Thursday, August 8, 2013

Seattle Opera's Ring Artist: SAMUEL ARAYA

If you are in Seattle for the Ring, you will see Paraguayan artist Samuel Araya’s work—on your tickets, in programs, and on countless items in the gift shop. Through a crowdfunding effort started by a local Seattle gallery where he’d previously shown his work, he was able to make the trip to Seattle and attend the dress rehearsals for Die Walküre and Siegfried. He spoke to us about his introduction to the Ring (via heavy metal), the research he did for his art, and how inspiring the trip and the opera have been for him.

Did you come to this project with a lot of familiarity with opera?
These dress rehearsals were actually my first time to see an opera other than YouTube videos. I was a little familiar with the story of Siegfried because of references in pop culture and video games. Being a metalhead I had been exposed to countless references to Valhalla and especially the ride of the Valkyries.

What kind of research did you have to do in preparation to create this art?
I tried to familiarize myself with Wagner. I saw a documentary about Wagner and the Ring called In the Eye of the Ring, which I loved, and another documentary about the Met Ring cycle, which has, as you all know, a very particular take on the opera. It was very interesting. I watched one Ring on YouTube and researched Ring art for inspiration. One artist was Kinukko Craft who designed work for Dallas Opera—so lush. I saw production photos of the stage actors, and one thing that struck me from the Seattle Opera production was Wotan. I mean no disrespect to other Wotans, but this particular actor had a very interesting and commanding presence. He looked like a god. So I had to use his likeness for the artwork.

How did you decide which moments to depict?
Siegfried, for example, had to involve the battle with the dragon. It doesn’t get any more epic than that! I also was very impressed with the first scene in Das Rheingold. It caught my attention that everyone put so much effort in depicting the ethereal movement of the Rhine Daughters, so I felt that the art had to reflect upon that.

Was this subject matter a departure of sorts?
Yes, I’m mainly a “horror” artist. I put that in quotes because while I don’t mind being in that genre sometimes I create art that I think is beautiful but gets the “horror” label anyway. This is my first time working in epic fantasy. I hope it is the first of many. I work for gaming companies and role playing games, mostly dedicated to horror and urban fantasy. I get the text and come up with certain concepts. Sometimes I get a description of a scene and it’s so cool it needs to be illustrated. I also work for heavy metal bands, doing merchandising, illustrating CD covers.

What was your reaction to the performances?
When I came to see it, I really felt I was part of something very unique and special. A larger experience. I love it here. I’m in debt to Wagner.

Your readers will have to have patience with me because I may seem naïve, but in Die Walküre I wanted to grab the person next to me and say, “Did you see what she just did? Wow!” I was so enthusiastic, and I certainly felt the same energy and emotional power I felt in many heavy metal concerts! Ha! Another scene that struck the right note with me was the first scene of Siegfried when Mime is looking at the audience. You know this is one evil character. He is up to no good, and you feel intimidated by it, just by the actor standing silently, with the music slowly escalating. That was a very powerful moment for me. Siegfried and Brünnhilde blew my mind. I could sit in my studio and prepare another 30 paintings of the Ring. The experience certainly will reflect upon my coming production in the years to come!

What is your process?
I usually take photographs, I collage them together, and then I paint over that. I “pull” the photographic elements in and out of the painting. You can say it’s 50 percent collage and 50 percent painting. These were purely digital because of time constraints, but I often will print these images and work over them with water colors and gouache. I also had the help of my girlfriend. She has been a muse in the real sense of the word. She modeled for the Rhine Daughters and the Valkyries and did splendid and inspiring work.

How soon after you got the assignment did you make your plans to attend?
I’m here because of a lot of good people. Initially, my work was in a role playing games exhibit at Krab Jab Studio. Then the opera issued an open call and I submitted my work. After my work was chosen, the owner of the studio (Julie Baroh) thought to do a fundraising campaign so I could see my work in Seattle. They raised enough to get me here. I’m so thankful. One of the wonders of art is seeing people conected and helping each other not based on money or material interests but on the emotional power they see in the work. I have witnessed that power, I have witnessed that goodness and generosity, and it’s been quite a ride to Valhalla.

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