Masterminds 2014 Honorable Mention: Raphael Eja

Miami New Times' Mastermind Awards honors the city's most inspiring creatives. This year, we received more than 100 submissions, which our staff narrowed to an elite group of 30. We'll be profiling those honorable mentions, and eventually the finalists, in the weeks to come. This year's three Mastermind Award winners will be announced February 27 at Artopia, our annual soiree celebrating Miami culture. For tickets and more information, visit the website.

Raphael Eja was born Eric Jacque Amsellem in Figeac, a small town at the geographic center of France known only for being the birthplace of the orientalist famous for publishing the first translation of the Rosetta Stone. But perhaps now it can claim Eja's artistry, which has taken him a great many leagues, as he aptly describes.

Trained as a sculptor, Eja showed work in his home country, taught art classes in Canada, and designed video games before he discovered vector-based artwork, a medium he now considers the future of art.

Eja describes vector-based art as the practice of using image rendering and illustrating programs like Adobe Photoshop and Corel Draw to create original images that can be reproduced in any scope, be they microscopic or scaled to the size of a skyscraper. He uses Photoshop differently than the average Joe in that he doesn't start with an existing image and then manipulate. Eja takes a blank digital canvas and adds layers of colors, rasters, and gradients to form his own completely digital artwork, some psychedelically complex, others beguilingly minimal.

Living in Miami, Eja continues to perfect his technique, which ,as far as he knows "is completely original. I don't know of anyone else making art the way that I am today."

Cultist: How do you reconcile your physical work as a sculptor with the digital vector-based artwork that you produce?

Raphael Eja: They're totally opposite, my friend. The two mediums are on two different extremes. One is three dimensional and kind of the old-fashioned, the second one is rooted in the future. To know where I'm going and who I am as an artist, I need to feel my roots in the clay and the furnace and the fire - the world of sculpture. It's a discipline in the world of matter. The other one is totally abstract. Sculpture for me is a physical and mental art activity which pleases me very much. My body, my spirit, and my physical self are totally together when I am sculpting. When I am working on computer pieces, I can get quite frustrated sometimes because I cannot go and touch the screen and move the objects. Sculpture gives me that sense of volumes when I'm working on a piece so it keeps me in touch with those roots, my roots to the past. The computer art is more where I'm going, it's the future.

Any ideas on how you might join the two?

There's a machine called a thermoforming machine that allows you to print a sculpture very easily. You make a model and the machine forms the sculpture with plastics. With this machine, I can do some designs on the computer, and I'm trying to make the two mediums meet in that way.

Can you think of any buildings in particular that you would like to cover with a projection of one of your vector pieces?

That's a very difficult question. I would have to find the building first and take pictures so that I could account for the balconies and the windows and the different details of the specific building. I would love to do one of the Art Deco buildings on the Beach though.

You said that in Paris you designed video games. Are you a fan of any particular video games personally?

Not really. I've been too involved in video games to really enjoy them. There was a game that I worked on that was copied and downloaded something like 2 million times on the internet after it was released and after you have that sort of thing happen, it's very hard to like video games.

Is there anything you miss about Paris now that you live in Miami?

Paris is like a beautiful girlfriend that makes you sick. You like that girl, but she is impossible, you know? That's exactly how I feel about the city. Paris is good when you go out at 4 in the morning by yourself, walking around and you see the amazing city full of history. But day by day, if you want to live there, it can be very difficult.

What things about Miami do you love that are a major departure from life in Paris?

You know, when I see nature, the way you see nature all around you in Miami, I feel the presence of God. When I see the ocean, the clouds, the sky, the sun, I feel like nature is here and God is here. That's one of the major things I was missing in Paris. Also, Paris is a crowded city. There's nowhere to park, the French government taxes you like you wouldn't imagine, and there's a lot of freedom here that you don't feel over there. People came over here in a good way, just to have fun, to enjoy themselves, so that translates into a lot of good feelings around you. Coming to Miami for me was like a back payment for all the different stresses of Paris.

Wanna see more MasterMinds? At Artopia, sponsored by Miracle Mile and Downtown Coral Gables, you can check out work by 2014's ten MasterMind award finalists and watch as the three Mastermind Award winners are announced. And that's just the beginning. Artopia will also include live entertainment by Bottle & Bottega, CircX, and Flamenco Puro; local art by Tesoro Carolina, Trek 6, 8 Bit Lexicon, Hec One Love, Ivan Roque, and Jay Bellicchi; and DJ sets by Main Event Productions, Phaxas, Golden San, Skinny Hendrix, and DJ Supersede. Other sponsors include Rums of Puerto Rico (Official Rum sponsor), Car2Go, El Palacios de los Jugos, Beck's (official beer sponsor), and Vero Water (official water sponsor). Early bird tickets are available through Feb. 2. Visit the official Artopia website.

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