Artist Q & A: Eric Louie

In anticipation of Vancouver based artist Eric Louie's stunning new exhibition Becoming, we spoke with the artist about the incredible illusion of his foil-like forms, the organic influence on his aesthetic, and the tendency of life's progression to prompt reflection. Becoming opens October 5 and runs through October 19, 2023 at Bau-Xi Vancouver.

Eric Louie, From My Younger Self To Me. Oil on canvas, 47 x 88 inches

1. Your new exhibition
Becoming is an exploration of the seasons, perpetual change, and the cyclical nature of life. Can you talk about what prompted you to build a collection around this particular idea?

The older we get, the cycle of life seems more prominent, and we reflect and reminisce more on the passing of time and events. I wanted to make some work which touched on this change and awareness in some capacity. Searching for some clarity personally, I wanted to exemplify each stage with their own beauties and the anticipation associated with each season. Something about yearning for change, and how seasons give it somewhat of a framework to ease the unknown…that comfort within familiarity which too evolves.

2. There are some works in this collection that move into exciting new aesthetic territory for you, with heavy impasto paint application and cutout petal forms applied to the painting edges. Can you tell us more about them?

I wanted to see how my paintings would react to some imposing painterly elements like impasto and gestural mark making. It began when I was cleaning a palette of paint and wiped it off on a painting that wasn’t quite working for me. The contrasting elements were quite striking and seemed to marry well. Some of the works included in the show exemplify this hybridization. The heavy paintings with the petal-like borders were pieces that became all about the impasto. The petal fringe was a way to bring it back into my realm of communication. I’m still developing these and hope to show more in the future.

Eric Louie, The Path We Take. Oil, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 18 x 14 inches

3. Your signature metallic effect is incredibly unique, and viewers of your work are often amazed that there is no actual metal present. How did you come to develop this look, and what were your earlier iterations like?

The metallic effect created by subtle gradients of oil paint became the primary element in my work around six years ago. Up to that point I had a variety of “tricks” I employed, but those eventually fell off as I was drawn to the architectural aspect of the metallic shapes. On a fundamental level I was always drawn to still life paintings and this methodology conveniently led me back to these roots. The architectural side of things allowed me to build the subject matter in a variety of ways connoting landscape, figurative and still-life-like scenarios. Like playthings, I use this language to make up whatever I fancy. My earlier works had sharper angles and less organic elements, which the work definitely has more of these days.

4. Your new collection appears to reflect a significantly botanical influence – is this by design?

I think the botanical aesthetic has always been imbedded in my language as my depicted environments have a “top” and “bottom” and things seem to fall into place in some sense of natural order. They aren’t overtly designed to represent nature, but they do touch on its periphery.

Eric Louie, Around The Sun. Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches

5. How important to you is negative space in a composition?

Negative space merely acts as a backdrop to offset the subject matter. It has become more simplified and is generally a fine gradient within itself. It has become important to be simplified in contrast to some of the complex forms my subjects take on. It allows those things to have some clarity and attention. 

6. Your works possess an inherent meditativeness – the compositions lead the eye slowly around the canvas and prompt the viewer to embrace a moment of calm. Can you share a little about how you come to build this type of energy into a painting?

 My paintings usually start out calmly then become busy as I develop them and follow various routes. Sometimes they become overwhelming, and I keep repainting them until the complexities find harmony. At this point, the painting begins to resolve itself to the point where I can let it go. Sometimes this process can take months…They’re done when they are done!

Eric Louie, Wants & Needs. Oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches.

7. Always present in your work are references to and reflections of digital media (especially as the works begin as digital sketches on your iPad), yet they also incorporate natural and organic subjects and forms – how do you unite these seemingly disparate elements, and do you think of this as an act of optimism?

I do use the iPad to negotiate each shift in my compositions, and there is a back-and-forth between reality and design. The organic leaf-like foils are a conduit to relate the two elements together to something relatable for myself. Sight and touch are so essential to our existence and understanding of the world - this tangibility has always been an essential element in my paintings. I think in general there is some sense of optimism attached to new, shiny things and the “future” - Something new-and-improved is an idea propelling a lot of areas out there in the grand scheme. As an artist I think it's an interesting and ever-evolving area to explore about society.

The artist in his Vancouver studio.

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