“In the end I think it’ll make better lawyers and doctors…because they are aware of that kind of both personal dialogue and the rigor—the intellectual rigor of it…and engage in creativity, which in…any discipline is very important,” Gisholt said.

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