Featured image: The Human Front's resident visual artist, Bia Nua.
We have a new face at The Human Front. From now on we will be seeing more of Bia Nua’s work in our new section, ‘Art’. Bia is a philosophy student and a talented visual artist who specialises in painting and photography. He joins the team offering thought-provoking visual content.
Bia has wasted no time making his first contribution. I went to meet him in Central London to delve deep into his brain on the topic of his art. I wanted to grapple with the meaning of visual art and come to appreciate how Bia empowers himself by visually expressing emotions. Expression in visual art is not something which I can really relate to.
What art does for us
Bia’s visual art offers something starkly different to what I’m used to. Most creativity I display is presented in my writing.
A lot of visual art feels very abstract to me. I often find myself struggling to grasp its messages, as a more-literal-minded person. By interviewing Bia I had hoped to comprehend what it is visual artists gain from producing works of art that do not resemble the objects which inspire them.
Defining what constitutes art is ontologically difficult anyway. Generally speaking, art embodies the application of someone’s imagination. Their work offers a body of creative expression. In turn, on the receiving end, someone else contextualises their work—an exchange of emotions or ideas on a personal level. Art’s form, then, is just the mode of expression; what underlies the form of any art is a personal message.
The content of this message can be anything. People create music, poetry, sculptures, movies, paintings, and so on. In simpler form, they move their bodies on dancefloors and problem-solve at work. There are no formulas here.
Soldiers share their suffering by singing a song: 'The Story of a Soldier' – Ennio Morricone. (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966))
Art gives us the power to pose questions to ourselves—even on the receiving end.
I unpackage my feelings and thoughts in words, piece by piece, offloading the burdens of their emotional or ideological content from me, freeing me to inspect myself even further. Writing gave me a voice I never had, even on social media. I was quiet and softly spoken and I found other people dominate conversations in groups I was in and often misconstrue or deliberately misrepresent what I felt. Meanwhile, my verbal comprehension has always been quite poor. Writing, as well as reading, expanded by cognitive arsenal, giving me more means to unlid what I was feeling and organise my thoughts—pour everything out of me. Now I feel more at peace with the world: there is less chaos from my being able to manoeuvre myself through it with words.
But what does a visually expressive person do?
I remembered a Georgia O’Keeffe quote: ‘I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way—things I had no words for.’ But, I wondered, how? How is it that lines and colours and their relations, connected by abstract ideas, help visual artists understand their deeper selves?
I met Bia in a busy café in Central London. The smell of fried breakfasts and Americanos filled the air as the sound of people’s chatter and clinking plates pressed us against the window.
Bia, Welcome to The Human Front. How are you doing?
‘Thanks for having me.
‘I’m doing very well, James. After this I am going to meet some friends for lunch. It’s actually my birthday…’
Oh, wow. Happy Birthday! What an interesting way to start the day: here with me! Tell our readers some details of your background—how you came to be who you are, what you do.
‘I’ve been in London for the past 19 years. I grew up on a farm in a small village in the north of Portugal and moved to the UK when I was 19 years old to study psychology. In Portugal I was studying IT engineering. However, this really wasn’t for me.
‘After studying psychology I moved on to complete a master’s degree in fine art photography. I found I was able to express myself more in this environment. Visual art was a new language to my previously scientific background but I was now given outlets and I had a lot of encouraging support from my teachers. They inspired me and I thrived.
‘In the last eight years I’ve mainly been working in fashion and advertising photography in full-time positions. Now I work as freelance artist. But I continue to enjoy art in my own time. I also study philosophy around my work and have particular passions in existentialism and the philosophy of Frederich Nietzsche.’
What does art do for you?
‘For me the process of making of art is an expression of the “inwards” becoming “outwards”, the unknown becoming the known. I reach this state by meshing together my conscious cognition with something abstract about myself. It’s an experimental process.
‘But while experimentation is at the core of my art, I start off with some underlying foundation of ideas; and I break them and fix them. The end product represents the process of my transcendence, bridging the gap between something local and something “infinite”. My feelings are not always articulable but, in my work, I can connect the dots between them.’
What kinds of art do you create?
‘I am always finding new ways to channel my emotions. To me, painting and photography are the most interesting. I have specialised in them professionally but, more than that, I am able see my paintings and photographs as physical extensions of myself; they embody extra capacities of me. With each stroke of the brush or each photo, I find something visceral and something uniquely expressive.
‘The two are very different mediums, sure: photos represent objects in the real world whereas paintings begin in my mind. However, even by taking photos I feel like I can see things uniquely—we all can. We each have a perspective of the real-life scenes which unfold in front of us.’
You once told me you that like to destroy and rework your art. Describe that process by talking us through this piece.
‘So this particular work was a self-portrait. Part of my process is to start with photographs and unfix them—to recontextualise and revaluate them—as a form of self-growth. This was my initial drive here and I started with a picture of myself. In this painting I am unrecognisable. But I was in it as the starting point.
‘I essentially destroyed an image of myself and it was quite an exposing process. But it was ungrounding in a good way. I was experimenting with new notions of who I am by tackling ideas I held about myself. It made me shift my perspective of myself by giving me a new level of detachment. I had to look deep inside of myself to obtain it. There was a great uncertainty to making it.
‘I’ve actually revisited this work a couple of times, though. I change it, for example, by manipulating the colours and bleaching it. I’ve fixed it, unfixed it, and experimented with some things a number of times—the process of my art tends to be ongoing. I will showcase more of it on The Human Front soon.’
‘Bia Nua’ is not your real name. Why do you use an alias?
‘There are two simple reasons.
First, I am able to act in an unbonded manner by creating a psychological space for myself, where I don’t feel my everyday psychological luggage. My alias, therefore, represents an attempt to compartmentalise my art from obstacles that get in the way of my creativity. My art is still an aspect of me; the alias is just a psychological trick which gives me the illusion that I have a stage on which I can express myself more freely on.
‘Secondly, there is a more personal reason. I always struggled to see myself as an artist—partly because of my family’s farming background. Art was never visible or recognised or accepted in norms. My being an artist, therefore, didn’t feel like a real possibility. Using an alias, however, allowed me to depart from this identity and hand the reigns over to Bia Nua—I grew to become more expressive.
‘So my alias can be deconstructed into two devices.’
What role, generally, do you think art has in society beyond personal expression and contextualisation of that expression?
‘I think art will always be part of society’s mesh: it’s always been key aspect of our existence. Just think back to cave paintings.
‘However, I think this already goes beyond individual expression. Art is almost a fundamental property of society. In it we have a shared platform to engage in. We have a capacity to transcend, to turn the incomprehensible to the comprehensible via something abstract and convince people of the way things are via our own truths.
‘To quote Pablo Picasso: “We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realise truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lie.”’
‘Art doesn’t have a role that needs to fit into society: art comes from society, where we exist together.’
Where do you see your artwork going the future?
‘My work is an ongoing experiment. I like the future to remain unknown to myself. The process of finding out is my necessity.’