ARTIST INTERVIEW: GAVIN LYNCH
After moving to Victoria in my late teens and feeling at a loss for what to study, I enrolled in art history classes at a community college and promptly fell in love with painting. So much so that it wasn’t long before I realized I’d much rather make paintings than write about them. So I dropped out and began the slow process of learning how to paint on my own. At the same time, I was hiking a lot, spending my spare time wandering around in the backcountry and mountains. I loved the idea of being lost. I think a big part of painting for me is deliberately getting lost, so there is some reciprocity there. From a young age I spent a lot of time in nature, so inevitably these wilderness experiences and painting dovetailed together pretty seamlessly, with painting inspiring outdoor experiences and vice versa. From that point on, I was totally invested in a future that included both painting and spending time in nature. I never really made a backup plan. (laughing)
2. Your signature pixel-mimicking, collage-like style is ingeniously rendered completely with paint, with no cut-outs or extra layers of paper or canvas underneath. What was the genesis of this technique and how did it develop?
I began working in this manner shortly after my undergraduate degree in Vancouver, a time when I was listening to a lot of electronic music and was fascinated by the process and potential of sampling. Collage is pictorially analogous to audio sampling in the sense that you can take what you please and re-employ this material in a new context. As such, I started to compile what I considered a lexicon of my own painterly samples, with the intent of making paintings that looked and felt like a collage. All applications seemed up for grabs: thick/thin, matte/glossy, smooth/rough, opaque/transparent, and so on. I also began to expand my repertoire of tools in the studio to include bespoke stencils, rags, squeegees, palette knives, airbrushes, etc. I found myself gradually moving away from more traditional modes of depicting real life objects via observational painting. In a pictorial space liberated from verisimilitude, simple forms populated with these painterly “samples” could act as signifiers or stand-ins for the things they were representing, in much the same way that individual pixels, when combined, create an aggregate whole that becomes a representation of a perceived and possibly alternate reality.
3. Who would you say have been the greatest influences on your art - be they painters, or otherwise?
I feel like the things that influence me as a painter are regularly changing. Lately I’ve been looking at a lot of Lois Dodd, Mamma Andersson, Jonas Wood, Charline von Heyl, Julia Wachtel, Matthias Weischer … I could go on. A lot of the inspiration for this exhibition came from looking online at contemporary design, including fashion, shoe design, interior/exterior design, architecture, landscape/garden design, etc. I also love Hayao Miyazaki’s films, both thematically and formally. I keep a lot of folders on my desktop to collect and sort imagery that finds its way into the preparatory digital collages I make.
4. Your images of nature simultaneously exude fortitude and fragility – rigid tree trunks that also seem as if they might snap; flat, stiff leaves that could shatter with a touch – a tremendously effective and moving way to remind the viewer of the current state of nature in this time of climate change. What are some other hallmarks within your work that speak directly to this point?
Around 2014 I was making paintings of hypothetical scenarios: forest fires, sea squalls and windstorms. Now these are all realities of climate change that we are seeing with startling regularity on the news, internet and in person. There is a topicality and sensitivity to these weather events that makes me a bit hesitant to go back to at the moment. Perhaps someday.
Right now, I am interested in making images that could be seen as nature reassembling itself, a post-human landscape somehow evolving by fusing disparate elements together to create unlikely scenarios: spaces where trees from different parts of the globe are coexisting, where interior spaces morph into outdoor spaces, and everything is held together by collage and paint. The ability of nature to rebound from human-induced catastrophic events is well documented (demonstrated in Cal Flyn’s wonderful non-fiction book Islands of Abandonment), and I like the poetic idea of doing it pictorially through a painting, wherein such a reassembly could splice together unexpected elements. After all, nature often surprises us with its abilities.
The artist in his studio.
5. You are currently based in western Quebec – what are some of the similarities and differences that you see between the nature there and in British Columbia, and do they combine at all within your images?
I would say the main difference is one of scale, as things here in Quebec are generally smaller: the hills, the trees and the lakes. Given my interest in collaging together elements from the various places I’ve visited, I love the contrast between these differing ecosystems, habitats and regions. I feel fortunate to have lived on opposite ends of the country. While I still miss living in British Columbia, the contrast between these landscapes has fed into my collage working methodology in a manner that echoes my feeling of wanting to be in multiple places at the same time.
6. Regarding the title of your upcoming show: a mondegreen is defined as “a misunderstood or misinterpreted word or phrase resulting from a mishearing” (Oxford dictionary). What is behind your choice of the word “Mondegreens” as the title for this collection of works?
A mondegreen is when we mishear something and subsequently create or project some new meaning that was not intended by the author of the original content. Sometimes this new meaning is more interesting than the original on account of the fact we're projecting a part of ourselves in this process, so it is, in a way, personal. I think that painting always has this potential, to be seen subjectively by each viewer, to become a pictorial mondegreen. In this case, I like the idea that the paintings consist of a lot of varying and disparate source material - snippets of trees, interior design, furniture, animations, and so on - and that when seen as a whole, the pictorial context creates a new understanding of these individual parts. In the end, I hope to create some sort of new space through this process. In the context of the exhibition, I love that Mondegreens also moonlights as a portmanteau - a combination of two words - combining the French word Monde (world) and greens.
7. The power of art and its ability to influence has been recognized in pivotal periods of human history for centuries. How do you view your position as a landscape artist in our current time?
I think landscape painting is incredibly relevant: it offers us both a glimpse into what is currently happening in the natural world, and how we as humans both interface with and relate to nature. Both the natural environment and humans are going through unprecedented changes, what with climate change and our connection to the virtual realm being what they are. I think landscape painting can provide a poetic document of these times, perhaps offer a glimpse of possible futures, and create alternate visual spaces and languages through which we can contemplate our changing relationship with the natural world.