Artist Q & A: Mel Gausden

1) Could you lend some insight into the tongue-in-cheek title of your exhibition 'Girls Gone Wild'?

With this body of work, I found I had the chance to really show my own experience. I'm out in nature doing all the same wilderness activities that are still thought of as a male pursuit. All the female figures in my work are participating in their surroundings, they don't stand outside of them. They’re not merely passive still-life objects like in other landscape paintings, they're building fires, climbing fences, hiking, paddling, etc. 

2) How long have you been developing this body of work?

I think this body of work has been coming together for a while. I've always been interested in landscape and the history of Canadian painting. To gather my research and find inspiration, I trek into the woods during the summer on backcountry adventures, lugging canoes through swamps crawling with leeches, collecting and chopping wood for campfires and fighting off blackflies, horseflies and every other type of biting critter out there; because of this I've always felt a little at odds with the traditions of landscape painting. It's dominated by male painters and often women are still used as part of the scenery.



3) From which artistic sources do you find inspiration?

Social media platforms, especially Instagram have influenced my work through their set colour schemes and filters. I also find myself often drawing colour inspiration from current fashion trends. I think that love of colour is the biggest factor in every painting that I do. I tend to get obsessive about colour. My canoe is this really lovely shade of soft robins-egg blue and I've used that shade for the under-paintings in at least half of this body of work. Emerald green also really got under my skin over the past couple months and came out in a lot of these paintings.

I think Kim Dorland’s work has brought new life to landscape and brought it into the contemporary art realm. He's a major source of inspiration along with Peter Doig (perhaps my favourite artist of all), Wanda Koop. I find Christopher Pratt’s use of physical space as its own subject really interesting. I also think that Thrush Holmes neon lines may be subconsciously influencing elements of my work. 

4) How long does it take to complete a painting from conception to final execution?

My process tends to be a fairly long one. I work from photos most often, but what most people don't know is that I rarely use photos that aren't at least a year or two old. Any photos I take from research trips or vacations, I will put away. I will usually forget about them, and wait until those photos aren't photos to me anymore, but instead they've become reminders of specific memories. I need to have an emotional response to an image to make it interesting enough for me to paint. It normally takes a year or two for that to happen. I remember a moment or a feeling that held significance for me and then I go back through my files to try and find the photo that matches that moment. 

After I've decided on an idea, I do a couple sketches in watercolour/pastel/ink/pencil before reverse-engineering that composition with oil paint. In watercolour I work from lightest to darkest, and in oil paint I work from darkest to lightest. This process gives me enough space from the representational image to enjoy the more meditative and intuitive aspects of painting. 

5) Your paintings appear to be highly pre-planned. What kind of techniques are you experimenting with?

In terms of technique, I've been really enjoying the physicality of pushing paint around on canvas and working with oil paint in all sorts of different forms. From working with it almost like watercolour and diluting it to let it drip and mix and flow to sculpting the paint up in different areas to drawing with it on the canvas; mark-making has become a huge part of my process.  

6) Tell us something we wouldn’t guess from your work.

I often add in little objects, almost like Easter eggs. I think that people miss these, so it's always worth taking a second look just in case. There’s a little portage sign in the distance in Forest Through the Trees, and a couple of crushed empty beer cans in Rainy Daze and Delays. The cans are actually a representation of my favourite beer, Wellington SPA from my hometown of Guelph.


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