Phoenix Artist Bill Dambrova on Painting, Star Wars, and Spirituality

Bill Dambrova playfully posing in his Phoenix studio.
Bill Dambrova playfully posing in his Phoenix studio.
Mikey Estes

What happens in the studio, shouldn't always stay in the studio. Studio Visit Q+A is a weekly series that profiles artists in their studios. We ask them questions, they provide answers, and then we have a nice discussion about their work. This week: Phoenix artist Bill Dambrova.

Artist Bill Dambrova left Phoenix for a number of years and couldn't help but return. Since coming back in 2013, his focus greatly shifted from his day job of exhibition design to his art making. His work has been in several local exhibitions throughout the past couple of years, so it's almost like he never left in the first place. "It was really easy to just plug back in," said Dambrova. Now that he's hit the ground running, we sat down in his Phoenix studio to see the beginnings of a new body of work that he's currently working on.

See Also: Phoenix Artist Patricia Sannit on History, Archaeology, and How Humans Impact Culture

Dambrova started painting with abstraction in mind. He was attracted to work that was visceral or sought to describe a feeling. Though drawn to this abstraction, he didn't feel like it was enough for him. He wanted something more edgy, something that went beyond the simple abstraction of color and form. For Dambrova, pure abstraction began to look like what happens on the microscopic level. With this in mind, his work shifted to the track that it's currently on now.

A work in progress by Dambrova depicting the archetypal elements -- air, water, earth, fire, and ether.
A work in progress by Dambrova depicting the archetypal elements -- air, water, earth, fire, and ether.
Mikey Estes

"It's better to create a story," said Dambrova.

A childhood anecdote that Dambrova uses to describe his interest in microscopic life is drawing Star Wars battles on paper with other kids. Each kid would take turns drawing individual elements until the page was filled. The process of adding layer upon layer results in a sense of abstraction, but there's a story to be read in there, too. Just as the microscopic battle within our bodies can relate to the galactic world of Star Wars, it also has the potential to relate to everyday life.

Currently, Dambrova is faced with the possibilities of a new body of work. He's taking what he's done up until this point and using it as an opportunity for new directions. In his studio are three paintings -- one is figurative, depicting archetypal elements and the other two will function as mandalas. Dambrova is taking the biological forms that he has been working with and putting them in the context of cultural artifacts like masks or totems. The body is a temple and the science of biology becomes a more spiritual thing.

While working on this larger project, Dambrova is producing a series of works on paper that surface more intuitively. Instead of painting, he is collaging found images from medical illustrations. The fragments of bodies, both human and nonhuman, are arranged in compositions that alter the way we would normally see them. In one, an illustration of testicles begins to resemble a face or even a plant. Through rendering these internal elements of the body almost unrecognizable, Dambrova is envisioning a new way to see ourselves and our relation to biology.  

Dambrova's workspace in his studio.
Dambrova's workspace in his studio.
Mikey Estes

Tell us about your work in haiku format. Brains are antennas Our bodies are radios The art makes itself

What artist(s) are you really into right now? Terry Winters, Charline Von Heyl, Steve Dibenedetto, Karl Bielik, Devin Troy Strother, Christian Rex van Minnen, and Peter Saul

What are you reading? The Reindeer People by Piers Vitebsky, Mother of God by Paul Rosolie, and Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates by Tom Robbins

What's the last TV show, film, or video you watched? The X-Files on Netflix. It's all I watch. All 9 seasons are on there and I think I've only seen a few episodes back when they were on TV years ago. I'm getting prepared for the 6 new episodes they're "allegedly" going to start filming soon.

Storage of Dambrova's books and materials.
Storage of Dambrova's books and materials.
Mikey Estes

If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be and why? The painter Philip Guston. In the documentary about him called A Life Lived he put into words how I feel sometimes when I am painting and I get into the flow. Guston Attributes the concept to John Cage, but he says, "When you start working, everybody is in your studio--the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas--all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you're lucky, even you leave." I don't know if it could work, but to have two or more artists collaborating in that state of flow would be the closest thing to what I imagine would be a visual version of jazz musicians jamming.

What was the last exhibition you saw and what did you think of it? The last show I saw was Equal Parts curated by artists Amanda Adkins and Ashley Macias at Frontal Lobe Gallery. I liked the back story about how the concept for the show evolved. It was going to be another "Feminist" type show. At some point they changed their minds and decided to allow men to participate too and the show became more about personal identity. Inclusivity is important for good art exhibitions. I feel that you learn more about a subject when you can view it from several different angles or perspectives. I think the show was a success in that regard. There was a rich variety of works and individual ideas about sexism, gender identity, power struggles etc. but the art wasn't overly ironic or too literal the way art made for a themed show tends to be.

Discarded materials that Dambrova intends to incorporate into collage work.
Discarded materials that Dambrova intends to incorporate into collage work.
Mikey Estes

Upcoming Events

Jeff Koons or Marina Abramović and why? Marina. To quote the Tom Robbins book I'm reading, The character Switters says, "The more advertising I see, the less I want to buy."

I'm over Koons as much as I'm over Warhol. It just looks like advertising to me and I have learned to tune that shit out. I can only hope that the world will be over them in 10 or 20 years as well. But once you've seen that video Rest Energy where Marina is holding a bow and her partner is holding an arrow pointed at her heart with microphones amplifying their heartbeats speeding up as they lean back... You'll never forget it.

What's the best advice you've ever received? Ask for forgiveness not for permission.

What are you currently working on? I've got a 7-by-10-foot two-panel oil painting going depicting the five elements as archetypes using imagery of masks and shields and biological forms that will get deconstructed somehow and turn into who knows what. I'm getting some midsized canvases going of what I think will be mandalas but made up of organic gutty colorful shapes. And I am working on a series of mixed media collage works on paper that will be in a show at Practical Art in August 2015.

What's your most valued tool as an artist? My studio. Anything goes in there.

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