There's an uncomfortable familiarity that awaits the viewer when encountering the work of Louis Bartlett. That's to say that we, the viewer, seek to find shapes and forms to help us comprehend what we're looking at. The structures are present, but they're distorted, twisted, manipulated beyond any immediate recognition. As it turns out, not every move Louis makes is deliberate; an opportunity to experiment with the different techniques of producing an image. How does Louis know when something is complete? How does an Architecture student, renowned for their attention to detail and meticulous nature, set that aside and let the process guide them? We needed answers, and luckily for us, Louis was willing to let us pick his brain for a bit.
Aloof Studio (AS): Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?
Louis Bartlett (LB): Hello, my name is Louis Bartlett and i'm a self-taught Artist and Graphic Designer based in Bath, studying for a BSc in Architecture. I produce experimental graphics and artwork using a variety of different media, primarily photography.
AS: As mentioned, you're currently studying for a BSc in Architecture. The images you make are, for the most part, abstracted forms. How does architecture feed into your practice? Or are they two separate entities?
LB: My Instagram effectively acts as a curated scrapbook of my own experimentation away from my university design work. I try to keep the two disciplines as separate entities but inevitably both have started to inform one another. I've been interested in architectural photography for a long time, especially the hard angles and compositions, but there's always been a thread of abstraction in the way I photograph subjects. Architectural imagery often forms the framework for my graphics. From a pragmatic perspective, studying Architecture has provided a solid foundation both in terms of technical tools but also the mindset for structuring the creative process.
AS: The rigorous and precise nature of studying architecture can require copious amounts of time and effort. How do you balance both your free time and creating personal work with the demands of a degree? Is it a struggle?
LB: The energy I put into my graphic work is heavily dependent on my course workload. When the pace of a project ramps up, architecture often becomes an all-consuming process due the design problems that arise and as a result, takes up the majority of my time. It is very difficult when you are spending the entire day in CAD software to then jump into a Photoshop document for another hour in the evening. That being said, image making and my personal work gives me freedom away from the technical aspects of architecture. I make the rules for my own work and there are no 'regulations' preventing me from testing new ideas or concepts. It has been a massively beneficial method of relaxation, whilst also allowing me to develop my design practice.
AS: Talk us through your equipment/tool set up. Are you creating mostly digitally or is there a physical start point?
LB: For the most part, the base of each piece of work starts with photographs that I have taken, usually forming the compositional starting point of a piece. My process is primarily digital, using Adobe software, 3D modelling, rendering packages and a variety of other tools. At points I have used more unconventional means of creating images, such as using Processing code or Audacity to edit photographs as soundwaves before re-converting them back into images. Last year I was taking photographs through an old CRT TV connected to an old camcorder, which created some great visual filters and weird distortions when producing feedback loops. I'm drawn to processes that produce varied and unpredictable results.
AS: Similar colours and tonalities run throughout your work. Is your palette a conscious and refined decision or do you find yourself leaning that way throughout the process?
LB: The use of colour in my work is an unconscious effort and often changes depending on what images or projects I happen to be working on at the time. There is definitely a preference for neutral or muted tones but this is only defined by how I am feeling about a piece at a particular time.
AS: Where does your inspiration come from? Any designers that you particularly look up to that we may not know?
LB: One artist that I repeatedly come back to is the Japanese photographer Daisuke Yokota. He produces these obscured and surreal abstract images through a process of re-printing, marking and distorting prints of digital photographs. They have a depth and a tension to them which I really admire. The Portuguese graphic designer Bráulio Amado is also a favourite of mine. The variety of styles employed throughout his work is incredible.
AS: Although the look changes occasionally, your Instagram is a curated feed of images that look like they belong there, together. Do you find yourself creating specifically for social media or do you create with print or websites in mind?
LB: I create graphics entirely for myself. The process of getting to an outcome is more interesting to me than ensuring consistency on social media. My drive is to focus on experimenting with new techniques and producing high quality work rather than pursuing higher engagement or gaining followers as I find this can lead to a drop in quality or even creative burnout. That being said, I think there is a general consistency in my work that follows my experimentation but it is closer to a stream of consciousness rather than an intentional effort. I would like to say that I create with print in mind, especially in terms of the texture and depth of some of my pieces but with published digital work on social media it still feels very intangible.
AS: How difficult is it for you to translate music and sounds into a piece? If your starting point is a feeling or a reaction more than a tangible object, how difficult can it be to work out how the piece will take shape?
LB: Although music provides inspiration for my creative work, I tend to only use the tools associated with music production as a method of editing images. I am interested in digital boundaries and what happens when transitioning between different formats, processing and layering images together to produce something new. The process is highly unpredictable and gives sporadic results but I prefer this way of working. There have been times where I spend a few hours working on a piece and then end up discarding it. Often, it's striking that balance between working a piece too far and undercooking it. I can't really describe it, it's very much just a feeling but I'm not overly precious about the work I produce.
AS: Are there any opportunities arising in the near future where people can see your work in the flesh?
LB: Everything is very uncertain at the moment but eventually I'd like to set up a pop-up gallery and push towards producing printed work at larger scales. For the foreseeable future I think my work will be exclusively online.
AS: Any other things on the horizon that you'd like to tell us about?
LB: I have a couple of collaborative projects coming up soon but I can't say too much about those. Currently I am just trying to continue experimenting, develop new techniques and drive my practice forward. It will be interesting to see what the future holds.