1. In Tales Untold, creative writers Chelsea Rooney and Erika Thorkelson have developed elaborate stories and narratives based on your artwork. Were you surprised by any of the resulting stories?
I felt that the responses were surprisingly accurate. They put into words what I could only put into images especially in relation to the underlying, uncomfortable things. It was very surprising that Erika chose to name a character in one of her stories “Lydia”. My husband and I chose to name our daughter Lydia because we felt it was relatively uncommon so it is strange to think this may have come out somehow in the work.
2. You’re based in Brandon, Manitoba. Do you have any advice for emerging artists who are similarly working in smaller communities?
I have to have a full-time job outside of the arts to survive but that doesn’t mean that my art practice is any less important. I recommend that emerging artists who are working similarly in small communities make it a routine to do something related to their practice daily. This includes not only making the work but staying connected with others, and promoting projects or finding ways to get projects done. Also, be open to alternative and unusual venues and partnerships. Don’t be afraid to take chances.
3. You seem to work with a variety of different materials in your art practice – pastels, acrylics, textiles, even eggs and teabags! What draws you to work in a particular medium or with a particular material?
This is a hard question. My studio is in my house so I have to work with materials that “fit” into my home without worrying about things like ventilation and specialized equipment. I started working with eggs because I was looking for a medium or technique culturally related to the Baba Yaga images I was using in my drawings and paintings. At times I use materials because I have a lot of something. I started making sock creatures because I seemed to be accumulating mismatched socks. I think I started the tea bag quilt in part because I share an office with a quilt maker and at some level, I was thinking about ways that people socialize. Somehow tea parties connected to quilt making. Once I started making art work out of found materials people started to give me things. They contact me when they are downsizing or getting ready for a garage sale and find something they think I can use. Recently I was given yards of heavy-duty zippers and music boxes so I am working with these things right now. In a sense, the found materials lead me.
4. In addition to being an accomplished artist, you also work as a Housing Resource Worker. How does that work influence your practice as an artist?
A lot of my practice is based around concepts of home. Home can be simultaneously safe and secure or dangerous. It can be stable yet fragile, a source of pride, a responsibility and so much more. Our homes have enormous impact on our lives. That is why I use the image of a house in so much of my work. I could talk about this for a very long time.
5. You have been an artist in residence at many locations across Canada. Can you describe the artist in residence experience for our readers?
As mentioned in a previous question I have to have a full-time job and only get so much vacation time every year. As a result, I have not been able to do long residencies. Most of the artist in residence experiences I’ve had involved working with the community so I pre-plan the structure of the project in components. In this way, people with little or no art experience can be involved in creating smaller parts that are then assembled into the larger finished work. At the same time, I get to experience a place and get a sense of community in a relatively short amount of time. These experiences eventually make their way into my work in some form. Through these residencies, I think my work has become more accessible. I like residencies that involve working with people because I am alone in my studio a lot. Residencies are inspiring and refreshing.
1. A lot of your work seems to involve narrative and storytelling; the scenes you create seem to invite the viewer to imagine what story is unfolding in the painting. Do you yourself create stories about your works? If so, do you imagine the story before or after you’ve done the painting?
Sometimes I have an idea of a story before the painting is created but I like to let it be open and, more often than not, the narrative changes directions as I am working on each piece. The process and the materials start to “have their say” as I work and I have to surrender control of where the painting will “go”. Once the piece is done then I love to create little narratives about each piece to reveal certain connections and symbolism within the work. I think its ok as an artist to have at least 3 understandings of your work: the pre-concept, a concept that comes through in the process of making and a final concept once you look back at the finished work. I think there is another 4th concept that comes from looking back at your work years later and seeing it in the context of your other work as well as your life.
2. Some of your paintings use a very dark, muted colour palette, while others are dominated by very bright colour schemes. How do you see these two bodies of work (or aspects of your work) relating to each other?
I love to explore colour and the range of moods it can create …so for me, I want to make work in different palettes and see how far I can push those feelings. For example, in the portal paintings I have the pastel, light-filled landscape and then a severe solid black large shape that hovers above. I love the drama of this contrast so much. Though the work with dominant lighter palettes tends to be equally strange, the darker palettes can be read as a little more foreboding, but often I see them as “quiet”, “peaceful”, “secretive” and “soft”. I think colour impacts everyone differently, triggering different memories, emotions, and cultural significance. The work I made in 2011 “Like A Great Black Fire” was very dark in palette and mood. The pieces were very empty and, though they were lovely, they were quite forlorn and so I needed to make lighter work after that. They were quite heavy emotionally to make, so switching the palette to lighter and more airy palettes helped to balance things out.
3. For some artists, the creative process can be quite solitary, while others rely on the support of a network of other professional artists. What has your experience been like, in working as a professional artist in Vancouver?
First of all, I really like to be alone and make my work so I am well-suited to the life of being a painter. That said I rely on other artists within the community for support and advice in my career and have offered support in return which is one of the most satisfying things to do when there is time. Even casual conversations with other artists have lead me to make discoveries about how to be a better businesswoman and helped me to get some perspective when I was feeling scattered. I have to be careful with my schedule so that I have a lot of time to focus on my art and business so I try not to make too many plans socially and though it sounds simple it is something that has helped me create my art. On the flip-side, I have pursued phone calls with artists who I have connected with online so that I can connect with people outside of the Lower Mainland. It is a great way to see what is going on art-wise elsewhere and how artists in other places are thinking and feeling about their work and their community. You can learn so much that way and share skills and ideas.
4. Can you describe the way(s) you use Instagram in the promotion of your work? Do you see social media as an essential tool for professional artists?
I share a lot on my Instagram: my art, images of things that I find beautiful and interesting, the occasional process video…but if you follow me long enough you’ll know that I am not always consistent…if my life gets really busy I let the social media slide – on purpose. When I have the time I am pretty regular with it because I have made some great connections with artists and patrons and fans on Instagram. I don’t think that any social media tool is necessarily essential for artists but it is a great free platform and it’s pretty quick and easy to use it. I think the most essential tool for professional artists is an attitude of persistence and finding a way to share art with other people.
5. Finally: you create beautiful, dreamy, surreal worlds that I know many viewers wish they could step into. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
That is a very hard question to answer! But first let me agree with you – I love to use my art to invite people into strange spaces and offer something a little strange, surreal and magical. I am inspired by stories I have read since I was young, music, and film and other artists. In particular, I have been reading some Joseph Campbell and drawing quite a lot of inspiration from him. The way he threads stories together and looks at their significance is something that has resonated with me and many other artists. I am also inspired by escapism/fantasy, symbolism, magic, poetry and metaphor, and by how our minds work to perceive/see the world around us.
Photography by Lindsay Elliott (@lindsayscats on Instagram)
Search by Image
1. This body of work refers to the past, but also to contemporary cultural phenomena. Can you describe how you see these things intersecting?
“This work absolutely refers to the contemporary way we both produce art and engage in the dissemination and sharing of knowledge and communication. But I don’t separate the past from the present, in that you need to understand the history and evolution of a practice to see how and why the work exists now in a contemporary way.
If one aspect of art is to communicate, then right now I would argue the most effective and efficient way to communicate is through technology. Platforms like Instagram have evolved as a supplement to artistic practice and may ultimately become an exciting place for new practices. Encouraging viewers to post my paintings on their social media, for instance, helps me make my point about how algorithms search for images. My titles are the key to this process, as my contemporary paintings will appear alongside the historical paintings with the same titles by Corot.
This phenomenon of an image return, of typing into google what we want to know and getting back misinformation—and how easy it is to slip misinformation into a result—is the crux of this project. It asks larger questions about what else are we not being critical about, what else do we just take at face value, what else counts as truth. I guess to answer the question around intersecting the past with how the present operates, this illustrates it: it is trust. We can “google” anything we want, but do they have the critical faculties and knowledge to filter that information?”
2. You are not a traditional landscape painter, but landscape is the subject matter of these recent paintings. What places most inspire your work?
“I’m not a traditional landscape painter, but I am very interested in the Canadian tradition of painting landscape. I am very interested in how optics operate in painting, and Post-Impressionist landscapes like those by Tom Thomson illustrate the concerns about how painting can be representational (an image of a landscape, for example) as well as insistent on its material condition (the fact that it is a painting). I see contemporary painting addressing a similar issue: how do you introduce a structure like landscape as the subject of a painting and still address the reason why that needs to be a painting. Paint is a material and the paintings I respond to use paint in this way. Contemporary Canadian artists like Kim Dorland, Gavin Lynch, Steve Driscoll, Jeremy Herndl, Ben Reeves and international artists like Hurvin Anderson, Peter Doig are landscape painters that interest me. As far as places that inspire my work, living where I do in Brookswood, Langley, I am surrounded by trees, parks, and trails. I love driving around and exploring our province. Landscape is ever changing. For instance, if you drive from the Fraser Valley to the Cariboo, in five hours you will experience five different geographical zones. How can you not be inspired by the incredible diversity of nature we live in?”
3. When did you know you were meant to be an artist?
“Being an artist really is who I am, I love being creative and it makes me feel whole. I knew when I was 15 I wanted to be a professional artist. My father was diagnosed with cancer and required surgery to deal with it. At that age I began to take life seriously, to make plans and have goals. It might have been a reductive exercise: basically, what do I want to be, and what steps do I need to take to do that. I knew if I put the work in, I would be successful at it.”
4. How has becoming a teacher changed your art practice?
“First, I must say that the process of getting my MFA was the most revealing thing about being a teacher. I got to see behind the curtain, how the structure and operation of an art department works. University Professors are expected to have parallel teaching practices and art careers, and that is how I have always approached it. I have been involved primarily in the commercial gallery world and now feel that at this point in my career that I want to do more public exhibitions. By going through these processes, I can be a better resource for my students.
Teaching allows me and expects me to be current with the art world. I need to show contemporary work to students and to be able to put it into a historical context so they can make connections. Working with students, planning assignments, working with new materials and approaches really feels like an extension of my studio practice. I love being around creative, challenging people because that advances knowledge. I don’t assume my reasons and need to be an artist and a creator are the same for everyone, but for someone to take a class means there is something about art that compels them to be there. Teaching helps give my life structure so I value my time in the studio, it is meaningful. I often work on projects alongside my students so they can see how I approach my own work. I realized that showing students what I do is important; for a long time, I didn’t show students everything I do, as I wanted them to find their own path. Now I share my practice and process with them, specifically through Instagram so they can see that while I am asking them to do assignments, I too am working away in my studio.”
5. What is one of the most important lessons you try to teach your students?
“The first thing that I try to instill is work ethic: put the time in, life has a tendency to reward hard work. The more you are willing to do the more people are willing to do for you.
The next thing I emphasize is responsibility and time management. I usually only have students for one semester at a time, so I stagger assignments so students understand priorities. In every class I teach there will always be more than one project students can work on. That’s an intentional strategy: multitasking is real life. Responsibility is being accountable for your time and your results.
The final thing is to fail more. Success at anything comes through failure. If you fail faster and learn from those experiences then you are heading in the right direction. My assessments are set up so students have to approach them in different and revealing ways. Students find out about who they are and what their limits are. I can’t wave a magic wand and make you a better artist but what I can do is make you a better person so you become a better artist.”
1. What sort of research went into the creation of your current exhibition “The Projectionist”?
The research I do for this kind of show is wide-ranging but not particularly targeted. The research can take the form of and then related activities would include image research using the internet, google, Wikipedia, YouTube. I feel like it’s not what most people would call “scholarly” research in the conventional sense, and has more to do with what one might call “mining pop culture.” In addition, something I do which is more scholarly is I always bring an element of art historical interpretation to what I do, so the images I find online are measured against pictorial developments as they have occurred art historically. An example of that in “The Projectionist” would be where I take images from particular films (which are actually screen captures from YouTube) and by painting those images, I consider them in relation to art historical movements like realism, or early abstraction (to pick two examples). I tend to do that kind of analogous comparison a lot in my work. Another type of research happens in the exhibition space itself, where I bring my pictures and combine them with other elements like installation and performance. This is a kind of research one could call live or improvised. The work I do with actors is similar. Winding throughout and connecting these activities is what you could call associative logic, where images, objects and social narratives are connected in a way that might seem arbitrary to some people but which makes sense to me.
2. You use your paintings in your exhibitions, but you also you often include a lot of found objects and other ephemera. What prompted you to shift from a more conventional painting practice to this kind of assemblage?
The desire to work with space as a medium. Also the feeling that paintings on a wall aren’t good enough. The German painter Martin Kippenberger, responding to developments in conceptual art and institutional critique, declared in the 1980s that simply putting paintings on the wall was no good; one had to consider paintings (or any images or objects) as they exist within networks that are both spatial and physical, but also discursive, related to language. Following on that, the whole space of the gallery becomes part of the work, as does the press release, the invitation, the artist talk, etc. This is an idea I have been testing out in my own way. Having said that, I do actually value the idea that pictures on a wall are potentially good enough, but I have decided to explore this other idea right now.
3. The nature of your exhibitions is not very commercial. Have you ever felt pressure to create work that is more market-oriented?
Sometimes I have felt that pressure, but I work at a University, where people often emphasize the divide between basic research and applied research (or between art and applied art, to use language more native to the arts). It’s an old-fashioned sounding distinction, but still common. The upshot of this is that I see my task as being research-driven and not product or sales driven, and of course I have the luxury to not be too concerned with sales. But I also think that in the end I do primarily make paintings, so they can be bought and sold and I am happy for them to be exchanged in that way. In relation to question 2, the market is another network (of distribution), so in the back of my mind I am often thinking about how to turn market distribution into some kind of content for my practice.
4. What advice would you give to emerging painters in particular?
I would say think broadly about painting and art and think of your work as potentially multi-faceted. It’s hard but old dogs can sometimes learn new tricks.
5. You are post-secondary art school instructor, what do you think is the most important piece of advice you would give to students who are aspiring to a professional practice?
I’ve always felt that the two most valuable things one can learn in art school are 1. The desire to make something, and the tenacity to see it through to completion no matter how big or difficult it is. If going into the studio is not a kind of addiction then maybe you are not cut out for it. 2. The creation of a social network that can sustain your practice, by which I mean a group of like-minded people showing together, looking at one another’s work, going out together etc.
Salt Water Skin Boats (in collaboration with
Sheinagh Anderson and Tracie Stewart)
1. You’ve worked a lot with the theme of liminality and the relationship between humans and the ocean. What first drew you to these themes?
I have always been curious about liminal, saturated or otherwise inexplicable but ordinary experiences. The philosopher Jean-Luc Marion calls these saturated phenomena, experiences that seem to exceed our senses, or extend them. Regarding the relationship between the ocean and humans, this is directly a response to processing my waking up to the magnitude of ocean change and its implications for life on the planet. Alanna Mitchel uses embodiment metaphors throughout her book Seasick as a way of making this intelligible. This work processes my grief and incredulity that the ocean is it-self sick, that humans have brought to a close the fecundity of the Cenozoic Era, and that we are in the 6th extinction. Reading Thomas Berry, however, restored hope. He talks of restoring/remembering intimacy with the earth as the great work of our age, and that the universe unfolding will draw out of us what is necessary. And it is happening. For example, in so many academic publications, people are talking about addressing the earth with subjectivity, a great deal of art and advocacy work is being done around Site C for example, contemporary indigenous work is more visible than ever before, the truth and reconciliation process is helping more and more people become aware, the academy is open to wider forms of knowledge and knowledge construction, waterways are been given rights in Australia and even Lake Winnipeg is being advocated for. These are all real signs of hope.
The work, research and the materials occasioned this shift. The forms were a result of spending my sabbatical in the forest, listening to the materials and following where they led. It is a process of inquiry, I approach the work with questions not answers, and materials taught me. What emerged through working/listening closely to the materials and following where they led is how amazing the branching patterns are, they are indexical whether in rivers, in tree branches, in roots, in our brains, lungs, guts, all throughout our circulatory system – they are all identical. Water runs through everything in an identical path, I suppose which maybe is not a surprise, but it certainly is a link indicating connection- we are not separate from nature, from one another etc. so a kind of one people, one planet, one future, kind of realization that might be apprehended through these shifting metaphors.
3. For this exhibition, you worked collaboratively with Sheinagh Anderson, a sound artist, and Tracie Stewart, an artist and arborist. How did this collaboration come about?
I invited Tracie and Sheinagh to work with me as I had a sense that I did not have all the skills necessary, and I am an external processor and love working with people. When I first started the research I invited conversations with many about the global ocean and Tracie was keen from the start.
4. When you were submitting work for your first solo exhibition, what were some fears you had (if any)?
Huge fears, always, even now! Let me see, imposter syndrome, not adequate, not current, interested in esoteric things like liminality, no irony…
5. How do you determine when a work is “finished”?
Oh, that is always a hard one. When the work tells me it is done, honestly. When my eye goes back again and again to a particular part, that usually is an indication that something needs to change, that it is not yet done.
Art on Demand 3.3: GAP
1. You graduated with a major in visual arts and a minor in mathematics, how did your studies inform your practice?
I really enjoyed learning the literal language of mathematics alongside the cultural language of fine arts. Both use abstract methods to explain substantially complex ideas and constructs within our society and the physical world. My studies inform the contextual research and the principles of time aspects of my practice.
2. What lead you to using the gallery walls as your canvas?
During the final year of my undergrad, I was presented with an opportunity to exhibit in an abandoned packing house. In the given context, drawing directly on the wall suited my idea to show, in part, the loss of the building. From there I continued to be fascinated with site-specific artists such as Robert Smithson, Richard Serra, Maurizio Cattelan, Daniel Buren, Banksy and Swoon (to name a few), and their connection to architecture and street art ideologies. Moreover, I enjoyed the ephemerality created by this method, and its contrast to the traditional discourses within the art gallery as an institution.
3. What advice have you received from a professor, mentor or colleague who has influenced your practice as a visual artist?
My printmaking professor would always challenge my “completed” work by offering the idea to push my work further, followed by asking me, “Why not?”. As I could never come up with a reason not to do more, I always worked until I reached the closest I could be to that ideal. This idea of infinite time dedicated to constant improvement of your practice, is forever ingrained in my practice.
4. How do you know when your work is finished?
I am such a perfectionist; my work is never finished. The best part about working directly in a space is the time limitation of the installation and the final destruction of the work once the exhibition is complete. This timeline allows the work to constantly be reborn, adapt and evolve, as each space creates a new level of dialogue to the concepts I am exploring.
5. You teach various drawing classes, what’s the most important advice you give to your students when drawing portraiture?
Be patient with yourself and be willing to constantly adjust what you have already drawn. If you get frustrated restart, with the idea in mind that you have already absorbed and learned how to draw your subject in your previous attempts. Finally, use to your advantage that everything must and will line up.