Canadian Visual Artists: Horst Herget

Tintype portrait by Horst Herget

Portrait of me © Horst Herget

Horst Herget is a Toronto-based photographer whose tintype portraits are created on metal plates using 150-year-old chemical recipes and photographic techniques. He hosts portrait sessions in his home studio off the Danforth, and on location at outdoor art shows.

I interviewed Horst while sitting for a tintype portrait. As all his sessions do, this one included detailed explanations of the process and even access to the darkroom during the plate preparation and development stages.

“Tintype is a wet-plate process, which means that the plate is light-sensitive as long as it stays wet. When it comes up from the dark room, it’s going to stay wet for about 8 minutes.

“That’s why when I start a portrait session, I like to get people positioned first, so that there is only a little bit of focusing and moving around [after the plate is prepared] — so that we can get right to it rather than risk the plate drying out.

Horst's studio setup including large-format camera, strobe light, canvas background

Horst’s home studio set up: large-format camera, strobe light, canvas background. Photo © Susan Brown

“The process takes a lot of light. The film speed is very slow. It’s about an ISO of 1. So it’s going to be a strobe exposure. Because it’s just too darn cold to be outside.”

While Horst sets up the shot, I ask him how he got interested in tintype.

“Really by chance. I had been a photographer — I’d gone to school in Savannah, Georgia for photography, then came back and worked as an assistant for many years on commercial and corporate photography, then done that on my own since ’99. And about three years ago I had this deep urge to do something outside of my own field of speciality. And I randomly picked this course offered at Gallery 44. I didn’t even know what tintype was.

Tintype portraits from the Cabbagetown Arts & Crafts Fair by Horst Herget

Portraits from the Cabbagetown Arts & Crafts Fair © Horst Herget

Tintype portrait of a family by Horst Herget

Portrait of a family © Horst Herget

 

“And what I really liked about it was that it didn’t involve computers or Photoshop, which seems to be the default way of treating all images now. Everything is Photoshopped — whether you know it or not — minor blemishes, hair sticking out… So I was really attracted to a medium that didn’t involve that kind of manipulation. From an artistic point of view I was unfortunately becoming reliant on it, as opposed to focusing on the image and finding the connection with people.

“I find that digital photography is too efficient. You can be photographing any time, anyhow. The ISOs are so high, you can sharpen it, you can do anything. But you don’t really talk to people anymore.

“And with this process, you take about 2-3 tins an hour, and I find that there’s more of a connection made between the person I’m photographing and myself. And that transcends into the image.”

Horst's purpose-built dark room: chemicals, development trays, drying rack , extra ventilation to deal with the strong chemical smel

Horst’s purpose-built dark room: chemicals, development trays, drying rack, extra ventilation to deal with the strong chemical smell.
Photo by N. Jubb CC BY-NC

Downstairs in the darkroom — which is well-lit, except when dealing with photo-sensitive chemicals — Horst explains the origin of tintype and its name.

“Back in the day, they used to use iron plates. It’s called “tintype”, but they never used tin. They used to call it “ferrotype” or “melanotype” and then they just decided on “tin” because it sounded cheap. And that’s the biggest thing about tintype photography and why it took off.

“Before then there was something called “daguerreotype”. These were made on glass and they were very expensive and you could only afford it if you were the upper 1%. So when tintype photography came out, in a few short years it was accessible to everybody. You could get a portrait for a couple of pennies. It was the democratization of photography.”

I ask how difficult the metal plates and chemicals are to get these days, almost a century after tintype was supplanted by more modern photographic techniques.

Horst Herget pouring collodion on the plate

Horst pouring collodion emulsion on a trophy aluminium plate.
Photo by N. Jubb CC BY-NC

“Trophy aluminium is very common — it’s what they use on plaques. It’s not specific, we just appropriated it. I have to drive out to Burlington to buy it, but still — it’s inexpensive and accessible.

“The rest of the stuff all gets more and more obscure.”

The first thing Horst pours onto the plate — under a vent that takes away some of its harsh chemical smell — is called collodion.

“It sticks to the plate and acts as a substrate in which the silver nitrate embeds itself. Collodion is cadmium bromide and ammonium iodide salts dissolved in nitrocellulose, ether and alcohol. And those salts change into silver iodide and silver bromide in the silver nitrate bath, and make the plate light-sensitive.”

After the plate had been immersed in silver nitrate for 3 minutes, the lights in the darkroom are shut off, leaving it illuminated by a dim red bulb, and the plate is put into a holder which will be inserted into the large-format camera.

Ambrotype of a reclining nude by Horst Herget

Horst ventured into ambrotype shortly after this interview. This image, inspired by Ingres’ 1814 painting La Grande Odalisque, is made on a plate of black glass. Black cracks formed where the emulsion did not adhere well to the slippery glass surface. © Horst Herget

“This is a piece of film that we’re making right now.”

The same chemicals that are used to prepare an aluminium plate can also be used to make an image on glass:

“Then it’s called an “ambrotype”.  It ends up being a negative and then you can use it as a glass negative to print an image, or you can put black behind it and use it as a positive-negative, which looks beautiful and it’s something I’d like to do. Glass is more slippery, so it’s trickier.”

Continue reading » » »

Canadian Visual Artists: A. Shay Hahn

A. Shay Hahn is a Toronto-based figurative painter whose distinctive style incorporates elements of pop and propaganda art. I interviewed him at The Cameron House, which will feature an exhibition of his new work during the month of November.

The Woman Who Loved to Read II by A. Shay Hahn

The Woman Who Loved to Read II

Shay sold his first drawing in Grade 1 to a classmate: “If you drew the best dinosaurs, you always had something going.”

Now that he makes his living painting, Shay seeks to demystify the process of buying and selling art:

“A lot of people think buying art is a mystery. They don’t know how to go about it.”

“People want art. They want to buy art. They want art in their homes. The just have no idea how to get it. You have to do so much to get people to see and buy art, it’s ridiculous. Why do they give away booze at art shows? To facilitate the sale of art.”

One of Shay’s strategies for selling his work is to make personal connections with the visitors when exhibiting at local venues like the Cameron.

For Hank Williams

For Hank Williams

“A lot of people show artwork in bars but they don’t make themselves a part of the place. If you have the space for a month, take advantage of it. Go and hang out there.

“I make sure to be here if my work is on the wall. If I see someone looking at it, I approach them and I talk to them.

“I think I’ve been lucky. Often, when someone is buying art for the first time, they’re buying one of my pieces. Because they see it, and they get it, and they relate to it. And they say, ‘I’ve never bought art before.’ I hear that from so many people.”

The Cameron also commissioned Shay to paint two murals in the front room this summer.  Though the original plan had been to paint over the murals in the fall when it was time to hang art work on the walls again, the overwhelmingly positive response to them led the owners to reconsider. The murals will stay covered by a drape when the wall space is needed for exhibitions.

Cameron House mural by A. Shay Hahn

The Cameron House mural, west wall

The Last Gorilla on the Moon by A. Shay Hahn

The Last Gorilla on the Moon is a tongue-in-cheek attempt to make the viewer consider the plight of gorillas on Earth

“The space really looks complete with them. These are big walls. Doing shows here, you really need to fill them up or the place looks empty.”

I comment on how colourful the Cameron murals are compared to his paintings.

“It’s a bar, it gets dark. So the best way to fight it is to put in oranges and reds and to really blow it up.

“But for my work, I think I only use six colours, really. I hate green, but I’m using it this year. Can’t stand green. It was a big move – I started using Windsor blue this year, that took a long time to get around to. I’m a Prussian blue guy.”

The capitulation to green may be due to Shay’s newfound love of gardening, which inspired the Victory Garden series of paintings.

Victory Garden by A. Shay Hahn

Victory Garden

“I don’t know if it was getting married or what, but I want to grow our own food. It’s like this impetus – I want to provide. Once we started pickling stuff and making jam, I thought, ‘Let’s start a vegetable garden.’ But we don’t have the room. Unless we tear out half the garden we already have.”

A. Shay Hahn’s paintings often feature strong women reminiscent of Soviet athlete or worker sculptures. He admits to enjoying propaganda art – “Because I like impact pictures” – but it’s not what informs his female figures:

“I think there’s a body type that I naturally tend to. The average woman is actually very strong-looking woman, not a skinny model type. What I try to do with a lot of work is something universal. Something where you can put yourself into the picture. And that’s why so many of them are turned around – you can put yourself into the body of the person.”

Girl with an Axe by A. Shay Hahn

Girl with an Axe

Several years ago, the first in a series of paintings of women with axes helped Shay solidify his artistic style:

“It was just this idea – this strong female standing there with an axe on her shoulder, looking at something in the distance, like ‘If something was coming towards me, I can take it on. I’m not afraid.’

“I’ve probably done thirty of them since then. People are crazy for them.

“That was 2009, and that changed everything I did. That’s when I became the painter that I am now. That’s when I found my style, my solid concept of what I’m doing.”

Continue reading » » »

Canadian Visual Artists: Gosia

Gosia is a Toronto-based artist who trained as an illustrator but is now transitioning from creating original paintings and small sculptural works to larger fine art sculpture.

Shape of Her Eyes by Gosia

A plaster edition of Shape of Her Eyes next to its unfired clay original.

“I say that the original gets destroyed – as you can see it destroys itself as it dries.”

I visited Gosia in her east end studio where she was putting the finishing touches on several new sculptures in preparation for an exhibition opening this week at Latitude 44 gallery.

How did the shift into sculpture come about for her after years of painting and illustration work?

“When I left school, you had to do a lot of cold-calling for illustration and I didn’t really have it in me.

“I had my website up, and I was getting a lot of requests to buy original illustrations, so I started doing more painting, and doing tiny local shows like the Gladstone – selling prints and some originals. And then the One of a Kind found me at one of those shows, and they asked me to apply, and I did and I got in. They wouldn’t let me sell prints, and I couldn’t just paint a million paintings, so I started making little Sculpey faces.”

Over the course of a couple of years, Gosia’s exploration of whimsical polymer clay faces, dolls, shadow boxes and elfish busts, eventually led her to attempt larger sculptural works:

Eva by Gosia

Eva, one of the three large busts Gosia exhibited at TAP last winter. Photo © Gosia

“After a few years of that, I wanted to make big sculptures. I could feel it – I had this urge. Plus, I got skilled enough with my hands that I knew I could do it.”

Gosia exhibited her first three big pieces at The Artist Project last February:

“I had a really good response, so I’m trying to do more of that. Transitioning from craft into fine art – which is something that I always wanted to do. “

I ask her to tell me a little bit more about her process, which involves making a mold of the original sculpture and elaborating on some of the resulting casts with additional materials:

“I sculpt the original out of clay and I make a silicone mold. I can do whatever I want with it after I have the mold – I can use fabric or different types of clays and come up with new characters, different atmospheres.”

The original sculpture for Eva (pictured above) was bald, personalized with hair & headdress after the cast was made. Two other busts from the same mold – Luna and Pearl – were each made unique with their own additions.

Evening Glow by Gosia, in process

In the process of creating Evening Glow – another bust from the same mold as Eva – with the addition of cedar branches

Gosia is making a small number of editions of her latest sculpture, Shape of Her Eyes (also called the Penny bust, after the model who inspired it), without additional elaboration:

“The new stage is creating a sculpture that can stand on its own. [Penny] has hair, she is finished. But she’s still simple enough that I can add to it as well.

“And it’s fun – because I can have the edition and be proud of the piece I sculpted, but then I can also make new ones and explore, and have fun with it.”

Though her illustrations and smaller sculpted faces had a strong touch of the fantastic, the newer work is steering away from fairy tale motifs:

“I wanted to go a little bit more classic at this point. I was doing little elves and fairies and things like that for the last three years, and I feel like I explored that enough for now. I thought I’d go back and learn to do the human form without those elements. I find that more of a challenge right now.”

Elfish face by Gosia

Why was the fantastic element so strong in her earlier work?

“I grew up in Poland, with a lot of stories about woodland creatures. There’s always something living in the woods – in cartoons and children’s books. So that stuff obviously influenced me and stuck in my head and whenever I was doing any kind of drawing – before I thought this would ever become a career – it was always those sorts of creatures and those sorts of ideas.”

Gosia is now focusing completely on sculpture and leaving the illustration work aside – and off her new website.

“It wasn’t because I didn’t like the old work that I was doing; I just had something else inside of me – this is going to sound cheesy – that had to come out. And without a clean break, I don’t feel that you get the chance to move on.

Continue reading » » »

Canadian Visual Artists: Laura Stitzel

Laura Stitzel is a layout designer for an animation studio, and an exhibiting artist specializing in pen-and-ink illustration and hand-lettered vintage-style posters. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, she is now living in Toronto.

Acrobadger ink transfer on woodI chatted with Laura over a pint in a pub in the Annex – the neighbourhood which is about to host one of Toronto’s more unconventional outdoor exhibits, where she’ll be showing her new series of works on wood.

In the Annex Patio Art Show, art is displayed on the outside of storefronts and restaurant windows along Bloor St. West while artists hang out on the sidewalk. It’s an unusual setup, but Laura enjoyed the experience of exhibiting there last year:

“I really liked it. It’s strange because you can’t sell the work there, but I actually got a lot of publicity out of it, a lot of people contacting me after the show. It’s good because people are just walking around and they’re not expecting to see art, so it takes them by surprise and you get to see really honest reactions.

Mer-pig ink transfer on wood“And it’s a nice neighbourhood – the kind of people who like my art.”

Laura’s latest series of works on wood, created using an ink transfer process that gives them a weathered vintage look, was inspired by classic circus posters.

“It’s taking an existing style of poster – the circus poster – and putting a twist on in, which is that it’s animals as circus freaks, and they have personalities.

“Because I really like animals, they are in my work all the time. I’m really fascinated by how animals fit into our day-to-day life.

A Day in the Park

A Day in the Park
Illustration for this 24″ x 36″ print was drawn in ink on paper, then painted in Photoshop.

Ducks

A print from Fear the Birds series

“My Fear the Birds series was about how birds are around everywhere and they’re wild animals but they live in the city among people and it’s really interesting and it’s something that we don’t really take notice of.”

Laura’s technique is to do all the line work on paper first, using a fine tip pen or pen and ink. Only the colorful illustrations (like A Day in the Park, above) are painted digitally. The lettering on her posters is also drawn by hand, assisted by nothing more advanced than a ruler.

“I like to try to find a balance between wonky lines, things that are a little bit off and not computerized-looking, and also having it really neat.

“It’s very time-consuming. I love doing it though – it’s very meticulous and I just have the right kind of personality to not get sick of doing that.”

Hand-lettering in progress

Hand-lettering in progress

“The way I got into doing hand-lettering is I did an illustration course in New York a couple of summers ago and we were asked to bring a draft of something we were going to work on. I did just pencil and paper, and the lettering I copied by hand off the computer, fairly roughly. I brought it to class and the teacher loved it. Then I went to do the final draft, and I did the lettering on the computer, because I thought, “This is the good one now”. And when I brought in the final draft, she said, “What are you doing? Your lettering was so nice. You should just do it by hand.”

“I didn’t know that lettering was a thing – which I guess it is. And I really enjoy doing it. That summer has shaped my life quite a bit. It’s one of those little mistakes.”

Very Cheeky Monster series by Laura Stitzel

A print from the Very Cheeky Monster series

For someone with obvious drawing talent and eye for design, Laura arrived at her current profession in a curiously roundabout way:

“I used to be a dancer and a choreographer, and I started playing around with projections for dance shows. I started playing with Flash – this is when the animation stuff was pretty new – and I was using it as a tool to create almost specific lighting for dance shows. But then as I was playing with the software, I found that I really liked it, and I enjoyed drawing. So then I went to university to study animation to help with the dance side of things. But once I began to study it, I really loved it and started working in it straight away.

Continue reading » » »

Canadian Visual Artists: Charlie Easton

Charlie Easton is a Vancouver-based landscape painter who moved to B.C. from Britain, where he grew up in a family of artists.

Killarney Rocks After Sunset by Charlie Easton

Killarney Rocks After Sunset

What draws me most to your paintings are the vibrantly warm colours – your landscapes are rich in incandescent oranges and blues that give these scenes the feel of being bathed in late afternoon sunlight. Can you talk a bit about why this particular palette? It seems full of joy – is that the intended effect?

Well, I paint as much as I can on location as I firmly believe that photographs are so limiting. They are amazing for detail, but they tend to flatten colours, blending them instead of layering them. When you are sitting in a field, or on a mountain, or by a river you see more colours – transparencies, hints and colour changes. I work in acrylic so you can apply glazes and scumbled layers really quickly to capture the colours without too much fussing.

Street in snow by Charlie Easton

Street in snow

It’s interesting that you pick up on the joy in the colour choice, I’m pleased you do. I often find that an artist’s work reflects his or her mood, and I’ve got to say that right now I’m an incredibly lucky guy. I’m doing what I love, and I’m glad that comes through in the work.

What prompted you to make the move from England to British Columbia? What differences did you notice in the artistic environment/community once you settled in?

I was working in advertising in London, and when the company I was working for was bought by a Canadian company the opportunity to transfer was too good to refuse. I initially thought I was going to be in Canada for just a year, but I soon fell in love with the country (and a fine Canadian girl!) so it is now my home. Seven years on my love for the place, for its amazing beauty and for the openness of the people, continues to grow.

Hot feet by Charlie Easton

Hot feet

In comparison with the UK, I find the art community here is more open to sharing ideas and techniques. I have painted with some phenomenal artists here and in the States – and that is far more difficult to do in the UK, where people are a little more guarded in their professional outlook.

When it comes to your process – what proportion of your paintings do you complete on site versus in your studio? Where do you enjoy painting most?

I start it ALL on site. Whether that is getting the piece 95% done in the field, or 5%, I think it’s really important to understand colour relationships on site. Sometimes I might paint a full 36”x48” piece on site, other times I might use a photo and a colour sketch I had done previously. Either way, I need to have an understanding of the colour complexities that I’m going to use in any piece, and you can’t beat it when you have worked those out first hand. In this way I guess I subscribe to the old traditions of the classic plein air painters.

Yonge morning by Charlie Easton

Yonge morning

I have just had the best painting experience of my life so far – I’m currently in Alberta, preparing for an exhibition in Calgary, and I have driven through the Rockies painting as I go. A few nights back I painted the sun going down at Moraine Lake near Lake Louise and was absolutely blown away by the beauty of it. I like the painting I did there, but there’s just no way you could ever capture the scale, the grandeur and the beauty of such a sight on canvas. But hey, what an experience.

What is it like growing up in a family of painters? Did you always know you were going to be an artist? Or did you go through a rebellious teen phase where you threaten to run away and join an investment firm?

Continue reading » » »

Canadian Visual Artists: Rob Croxford

Rob Croxford is a Toronto artist whose paintings and mixed-media works playfully combine elements of graphic design and vintage 1950′s aesthetics with thought-provoking messages.

The In Crowd by Rob CroxfordRob’s personality, like his art, projects such optimism, that the first question I ask when we meet up for coffee near his Queen East studio is about what helps him to stay so upbeat.

“I’m just grateful that I get to do this. I worked some terrible jobs over the years. I’ve got so much going for me already – I get to do what I love every single day. Even if things are not always as financially rewarding as I might like them to be, I get to do something that I’m passionate about and that’s amazing.

“It really helps when you love what you do. My paintings are really upbeat and positive, and I try to really be playful – and when you have that around you all day you can’t help but feel that way.”

But the consequences of the recent economic downturn can be disheartening for a professional artist, and focusing on the positives requires an occasional self-reminder, especially after a disappointing show:

Things 2 by Rob Croxford“I have to say to myself,  ‘It’s ok, Rob. People are really responsive to the work, and it’s really good work, and remember you love to do it. It’s not about the outcome, it’s about the process.’”

Speaking of the process, how does he choose the phrases that make up are such an integral part of many of his works?

“I sit on some of them – there’s a few that I’ve been sitting on for some time, I can’t think of how to make them.  I don’t want to be too preachy, and I don’t want to be too ‘cat of the month calendar’ either.  So I sit on a lot of them until I find the right inspiration, the right imagery.”

One Answer by Rob Croxford

One Answer quotes Neil Gaiman:
“Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.”

Rob admires many of the authors of the clever, funny and thought-provoking quotes that accompany his paintings: “They come from people who are the person I would like to be [...]  I’d like to have the knowledge and experience it takes to say those smart things.”

He says it’s very exciting and rewarding when all the pieces of an artwork finally come together.

“I’m just finishing one right now. I’d started it one way and thought, ‘It’s a bit preachy, but ok, I’ll try that.’ Then I thought, ‘It’s not nearly funny enough,’ so I went back to the drawing board and made it a little bit funnier, a little bit sillier.”

Wanting to make his work more humorous, to “turn up the heat a little bit” sometimes makes Rob doubt its marketability: “Every now and again I get that voice in my head, ‘Don’t say that, Rob. No one’s going to hang that up in their house.’”

Free&Easy by Rob CroxfordBut his main concerns about turning up the humour in his work are not commercial. He worries that because his paintings are fun, they are sometimes dismissed as not being Art.

Continue reading » » »

Canadian Visual Artists: Micah Adams

Micah Adams is a sculptor, jeweller and collector of curiosities. Originally from Nova Scotia, he studied fine arts in Montreal and Halifax, and spent several years in Toronto as a resident artist at the Harbourfront Centre.

She Doesn't Tell Anyone...  About the Headaches miniature monument from My Future Wife series by Micah Adams

She Doesn’t Tell Anyone… About the Headaches miniature monument from My Future Wife series

Your miniature sculptures often take familiar things out of their usual context and present them as objects of art. You have works that consist of beavers cut out of Canadian nickels and maple leaves out of the pennies, flowers constructed out of matches and jewellery put together from earring backs. Is revealing the extraordinary potential of ordinary things an important aspect of making art to you? Do you find that your work inspires those who see it to look at objects they usually take for granted in a new light?

I like when I see an object or a material and realize something about it I hadn’t noticed before, much of my work is about that moment. All art has the capacity to change perspectives on things, both big things and small things. If others after viewing some of my work, look at objects they usually take for granted more closely, I would think the artwork was successful at communicating my observations.

Ring made out of gold earring backs by Micah Adams

Ring made out of gold earring backs

Pile of Dead Leaves by Micah Adams

Pile of Dead Leaves

I like to use familiar or everyday items for a few reasons – sometimes it’s an item’s material qualities that I like or want to use in an unconventional way. I like finding new uses for things. For example I discovered that masking tape is really good for forming 3-d shapes by folding small pieces over one another to create a form. This could resemble the way potters handcoil vessels.

One Roll of Masking Tape sculpture by Micah Adams

One Roll of Masking Tape

Often I see or use something in my day-to-day life and realize that it looks like something else. I want to take advantage of these visual similes in an artwork. The consequence of using familiar objects is that they are relatable for people and I like art that is accessible.

When I’m conceiving an idea for a project, it’s based around what I find or have access to. I don’t just want to invent something new when there’s so many material objects out there where the ideal thing could already exist. It’s just waiting to be mixed and matched with other things. My job is to find or wait for the right idea to come up and match with the perfect found object. For example, with some of my cast miniature monuments, the bottle caps worked perfectly as monument bases. This was one of the starting points for that work.

Hands & Teeth & Antlers by Micah Adams

Hands & Teeth & Antlers

The size of your works also seems to encourage looking at familiar things in a different way – as with your miniature monuments series, or the Hands & Teeth & Antlers sculptures, and My Own Personal Olympic Stadium. What first attracted you to working on such a small scale? Were the ideas you wanted to communicate through your art the decisive factor behind you choosing to make miniatures, or did the love of working on a small scale come first?

This question I’m not sure of. It happened naturally as far as I’m concerned. People call it miniature or little but to me that’s just what happens, and it turns out that is unconventionally small. The answer is probably both at the same time. When I grew up I played a lot with Lego and later plastic models. Lots of people used Lego when they were younger and grew out of it. I think I’m drawn to small things and making small art but also some of the ideas or observations I wanted to communicate were little in scale.

My Own Personal Olympic Stadium by Micah Adams

My Own Personal Olympic Stadium

For example the Olympic stadium piece was based on an observation I made, how hair when pulled makes the skin around it look like a little tent. Then I thought of the connection to the stadium and how it looked the same.

With the teeth and hands, I thought there was a visual connection with roots in general and hands as tools for gripping things. Those are small things so the ideas dictated the scale of the work. That said, I could make the hands and teeth idea at hand size. On the other hand, if the stadium could be done at the life size, the idea is ridiculous. So sometimes it seems the work has to be small in order to work.

Micah Adams - Miscellaneous displayI saw your work at the TOAE (Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition) last summer, where you had a sort of cabinet of curiosities set-up filled with your miniature sculptures. There were small drawers and shadow box-like displays for this profusion of tiny artworks, and together the effect was almost fractal – the closer you looked the finer and finer details were there to be found and marvel at. This combined effect is like a separate artwork in itself, and it seems to reveal something different than the sculptures themselves do.  What do you think is gained and what is lost when one of your sculptures is viewed on its own versus when they are seen all together like this?

Continue reading » » »

Canadian Visual Artists: Lorraine Roy

Lorraine Roy is a textile artist who creates vibrantly multilayered fabric collages and teaches workshops in her rural studio on the Niagara Escarpment near Dundas, Ontario.

Young Maple 2 textile by Lorraine Roy

Young Maple 2

I love the rich textures and colours of your work, especially in combination with your simple, elegant compositions. What is the unique appeal of textile as artistic medium for you?

No other medium has such richness and depth of colour and texture. Fabric is pervasive in our lives, yet it’s impossible to take it for granted because it’s got endless potential. I love all the techniques, from hand embroidery to machine stitching. It’s all about rhythm and it’s very meditative.

Would you still be a professional artist if you had to express yourself in a different medium?

I don’t really know – I did try painting a few times but felt intimidated by the blank surface. With fabric you always have something to start with, even if it’s only a texture. Also, I find the fabrics themselves inspire me, with colour, pattern or texture. They are irresistible. I might have taken up singing, had I had the opportunity when I was younger… but for now I just enjoy singing in the shower.

Portal textile art by Lorrain Roy

Portal

Your love of nature and you life-long interest in plant sciences first led you to a degree in horticulture and now fuel the process of your artistic creation – your main subjects are native Canadian trees, their varieties, seeds, and habitats. What is it about trees that you find so inspiring?

Trees are fascinating from so many perspectives: biological, mythical, spiritual, cultural, environmental. There aren’t many subjects that cast a wider net in the psyches of people all over the world. It’s an infinitely engaging subject. Not to mention, trees are beautiful in all seasons.

Do you purposefully avoid representing other subjects in order to maintain your distinctive focus?

Actually I don’t avoid other subjects at all. Over the years I have worked with plenty of subjects and forms like fish, birds, microscopic organisms, houses and towers, just to mention a few. I have focused most strongly on trees since my Saving Paradise Exhibition in 2002, but I’m open to anything, any time.

Paper Birch by Lorraine Roy

Paper Birch

You have been making art professionally for over twenty years and I read on your blog that you gladly embrace new opportunities for presenting your work to the world via the web and social media. What change brought about by these technologies do you feel had the most impact on your professional life or your artistic process?

It hasn’t changed my process but it has clearly increased my exposure and opportunities. It has increased the ‘surprise’ quotient of my professional life, with some interesting connections and cross-pollination with people from all kinds of backgrounds. It has also kept me more consistently connected with other artists and colleagues, which is so important when I’m spending long days in the studio on my own. Also, things happen much faster – I like that!

Shoreline Study #4 - Iron Line by Janusz Wrobel

Shoreline Study #4 – Iron Line by Janusz Wrobel

Your husband, Janusz Wrobel, is a photographer whose work also reveals beautiful glimpses of nature. Some of his images seem to me evocative of your textile compositions. How does your creative work influence each other?

I suppose we must influence each other to a certain extent. We were both well established when we met so I wouldn’t say there was significant change. We do support each other in our practice, which is a great advantage. For example, he takes my photos, and I do his copy editing.

Do you think you respective artistic processes inspire each other to look at nature in new ways?

Continue reading » » »

Canadian Visual Artists: Jeremy Down

Jeremy Down‘s abstract three-dimensional paintings are created outdoors in the wilderness of British Columbia’s Slocan Valley, where he lives, skis, canoes, and plays in a band.

Lady of the Lake by Jeremy Down

Lady of the Lake

When you started out as an artist twenty years ago, you were living in Toronto and painting on traditionally flat canvasses in a studio. Now you’re living in a small town in British Columbia, you stretch your canvasses over these organic 3D shapes and you work only outdoors. How did this series of shifts come about – did you make a big radical move to change everything about your life at once, or did one change flow from another, naturally carrying you to where you are now?

For years I was painting out things that were not related to me and getting closer to a style that is very personal and able to express everything I experience. For many years it seemed this was an impossible task. I wanted to get away from the canvas being a context for something to happen within, I wanted the canvas to be the subject itself, and I thought that shaped canvasses would open that door.

Jeremy Down painting up on a mountain

Painting up on a mountain

As much as I explored different possibilities, nothing really worked until I had a major shift of consciousness. My canoe flipped in Slocan Lake in mid-February, and while swimming to shore, my heart stopped and I had a near-death experience. Three days later in the studio, I watched as a flat square canvas morphed into an abstract 3-dimensional shape. I walked over to my wood tools and built the first shape – which I still have. It was definitely a gift!

There are a couple of beautiful short documentaries about your work. Jeremy’s Shapes shows you painting up in the mountains in the snow and talking about your 3D shapes and the experience of painting outdoors. Then you snowboard down the mountain with one of your canvasses strapped to your back. My main question after watching that is: how many artworks lost their lives in snowboarding accidents?

skiisl / skisel

The “skisel” with the painting Nemo Glow

Not too many actually! I used to use an easel on skis – “the skisel”. I pulled it into an amazing grove of 300 plus year-old cedar trees – an incredible ancient place – but I couldn’t get the skisel out again – too steep!

So I thought a ghostride might be in order, and the skisel took a high-speed run straight down the mountain for about 1000 ft. Amazingly it slowed to a stop undamaged! I tried my luck one more time but this run smashed the skisel into a massive tree and splintered into pieces. The painting survived. It’s called Ghostride.

Kauai North Shore Ocean

Kauai North Shore Ocean

Quite a few pieces have been scarred by the experience, but for me the challenge is acceptance of these alterations. If I am going to paint in the wilderness, I have to let nature make its mark. This process of acceptance usually gives the work a maturity that can translate to the viewer. Resistance is futile, and acceptance is peaceful.

The other film, Crossing Over, is about your near-drowning experience while setting out to paint in your canoe one stormy February day. It is an amazing story and beautifully presented in the film, but could you talk a little bit more about the influence that this experience had on your life and art? Did it make you more careful about setting out in your canoe on a stormy day? Or did it make you want to take even more risks so as to live your life to the fullest?

Risk management is a common point of conversation among the people I spend time with in the mountains. The event in the lake did inspire me to make wiser and more informed decisions about risk taking … but I love the relationship with challenging situations – so I will never stop!

As I get older, I don’t feel the same pull to the most dangerous experiences. I can reach that wonderful place of sensing my own mortality without being in dire straits. But I still climb mountains and paddle in winter – just a lot closer to shore!

You’re part of an art collective DRAWNONWARD, which is an Ontario-based group of artists who travel and exhibit together, and you’ve travelled all over Canada and to the Arctic with them. What was your most memorable, awesome or terrifying experience while travelling with this group?

Continue reading » » »

Canadian Visual Artists: Tick Tock Tom

Tick Tock Tom is a scrap metal sculptor from Ottawa. His creations have appeared as props in movies and music videos, and for the last five years he’s been making one-of-a-kind award statuettes for the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

The Lion (Dante's Divine Comedy)

The Lion (Dante’s Divine Comedy)

I spoke to Tom over coffee on his visit to Toronto last week to drop off his latest commission: two sculptures based on the beasts from Dante’s Divine Comedy – the Lion and the Wolf.

When I ask how this series – which also includes the Leopard, completed earlier – came about, Tom laughs as he tells me about being inspired to read Dante’s classic poem because of a video game:

“I played this Xbox game called Dante’s Inferno, in which you play Dante and you hack and slash your way through hell. It’s all very epic. At the end of it I realized I was never forced to read the Divine Comedy in school, and my education from Xbox left me doubting. So I picked up the book.”

He found that Dante did not in fact hack and slash his way through hell, but journeyed through it. He even had a tour guide:

The Wolf (Dante's Divine Comedy)

The Wolf (Dante’s Divine Comedy)

“There’s some amazing imagery in the poem, apart from the animals that I used as a kind of beginning exercise. This poem used to be such a guide for people’s lives: don’t do this or you’ll end up doing this in hell. And the punishments were all very appropriate. Fortune tellers, for instance, are punished for their crimes of trying to see into the future by having their heads twisted on backwards so they can’t see ahead.

“I had the first piece – the Leopard – at the TOAE (Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition) last summer and I wasn’t sure if I was going to complete the series. But when I told the client who’d bought it the plan for the other two pieces, he commissioned me to make the other two animals.”

Idea - scrap metal sculpture with light bulb

Idea

The Lion has a door lock mechanism for its mane, hinges left over from a movie set for its paws and part of a motor in its body. Where do the various metal parts for his sculptures come from?

“I started out scavenging the trash for broken TVs and VCRs. Eventually if you tell enough people that you want their broken things, it just comes to you. At some point you have to say “Whoa, I only have so much space.”

“I’ve had a few jobs in assembly and manufacturing and some wonderful employers that let me dive into the steel bin every once in a while. But really it’s just a matter of keeping my eye open for things that I think I can use.”

Tom started making sculptures out of junk about thirteen years ago, with no prior art experience:

Time Machine

Time Machine was commissioned for a time travel short film The Escapement

“I’d always taken my toys apart a little bit too much when I was a kid but I never planned to get into anything like this.

“A friend of mine had this old computer monitor lying around and he gave it to me and said, “You look like somebody who can do something with this.” I’m not sure why, but he just chose me. To this day, I will parade him and thank him for getting me into this.

“I took that computer monitor home and took it apart, along with a VCR I had that wasn’t working, and made this humanoid head and gave it to my friend who gave me the monitor. He showed it to his boss and I got my first commission.

“Since then, I’ve just been trying to make better and better things.”

Tom’s early sculptures were put together using hot glue, but he soon began to improve his technique.

Toymaker scrap metal sculpture

Toymaker

“I think eventually my friend had to get rid of that head once all the teeth fell out.”

Employed in a succession of manufacturing and assembly jobs, Tom got to hone his metalworking and welding skills:

“I spent a year and a half in a metal fabrication plant working on a robot welder. The job itself was repetitive but every once in a while the robot would fall off its track and I’d get to go inside and reprogram it. From there I learned about the angles that one needs to weld at, the temperature, the speed.  And ultimately I was able to translate that into my own welding: my own angles, my own temperature, how long I held there. It was a year and a half of sometimes-not-so-exciting times but what I learned out of it was invaluable.”

2012 OIAF awardFor the past five years, Tick Tock Tom has been making award statuettes for the Ottawa International Animation Festival. The statues comprise a round metal plate representing an old-style animation wheel (phenakistoscope)  mounted on a handle. Tom’s involvement in their design not only improved on the original fixed-disk arrangement but also made each award statue unique:

“They allowed me to just go crazy on the design. I wanted to come up with a better holder for the plate. The phenakistoscope originally had a viewer that you looked through that would break up the image to allow it to look animated [as the wheel was spinning] so I wanted to accent that and I wanted to  give the idea that once you had this thing in motion it could function.

Continue reading » » »