Flying 8,565 kilometers from Australia to Mongolia, artist L.Ganbold returned to his home country to promote his artwork. He’s known as Gawaa among his peers.
Notable Mongolian artist S.Zayasaikhan, who has known Gawaa since high school, commended Gawaa, saying, “We draw what we see. Gawaa draws what’s in his mind.”
Gawaa is viewed by many as an interesting artist who emits mysteriousness and expresses his unique mindset through art. Learn more about Gawaa and his artwork through the interview below.
2016 has been a busy but productive year for Mongolia. Aside from important events such as the parliamentary election and ASEM Summit, many Mongolian artists living abroad came to Mongolia to launch a joint exhibition during the National Naadam. Did you participate in this?
This year, I came after celebrating the Naadam Festival in Australia. Mongolians living there traditionally celebrate Tsagaan Sar and Naadam Festival. I’ve been living in Australia for 13 years, but I return to Mongolia every summer.
.. freedom enables artists to create extraordinary artworks. It’s understandable that new ideas and inspirations overflow in densely populated places…
Are there many Mongolian artists active in Australia?
No, there aren’t that many. A young lad called Khosnaran resides in Melbourne, Australia. He graduated there and mainly does street art. There’s also Uchralt who earned his Ph.D. in art education. Besides painters and artists, several morin khuur players and throat singers are active in Australia.
Where were you born? How did you start painting?
I was born and raised in Baatsagaan soum of Bayankhongor Province. At the beginning of the free market economy, I moved to Ulaanbaatar and like many others, I did various jobs, including a guide for tourists. Later, I met a few Americans who came to Mongolia for a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID Mongolia) project to help the economic development in the Gobi region. I became very close with one of them while traveling across the country. That lad advised that I should go abroad and try to develop my hidden artistic talents, which he was certain that existed in me. He invited me to the USA and I ended up going. For a half a year, I saw and learned a little about art and contemporary art in the USA. I’ve seen numerous galleries and exhibitions. Ultimately, I started wanting to create my own artwork. That American lad, named Mark Stibich, connected me to the world of art and really opened my eyes.
Many famous artists created amazing things and won huge prizes even though they didn’t professionally study art. It’s said that talent is more important than studies. Do you agree?
Absolutely. It seems that artists are born. However, I personally think it’s better to learn technical things such as color mixing techniques by the book.
Did you enter an arts school after returning from the USA?
Soon after returning to Mongolia, I met an Australian woman. We married and headed to Australia in 2002. Since then, I’ve been “stuck” there. In the first few years in Australia, I tried doing different types of jobs and worked hard to build my own home there. As the years passed, I gained certainty that this path wasn’t for me. So I decided to enter an arts school, enrolled into an arts institute in Sydney and got a degree in sculpting and painting.
…I realized it’s necessary to learn by the book and take professional lessons while studying at the arts institute…
Were you able to improve your skills by studying at a professional school?
People used to tell me to study at a professional arts school before I decided to study. Since I was raised in the countryside, my sense of freedom and determination to study independently without going to school were strong. I realized it’s necessary to learn by the book and take professional lessons while studying at the arts institute.
Your artworks are very unique and interesting but too complex to understand for some people. Not everyone needs to understand art but is it right to make art pieces that aren’t comprehensible by others solely for your own satisfaction? In general, should artists paint things that are easy to understand or ones that satisfy themselves?
In my case, I seem to paint for myself. I produce what’s in my mind and what I imagine. Whether others don’t like it or not isn’t important to me. There are times when I want to create something for others and art that will be liked by others. But for some reason, something stops me.
What did you want to express through your paintings of cows with television sets for a head and the painting of a three-eyed person?
I painted a television set as the head of a cow to show that people are being oppressed and devoured by television without realizing it. Basically, it means that people are being brain-washed. It doesn’t have a really deep meaning. In fact, I didn’t put much significance in choosing its color. I considered the message of the painting to be more important.
I myself dislike external influences. I try to be as far away as possible from any kind of influence. My paintings of people with three, four and more eyes illustrate that people aren’t able to find themselves or their worth in society. The color of the painting is dim to express that people’s importance is fading away from society.
Have you found your own style? Artists’ styles tend to change during certain times of their life. Can you comment on this?
Personally, I don’t think I’ve developed my own style as an artist. I’m constantly changing and searching for my true self. For example, my daughter was born last year. Before she came to this world, I mainly used bright and vivid colors. Looking at my latest artworks, I noticed that I started using softer colors.
You visit Mongolia every year. How has Mongolia impacted your life?
The biggest reason for my visit is because I want to take a break, clear my mind and get new inspirations. For example, one thing I observed last year was that we are losing and changing our traditional nomadic lifestyle and culture. Herders are on motorbikes instead of horses.
Did you incorporate that idea into your painting of a camel with a motorcycle engine?
That was an imaginative painting. It portrays the modern nomadic culture. Modern nomads have cellphones and houses. It’s impossible to stop development with criticism. Still, the nomadic lifestyle of Mongolia is gradually being forgotten.
Your artworks are like a riddle. Overall, what kind of person would you say you are?
I prefer being simple, but you can’t say I’m extremely simple and ordinary. The environment I live in is not simple. I work with 26 artists at my workshop in Australia. It has 12 rooms and a gallery. My colleagues are also very ordinary. There’s nothing better than being ordinary, being able to freely express yourself, not being forced to do theft, and being free. It’s pointless to lie and do all sorts of thing so that you can be liked by others. In fact, people will not support artists if they aren’t simple, humble and open. I mean, an artist needs the support of others, or it’s all meaningless.
Many people believe that an artwork must have something unique and weird to be considered modern art. Some people think that artists are trying too hard to be unique. How is modernism viewed in Australia and the rest of the world?
In general, modern art has become wide-ranged in terms of content, scale and usage. It’s impossible to define how it should be. I don’t have anything to say about this since I’m not an art researcher. Art researchers, critics and experts will assess and evaluate. From what I see, modern art is developing in Mongolia. Modern art is extremely free in Australia, the USA and Europe. The freedom enables artists to create extraordinary artworks. It’s understandable that new ideas and inspirations overflow in densely populated places.
How do you choose the material, color and shape of your paintings and sculptures?
I was born and raised in a desert. I was surrounded by beautiful nature without any trash in sight. But later, when I suddenly moved to a big, scary city and saw so much garbage and waste, it was very shocking for me at first. I was literally scared. People in the city were rich and had excessive consumption. They would buy and throw away, and kept repeating that process. I used to collect materials on the street and make art out of it. Not to mention, I was very poor at the start of my career as an artist.
How long have you been using waste and scraps for making art?
It’s been around five or six years since I started making art with that kind of material and selling them. Artworks made from secondary raw materials tend to be short-lasting. That’ why I recently changed the materials I use.
You uploaded a photograph of a wire art you made in Gobi Desert. Where do you get your inspirations? How do you improve your imagination and artistic mindset?
There are various influences. The environment I grew up in affected me the most. All you can see in the desert is sand and mirage. In such a place, a person can imagine all sorts of things.
A person who moved from such a unique place to a completely different place would begin to learn many new things from the cultural difference. It’s a huge difference. You collect tons of information while trying to adapt to a new culture. This affects your creativity and imagination. This could become an advantage.
When will you reveal your paintings and sculptures to Mongolians?
I’m planning on releasing an exhibition in Ulaanbaatar next year. If possible, I want to stay here for a while and work on new artworks. In fact, I’m thinking of permanently coming back to Mongolia in the near future.
You can see Gawaa’s artworks from lostnomad.net.