Artist Q&A: Adrienne Dagg

For artist Adrienne Dagg, the painting process is an integral step towards forming the final narrative of her work. In this interview, Dagg provides a glimpse of her artistic method, from the phase of conception to the actual production of her imagined worlds.

1) When and how is the initial idea for a work sparked?

The ideas for my paintings usually stem from a specific emotional state that I wish to express or identify. I go through a process of collecting and gathering information to better understand this state of mind before I try to paint it. I use collage as a way to brain-storm and sort through the visuals in my head. The simple act of combing, cutting and changing readymade images before my eyes stimulates my imagination and helps guide me towards the narratives that I wish to use and paint.

2) What must occur before you begin a piece? Is there a ritual that you have?

Before beginning a piece I tie on my painting apron and organize my palette. I have a large glass table top palette in my studio that I’ve used for over 10 years. I spend a good 20-30 mins before each painting session cleaning and organizing this palette. I spent this time getting to know the paints, squeezing out all of the colours in a specific order and organizing my tools. Doing this beforehand sets the stage and puts me in the right mindset to be ready to paint.

3) What is your planning process?

Planning a painting is pretty organic and fluid. It usually begins with an imagined image that I sketch out or write down in a note pad. To give it shape I then begin a process of collecting reference images to help inform and give the idea structure. I explore the idea by setting up photoshoots with models or collecting reference images from all kinds of sources; 1970’s magazines, old books, digital images or personal photos. I cut them out, combine and collage these reference images together in order to create new configurations that speak to my idea. Through this process I am presented with different possibilities and have to adapt and react to outcomes that were previously unimaginable to me until eventually I settle on a structure for the painting.

4) What do you consider your very “first step” with a piece?

Before I begin a piece I usually have to ‘mess-up’ the surface of the canvas. I find the white of a freshly gessoed canvas dauting, so I put pigment on a rag and rub it all over the canvas to mess up the crisp white surface. After which I’ll lay down the initial drawing for a painting overtop with a brush and thinned out paint. This is never a fully realized or finished drawing, more like a gestural sketch to help place the composition.  Once I have enough lines down to clearly see the main image in my head on the canvas, then I’ll commit to painting the piece.  

5) Which part of your process is the most exploratory?

The most exploratory part of the painting comes at the beginning and the middle stages of the painting process. The exploration at the beginning is all about the idea and piecing together the narrative. Sometimes it comes out as planned, while other times I get to discover the narrative through the collage process itself. The middle stage of the painting is the most exciting part. It’s where I discover how best to manipulate the paint to achieve the overall effect I desire. The physical nature of the paint aids in the interpretation of the whole painting which is why this stage is so important and exciting. There is a lot of trial and error happening at this stage. I try things out, scrape things away and keep the process fairly open until it feels right for the piece.

6) What part of your process do you think viewers would be most surprised about?

I think the amount of change that happens to a piece from start to finish can be pretty surprising to some because I work in such a representational manner. My paintings can be pretty abstract in the beginning as I tend to work out everything directly on the canvas. it’s a very fluid process and I don’t always know how the painting will turn out in the end, so I like to take photos of the work at various stages of development to remind myself of the journey that the painting took me on once complete.


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