Capturing photo magic in quality puddles: Del Suelo releases “I Am Free” book and album pairing

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Opening Instagram can sometimes be like opening the fridge: Hopeful until utter disappointment hits you across the face as you gawk at the empty shelves.

But every once in awhile you come across that one forgotten gem you purchased six months ago, that half-hidden pizza pop way in the back of the freezer that makes those late night peeks worth it. It’s why we all keep coming back, right?

With endless pictures of meals and people racing to drink on patios, it’s always nice to come across something with a sense of direction. And there’s something to be said about an artist that is willing to take their time to work on their projects while honing them to immaculate precision. In a day and age where it is easy to use social media as a platform to release single after single and content after content, it’s refreshing to see someone present something with pride and diligence. “Look at this beautiful child I created!” as opposed to just waving around a Kleenex full of jizzum.

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So gaze your wondrous eyes towards #qualitypuddle, a collection of reflective photos taken by artist/musician/writer/everyman Erik Mehlsen who has been performing and writing under the name Del Suelo. You can follow his magic on Instagram HERE. Mehlsen plays a wide variety of instruments including (but not limited to) guitar, bass, banjo, keys and cello and performs in projects such as Andino Suns, Down Home Boys and The Dead South. He is releasing a book and album pairing entitled “I Am Free” this Friday, April 22nd at the Underground Cafe in Saskatoon and you should probably go and check it out.

Ominocity: Tell us about “I Am Free” and coming up with the initial concept behind the book and album.

Del Suelo: Art is the vehicle I chose to address and celebrate some personal confusion and repressed trauma in my life. What resulted is a 112 page novel of 10 chapters. There are 10 songs. Each chapter correlates to a song, and vice versa. The project tells a story about what it means to be a privileged young adult in the affluent society we live in today, and the emotional and spiritual paradoxes and problems we face. The story addresses unconscious relationship patterns, addiction, consumerism, patriarchy, faith, and loneliness. It sounds heavy but it is a page turner. Most people knock it off in one sitting. Both the book and album stand alone on their own, but the songs and prose help deepen each other’s meaning, so it’s pretty worthwhile to check it all out. The book comes with the CD on the inside cover, and it’s pretty cute.

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OM: How did #qualitypuddle come to fruition and what was the initial inspiration behind starting the project?

DS: I got a new phone in March 2015 and I was really excited to have a decent camera at my disposal. I started filming and shooting all sorts of weird stuff. Of which, was a little documentary I made titled “Where the Wild Things Flow”, which documents the Spring-time activity of racing toothpicks down the streets in the runoff of all the snow melt in the springtime. In filming this, I got an eye for the world from that angle, and how there are puddles everywhere acting as mirrors to reflect the world around us.

OM: Would you ever turn #qualitypuddle into a published book on its own?

DS: For sure! Although I don’t know the exact angle of it yet. I’m still waiting for that ‘ah ha!’ moment where I know what its purpose is, and what it’s going to look like. Right now I shoot these shots because it is really fun, and the photos serve as a sort of journal for me. I’ve taken puddle shots in now almost 10 countries, and it’s fun to look back on all the places I’ve been.

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“Sometimes I see an object and have to capture it, so I hunt for water. Other times (especially when it’s dry) I come across a puddle and try to find a way to make it count. Oh, and I’ve used spilled drinks in bars a few times. That’s always funny…”

OM: Chicken or egg. Which comes first for #qualitypuddle inspiration? The object you shoot or the puddle the object is reflected in.

DS: Like the chicken / Egg scenario, this is impossible to answer. Sometimes I see an object and have to capture it, so I hunt for water. Other times (especially when it’s dry) I come across a puddle and try to find a way to make it count. I have over 300 shots in the collection so far, and only once have I ‘made’ my own puddle. Oh, and I’ve used spilled drinks in bars a few times. That’s always funny.

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OM: When creating art, whether it’s a photograph or a composed song or a written account, what is your creative process? Where do you grab your inspirations from?

DS: I’m kind of rebellious and anti-authoritarian by nature, and I love to examine the human condition. Since one can really only examine their own internal universe, I see myself as an explorer – going into dark and unexplained aspects of myself and rooting around. The artistic journey is the process of bringing my findings to light, challenging the status quo in the external world that leads to emotionally unfavourable disposition.

My inspiration always starts with observation of some type of notable emotional experience. Something will happen in my life and I’ll feel strongly about something – good, bad, or otherwise – and I use art as a vehicle to try to understand the what and why of how I feel. Real life is super messy, but I can articulate emotions succinctly as a songwriter or prose writer, so this is what I use as a process of turning my personal experience into a comprehensible and entertaining object for sharing. “I Am Free” is essentially five years of struggle that I’ve whittled down to the most poignant 20,000 words and 10 songs I could possible arrange, and now it fits in my back pocket.

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OM: You had mentioned that you call your style of art ‘slow art’, I really appreciate that term and the concept behind it. How you feel about social media as a way to promote art and how do you feel it has changed the direction in which artists create?

DS: Lately I’ve been paying attention and categorizing art into two camps: slow-art and fast-art. Fast art is something that is quickly made and is designed to get a point or sentiment across as easily as possible. I think this is being pushed by the nature of our social media feeds. If you have a message you want the world to know, you only get .5 seconds of a user’s attention, so you have to make it count. I think that #qualitypuddle falls in this category. I shoot, edit and post photos in just a few minutes. They’re well liked and responded to, but is there any depth? Hell no. They’re just pretty photos. On the other hand – “I Am Free” is a slow-art project. I deliberately wanted to make an album with tons of meaning and depth, and I was able to achieve that by adding prose. It is a product of thousands and thousands of hours and careful reflection and contemplation. I’m scared of how short the collective attention span is becoming, and so I hope “I Am Free” inspires folks to slow down and take time. Great art can be fast or slow, I’m not saying one is better or worse than the other – but the journey of creating a slow art piece yields tremendous challenges and gifts for the artist. The journey is unparalleled to anything else I’ve experienced in my life. Plus, I’ve managed to challenge the status-quo in the music and writing industries with the end product. I’m hella proud of that.

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Catch Del Suelo with Paul Kuzbik this Friday, April 22th at the Underground Cafe.

Special thanks to Erik Mehlsen for the super awesome photos

– Interview and article by Victoria Allbright.

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