The existential explorations of Boris Pelcer originate from those intangible components of our humanity and the vast chasm of personal expressions and beliefs that we reflect upon while contemplating our human condition. Thoughts, emotions, dreams, imagination and language are among the curious and ultimately mysterious products of the unexplained phenomenon we call consciousness, and which comprise the very essence of what makes us human. Pelcer ventures fearlessly and with the utmost sincerity, into areas of his own consciousness and revels in turning his ruminations on those intangible entities into sophisticated and beautifully poetic physical manifestations of a mind reflecting on itself and its purpose within a complex universe.
Boris Pelcer was born in 1985 in Sarajevo, Bosnia and is currently living and working in Milwaukee, WI, USA. In 2007 he graduated with a BFA in Illustraton from Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, before going on to earn his MFA in Art at University of Idaho: College of Art & Architecture. Since then, Boris has divided his time between commercial illustration and the creation of personal fine artworks which he has exhibited in prominent galleries throughout the USA.
WOW x WOW is incredibly honoured that Boris is contributing a magnificent new painting, entitled, ‘Ego Death’, to our ‘Lightning Bolts & Little Sparks’ exhibition, opening on 2nd June. So, we reckoned it would be a great time to catch up with him and ask if he would be willing to share some of his thoughts and experiences. The follwing in-depth interview provides a terrific insight into Boris’ creative journey and we really hope that you enjoy it!
Hi Boris! First of all, thanks for agreeing to free up some of your valuable time in order to have this wee chat, we really appreciate it. If you could please start us off by introducing yourself and talking a little about your background, touching on anything you feel has been relevant to shaping Boris Pelcer the artist?
I’m glad to share a bit about myself and my work! My name is Boris Pelcer, and I describe myself as an artist and illustrator. My story began in the former Yugoslavia, in the region that is today known as Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was born in 1985, in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. I had a fairly pleasant childhood up until the Balkan wars in 1992, which is when I immigrated to the south region of Serbia, which is today known as Kosovo. I know, the history of those regions can be a bit confusing to understand. I lived there up until 1998 which is when another war broke out and ultimately caused my family to immigrate to USA in 1998. It wasn’t until I moved to USA at the age of 13 that the idea of being an artist become a possibility. While living in the Balkans, my goal was to pursue something practical such as engineering or something that revolved around mathematics. I was really good at it, so much so that in 6th grade I went to regional competitions in physics and math. Being good at math did serve its purpose when I came to USA, it allowed me to skip 7th grade all together. However, being an artist was much more alluring to me, but it seemed like something that might offer a comfortable living only in wealthy nations like USA, and not the Balkans.
Once I moved to USA, I knew that I was going to pursue some sort of a creative field, but I wasn’t sure what that was going to be. Ultimately, my desire for both self-expression and storytelling lead me to obtain a BFA in illustration from Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. Once I graduated, I didn’t have a particular career goal in mind, such as: get a BFA in illustration, be a freelancer, get an agent, work for the top editorial and publishing clients, etc. Inevitably I did end up doing all of those things, but I did not concisely plan on it. To be honest, all I knew is that I loved the act of creating, thus I was open for possibilities. Right after I got my BFA, I got a job as a graphic designer / illustrator / typographer for a small apparel company in Milwaukee, WI. While working there, I sharpened my graphic design skills and I ended up creating many apparel graphics for clients such as Urban Outfitters, Spencer’s, Journeys, Kohl’s, Target, Hatch Show Print, Miller Brewing Co. and Harley-Davidson. After 3 years and 3 months of working there, I was burned out. I was kind of dreading the idea that the rest of my life I would be creating graphics for clothing. It was decent pay and it allowed me to do things like travel to many places I wanted to visit like Brazil, Spain, Germany, Mexico, etc.
Still, the work itself wasn’t something that I was passionate about. Again, I found myself in a place where I wasn’t sure what creative field I should pursue or what I wanted to truly express through my artwork. So, I made plans to go back to school to better understand myself as a human being, figure out what I want to say with my work and also figure out what visual medium I would like to use to express myself. I applied for an MFA program to some of my favorite schools, along with schools that offered very generous scholarships and paid assistantships. I got accepted into SVA to pursue an MFA in illustration. It was an honor! However, the school didn’t offer any scholarships or paid assistantships and I really did not want to pay around $50K a year for an education that I was using mainly to figure myself out and to learn more about my work. Plus, my view was that the success for an artist is based on the quality of their work that they produce and not necessarily where they acquired their degree. Thus, I decided to go to a bit of a random school, the University of Idaho: College of Art & Architecture. It was recommended by a respectable professor at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and the school paid for my MFA, and it also paid me to teach while getting my MFA, neither of which was offered by SVA.
During my time in Idaho, I started out experimenting with typography, lettering, and combining it with illustration. I got good at custom lettering to the degree that I was hired by companies like Starz Network to work on developing title logos for shows like Da Vinci’s Demons, or designing logos for night clubs like Rose Rabbit Lie at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. About half way into my 3 year MFA program, I was still not fulfilled with what I was creating. I think it was the culmination of extended periods of self-reflection, along with creative experimenting, and reading many philosophy, psychology and sociology books that lead me to ask a very simple question: What is consistent across everything that I am drawn to, including life, music, art, writing, other human beings? The answer was authenticity, sincerity! That was it, I knew that in order to create my best and most satisfying work I would have to create work that explores my inner thoughts and emotions, regardless of how strange it might be, or how vulnerable it might feel. Ever since then, I’ve been creating work that explores my own thoughts and emotions. And every great opportunity that came since then has been a direct result of the work I was creating.
We’re interested to hear about where you’re currently living and what you like about the area? What is the art scene like there and do you feel a part of that community? Are these aspects of your life that are important to your creativity?
I am currently living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s a Midwestern, friendly city. The city is big enough that it offers something for everyone. It terms of an art scene, I would say it is not as connected as I wish it was. There are some known talented creatives that reside in Milwaukee, like Rory Kurtz who does amazing work for Mondo, Stéphane Roux and illustrator / cover artist for DC Comics, Timothy J. Reynolds 3D illustrator for Twitch. I have yet to meet Rory Kurtz, and I periodically catch up with others over lunch or when running into them at one of the gallery nights. I would love it if the art scene was better, and brought in more quality creatives together. But in many ways, my support system is pretty much everywhere else but Milwaukee. My commercial illustration agency that represents me, Debut Art, is based out of London, UK, with agents in London, NYC and Tokyo. I have close connection with the Suggestivism art movement which exhibits in big cities only like NYC, and San Francisco. Most of clients are in the east coast around NYC. In essence I can pretty much live anywhere as I am connected through the internet with the art communities that are important to me. I happen to be in Milwaukee as my friends and family are here.
What’s your first memory related to art?
There was a particular moment that I recall when I became intrigued with the act of drawing. I was about 3 or 4, and I had an Ewoks coloring book. It had line drawings of the various characters from the animated show Ewoks. I remember looking at the line work of the different characters and thinking how interesting it is that each drawing is essentially made up of different lines that come together to create an Ewok character. For some reason I decided to place a piece of paper on top of a line drawing of an Ewok and trace the line work. When I finished tracing, I remember being intrigued by the fact that I just drew a very good drawing of an Ewok without knowing what I was doing. Then, for some reason I decided to repeat the process, but redraw the character I just drew on a new piece of paper without looking at the original or the traced drawing. Once I finished essentially redrawing from my memory the drawing I earlier traced from a coloring book, I was left feeling intrigued by this whole process. In a way, I felt like I was a magician of a sort. Which is why, I kept repeating that process for some time. I also liked the fact that I was able to impress adults by my ability to recreate these drawings in front of them without looking at anything. When I was around 5, my dad, whom unlike my mom is artistically gifted, but doesn’t practice it, showed me how to look at nature and draw from life, rather than just trace cartoon characters from coloring books.
As a multi-disciplinary artist, talk to us about how the different tools and approaches to your varied output comes together as a cohesive whole and about the positive influences each of the differing disciplines have on each other.
My work ranges from digital illustrations to traditional acrylic paintings and graphite drawings, created for both commercial and personal projects. One of the reasons why I find traditional media so appealing is the fact that it forces me to be more deliberate with my mark making as there is no undo button. The process itself creates a lot of unpredictable textures and marks, which for me personally adds a particular charm and uniqueness to each piece. On the other hand, digital tools such as Photoshop together with Wacom Cintiq offers me much more control, and precision that is harder to achieve using traditional media. That is why I like to combine the two aesthetics together to create work that feels like it’s a nice balance of order and chaos. Therefore, as a way of balancing the clean nature of my digital work I incorporate scans of textures and spontaneous brush marks, and as a way of balancing the textured look of my traditional work I incorporate cleaner graphic elements. I’m also certain that many years of working as a graphic designer and teaching graphic design courses is why I like incorporating graphic shapes and elements into my work.
How personal or autobiographical do you allow your art to get? When you look back at certain pieces or larger collections of your own works, do they remind you of certain events or eras in your life? If so, we’d love to hear you talk about a good example of this.
Pretty much all of my personal work is used as a way to explore my own thoughts and emotions. It’s what compels me to create the work. A very clear example of that is my Byronic series. It was created in the months following my MFA graduation. I learned so much about myself and my work, and it was time to put it all to use in some profitable and satisfying way. Somehow, in an effort to find a balance between my personal and creative life while feeling the pressure induced by a desire to achieve certain success by the time I reach my 30’s, I found myself in an existential crisis. I contemplated a lot on the meaning of life, and in many ways it lead me to a dark, brooding place. So to make that struggle feel better and in many ways get that existential poison out of me, I created a series that encapsulated the struggle I felt in that period.
What has been the most exciting life and impact you have you witnessed any of your art take on, once it has left confines of your studio? What kind of feelings do you have about letting your creations go and live their own lives in the big wide world?
When I decide that a piece is done and I let it go out into the world, I have to admit, that moment is pretty thrilling. I feel like a piece of me is out there in the world influencing other minds in ways I cannot, yet it’s still me in some strange way. I usually don’t expect that my work will impact a lot of people as my work is a reflection of my own psyche, and not everyone will understand what my work reveals about my own psyche. We are all different in different ways. However, I do hope that my work does evoke something in people, whether it’s intentional or not. The most obvious ways I was able to measure how successful some pieces have been, was based on how many commissions I would get right after I release a series. Often art directors and new clients will specify what series inspired them to reach out to me, and if they don’t mention it, I do ask them which of my pieces inspired them to reach out and commission me.
Where does your focus lie when you’re painting?
If I am in a calm state of mind, and there are no distractions, I can paint in silence for hours and just think about the task at hand. Painting can be like meditation for me. I do like to feel like I am also learning something while I paint, so often I will put on podcasts, or an audiobook. Every once in a while, I am pretty distracted and I have to put on music to sort of drown out my thoughts a bit.
What’s the most unexpected feedback you received in your career?
The most unexpected feedback came from one of the artist agencies that I was hoping would represent me. This particular agency wanted me to diversify the type of imagery I created mainly for the reason that it would be easier for them to sell my work to potential clients. The feedback was to expand my visual vocabulary that goes beyond human figures that are up close up to the viewer and are floating in surreal environments. To be honest I agreed with them, that I could definitely benefit from diversifying my visual vocabulary. The only thing is that if I want to expand my visual vocabulary, I want each decision to help communicate a specific concept rather than just add something to the composition just so it’s easier to convince a client to work with me. They wanted me to make changes before they would consider representing me. As you can assume, I did not go with them, as it would take me forever to expand my portfolio and I needed someone to represent me as soon as they could so I can make money now, and not in a year. Another awesome agency, Debut Art, embraced my work as it was. Hence they are who I went with.
Have you ever painted something that surprised you? That you didn’t know was in you?
Every once in a while I create a piece that is a pleasant surprise. My ‘Expressions I’ was kind of surprising piece for me. I tend to sketch out what something will be and then follow the overall format. That often means that the final piece isn’t dramatically different from my initial idea. For my ‘Expressions I’ piece, all I had in front of me was a photo of a woman’s face, and I just started painting, not overthinking my decisions, and letting the piece turn into whatever it turned into. In the end I was pleasantly surprised by my decisions that shaped the piece. That’s when I realized that I need to do more of these kind of spontaneous pieces that aren’t overly controlled and resolved, but let my intuition and years of training take over. There is something liberating of creating in such a manner. Furthermore, when I am overthinking less, I create faster.
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, possibly one who’s memory you find yourself returning to for inspiration, or maybe just a tale about a hardship you’ve overcome which has helped define the person and therefore artist that you are now?
There are two groups of experiences that I often come back to and contemplate, sometimes by choice, other times because I can’t help but think about it. One group of such experiences is what I refer to as ‘life is so damn peculiar and unpredictable’. That includes my time as a Bosnian war refugee living in Serbia from 1992-1998, and my transition into the American culture starting in 1998. I think my views of the human nature was shaped by contemplating the absurdity of war. I personally did not experience anything terrible, but my father did, along with his brothers, and parents. Post war, I observed my father struggle to maintain his optimism, and somehow he kept his head above the water. But I could feel that it wasn’t easy. Coming to the USA was not easy either, I didn’t quite understand a lot of things, such as why I had to be here, learn this new language, leave all of our family behind us, and start a new life somewhere else, for the second time. Often I didn’t want to think about it all, so I would look for ways to escape, to get away from it all. That is where art helped me escape. In my youth it was art and video games that allowed me to go somewhere fantastic and glorious.
Other group of experiences that I often think about is what I refer to as ‘love and heartbreak’. When I fall, I fall hard and when it ends it hurts a lot. Which means that for a while afterwards, I think about it all. And when I find myself spending hours creating art, my mind sometimes begins to wander onto these concepts of love and heartbreak. Being that I am in my early 30’s right now, I find it easier to think about these experiences objectively and more level headed than in my early 20’s. Nevertheless, both of these groups of experiences definitely find their way into my work, which is why I explore concepts of identity, human psyche, human nature, morality, contentment, life, death, love, passion, spirituality.
If you could own one piece of art from any of the world’s collections what would it be and why?
I would love to own The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, even though I am not religious. The reason why I am intrigued by that masterpiece is because the figures and shapes behind the figure of God create an anatomically accurate image of the human brain, which implies that everything we as human beings consider as divine could simply be a product of the human mind and our imagination. I often contemplate if such a concept could be true. I feel certain that there is more to this reality than what I can comprehend, but what that something is, if it exists only within my own psyche hidden away in the unconscious mind, or if it’s an external force, is all beyond my comprehension. Even though I feel like such is truly unknowable data, I still find it all intriguing to contemplate.
What’s next for Boris Pelcer?
I have my solo exhibition ‘Reverie’ coming up. It’s at Nucleus Portland Gallery, in Portland, Oregon from July, 22 – Aug, 17, 2017. I will be there for the reception on July, 22nd 2017. I also have few group exhibitions coming up including 7th annual Supersonic Art annual exhibition in San Francisco, and the next Suggestivism exhibition in NYC in 2018. And besides working on more freelance, I am also working on some awesome officially licensed movie posters through various galleries and clients. So all in all lots of fun things to expect from me: original paintings, officially licensed limited edition movie posters, more freelance and in between all of that, some experimental personal work.