Artist Q & A : Barbara Cole

In anticipation of her most recent series, Figure Painting, we sat down with Toronto artist Barbara Cole to learn about her process, methods and inspiration behind her most minimal work to date.  

Barbara Cole, Figure Painting, presented by Bau-Xi Gallery

1) “Figure Painting” is a remarkable title for a series of photographs. What inspired this title?

I have been known to have five, six or even more "working titles" to my shows. This has the effect of driving people crazy – especially my studio assistants. It’s very unusual for me to find a title at the outset that sticks but this one did. Figure Painting embodies the correlation between drawing with the camera in water and messing around with finger paints as a child. It was a fun play on words that sums up my approach to photography.


2) What was the most challenging aspect of creating this particular series?

Working with these talented performers is always quite challenging. Not only do they need to work under the water in a graceful way, but they need to learn how to breath for balance, keep their eyes relaxed and open, straighten their wardrobe and hair, and brush any stray bubbles off their faces and bodies. With Figure Painting they were stripped down, quite literately. Their body was their wardrobe so on top of everything they had to find poses that would cover certain parts of their anatomy.  

Technically there are always challenges because every idea requires a new approach. I think you just have to believe that anything is possible and then get your crew on side to see your vision and help with its execution.

3) This series has an unusual back story - it turned out quite differently than you had originally conceived. Can you tell us about the original concept, and how it transitioned?

It was amazing how this show came about. I had worked up big plans for another body of work called WHIRL, based loosely on the idea of a Whirling Dirvish. As is often the case, things underwater work differently. Within moments of the first day of shooting I knew I would have to think of something else. As I looked around my pool-side studio at my crew, and feeling no small amount of pressure, I pulled the Figure Painting concept out of my back pocket…which is to say virtually out of thin air. I didn’t know I had a backup idea until that moment, but I suppose all of us artists do.

4) There is a historical tradition of painters referencing photography, and vice-versa. Are there any artists whose transcendence of the boundary between the two mediums you find inspiring?

The moment I saw the work of French photographer Sarah Moon I recognized how powerful photography could be. Nobody else’s work has ever touched me the same way since. The evocative nature of her imagery still takes my breath away but back then I was totally spellbound. Since the first Sarah Moon photograph I ever glimpsed  I understood how the camera could be used for nuance and gesture.

For the past six years I’ve been reading about the talents of past image makers and I especially love the mood and atmosphere of the Pictorialist photographer, Heinrich Kuhn circa 1900’s. He has created without a doubt some of the most beautiful photographs I have ever seen. Kuhn had complete control of the photographic medium.



5) Could you describe how your passion for swimming informs your practice as an artist?

Strangely, I have always solved creative problems while swimming. If this happens early in the swim I cross my fingers for the rest of the swim so that I don’t forget. It is awkward to swim with crossed fingers! The water has been my office since the 70’s and I swim as many days a week as I can. I look forward to what will happen. Sometimes I figure something out that I didn’t even realize needed looking at. Other times my mind wanders and I find I’ve set up the next shoot. All the time I feel energized to tackle life.


 6) What advice would you offer to emerging artists?

I would encourage an emerging artist to find their own voice. I believe that is the best way to succeed. There are so many people out there all doing the same thing with various levels of expertise. One creates art for oneself. It’s something that comes from inside you and not the other way around. Manage your expectations so you don’t get discouraged and give up. You are building a practice and that takes time.


Learn more about Barbara Cole's incredible new series here: 


Bau-Xi Gallery will be showing a special preview of Figure Painting at the Toronto International Art Fair on Thursday, October 26. Visit us in booth A18 for an exclusive look. 

The full series will be on display at Bau-Xi Photo, (350 Dundas St. West, Toronto), starting Saturday, November 4. There will be an opening reception from 2-4pm, and the artist will be in attendance.


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1) What meaning does the title of the exhibition Shift hold for you?

I think about the purpose of painting. Is it to record a place? A moment? A feeling? Or is it to communicate ideas and tell stories with marks and strokes and colour? If the painting is at all representational, there is a subject, a scene, an illusion. And there is always process. I like to disrupt the illusion with reminders of the process. And so, this exhibition focuses on the shift, as my current practice oscillates between the story and the storytelling.

2) There is a real sense of movement and an exploratory quality of mark-making in this body of work. Are there new concepts, techniques, or new sites/locations that have inspired you?

I am endlessly questing for inspiration and so many different things find their way into my work. It could be the negative space in another artist’s work, a stage set at a theatre or the medium. I am always searching new ways to mix and apply it.

3) It’s interesting to think that not so long ago, you were so strongly linked with the arbutus tree as your dominant subject matter, yet not a single one appears in this show. Is this a conscious decision?

Not really. I am a bit blown by winds of obsession! Currently, I’m captivated by the abstraction that oceanscapes offer, the graphic nature of birch trees, or light patterning afforded by forest.

4) Do you approach the oceanscapes differently from the landscapes?

Oceanscapes are so much about movement, and there is freedom found in painting a scene with no fixed element. Even the horizon becomes blurred with light and weather. The focus can be placed heavily on the language of the paint.

5) This is the first time we have seen the introduction of the smaller 10 x 10 inch oil studies. Could you tell us a little about them?

Sometimes I do sketches to plan a painting. Sometimes I feel that planning hampers the unconscious influences that I feel can be crucial. For this body of work, as I try to move toward the essential elements of a scene or time, I found it helpful to create small pieces. The studies helped me to maintain a sense of space when to a larger canvas.

6) What are your plans in the studio after this show ?

I experimented with a couple pieces in this show by shooting references at night. The references were illuminated by an artificial light source and being able to control my lighting helped to set the stage. I would like to look into this further.


Photography courtesy of Sarah Jane Photography





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Artist Q & A: Sheri Bakes

1) Is painting a deeply personal process for you? What does painting mean to you?

I think painting for me is a way to process things deeply. To connect to and align with the miracle.  Frederick Franck describes this best in speaking about drawing: 

"It is in order to really see, to see ever deeper, ever more intensely, hence to be fully aware and alive, that I draw what the Chinese call 'The Ten Thousand Things' around me. Drawing is the discipline by which I constantly rediscover the world. I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle”. – Frederick Franck

2) You’ve mentioned before that you often work from photographs because it helps ground and stabilize your compositions. From this place you described how you can create movement from “a more intuitive place”. Could you describe in more detail what it is that you attempt to capture?

Capture is an interesting word. At the base of all of my work, from the beginning, is wind: Ruwach - Spirit, breath, wind - which are impossible to capture. I think that's the challenge: how to really express this quality in a painting. Being impossible to capture without ending its life, the trick is to somehow become it and express what that feels like. Seemingly impossible, but fun to try. 


3) We’re excited to hear that Darlene Cole’s work served as an inspiration for these new paintings. What other artists have informed your recent body of work?

Honestly, Darlene is completely blowing my mind with her work. She's the only one I really follow on Instagram and she's it as far as I'm concerned. She paints with such a great mix of confident vulnerability and in such a masterful loose and free way. Her style is so foreign to me and I'm completely in awe of her skills, intuition and heart. 

4) Could you describe your own relationship to gardening, or more broadly, to nature and how it informs your art practice?

When I was a child I spent hours every day in my parents’ gardens. Especially the food garden. When I was young our garden was huge. Peach, pear, plum and cherry trees, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries and a lot of vegetables. I haven't had my own garden for many years and am looking forward to having one again next year. As far as nature goes, I feel best when I'm outside. I always have. As a kid I slept outside as much as I possibly could. This show was all made while painting outside. I feel disconnected when I'm not outside. When I can't experience shifts in light through the day, changes in barometric pressure, birds singing ...

My work needs to stem from a place of alignment (as opposed to competing or being out of tune) with nature so it informs the work a lot. Nature is the tuning fork. It keeps everything in tune. 

 Sheri Bakes, Feeding Bees, Oil on Canvas, 40 x 40 in.

5) Could you speak more about your plein air painting practice? Do you have specific rituals or routines that help ground you?

My dogs actually ground me the most. On breaks from painting we go for walks, hikes or do some training. Their non-verbal companionship grounds me.

In the studio I sometimes listen to the CBC and sometimes music but often it’s just silent. I do find silence grounding, as are the natural sounds of birds, frogs or crickets. While painting for this show, I was surrounded by mourning doves every morning. I found their sounds very soothing and sympathetic to the process of painting.

6) How important is spontaneity in your art?

I’m drawn to the freedom of spontaneity after conceptualizing an idea. It’s a process of letting go and learning as you go. In my first poetry class in university, the instructor introduced us to Theodore Roethke's poem, 'The Waking'. This poem, and his reading of it, completely transformed my mind with respect to process and taught me to "learn by going where I have to go."

7) You seem to have a great interest in the physical world’s process of transformation and renewal - how would you say you respond to the cyclical nature of seasons through your work?

I appreciate the structure that natural cycles provide, kind of like growth rings in a tree. In the larger picture, natural cycles are stabilizing and grounding.

8) How has your work developed in the past few years and how do you see it evolving in the future?

The work has become increasingly abstract and the movement is now often contained within the piece instead of veering out of the top right of the canvas. I seem to be making less small work now and using photos less and less.

I'm interested in the physicality of the paint, and also in saying more with less and moving into a painting practice that is very minimal. I'd like my paintings to become better listeners. I really need the vastness of space and silence. It seems a bit like the world could use more of that, too.

 Sheri Bakes, Rain Oil on Canvas, 52 x 52 in.

Wind Songs opens at Bau-Xi Vancouver on September 9

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1) Poetry is a major influence for you, how did it inspire the title ‘Of Tristia, Forlorn!’ and in what ways do the two mediums intersect in your practice?

One of my favourite poems, Rodney Koeneke’s “Tristia” is my inspiration for the title. When asked about its influence, I give the example of the line, “one minute you burn, the next/you’re gelatinous as cold spaghetti.” Koeneke has the ability to seamlessly flit between these two vernaculars, one of extreme intensity and passion, and one of light jovial nonsense. This contrast is the perfect precedent for how I want people to receive my work.

Poetry is something that I learned to love before I started painting, and in those regards, I will say that my love for poetry is greater. Furthermore, I believe the two forms of expression to be quite similar in that they are both obscured forms communicative mark making.

 Michelle Nguyen, Brides, Oil & Pastel on Canvas, 48 x 59 in.

2) How does your identity and personal history inform your work?

Both of my parents are Vietnamese refugees, and as a second generation Canadian, there is this unsettling feeling of inhabiting an ecotone, torn between the clashing of two sets of values and morals. There is this transgenerational transmission of trauma that I don’t quite understand, and this otherness that exists in both the cultures I occupy. I have accepted that I will never fully be able to articulate and understand the weight of these things. Sometimes, my paintings feel like strange Freudian dreams that capture those conflicts of identity.

3) The majority of your paintings are figurative, what sources are your figures drawn from and are there specific narratives, cultures or figures real or fictional, historical or contemporary that guide your work?

I have a great deal of reference photos stocked up on my phone that I am constantly referring to when I compose a painting. It’s like one big Pinterest board. I pull inspiration from a lot of different worlds of lore and theory. At this moment in time, I am really driven by spatial theory as well as Grecian mythology and the Victorian aesthetic. Honestly, it really depends on what I have been reading that week.

4) You’ve mentioned that you’re greatly influenced by artists like Cy Twombly, Cecily Brown, Egon Schiele and Andy Dixon, could you explain the specific ways in which your practice has shifted as a result of your exposure to their work? 

They have all had a hand in defining the way I paint. I can recall each painting I made after learning about their work. Cecily Brown and Egon Schiele have kept figurative painting exciting for me (a subject I previously had venomously opposed). Andy Dixon has done the same but has also introduced me to the use of oil pastel. Cy Twombly, who is ultimately my favourite painter of all time, has shaped my practice the most. There is just so much confidence and vigour present in his mark marking. You can practically feel the vitality from his brushstrokes. His dynamism is something I am constantly trying to emulate.  

Michelle Nguyen, Jelly Jamboree, Oil & Pastel on Canvas, 48.25 x 59 in.

5) Can you explain a little about your process? Do you paint with a sketch or with a composition in mind or is it more spontaneous? How do your canvases evolve into its final form?

I don’t usually do any sketches to prepare. I’ve taken this approach a few times, and it seems more limiting to me than productive. I have a handful of loose and disjointed ideas going in and I feel like I can only figure it out on the canvas itself. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle or a collage. Additionally, I try to treat my canvas as a palimpsest. If something doesn’t work out mid-way I just paint over it with an understanding that no brushstroke is squandered and that they just add to the intricacies of the painting.

6) What does the body represent in your work and in what ways does the figure or the crowd interact with the viewer?

I am largely interested in aesthetic theory and was mostly painting abstracts up until I read Ways of Seeing by John Berger. I specifically was interested in his essay on the naked versus the nude, and the distribution of power amongst the audience and the subject. I thought it would be fun to attempt to invert this dynamic, so I began to experiment with these images of overwhelming mass crowds and alien bodies.

7) Humour plays a significant role in your work, why is it important to you to inject an element of the absurd and comedic into your paintings?

The elements of play and bricolage are very important to my process, and I want that lightheartedness to come through in my paintings.


Michelle Nguyen, Carnivory, Oil & Pastel on Canvas, 56.25 x 41 in., 2017

8) You work primarily in oil paint and oil pastel, which qualities in these mediums draws you to them?

I consider oil to be way more forgiving than most painting mediums. I love the texture of oil paints and its ability to capture the subtle gestures of ones brush. As for oil pastels, I think they just aid in emphasizing my existing illustrative style.
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1) There is a story about your initial inspiration deriving from a forgotten yellow pages on the curb. How do you continue to derive ideas from found objects and your surroundings?

I am continually collecting old books, un-wanted books, phone books, periodicals, newspapers, mail order catalogs and used envelopes.  There is always something new that appears that will spark an idea.  After I’ve completed a new body of work, I’ll take a break, clean out the studio, and start collecting again.


2) When you are considering a book, or some other printed material for a new piece, what formal characteristics factor into your decision?

I prefer to compose most of my images within a square, which is classical in photography. I like symmetry and balance most of the time and often I weight the image from the center.  A circle in a square is a favorite beginning.


3) Do you begin sculpting with an idea of how you want the final piece to take form, or is there a different process involved?

Much of the time I don’t begin with a clear idea of how the final image will be.  I like to move the pages around, wet parts of the book, and use different media such as dye and watercolor.  As I manipulate the pages I can start to see what I think will work.


Cara Barer, Dreamscape, 2017


4) What is the most indispensable item in your studio?

It would be hard to choose only one thing that I consider indispensable. One thing for sure - air conditioning!  My first studio did not have that and living in Houston makes it essential.  If I’m thinking about being hot I can’t think about the work.  Of course I use a computer, but if I didn’t have an excellent print making set up I wouldn’t be able to proof until I’m satisfied with the final image.  For me that is really important.  I have to print at the full size before I can send them off to be printed by a lab.


5) Once your sculptures are complete and you have translated them to a print, what becomes of them?

I’ve been saving most of the sculptures after I’m finished.  Some I can’t save because they have fallen apart.  

6) You have an incredible instagram feed that depicts your work, as well as your experiences travelling the world. How do your artistic practice and travel experiences inform each other?

I’ve always liked to travel. I find it inspiring to see new places and different cultures.  For example, India is a visual overload of color, patterns, print and textures.  It is everywhere.  Photographing just those elements led me to create “Namaste.”  


7) Certain elements are consistent in your work, such as background colours the use of print materials, and yet each piece you create is completely unique.  How do you adjust your process to give each piece distinct characteristics? What factors do you consider?

Each piece is unique, because each book is a new beginning.  I start fresh every time with a different one.  The quality and properties of the paper can vary a lot.  Age, and the way the book is bound are also factors.  Now that I’m also printing my own images and binding them into book form, the images are truly one of a kind. These hand made books have never been officially published and consist of my own personal photos. I have an almost infinite source of material as long as I keep traveling and photographing.


Cara Barer, Kashmir, 2017

 Cara Barer photography, presented by Bau-Xi Gallery, Toronto
Cara Barer, Baroque, 2017

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Artist Q & A : Steven Nederveen

Steven Nederveen presenting “Ocean’s Crossing” at the Canadian Consulate in Reykjavik

1) It’s been a busy year for you so far. You recently had the honour of receiving a highly- regarded commission by the Canadian Ambassador for the Canadian Embassy in Reykjavik for Canada’s 150th Anniversary. How was your experience in Iceland?

    It was wonderful! The people are very warm and welcoming. The presentations went well and the audience was very keen on my latest work, the abstracts and the sculptures. I had a couple days to travel around and take in their unique landscapes. That was very inspiring. I highly recommend Iceland as a place to visit.

    2) One can’t help but observe your careful treatment of the elusive properties of cool, arctic light in your upcoming solo show, Nature Transforms. What is it about light that intrigues you?

    I've always been intrigued with the play of light on moving water or its refraction through objects. It has a strange hypnotic quality that enlivens my sense of wonder. Sometimes it puts me into a state of meditation that connects me to my soul, and that is usually followed by a deep sense of connection to the world around me.

    3) Emotional memory of place is a theme that you explore and delve deeply in throughout past and present bodies of work. How is this new series informed by your recent trip to Iceland? What was it about Iceland that inspired you to experiment with new materials?

    Iceland is a place of stark contrasts with its volcanic underbelly and glacier peaks, and soaring cliffs against black sand beaches. It's a memorable place with lots of distinct experiences but I focused mostly on the glaciers. Seeing giant slabs of ice drifting towards open ocean is really beautiful but also deeply worrying. With icebergs you're seeing ice that's been frozen for eons, marked with sediment deposits from years gone by. They led me to meditate on the expansiveness of nature and time, giving me a sense of awe and wonder. Seeing these singular white monoliths against the dark blue water inspired me to explore the theme of water and ice - it's transformative nature, our impact on it, and also the hypnotic beauty of ice with its transparent depths and sparkling refractions of light. 

    In my abstracts, I use an ice-like sheet of acrylic with fractures and clear pockets, to conceal and reveal, manmade markings (ink brushwork). The varying colours reflect the Nordic skies at various times of day or night. 

    Detailed shots of Iceberg 1

    The sculpture is a result of testing the boundaries of multiple layers of transparency. Through 24 painted sheets of acrylic, a fully 3 dimensional object is created. A stylized iceberg floats in a sea of colour. As the viewer walks around the piece, the iceberg changes from a unified image to a series of disjointed layers and back again to a unified image on the other side. 

    Also, Olafur Eliason is one of my favourite artists, he's Danish/Icelandic, and a bunch of his work is in Reykjavik. Seeing it first hand was incredibly inspiring and has single-handedly encouraged me to explore new methods and concepts in my work.

    4) How would you say your work has developed in the past few years and how do you see it evolving in the future?

    I've spent a lot of time depicting contemplative landscapes and trying to evoke a sense of wonder from nature. They are informed by my own experiences. I love this exploration and how it's developed so far.

    I plan to continue on this path while incorporating the viewer into the work more directly.  I can see how the sculptural pieces can lend themselves to large-scale site-specific works, possibly incorporated into architectural interiors. In my new multi-layered abstract pieces, viewers may be reflected in, or revealed and concealed by the various layers as they move around the piece. I hope that my work re-awakens in the viewer a similar experience that perhaps they've had in the past.

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    Photo by Sarah Jane Photography



    1)      Describe your perfect day at the studio—what are your ideal conditions for creativity?

    Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi delivered a wonderful Ted talk on “flow.” I have sought out theories and discussions on similar topics, because for me to do my best work I believe that I have to reach a place where the subconscious takes over, or at least takes the helm. I have been lucky in that I have never found myself short of inspiration, and so undisturbed time is my biggest challenge. Finding stretches of it where I can start to unfold my ideas and inspiration, and then gradually let go of everything but the act...

    (Click here to watch the Ted Talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)


    2)       Your latest exhibition is called ‘Stage.’ This word has such a history, and rich connotations. What about the concept of the stage resonates with your practice?

    Constructing tension between a perception of a physical place, and the awareness of the mediums and their application is an ongoing quest for me. Setting a stage to reveal an emotional experience: mine, in my absorbing and retelling of an inspiration, and the viewer’s experience, in the way that they view the “set” through their own filters. Interrupting our willingness to accept illusions of perspective with marks that so obviously live on a two dimensional surface. It seems theatrical in a way. A stage. A story.


    Painting detail


    3)       This new work demonstrates some new palettes for you—are there particular pigments or contrasts that are exciting you these days?

    Pink is such a loaded colour. This could be a long answer I think! I will keep it short though. I have avoided it in the past, but I have pulled it out lately and have been appreciating the emotional response that I now have to it.



    4)      What about the motif of the birch tree in particular inspires you?  Are there other naturally occurring forms that lend themselves well to paint?

    I am drawn to patterns and textures that occur in nature, and birch trees are such a fabulous place to find both. The graphic black and white of the trees allows for endless flexibility and interest when partnered with other pigments. They are a perfect starting point for explorations in mediums and their application. They are represented within the pieces while at the same time generously accepting of abstraction. Birches, grasses, and many other tree forms allow me to tell a tale of found beauty--of human perception, as well as of paint.




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    1) How would you describe your work ?

    Messy, drippy, oozy, sketchy, colourful, full.

    2) What are you most excited about in this current body of work and what are you striving to achieve that would set it apart from previous ones ?

    I love working big and loose. These are my wildest paintings yet and I'm enjoying using big house painting brushes.  I want to convey the feeling of being inside a lush, unkempt garden. From up close I hope the paintings just look like paint marks and from far away I want them to create a depth people can climb into. 

    3) Most adored colour in your tool box ? Most hated ? Most challenging ?

    Currently Perylene Red, a transparent hue somewhere between cherry tomato and the inside of a pomegranate is my favourite colour. Powerful and even harsh, staining colours like Thalo Blue and Green and Quinacridone Violet can take over and ruin a painting or, with a little of their compliment added can create exquisite blacks and greys.

    4) As an artist who is also a writer, how do you feel your writing informs your painting and vice versa ?

    I'd say writing and painting are about being moved by an experience and conveying that sensation to the viewer/reader in a unique and personal way.  Both mediums teach me that if I don’t have a clue how to start, I just have to do something - Anything.

     5) Besides living in Vancouver you also live part of the year in Umbria. Is there a difference in approach, materials, or subject matter when painting while immersed in these 2 distinctly different cultures and climates? 

    The light in Italy is so beautiful and warm and so many gorgeous still life objects are available in the countryside and the markets.  Artichokes come with their leaves on them and I can pick branches of pomegranates.
    I paint in my bedroom and pretty much have to make work that will fit under my arm and through the luggage scanner unless I want to get into the whole shipping thing. I don't actually mind those constraints since they make it possible for me to concentrate on smaller works and think more about the craft of painting. I used to figure skate and skaters would spend hours doing what was called "school figures" or various permutations on the figure eight. Italy is where I do my school figures.

    I enjoy having lots of quiet time over there to think and get recharged to return to my busy city life and get to work in my big, well lit studio.

     6)  What would be a surprising fact for someone to discover about you ?

    That I just invested in a Cyr Wheel and plan to learn to use it. 

    7)  Which artists have had the most profound influence on your work ?

    Artists whose work I admire and look at lot are Matisse, Joan Mitchell, Manet, and Cy Twombly to name a few.  

    Just saw some wonderful paintings in New York by Elise Ansel, Katharina Grosse and Atta Kwami Thami all of whom use colours which will inspire me for a long time.

    8) Given the current political climate, what role do you think artists can play ?

    Since my work is not at all political I try to do what I think every thinking person should be doing right now which is stick up for what I believe in. Make noise.

     9) What word of advice would you give to an aspiring artist just starting out ? Or what piece of advice would you have wished you could have given to your younger artist self knowing what you know now?

     Being an artist is a scary and unpredictable career.  I would tell an aspiring artist to surround herself with other aspiring artists who believe making art is an important and worthy job.

     10) What are you plans after this show ?

     I already have an idea for some big new works which I hope will tide me though the postpartum time of having hung a show.  In April I’ll return to Italy.



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    Artist Q&A : Vicky Christou

    1. Why the fascination with the Grid?

     In western art history the grid is an emblem of modernism.  It references a point in timein which new ways of seeing and thinking were expressed through artists such as Mondrian, Malevich,  Rodchenko and later Agnes Martin.  These artists continue to inspire me.

     Within my artistic practice the grid acts a vessel, it becomes the perimeter for various metaphors, processes and rituals.  For example the metaphor of a veil, an enclosed space, and the ritualistic marking of counted breaths within a specific time frame.

    I have also wanted to simultaneously convey a relationship between conceptual minimalism and textile handiwork.  The layered paint forms a grid, which in turn embodies a relationship to paint that is seemingly woven.

    I was raised in a family where the women were avid about cloth and all forms of handiwork, crochet, knitting, weaving and sewing: that impulse has informed my art practice.

    1. There appears to be a feeling of restraint and an internal elegant logic within each painting. Do you set a predetermined guideline or set of rules for each work or is it very processed oriented?

     I  do begin with a predetermined guideline of the grid, which I draw out in pencil first. I can then have a flexible guide and work on a group of paintings to begin with.

    As I keep working I then begin to respond to the individual needs of each piece.  I can introduce new rules, such as colour or proportional sequence and build layers this way, but I trust how I respond when viewing a piece in determining if it’s completed or not.  If I have an internal response I know it’s finished.

    This may take some time and that is why some paintings have thicker layers or are denser.  I also go back and rework paintings, sometimes over a period of years.  The accumulation metaphor of my forever and endless paintings is intuitively guided. This process is something I want to explore more of in the future.

    1. Do you have rituals or routines in the studio that help you paint? For example do you listen to music or is it completely quiet?

    I like to create an atmosphere through listening to different meditative music or mantras. This helps me create a focus of intent.  I have practiced meditation for many years and my painting process shares many of its elements.  Being present in the moment and being conscious of my breath.

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    Artist Q&A: Experience the intimate world of Darlene Cole

    'The Intimates' On display at Bau-Xi Gallery Toronto, December 3-18, 2016

    The Intimates (window sill), 54 x 40 in. oil on canvas, 2016


    We recently sat down with artist Darlene Cole for a conversation about her upcoming exhibition, 'The Intimates'.


    How do you approach creating a new series?

     a) A new playlist!

     b) I find that working on a small scale in the beginning gets me to the gritty raw bits of what I want to say and feel... I immediately know if it has the push and pull that I want.

     c) I draw from what is around me, human to human, relationships, pathways, landscapes, visits to antique shops in Old Ontario, my artist retreat, etc.

    For 'The Intimates' I bought a new Moleskine sketchbook and some yummy chalk that feels like I'm on a boat when I work with it. It is a green/grey a wild lake colour. I've been drawing (rather habitual) while standing at an old table that came from a historical building in Belleville, Ontario. The table is painted in an 'as found' glossy blue/grey colour that I can see the shadow of my hand in as I draw. Although I'm a bit of a nighthawk, I draw only during the day under natural light. It is an intimate experience with the music, daylight, the soft chalk on cream paper on the old table.


    Image from the Artist's studio


    How do you know when you've chosen the perfect 'theme' for the show?

    I keep bits of green masking tape on my walls in the studio...words or phrases that often have dual meanings. I might hear words in songs as I'm working, or often they just come to me at odd times...unloading the dishwasher or drying my hair. My work is truly on my mind all the fine webbing that joins one thought to another as I move from space to space. The title for the show has to feel right in my space as I walk around this old house. It has to feel right with the ceiling height, the light filtering is like part of the plot somehow or a hint of the has to 'fit' into my world...and make your cheeks blush a bit when you think of it.

    What element of your work do you visualize first?

    The feeling...the atmosphere of the painting.

    How long will you work on paintings for 'The Intimates'? 

    I never know the answer to this question...but with 'The Intimates', the small scale paintings may continue perhaps for a museum show... 

    Which elements of your familiar imagery will turn up in this show?

    The white rabbit, the dress, the boat, the fawn, the horse, the curtain, roses and peonies...

    Do you have any surprises for us?

    Palm trees, perhaps a violin, some leopard print and a honey container from WWII...



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    1) What would you like viewers to feel or experience when they look at one of your paintings ?

     A deeper connection to the experience of conscious life

     2) You suffered a serious stroke when you were a young adult and this experience has clearly re-defined and changed you as a painter. Could you elaborate ?

     Painting wise I went from being a predominantly figurative painter who worked in acrylics and was heavily interested in the darker aspects of the human psyche, to landscape painting with a heavy interest in consciousness, meditation, wellness, pure/true pitch or sound in colour's relational pattern vibrations etc .. I'm less interested in creating personal (cathartic/therapeutic) psychological work,  and more interested in tapping into a deeper collective connection and evolution and creating from this place (if possible).

     3) How is this exhibition different from some of your other exhibitions that have preceded it ?

     The work has become quite abstract. Fellow artist Val Nelson called it "celestial" and on the surface it kind of is.

    I've really been interested in the similarities between patterns found in nature under a microscope and patterns found in the vastness of space. Macro and micro. And somehow trying to depict those so called "polarities" or perspectives,  and creating movement between the two on each canvas. Instead of painting left/right or forward/aft movement, I'm trying to create more of a 4th or 5th dimensional experience. Kind of a lofty goal but it's really interesting to try.

     4) What is the most indispensable item in your studio ?

     My dogs

     5) Is there a colour you deplore or simply cannot use ?

     Phthalo blue & phthalo green

     6) You have gradually moved from painting primarily on wood panels to painting primarily on canvas. Why ?

     I was at Windsor Plywood one day talking to one of the guys I'd gotten to know there. We were talking about the doorskin I used to paint on and he told me it was cut from old growth forest. That didn't sit well with me. Painting trees on old growth forest felt like such a massive act of betrayal. Especially after being up in Haida Gwaii in 2004 and seeing some of the big logging trucks driving into the bush and coming out with one big tree, hundreds of years old, on their flat beds.

    7) What is your creative process like ? Do you start many paintings at once or work on them individually one after the other ?  Does your concept of a painting at the beginning look like the completed painting or is it often a surprise ?

     I meditate a lot. Most of the work is done there. I just get out of the way, sit and listen and let my brain do the work it loves to do. Then when my mind is clear and can articulate its vision ( for lack of a better word, I live with Aphantasea and can't actually "envision" anything), through all the cells and nerves and structures of my body, I get to the laborious part of painting. Sometimes I start many paintings now and sometimes I work on one for a longer time. Sometimes it looks like how it did when it began, just more evolved, and sometimes it looks totally different.  

     8) Do you ever encounter creative blocks and if so how do you overcome them ?

    I don't believe in  "blocks." I think this is an inaccurate use of descriptive language and a way of describing something that is not fully understood. If you need water, you go to the source and get some water. I realise this is a first world analogy, but for the sake of this metaphor, the water is always there.  If there are obstacles in the way of getting the water, is that a "block" ? When someone says they have a creative block, in my experience, they are imagining they are in a desert, waiting for it to rain when they could just get up and go turn on a tap, drive to a spring, walk to a well. This isn't the desert.

     Do the work, there is no block.

     9)  Is there a particular artist or artists, living or dead, that has made an impact on you or your work ?

    Several. Early on it was Van Gogh, Francis Bacon, Turner, Braque and Cezzane. Sam Messer, especially his series on Jon Serl ( One Man By Himself ). Etienne Zack has had a huge influence on me and my work even though we paint nothing alike. Julie Heffernan is a massive influence although her work is figurative and more literal/psychological. Many of the Lenningrad School of painters, I look through their work very often. And Johann Groebner who is now in Vienna. Jay Senetchko, Kim Kimbro Taylor. When I was in NY I studied a few of the Valesquez paintings there for hours. Emily Carr's work too. And AY Jackson. Christopher and Mary Pratt, too. Visiting with Christopher in his studio in Newfoundland was really incredible. Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, I have so much respect for that man. And my paternal grandmother and grandfather. My grandmother was a Sunday painter and my grandfather made exquisite pen and ink drawings.  I'm interested in making a contribution to the history of painting and am conscious to learn as much as I can from other painters but take that learning and develop it into my own style of communication or connection.

    Impact for me can come from looking at the work or knowing the person who is making the work. Most often it comes from both.

     10) Are there upcoming projects or a series you are excited to explore ?

     Many. I'm currently writing three books (a memoir, a book of recipes and a children's book), and continuation in developing ideas in painting.

     11) Regardless of the subject matter in your work over the years, there is an overarching sense of movement, a shifting light, and a current of energy running through the paintings.Is this something you intentionally try to create in each work ?

     To me, in paint or in life, what else is there really?



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    Artist Q&A: Janna Watson shares elements of her successful painting practice

    Janna Watson abstract painting presented by Bau-Xi Gallery

    Janna Watson, No Strict Rhythm, 2016, 48 x 48 inches, acrylic on canvas with resin coating 


    1. Where do you draw inspiration for your paintings?

    Everyone has a need for escapism. Even if you're someone who doesn't drink or watch movies, or have someone to flirt with or have a religion- I'm sure you dream at night. My abstractions are intentional escapes into non-reality.

    2. How do you begin a painting, with colour or composition?  

    I begin a painting by choosing a background colour/wash.  From there I move into the composition of colour.  I do this intuitively.  

    3. Related to last: which do you feel is most important in painting, colour or composition?  

    Both are equally important.  I play with negative space and contrast with both colour and composition to create tension in my pieces. 

    4. How much time do you devote to planning the painting versus actually painting it?  

    I don't literally take time to plan a specific painting but I feel that being outside of my studio away from my work is just as productive as being in the studio.  Being able to step away from the work and come back with "fresh eyes" is just as important as actually creating.  There are paintings that have taken me 2 months and paintings that have taken me 2 magical hours.  It's all about the moment.  

    5. Do you prefer the composition planning stage, or the painting stage?

    Working out with the paint is always most satisfying.

    6. How does it feel when a completed piece leaves your studio?  

    It always feels good because then I have a bit of extra space!  

    7. Where do the titles of your paintings come from?  

    For abstract work I feel that titling the work is important.  It gives the viewer an extra entrance into an already convoluted image.  I title my pieces after they are finished.  Sometimes the title comes to me instantly and sometimes it takes a few days.  It's cheesy, but I read a lot of poetry and this helps.  Words I've read come back to me in different forms and these become titles.  

    8. What would you like people to feel when they look at your work?  

    I have a few of my paintings up around my house (mostly because I gave them to my partner).  I don't enjoy looking at my own work as much as I enjoy looking at other people's work.  I feel the mystery is gone with my own art since I know how it was made or it's just always in my face at my studio.  I purchased a drawing recently and it is the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning.  It makes me feel so happy and in awe.  It's really weird and off beat so I guess these are the feelings I would hope people will experience with my work.     



    Janna Watson artwork installation presented by bau-xi Gallery

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