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    High project —The photos were taken over a ten-year period in which Wolf moved from Paris to Los Angeles and experienced a series of life-changin… Read More
    High project —The photos were taken over a ten-year period in which Wolf moved from Paris to Los Angeles and experienced a series of life-changing events. Read Less

LosAngeles-based, Parisian import Guillaume Wolf is known for his role as CreativeDirector of Whitewall magazine, as well as his influential art directionand illustration work for brands like Colette, Isabel Marant, and LucienPellat-Finet. But for over a decade, Wolf has also been producing artreflecting on themes such as power, fear, desire, human frailty, and the natureof reality.
With“High: Lost & Found,” Wolf introduces new work that is both striking andovertly personal by pairing photographs of landscapes and interiors (oftenobscured or blurred) with bold words and phrases.
Thephotos were taken over a ten-year period in which Wolf moved from Paris to LosAngeles and experienced a series of life-changing events. He makes sense of itall through this body of work, revisiting memories and years past,reinterpreting them into a universal visual language. Friend and Whitewallcolleague Katy Donoghue talks with Wolf about his new series, how he had to“pay the price” to find the artist within, and how such a trying decade hasended up revealing an invisible alchemy.


KATY DONOGHUE:Tell us about “High: Lost & Found.”How did this series come about?

GUILLAUME WOLF:It’s about the human experience. It starts with an exploration of personal lifeevents; then it evolves to touch onsomething universal.

KD: Why start with the personal to reach the universal— why take this route?

GW: It’s themost brutal way to go and the most honest. It’s also the most difficult — liketrying to crack open a safe with a hammer. Many years ago, I remember readingabout Buckminster Fuller explaining how he chose to make his life anexperiment. This idea stuck with me. You see, we are always prisoners of our ownreality — we can’t escape it. Everything we experience is filtered throughour education, our beliefs, our senses, and soon. Paradoxically, in order to touchsomething that’s really true, something universal, we can only use our ownlife. Reading about love, for example, can be interesting but you have toexperience it to get it. So in order to unfold the big picture, you need tounfold the microscopic picture of your life. In Hermetic lore, they say, “Asabove, so below.”

KD: Tell us about your process.

GW:Initially, I started to compile photographs that I took between 2000 and 2010, whichwas personally a very intense decade on many levels. Then I startedreorganizing them. In the process, I discovered that there was a hiddennarrative that transcended my personal experience.

KD: What was that narrative?

GW: Astoryline, something very archetypal. What was interesting was not just itscontent, but the fact that I recognized itsexistence.

KD: Why was this decade intense for you?

GW: Therewas the experience of moving to the States from France, which was a realeye-opener — being an immigrant and starting over. Then there was adivorce. Dealing with the monster called depression. Drugs. Complete isolationand loneliness. Losing everything. Living on the go with three bags. Findinglove and hopeagain. Making a baby. And then tragedy: losing the baby on her duedate — a horrific loss.

KD: That is a lot.

GW: It is.


KD: So, how did these events affect your work?

GW: It’s anindirect process. The events in themselves did not inspire me to do art. Butthere is some weird alchemy that happened; a radical inner change. When thereis so much pain, on so many different levels, it forces you to asktransformative questions. You have to ask deeper questions like your lifedepends on it — because it does.

KD: Questions like?

GW: What’sthe nature of reality? This is a good one. What is life? How do I live throughthis life? These are questions you can truly ask when life has humbled you. Andif you’re attentive enough to look and listen, life murmurs back. You see,there is a mystery in all this. We know very little. And this takes us back to theidea of transcendence. To me, that’s the real reason for art — it’s adoorway to some form of transcendence. It helps us go behind the veil.

KD: Your images are arranged in asequence. How did you organize them? Was it chronologically?

GW: No. Tome, time, as we generally understand it,is an illusion. I don't believe that a timeline exists. This project is set“off-time.” I deliberately chose to connect different time zones and differentspaces. When you look at it, it’s all happening right now — it’sever unfolding.

KD: Where are the photographs taken? Are they in places ofpersonal significance?

GW: Theimages were taken between France and the United States during solitary travels.Some of the places I visited were very powerful. For example, the images I tookin Brittany, France, show massive Menhirs, which arepre-historic monoliths — simply breathtaking. In contrast to that, I alsovisited very mundane spots. To me, travel is like a form of poetry where I canexplore the contrasts of life. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling alone— getting lost.

KD: Getting lost in what way?

GW: It’s avery literal methodology. Driving somewhere with no map, no phone, then walkingfor half a day until I find something. Taking a picture and trying to find myway back before dark.


KD: Several of your pictures use a skull. Why is that an objectyou return to?

GW: I’veworked with skulls for a very long time. It’s my take on the vanitas paintings of the Old Masters.In these paintings the presence of the skull reminds us of our ultimatedestination. It alsoinvites us to celebrate the life that we have right now. No one in our societywants to talk about death or even think about it, and I believe that’s why wehave so many problems. Once you really grasp how limited your time is, it givesyou the courage to live life fully. Making art is an example; leaving atoxic relationship is another. Death isthe ultimate teacher to understand and appreciatelife. My skulls are not here to be spooky; they’re saying, “Wake up! Dosomething good today!” [Laughs.]

KD: In sifting through the images, labeling each with a word orphrase, did you lose that sense of chaos in your life over the past decade?

GW: You see,I don’t think there’s chaos to begin with. If you’re willing to look withextreme intensity, everything follows a course that’s anything but chaotic. Everythingis a thread.

KD: But isthat something you learned from this process? Do you mean that when life getshectic, you never feel a sense of chaos?

GW: Ofcourse I do. But there’s something beyond the pain and the chaos. All is notlost — something is given in exchange.
Thisreminds me of something… about 20 yearsago, in my early twenties, I had a conversation with Jean-Baptiste Mondino, theFrench fashion photographer. I asked him what was, in his opinion, thedifference between commercial photography and art. He replied that artists “havepaid the price.” At the time, this left me puzzled. Now I get it. Since then, many artists have told me similarstories. For example, Marilyn Minter toldme about the excruciatingpain she went through in her life. You see, massive pain and having the courageto explore it in your art — synthesizing chaos — that’s“paying the price.” And this is not easy. This is not for everyone. Fewpeople ever want to go there, actually, because it’s a scaryplace. But when you lose everything, when your identity is deconstructed, youend up naked. Only then can you seeclearly. It’s like having a new pair of eyes.

KD: A lot of the photos are taken outside. What role does natureplay in your life? Was it at all part of your healing process during yourdivorce and later, the loss of your baby?

GW: Natureis amazing. It’s the purest expression of life in all its complexity. From theplants to the animals, you see that there is a struggle, butyou also see that this struggle is part of a bigger picture. It is a very complexplay. I’ve always liked to observe nature and see how it works. And yes, natureis healing because — should I mention it? — we’re apart of it.


KD: “Shame,” “Fallen,” and“Freak” come off almost as slurs. Are these insults directed at anyone oranything?

GW: Thesethree images represent the peak emotions I felt when my wife and I lost ourbaby —the total collapse that surrounded the event. These words wereself-inflected. It’spure self-destruction. It’s very dark stuff. These images show the intensity ofthe pain, the horror. You see, your life is collapsing but everything elsestays normal; life continues. You suddenlyfall into this bubble of tragedy, but if you look outside, everybody else isokay. The contrast is shattering. You’re isolated in pain.

KD: The head of the horse in “Vitae Fratrum” is blurred and cutoff. For some reason I imagine it to be a unicorn...

GW: “VitaeFratrum” is an obscure Latin term referring to the monasticlife. It could be translated as: the life of the Brother. But here I’m talkingabout the life of the artist, and how hard it is. If you think about it, it’sa rough life: you spend all the money you make on your art and most of thetime, it’s art for art’s sake. It’s a life of sacrificethat is monastic in many ways.
Thehorse that you see as a unicorn represents inspiration: the muse. You can’t seeits face because it’s a magical being. You can only see its face with the eyesof your imagination.

KD:Why blur your subjects?

GW: I’mtrying to depict thoughts and emotions in my images, not actual scenery. Allthe images are blurred because our thoughts and emotions are always a littlebit fuzzy. It also forces the viewers to imagine the details— a way for them to appropriate these images.

KD:The last image, “Experience,” is ethereal-looking.Why end there? Are you comfortable enough now with the past 10 years that youcan chock everything up to experience?

GW:“Experience” is not a noun dropped as a final statement. It’s a verb. It’s aninvitation for the viewer that says, “Gofor it!” — a sort of carpe diem, ifyou will. To me, life is not to be avoided, or protected from, it isto be lived even if it hurts. “Experience” is not an end. It’s a beginning.

KD: The title of the series is “High: Lost & Found.” Let’s start with “high.” What kind of high areyou referring to?

GW: Thereare many highs in life. I’ll let you pick one. There’s the high that comes fromwhat Paulo Coelho calls “the ethic of risk,” choosing to be daring whileeverything around you screams you shouldn’t. It’s the high of passion and love.It’s the high of living this curious human existence with all its complexity.There is also, of course, the high that comes from wine, champagne ordrugs. The myth of Dionysus, ritualmadness and ecstasy — raw sexual energy. And then there’s the manic highthat comes with the full moon, an inexplicable rush ofcreative energy.

KD: We’ve spoken aboutwhat was lost. So whatwas found?

GW:There’s this incomprehensible play called “Life” and there’severything in it: the good, the bad, the ugly… But we only want the good. We’relike children who only want to dine on ice cream for the rest of our life. It’ssilly. But perhaps, if we pay attention when it hurts, we can realize thatthere is something waiting for us — a new dimensionin our life. I call this the “poetic dimension.” That’swhat I show in my images. That’s what I’ve found.