I was recently introduced to visual artist Nola Avienne, and I very much enjoyed trading e-mails with her. One of the most striking things about Avienne’s work is that she uses her own blood as a medium, and she recently learned how to be a phlebotomist for that very purpose.
Avienne was born in 1967, the only child of a single mother. Because she was alone much of the time, she lived in dreams, books, and old movies. “I was left to my own devices. Classic movies transported me to someplace magical and mysterious as a child.... I don’t remember anyone being particularly happy in my youth. I developed a rich imagination.”
Nature was Avienne’s first formative art experience as a child. “I have always had a great affinity for sticks.... I love science. I find it extremely seductive and influential in my work, but I would not consider myself to have a scientific mind. I do tend to surround myself with scientists.”
Avienne received a B.F.A. from Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design and got into exhibitions with “chance, luck, and hard work.” Now she shows regularly at artist-owned SOIL gallery in Seattle, where she is a member.
Naturally, making work that is made with blood is shocking to many people. I asked her how she felt about that. “I’m often surprised, given the amount of violence and horror in fact and fiction in everyday life, that people are shocked [by my work]. I have always been fascinated by blood and regard it as a potent substance that resonates more than pigment outside of the context of the body and feel that my own blood is the most honest material I can use.”
“People prepare and eat red meat. I’m a vegetarian, so I find that very unappealing. There are some artists who paint with animal blood. At least I have my permission. I think I am more shocked by people than they are of me.”
I wanted to know more about her studio practice. Avienne doesn’t have anyone who handles administrative details such as an assistant or business manager. “I hate that I must set aside precious time to deal with paperwork or on the computer (I type with three fingers very slowly), but it is unavoidable. Writing a grant is brutally challenging but an important skill.”
When she gets artist’s block, she will “get out of the studio. Sometimes if I am stuck creatively, I watch a movie on my computer with a block of Sculpy and let my hands just work. I’ve come up with some interesting pieces doing this. The other thing I do is make a book, usually collaging and painting in an existing book.”
Her advice to those who want to be full-time artists: “It’s not for the feint of heart, you will need a day job or trust fund. You will need exceptional people skills and know how to market yourself. If you look at 'career artists,' many times it is their personality or the assistants they employ that is the key to their success.”
“In the end, I do not care if there is an audience. It’s what I need to survive, because that is how I survived my childhood.”
Nola Avienne’s favorite artists and influences: Niki de Saint Phalle, Louise Bourgeois, Joseph Beuys, Frida Kahlo, because they are survivors. Ed Kienholz, Hieronymous Bosch, Paul Klee, Antoni Gaudí, Arthur Ganson, Ernst Haeckel, Jan van Eyck, Sandro Botticelli, The Brothers Quay, because there is something strange and secret about their work. Anatomy, alchemy and science illustration books.
To learn more about Nola Avienne, please visit www.nolavienne.com