1) Can you tell us about yourself and how you became an artist?
I’ve always been a painter in one way or another, starting from childhood. My father was a furniture designer and when I was young we would spend a lot of time drawing and painting together. Typical of my father, nothing was too serious. We had fun drawing and painting square-headed cats and telling jokes while making abstract expressionist paintings. Having spent a lot of time in his workshop - materiality, design and art were second nature to me.
In my studio now, I still try to maintain a sense of play, I think a lot about design, and make large-scale oil, acrylic and digital paintings. As a professor at OCADU, I am attempting to inspire students with a sense of fun when developing their work too. I do have an analytical side too. Discussions about how art is implicated in our complex technological society is why I love teaching.
2) Describe your work in three words.
Light, colour, immaterial
3) What inspires the colours for your artworks?
Basically, everything inspires my colour choices, as I really am attuned to colour in my everyday life – most specifically how high-key synthetic colour intersects with more somber or natural colour. I think very consciously about colour – most specifically how light may fall on architecture during certain weather, colour in art that I love or simply considering contemporary fashion and interior design.
Currently, in Italy, I have been researching the Florentine and Venetian Renaissance colour palettes – their differences, and histories. I am connecting with how contemporary designers use Renaissance painting in interiors or in fashion here as well. For me, contemporary and historical art, design and simply interesting colour details found on the street can inspire me.
4) What is your creative process? Can you walk us through each stage - from coming up with ideas/themes/concepts you want to explore, to translating that into an artistic vision, to creating the physical artworks and installations?
My creative process is active all moments of the day. I place great emphasis upon absorbing the colours, textures and events of daily life - yet with an internal thought and documentation structure that I use for my artwork. I take thousands of pictures and write notes on my phone. I collect things - mostly printed matter that I arrange on desks and tables at home, and in the studio. This process is sort of like collage building from everyday things that inspire me. When it comes time to make work – I just start intuitively (both with the oil and digital paintings). My digital work allows me to make a lot of work that I can edit daily. To make the conventional paintings, I must be in the studio which obviously requires a different time commitment. The best day in the studio is a long one, where I work on many paintings over the day, I wander around looking at art books and I’ll cut up magazines, rearrange my piles of things on desks, and make/refine some of my digital work – all while listening to my favourite podcasts about politics and book reviews. My process is strongest when I don’t focus too intently on one thing. I move my vision or even feeling from one piece to another, hoping overtime to find overall cohesion in the work. Those days are sacred to me. My process is a relatively slow one where I revise all of the work a lot. A huge influence in this respect is Matisse. He used to paint over and over paintings until they felt right – so did Richard Diebenkorn. Great things happen when one works this way. The underpainting comes through and/or previous digital layers overlap others to cause surprise compositions. I must always stay attuned to the process this way.
As my work has a lot of layers – in the digital process, I make many layers, rearrange them and then often have to sort many away. Deciding something is complete takes a long time - through the act of slow looking and fast making.
5) How has being in Italy affected your work?
I am very fortunate to be teaching here and learning alongside my students. I attend all of the art history classes where our wonderful art historian lectures onsite in churches, museums and at important sites. We are mostly in Florence, yet we’ve also been to Siena, San Gimignano, Venice, with an upcoming trip to Rome. I am gaining a much deeper understanding of Renaissance history and I’m finding it so interesting as there are strong commonalities with the time in which we are living now. How power and politics, art and science, as well as new technologies are expressed the in art and architecture of the period fascinates me. Since I don’t have to take the exams, I have the luxury of absorbing the atmosphere of the places that we travel to. It is November here, which is the rainy season. The skies are incredible with deep blue-greys with moments of warm sunlight sneaking through.
I have been drawn to pre-Renaissance artwork too, like Giotto’s paintings at the Uffizi Gallery and his stunning frescos at the Arena Chapel. At my Florentine apartment, I am working with egg tempera paint because it was used during this pre-Renaissance period. By mixing egg yolk with beautiful powdered pigments that I purchase at Zecchi, the historically important art supply store in Florence, I am making colour studies in layered stripe paintings. These studies are definitely a challenge as I struggle to learn how to use the materials and the colour is very different from my usual high-key palette. Through a lot of layering I am able to achieve a strength of colour.
Finally, I’ve now attended the Venice Biennale twice. Ralph Rughoff has curated an exhibition of high urgency. The exhibition is so exciting for its global reach as well as the deftly integrated multi-media works that address the anxiety of our times very well. It’s also wonderful to see powerful painting represented within this mix. I’m thrilled to have seen mostly new work by Julie Mehretu, Nijideka Akuynili Crosby, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. I will only learn how this show has affected me many years down the road.
So, all in all, it’s hard to say how this experience will influence my work in the long run. I will say that I have constant visions of how drapery glows, the incredible sunsets and skies. I also try to capture the energy of these very busy cities where people live contemporary lives within the rich historical settings. It’s a real contrast and I hope my compositions capture this.
6) What messages or emotions do you hope to convey to your audience?
I am attempting to capture a sense of atmosphere and intensity that I feel in Italy. The colour of warm light as it transforms the skies and falls on the textured surfaces of architecture. The historical paintings of Raphael, Botticelli, Giotto and Leonardo – the colour, details and control of their subject matters are sensibilities seeping into my digital paintings.
Yet, while in Italy, I’ve noticed how much I am drawn to the weather – most specifically the skies and waterways. This is reflective of the fact that I am walking a lot by taking in the cities that I’m visiting. Recently there’s been too much rain – first in Venice and now in Florence. Water levels in both cities are at historic levels that are now causing damage. This is concerning. It’s affecting my work, no doubt.
7) Who are some contemporaries or figures in art history who have influenced you?
Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell and Amy Sillman all use colour and gesture powerfully. All three painters make unabashed large-scale, confident, abstract paintings that provoke enormous admiration in me as a painter.
Gerhard Richter’s analytical approach to making varied bodies of artwork that still engage in the beauty of painting has been a long-time influence upon my practice, most specifically as a younger artist. No matter how much I try to get away from his work, his timeless subject matters, mesmerize me whenever I encounter them in person.
Although drawn to the colour used in the high Italian Renaissance, 16th-century Dutch still-life painting has been the real influence. This painting seems subtle, yet has a quiet force in its seemingly mundane subject matter and lushly restrained painting style.
I have so many more influences – Milton Avery, Fairfield Porter, Monet, Matisse, Anne Truitt, Some are Canadians and include Gina Rorai, Sarah McCullough, Brent Walden!
8) Can you tell us about your new Italian Digital series of paintings and the improvisational approach used in their creation? Does this apply to all of your works or mainly this body of work?
Through painting, I am always attempting to capture a sense of energy, as well as an immaterial presence that I feel represents our contemporary time. My compositions, slightly off-kilter, active, and even a touch unsettling, capture the luminosity that I see, and tension that I feel between the old and the new in Italy.
I am studying so much historical art and so many elements are ending up in my new digital pieces, consciously and unconsciously.
I always work intuitively at the outset, yet a methodology to my intuitive approach. I start quickly and slow down when decisions need to be made. With the digital software that I use, I make many layers capturing brushstroke and colour. With these works I limit myself to 6 layers, yet start with approximately 20. I move things around compositionally, add and remove layers and play with layer opacities for a long time until I decide the artworks feel finished. This step can take some time. The particular pieces that I am working on at the time (usually about five images) stay on my desktop so that I continue to see them while I’m working on other work. I like it when the little images on my screen nudge me to open them and force me to finish them. I complete the group of images and move on to the next. Interestingly my titles have evolved into Italian and they certainly allude to the landscape and a sense of space here.
At this point, I hope to print these works on paper. I work on the digitals quite consistently while periodically making the egg tempera colour studies at my Florentine apartment. I’m very excited about a new start in my studio in January with many new artworks to sort through for large-scale production.