We sat down with painter Michelle Nguyen to discuss her new highly symbolic and surrealistic body of work titled "Predation".
As I write this I almost need someone to come and rescue me from my studio where I am working on about 20 paintings at once. They are all leaned up against each other so it is like a house of cards in there. And last night I dreamed I had to ride home through miles and miles of mountains on a tiny borrowed tricycle. I felt OK about it, thought I could make it, and then a wheel fell off complicating my plan. I’m very excited about this show but sometimes it gets a little crazy getting ready for it.
1. Tell us about your reflected landscapes! What inspired you to study gardens and reflections in your new paintings?
I’ve been wanting to try my hand at landscapes again for quite some time and so I acted on a nudge in that direction from the gallery this summer. How to start I wondered briefly and I headed off to my nearest “landscape", Van Dusen Gardens with my iPhone and no idea. Young guys were busy working in hip waders pulling waterlilies out of the ponds to keep them from taking over and excited visitors were making off with the flowers. I too was immediately drawn to the water and then to reflections of the sky and nearby plants which through my camera looked so much brighter and clearer than with the naked eye. I was fascinated. This is my job, I was thinking, wandering around in a garden on a sunny afternoon waiting to see what intrigues me? Crazy and wonderful. Pure basic research. Although I returned many times to the garden in July and August and took many photos all of the large paintings in the show are riffs on just two of them.
2. Can you describe how your floral paintings have evolved since your last show?
I’m enjoying painting more abstractly with wide brushes….trying to paint more loosely. My flower paintings have a tendency to be crowded, almost baroque, and in some of my new flower pieces I’m trying to capture the feeling of open space, layers of depth and emptiness in these works.
3. Your work has continued to grow in a gestural direction. Can you tell us about how you employ spontaneous gesture in these newest pieces?
I really had no idea how to paint water so I’d make a painting then go back the next day find it too tight and paint over the whole thing in a more gestural way. I’d do that for days and began to feel like I was quite possibly going crazy. But at least the marks were getting looser and there was some suggestion of depth in the layers. After that drawing whatever was floating in and on the water was really fun. Using very small delicate brushes almost any mark I made would seem to float on the more diffuse background.
4. Where are some of the places you sought inspiration for this series?
VanDusen Gardens and the Mincio River which I rode along on a bike trip in Italy this fall.
5. This series includes several works on paper. Has painting on paper changed the way you approach a painting or created new possibilities?
Working on paper with oils allowed me to try out many different subject matters and compositions without using up lots of expensive canvases and meant that I could easily carry home what I had painted from Italy. I think doing watercolours has effected the way I paint more than the oils on paper, though, by increasing my interest in layers of transparency.
6. Can you tell us about the scale of your work and why it is satisfying for you to paint bigger and bigger?
I can get fussy with small works to the point that somehow they have as many marks in them as the bigger works and sometimes feel overcrowded to me. I like the wide open space of a big canvas and I love big brushes. I like paintings that seem to be big windows and which you can climb into and get lost in.
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.
1) Can you tell me about the symbolism behind some of your different trees?
Since the image of a tree itself is highly symbolic I hope each person, regardless of cultural background, can assign meaning that is specific to themselves. Each painting of a tree or trees plays with how the environment influences growth and life. My trees show what interests me - the way that they respond to the impact of various stressors. I often paint bent and twisted shapes. I love how trees can somehow survive even the hardest conditions. I think we all can associate our own paths through life with these shapes.
Trees also present us with “beauty”. The concept of beauty has a long history and much has been written about it. I often strive to address this notion with my work.
2) How does your commitment to ecological responsibility intertwine with your art practice?
I have planted and nurtured thousands of trees since I was a child. When we first purchased acreage for a home & studio in Ontario my wife, (the artist Teresa Cullen), and I planted three empty hay fields with thousands of saplings. Today they are a beautiful pine forest. We’ve done the same at our current smaller property near Lake Simcoe. I am an organic gardener too. Sustainable living in a clean sustainable environment is essential. My paintings usually infer this. I hope they inspire people to be concerned and activist.
3) I read in your artist statement that deserts, mountains, and vast open plains serve as great inspiration for your artwork. Where do you search for sublime landscapes?
I find these places pretty much everywhere I travel; in Anatolia, Spain, the Prairies, Rockies and especially the American Southwest. I find the landscape and trees interest me. The more open the space, the better I like the way trees present themselves to me.
4) How has the artistic treatment of your work changed over the years and what triggers the shifts?
I began my professional career in the late 1970s and early 80s creating abstractions that alluded to landscapes. At the time my wife and I shared a studio in a warehouse at King and Dufferin Streets in Toronto. The city and the art scene certainly influenced my work.
Once we relocated to the countryside north of Toronto (Grey County) the surrounding landscape challenged me to interpret it in ways that were unique to my new perceptions. The work shifted somewhat so that horizon, sky, hills and trees became more recognizable while expressionistic paintwork was still important. Trees gradually became more of a focus after planting so many of them.
When we moved and built a second studio, in Oro Medonte ON in 1998, there was a giant sugar maple tree on the property. That grand dame was nicknamed “The Queen”. Living under her shifted my focus to trees as my main subject. The painterly treatment has varied over the years in response to my interests in methods of making paintings, from allusions to representation in a traditional sense. Recently, I’ve been playing with ambiguous color backgrounds as foils for tree forms.
5) Your tree paintings have a calming and meditative effect and I think this is partly because of the removal of all non-essential visual elements in their compositions. Can you tell me about the process of reduction in your work?
A few years ago I became interested in how I could strip down my paintings to emphasize mostly the tree. I played around for a year or two with abstracted backgrounds. Some of these backgrounds were resolved paintings in themselves even before the tree was painted in. This was tricky because sometimes the background became more interesting than the main subject.
Over time I’ve worked to pare down the backgrounds to play a supporting role, like the grounding tones in a musical piece (think the rhythm section in a jazz performance). I have a strong interest in visual art that is grounded in spiritual dimensions, with an emphasis on images and objects that help us to suspend thinking and experience what’s present. There are some Asian ink wash paintings that really inspire me. "Pine Trees" by Hasegawa Tōhaku (Japanese, 1539–1610) is one of my favorites.
Jamie Evrard has spent this autumn season in her pied-à-terre near Tuscany cycling through the countryside and gathering new landscape inspiration for painting. In this candid interview, she shares a glimpse of her adventures and artistic process.
1) What have you been working on lately?
Well, my friend Florence and I just spent eight days on a bike trip in Sud Tirol and Alto Adige Provinces up in northern Italy. We biked along the Mincio and Adige Rivers as biking along a river is usually easier and less steep than taking a random route through the mountain. We stopped frequently to take photos of the turquoise blue water reflecting the trees along the shore.
I’m painting landscapes and reflections. The light is so beautiful here, along with the view out my window. I’m getting all caught up in the dreamy imaginary qualities of reflections and the impossible tangle of old-growth forests, and am especially loving painting something completely different.
2) Where in Italy are you located and how often do you go there?
My house is located in the Val di Pierle just east of Cortona in Tuscany. This is a very humble, down to earth area where people farm corn, sunflowers, and tobacco. People work with their hands and talk a lot about food. My friends are carpenters and stonemasons with the odd expat thrown in.
3) What do you find most inspiring about working in Italy?
There are several things that I love about working here. One is that life is simpler...no double shot, extra hot, double cup soy lattes, just un espresso. A small selection of old clothes with the odd piece from the 3 Euro table at the market, a car whose hubcaps have disappeared and long days to garden and paint with nary a phone call. My last three phone calls were from a seamstress whose kid got a hold of her phone and dialed me my mistake. The food is beautiful—hot sweet tiny tomatoes from our neighbor’s garden and yesterday a big haul of porcini mushrooms which they shared with us. Simplicity and emptiness can be inspiring. Having hours strung together without distraction is the best thing about this place. And the warm, golden quality of the light.
4) Can you tell us about your creative process? Are there any Italian artists that have influenced your work?
I usually take care of errands and odd jobs in the morning and paint in the afternoon. I paint in my bedroom here and move the furniture around to accommodate my easel and palette so that I can be right in front of the window overlooking the valley
Oh yeah, my “process”. I’m painting oils on Arches oil paper which I have never liked but do now for the inexpensive freedom it gives me to try all sorts of things. I stick up a piece and mark off a 20 by 20-inch square and choose a photo from the summer to explore. Sometimes I finish a sketch in a couple of hours, sometimes I work on a piece for a few sessions. Since the subject of the landscape is so new to me and the paper is too, I’m really enjoying not having a clue how to approach it. If a day’s work has been particularly stressful, I’ll go out to the garden and move some rocks or tear up a blackberry or nettle patch.
5) I imagine you have visited lots of art museums, famous art sites/ cultural spots during your time there. Do you have any favorites?
I particularly love the Etruscan Museums in the area—Chiusi and Cortona to name two. The Etruscans were such mysterious people and created with great abandon. I can just imagine a bunch of sculptors sitting around in the studio and one of them saying, "Hey guys let’s put deer hooves on the next candelabra.”
I also love to see anything by Piero della Francesca, a Renaissance painter whose work is timeless and deceptively simple. His Legend of the True Cross in Arezzo, and The Pregnant Madonna, The Deposition from the Cross are nearby. Sometimes I see someone walking down the street and think they could have just walked out of a Piero piece. That’s how vital his figures are. I have a couple of artist friends who live around here whose work I admire but the contemporary art scene here is basically nonexistent.
6) What would be your dream project?
Figuring out how to turn my landscape sketches into large paintings.
We interviewed the fearless Kathryn Macnaughton on her latest adventure, an artist residency in Lisbon where she has spent the last couple months exploring Portugal and pushing her creative practice through experimentation.
1) What is the name of the residency you are at and how long are you planning on being in the program for?
PADA Studios. I was there in July and August and I’ll be back there again for another month in October.
2) Describe your work in 7 words or less.
Expressive, Colourful, Bold, Graphic
3) What is something most people don’t know about you?
I’m addicted to peeling dried paint. When I want to relax and meditate in the studio, I’ll peel all the paint off my containers.
4) How did you hear about the residency?
Online/social media. I was looking for residencies with large studios. Pada is in a beautiful warehouse in an industrial park on the other side of the river from Lisbon. I also have friends that live in Lisbon so it was a no brainer.
5) What pushed you to take on an artist residency abroad and what do you hope to achieve while in this program?
I needed a change. I wanted my work to evolve and I knew that finding inspiration from another environment and meeting like-minded artists would help with that.
I work alone in Toronto and I’m quite isolated in my studio. I wanted to see how I would work in a larger space with other artists. It was great! I think I’ve grown so much as an artist.
6) I would love to hear about the process of creating these new works during your time at Pada studios. Has this new environment inspired new elements, textures or colors in your work?
When I arrived at the residency, I always had the intention of trying to make my own shaped canvases. It was great. I learned how to build my own stretchers with shapes protruding out of them. The idea evolved and I was very inspired by the window frames on residential and industrial buildings in Portugal. They have interesting designed grills that go over the windows, especially the ones that surrounded the industrial park in Barreiro (the town where the residency is).
I began to have ideas about making window frames for my paintings. Right now, they are solid colours that compliment the washes and the flat colours on the canvas. I’m playing around with the relationship between the frames and the background canvas. I’m finding it important to find the right balance between the two. I’d also like to gesturally paint the frames and have them compliment the flat colour of the canvas.
7) Are you working in a shared space with other artists, and if so, how has this experience affected your artistic practice? How are you finding it in comparison to working out of your own studio?
Yes. We work in a large warehouse together, but there are partial dividers between the studios.
It has been an incredible experience. I love working with other artists and I think it has helped me grow. There are pros and cons. When I’m alone there are no distractions, but sometimes I need them. Having other artists around has given me space to think about my work from other perspectives.
1) What is “The Curve of Time” as described in M.W. Blanchet’s book and what does it mean to you? What inspired the appropriation of this title?
The curve of time is the basis of modern physics and Buddhist teaching (if time does exist). I am agnostic.
2) Is there a passage in M.W. Blanchet’s book that inspired this exhibition or articulates the theme, concept or mood of this body of work?
Possibly the chapter where Blanchet repairs Caprice’s motor, toiling much like within my studio process. What most inspired me about the book is the exquisite quality of the writing. The underlying motive of alternative housing remains silent but is so relevant to this particular moment.
3) How is this new series informed by your travels along the coast of British Columbia? In what ways does your experience of the landscape manifest itself in your work, and does it influence your use of colour, light and your treatment of the panel surface?
I have always felt better living beside or on the North West ocean, even at the foot of Main Street. It’s probably the ever-changing light and reflections.
4) What is the significance of the compass bearings, landmarks and geographic features that compose the titles of this exhibition? How do your titles and compositions interact? Are your titles related to the visual quality or emotional memory of a given place?
The qualities of my panels arise from the exploration of material and process. Unlike most fine arts media, there is a rich spectrum of unexplored physical properties in my adopted medium. A title / story is attached to a panel only after its material completion. The title / story serves the panel as a memory device (a mnemonic), rather than the panel serving to illustrate a narrative (an illustration). Through this device (the mnemonic) the panels attempt to remain, without external reference, in a purely visual / physical realm.
5) Your works are often grouped into polyptychs, how does the production of polyptychs differ from that of singular pieces, when in your process do you determine groupings and how do you determine the ways in which they are arranged?
They are not initially conceived of as in-combination. Some things just seem to go together.
6) What was it about this body of work that inspired you to experiment with new materials and revisit old techniques? How does this body of work interact with the concept of time?
My role as an artist is to construct a set of parameters within which media such as pigmented polyester or glazed porcelain self-generate image, parameters akin to the climatic conditions that allow ice crystals to form snowflakes. I do try to avoid gesture. Any emotional or narrative content is imposed by the viewer anthropomorphizing the medium. The medium is the message. It glows with an inner luminance, a trace to the Chauvet Cave. (The Curve of Time)
8) What prompted your thematic return to the landscape of the Pacific Coast and how does it relate to your journey as an artist?
There is an abundance of geographic titles on the maps of the West Coast to be appropriated for my panels. Also, I’m studying sailing as a second language, calisthenics for the aging mind. It involves maps.
Canadian artist Sheri Bakes on her newest series, Empathy for the Earth. Bakes invites us into her creative process and gives us a glimpse of the magical setting that inspired her latest artworks.
1. How do you place your work within the context or lineage of Canadian Art History?
When I was relearning how to paint I was looking a lot at both Impressionism and also the Group of Seven painters, including Emily Carr's work. After sitting with this work, I started to wonder what's missing. What is missing and what can I do to expand on what they were doing so I can be a contribution to the history of art.
Over time I've thought about this a lot. In my earlier work you can see the red trees are a reference to the work of A.Y. Jackson and the handling of brushwork attempts, more and more, to draw on some of what was going on in Vincent Van Gogh's work that relates to physics, specifically on the concept of turbulent flow in fluid dynamics.
2. Which artists have had the most profound influence on you and how have you diverged and developed your own unique imagery?
There are so many. I think Georges Braque and Paul Cézanne had a huge influence on my thinking and work in that they flipped point perspective onto one picture plane and created the painting for itself, as a flat surface. I've been really interested in taking that idea, along with more traditional point perspective ideas of receding space and combining them both to create a sort of "window/wall" effect combined in one painting.
An example of this is when you look at ponds with lily pads and koi fish…the lily pads are the flat wall-like parts, and the more translucent parts that you can travel into are the areas with the koi swimming below the surface of the water. I really like the impact and combination of both of these perspectives together in one piece.
Van Gogh has been a big influence both in his work and in his writings. His cognitive ability to abstract was incredible and I find both his words and work an endless source of inspiration.
The Group of Seven in their focus on Canadian landscape. I love this work and I try to take this direction and marry some of these ideas with what Van Gogh, Braque and Cézanne were doing.
Lastly, I also very often look through the work of the Leningrad School of painters as I love the loose poetic melancholy in so much of this work.
3. You are well known for your pointillist technique in your paintings. Could you describe your methodology and the philosophy behind it?
I do understand the "pointillist" connection in regards to art history, but for me it has more to do with physics. It has to do with the space between the painting and the viewer and trying to depict that space, too. I think so often we just focus on the three points of the artist/painting/viewer triangle but I'm equally as interested in the spaces between the points. That's what the focus on wind has been about too; the atmosphere and space between.
4. Is the luminous glow in your paintings an element you intentionally create and can you tell us about it?
For me light is the base or root of everything. In my spiritual practice this is where everything starts and everything comes from. It's a constant for me. The ideas and illusions between light and matter is pretty interesting to play with inside a context of "wind and weather." Matter can distort and block out the light in areas or create translucent veils, but ultimately the canvases are all painted with 15 layers of white gesso underneath and that is the light base metaphor for all of the work. Just like a prism fractures light into colours, the source of those fractures is one white light.
5. The colours in a lot of your past works had bright and electric hues but the artworks in this show have a softer palette. What is the reason for this transition?
Sometimes colour shifts have to do with something I want to learn in paint mixing or a feeling I want to experience more of. In this show I've wanted to explore subtly and space to create work that is more quiet but hopefully just as powerful. I suppose I wanted to create more of an awareness through more listening.
6. You mentioned that your studio is located on several acres of farmland and that a lot of your paintings from your latest “Empathy for the Earth” series depict different views of it. Can you describe this landscape and how it inspires you?
I'm currently living on 54-56 acres of farmland on Vancouver Island with highland cows and black Canadian Horses. It's a pretty dynamic atmosphere both in land and weather. There are 5-6 distinctly unique large fields plus trees and pathways from the animals and creeks that run between them. A variety of fruit trees, a lake below my studio in the winter and it empties out in the summer to create a lush field and there is a mountain range further off behind that. There really is a lot to draw from here as things change daily both in weather and in ground. I suppose for me inspiration is like light; it's a constant and not something that is separate. There will be a lot to draw from in any environment.
7. Can you tell us about the new (bird-like) brush marks in some of these new works?
I was experimenting with a painting from my last show called Serendipity's Run where I wanted to create the feeling I experienced from watching the newly arrived Trumpeter Swans stop in along their migration path. They landed in the lake below my studio one night and I woke up to what sounded like a lot of beeping. They stayed for quite a while as they rested and foraged. Both their vocal and massive wing sounds commanded attention. In this show I wanted to recreate a similar piece in large scale, just to experience a larger version of that same feeling.
8. Does music or literature play a role in your painting process?
Yes, I think it would have to. I wanted to play music but I just didn't have the right training or confidence. My father was classically trained in violin from age seven to sixteen and then switched to guitar. He played a variety of instruments on his own and in bands up until a couple years ago. This had a very big impact on me growing up, and now I try to create music in my work…a kind of visual sound that the brain can feel but can't exactly hear. I hope to create work that can touch the brain as music does but with visual sound.
9. When do you decide a painting is complete?
For me it's the same as making dinner. Decide what you want, put it together, maybe it needs a bit more pepper or salt, or apple cider vinegar or ginger... maybe some olive oil. Your taste buds will know when it's done, or done enough to be a satisfying meal. I paint the same way as making food.
10. What are you excited about painting in the next few months ahead?
Learning, growing, and being able to keep painting.
Recently we chatted with Eric Louie about the mural design he completed for the lobby of Facebook’s Vancouver office. He was one of two local artists selected for the Facebook Artist in Residence Program to create an original mural for the company’s headquarters and was given the timeline of 1 week to complete it.
1. What was your concept for the mural?
My goal was to convey a sense of life in motion. I envisioned the mural and the bustling and transient lobby space as a portal to a virtual world and wanted to transform the elevators into flood gates leading into the expansive space.
2. Did you face any challenges while creating the mural?
I found the large scale of the mural to be a challenge but the hardest part was painting with acrylic. The quick drying time of this type of paint made things difficult as I’m heavily reliant on blending techniques...I had to work fast and improvise my approach to achieve a similar effect on the wall as I do in my oil paintings. I also cut directly onto the wall’s surface using exacto blades which was tricky because of the drywall’s tendency to flake.
3. Have you worked on any murals in the past?
This was my 4th mural. I have done a couple murals in town that year for Granville Island (Art Smash in the Forge space) and for Strathcona Brewery. The creative director for the Vancouver Mural Festival helped set up these opportunities for me which I think led to my presence online as a candidate for Facebook.
4. Can you describe your creative process with this project?
After some brief design planning and a digital project proposal, I began painting. I have always worked from a contemplative approach where taking time to reflect and edit is important. I’m not good at being a designer who comes up with an image and executes it to a tee, but instead like to get into the moment and see where things go unexpectedly. I thought it seemed gutsy to improvise on such a big project but I had to trust in my ability as an artist to follow through.
“Art should always be a surprise otherwise what is the point?”
In anticipation of his latest series DISTILLED, we sat down with West Coast artist Anthony Redpath to learn more about his practice.
Bau-Xi Gallery: Can you tell us about how your initial ideas for a piece or a series are sparked?
Anthony Redpath: Ideas are sparked all the time, both in my mind and from visual reference. I could travel past an industrial site and see surfaces or shapes that interest me. If the subject allows a political, environmental, social, or societal comment to be made at the same time as meeting my aesthetic concerns, then it will be in contention for an artwork.
BX: Your images are so beautifully complex, and you have an incredibly technical process. Where do you start? What is your planning process?
AR: I’ll start on an idea without delay if I feel it is a strong one. I’ll just as quickly stop working on that idea, and move on to the next if I feel it isn’t translating well into execution.
The first step is always to obtain permission to shoot in locations where the general public is not allowed. This often requires negotiations and can take many months or longer.
Next, I’ll look at visual research of similar subjects and do a lot of online research. I'll create sketches, take test shots, and roughly composite the images together, to make sure that I can get the composition that I am imagining.
For the final shoot, I have to put together all the photographic equipment I need and book assistants.
BX: Your process is so meticulously planned out. Which aspects are the most methodical? The most exploratory?
AR: The beginning stages of my process are the most exploratory; realizing the potential in an idea by visualizing it in my mind, deciding on which concepts to execute, making the first compositions, then making the first broad strokes in regards to post-production.
This is the most fun part of the process of image making - deciding on a composition, and figuring out how to make it work.
Most of my process is highly methodical, but especially the shooting process. I am very meticulous when if comes to capturing all the visual information; I make sure I have everything needed to make the highest resolution image possible.
BX: How much do you feel your process and methodology should contribute to the meaning and interpretation of your work?
AR: The extraordinary amount of detail tells stories within the overall composition. The surfaces would not exist if it were not for the century-old technology industrial sites where the images are taken, and the effect of the coastal environment over time on the surfaces. The textural breakdown of the surface is a visual metaphor for the effects of the industry on the surrounding landscape.
At the same time, the surfaces are beautiful, seducing the viewer on a strictly aesthetic level.
1. The title of this exhibition, ‘Open the World’ takes its name from a piece you completed earlier this year. What is the significance of the title and the particular moment that inspired it?
The title is a bit multifaceted. Externally it relates to concerns I have regarding the state of current North American and world politics, global warming, and the overall wellness of the planet. Internally as far as humanity goes, it relates to concerns I have about the wellness of humanity.
Sometimes titles come from seemingly unrelated places. This title came as I was looking out my kitchen window at a non-functioning septic tank that sat lifted half way out of the ground. The tank had nothing to do with the content of the painting but 'Open the World' was what I heard when I looked at it and the light fell through the foliage beside that area.
When something isn't working, I sit with it until it opens and the issue resolves itself inside its own answer. I'm not sure what the answer is for the planet, but I guess I'm at the stage of being open and sitting with it. Listening to the things that aren't functioning and the reality of the direction we are heading in on every level.
'Open the World,' for me anyway, keeps my mind open and gives my heart hope. I think this is something we (or maybe I) really need.
2. Do you see these new paintings as unique, or a part of a series?
Conceptually, all of my work stems back to my first show which was based on Rewach (Spirit, breath or wind). The focus on this specific quality has been consistent. My interest for each show is in constantly working to improve my craft and ability to paint. The hope is to bring something new to each show. To keep paring down what it is that needs saying at that particular time. Inside the physicality of painting, maybe a few new colours I might be working with, or variations in brushstrokes. But the basis of the work, always, is spirit, breath or wind.
3. You are well-known for your treatment of light. Can you share some observations on the light quality in Vancouver Island versus Vancouver/Lower Mainland?
As I sit here typing, the air quality in my area has been rated 10+ due to the smoke from wildfires. It seems to be the same everywhere in BC at the time this was written and while a lot of the work was being made. I do think the heat, smoke and wildfires have greatly impacted my work and ability to work for this show. I believe this has impacted some change in the work as well in terms of colour mixing choices and some choices made in application.
5. You described media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s thoughts on art “as a distant early warning system”. Could you tell us a little bit about what this means to you and your thoughts on the potential of art for personal or social change?
I really like a lot of Etienne Zack's work in terms of how it addresses instability and imminent collapse of a structure onto itself. How the networks within the paintings function as a complex maze that draw you in and make it difficult to get out before the whole thing collapses in on you. For me Etienne is a great example of an artist whose work is an early warning system. Collapse of salmon stocks. Collapse of our resident orcas (J-Pod), collapse of the glaciers, bees, all the water that Nestle is taking and selling back to us for massive profit...
I feel gravely concerned about many of the current issues our world is facing. I also have to create a light-thread of hope through that concern. To illuminate the positive things inside those very real threats.
Somehow I have to make paintings as a physical practice of gratitude. To somehow stand for, insist upon and honour the wellness of the planet.
Open the World opens on September 8 at Bau-Xi Vancouver