Interview: Heavens – NETS Victoria (2007)

Renowned Australian abstract artist Asher Bilu talks to NETS Victoria about his unique work practice and HEAVENS, an installation that blurs the line between painting and sculpture.

How would you describe your general artistic practice from concept to creation?

One thing leads to another. I usually know exactly what I want to do next, and the creation is simply a matter of getting down to it. However there is a creative process of discovery that must be left open, otherwise there is no magic. I let the idea evolve as the work evolves.

You are renowned for large scale installations that are fascinating, challenging, engaging and extremely moving. What was your intention for HEAVENS?

This was an opportunity to give people an experience of the awe and wonder of the heavens which unite us all, irrespective of any of our religious or philosophical beliefs. In order to achieve this, the work had to be a physical experience, which dictated its scale — substantial and all enveloping. The intention was never to create a literal view of the night sky with its stars and constellations, but rather an abstract rendition of the feeling of being inside the universe, and also inside a painting.

HEAVENS blurs the boundaries between painting and sculpture. How do you think the materials you have used relate to the meaning of the work?

To simulate the multi-layered universe, I needed a material which could be transparent and semitransparent in such a way that people could experience a sensation of being in amongst the layers. It also needed to be soft and friendly, but durable, and to be as light as possible. For many years I have used a paint which has the property of being self-supporting. This paint is a clear resin which is made up especially for me. I added pigment and used the combination of clear and pigmented material, applying layer upon layer to create nets that are made entirely of the paint, and which can be assembled into a three-dimensional work — hence a sculpture made of paint.

HEAVENS was created around the time of two important events in your life – the 50th anniversary of arriving in Australia from Israel and your 70th birthday. How did these occasions influence the making of HEAVENS?

It is the accumulation of the knowledge and experience of over 50 years of painting that allows me to do this kind of work. People often ask me “How long did it take?” Taking my answer from a Chinese sage, I tell them, “50 years and 10 minutes”, or in the case of HEAVENS, “50 years and 1 year”.

What do you hope gallery visitors will take away with them after seeing HEAVENS?

With so much art now reflecting the issues and problems and angst of the world, I want to celebrate the positive. I want to give people a joyous experience — to feel alive in a wonderful world, and be uplifted. I want this to be accessible to them without any need of verbal explanation. I want to make them feel that the impossible might be possible.

What excites you most about being an artist?

Having the ability to express myself as an artist gives me a sensation of achievement, but most of all, the joy of giving, which makes me feel good as a human being.