10 Years of Painting: Influences, Development and New Directions
I've recently realised that since my work has started to become more well known only in the past couple of years, most of the people who know my paintings have only seen my recent works. The reality is that I've actually been painting for 10 years now, and developing my own style of painting through a long process of growth and discovery. I wanted to take this opportunity to share how my work has changed, where my influences come from and where my work is going.
I started creating art in high school. I took advanced placement art classes, and was mostly just dabbling around with a lot of styles - some abstraction, some illustration. I had a couple of friends who did really beautiful illustration work and was very inspired by them, and then I also played around with some abstract painting at the same time. Once I graduated I was't really sure what I wanted to do. I mean, I knew I wanted to do art but people will constantly tell you that you can't make money from art so I wasn't sure if I should go to school for something that I couldn't make a career out of. I took a couple of years off school to work, travel and think about what I wanted to do. Thankfully during that time, my mom signed me up for a painting and mixed media class with Shawn Serfas.
These are the two pieces that I created during that class. They were the first pieces I created that I ever felt were "successful." At this point in time I was only exploring materials and composition, there really wasn't any what or why behind the pieces. It was this class that finally made me decide that I didn't care whether or not you could make a career out of art, there simply weren't any other avenues that I wanted to explore. I applied for BFA programs and got into UBCO and UVIC, and chose UBCO because I knew that Shawn Serfas taught. I love his work and I loved his teaching style, and wanted the opportunity to learn more from him. His work has always been a big influence for me.
I started my BFA in the fall of 2010. Looking through all of my older works has made me realize that I didn't actually keep any of the work that I made as assignments for school during my first year of school. This is probably due to the fact that I didn't really like any of it - in my first year there wasn't a lot of freedom, it was mostly testing a lot of different things out. Outside of school I was still pursuing my abstract paintings, and created several pieces like these two. Continuing to explore materials and the movement of paint across canvas. I started to integrate these lines into my pieces more and more because I felt that they anchored the spacey, seeming randomness of the pours.
I continued to work with large, messy pours and drips, still very much exploring materials and figuring out how to best build up layers. I was still very much influenced by Shawn Serfas's work, and as an art history minor I was learning a lot about different artist's and their work. This piece on the left is actually the very first piece I ever sold!
My work really started to develop once I got into my second year of my BFA. I was taking painting with Gary Pearson and was finally able to have a little more freedom in the classroom. I created the piece on the left in his class, and I believe the assignment was to create an abstract painting using organic shapes. I think the only organic shapes I worked into that one were the curved lines, based on some plant stems that he had brought into the class. As my work has developed over the years, there has always been this strong division between the elements in the foreground and background. I was also taking drawing with Katherine Pickering, who is one of the best things to ever happen to UBCO. She is so passionate about art, and so incredibly knowledgeable about art and the art word. She turned me on to so many artists who have influenced my work over the years; Helen Frankenthaler, Cy Twombly, Gerhard Richter (whose book The Daily Practice of Painting is phenomenal, FYI), Joan Mitchell, and Alice Baber, just to name a few.
In 2013 I got the opportunity to go study painting, drawing and art history at UCLA for 1 year. All of the pieces above are from that time, and as you can see my work went through several large changes for a couple of reasons. Being at a school where I didn't know anyone gave me the opportunity to play around with my work and experiment, because I didn't care what anyone thought of me or my work. It was incredibly liberating to be in a new environment and get the opportunity to focus on my work and not be distracted by outside influences. The materials I used also changed quite a bit during this time because I was on a very tight budget - as a Canadian student, I didn't have a VISA to be able to get a job in the US. So I started getting really thrifty with my material choices. I purchased old sheets from thrift stores and painted on those instead of on canvas. I bought off-spec house paints from hardware stores for really cheap, so I had no real control over the colours that I was using. I started doing large pours of this latex paint onto plastic sheeting, and then I would peel these huge sections of paint off and fix them to any discarded surface that I could find to create paintings that had a sculptural feel to them. I used fabric in place of paint as a way of covering a large surface area without having to spend so much money on paint. The last two pieces above were created for my drawing class, when I started to integrate fabrics into my drawings as well. It was a huge period of growth and development in my work.
In the fall of 2014 I returned to UBCO to finish up the final course for my degree - Studio Theory, a course focused on teaching some of the back end things that artists should know (how to write an artist statement, how to write a gallery proposal, how to do your taxes as an artist, etc.) as well as creating work for our final graduation exhibition. I chose Katherine Pickering as my adviser, and she helped me to bring all of these ideas I had worked on at UCLA into a more cohesive body of work. I knew that I wanted to continue working with textiles, as one of the themes I was exploring was nostalgia and I've always felt that fabric is such a huge signifier of time and place. So I made a list of all the ideas that I had worked with, and all the ideas that I wanted to explore, and started creating studies exploring these and combining them. The images above are just a few of the studies from that time. These studies led to the following finished pieces, which I presented at the end of our first semester exhibition.
I really liked these stark white backgrounds that I was getting from creating studies on paper, but I didn't find that translated well onto white gessoed canvas. I switched to painting on raw canvas because it gave me that same visual sensibility that I felt when I had been painting on sheets, but with more durability. I also found that the fabric flows better on raw materials than on top of a painted surface. I created the piece on the left first, and then the other two as a result of the discoveries I made in the first piece. Because foreground and background has always been so important to me formally, I fell in love with this very central focused composition. I was incredibly happy with these pieces, but during my critique one of the things my adviser and I discussed was making sure not to get into a habit of just repeating the same process over again when painting. This conversation really informed how my work took shape in the following semester.
These pieces are a few of the paintings that I presented as my graduation exhibition. I wanted to continue working with combining fabric and paint in a cohesive way, as well as bringing a sculptural element into the work. I liked these pieces, but I wasn't in love with them, like I was with the pieces I had made in the previous semester. After graduation, I went through a phase where I wasn't really making any finished work. I did a lot of design work and calligraphy pieces, and then a lot of small paintings and studies. After not being totally happy with the work I created for graduation, I wasn't really sure what avenue I wanted to pursue next.
In 2016, I was invited to be part of a group exhibition at the Lake Country Art Gallery called Draped/Double Take, curated by one of my mentors, Katie Brennan. This exhibition focused on a contemporary look at the use of textiles and fabric in art and featured myself, Esther Gabrielle and Gabrielle Strong. For this exhibition, I knew that I wanted to go back to exploring the formal aspects of my work from late 2014, combining pours and textiles on raw canvas, but still keeping in mind what my adviser had said about not repeating the same steps over again. I started to add in more noticeable brush strokes, lines, and other marks that would make my hand more apparent alongside the pours. I also started sewing the fabric onto the canvas instead of gluing it down, as a way of exploring a modern approach to women's history of working with textiles. I was still working a lot with themes of nostalgia, and chose fabrics based on their familiarity to myself, and what they could represent to the viewer.
In 2016 I was also able to travel to Iceland, and decided to turn that trip into a little artist residency for myself. I rented a car and drove around the country documenting what I saw. I camped, I hiked, I slept next to Iceberg lagoons (which is where the above paintings were created) and painted the whole time. This process really changed my approach to painting, because I was limited by what kinds of supplies I could bring with me. After I returned I was asked to put together an exhibition for the Vernon Public Art Gallery, and I decided to focus it on my experience in Iceland.
I loved working on this exhibition, because it gave me the opportunity to really delve into some of the experiences I had in Iceland after the fact. The themes I worked with for these pieces was the differences between loneliness and being alone, as well as the idea of searching for something in ourselves. In my past experiences with travel, there has always been a very transformative moment during the trip. I'll arrive in a new place and have this overwhelming sense that I am somewhere new and I am there to have an experience. For some reason, I never got that feeling during my trip to Iceland. So these paintings allowed me to explore why that was, and think a lot about this culture of self improvement that we are currently living in. We're trying so hard to make sure we really get something out of every experience that we're not taking the time to appreciate the experience for what it is.
In the fall of 2016, I decided to commit to making at least one piece of art every day for 1 year. I always make a list of goals on my birthday, so I included this as one of them. From December 1st, 2016 to November 30th, 2017 I created art every single day. This was the best thing I have ever done for myself, as well as for my career, and I highly encourage every artist to do this. It changed my work in a lot of ways, some for the better and some for worse. Making a commitment to make paintings every day really helped me break through some creative blocks, and took a lot of the "preciousness" out of my work. I was less committed to making "good" art, and more committed to making, whether it was good or bad was irrelevant. But because I was making so much work, I worked more on paper than I did on canvas. And because I don't always love the way textiles interact with paper, I started using fabric a lot less in my work. This led me to exploring a lot of new methods of mark making, particularly with integrating lines into my work, which has become a bit of a signature for me. I love and use striped fabric so much, so line work was my way of adding those striped elements in without using textiles. I also really enjoyed the throwback to my very early works that incorporated lines. Around the time that my project was finishing up, I took a creative coaching class with Marissa Quinn , and we talked about how I was getting stuck in using this same central composition in most of my works for no real reason. She encouraged me to start branching out with new compositional strategies. I wish that I had made an effort to integrate fabrics into my work more during this time, because I think the textiles are what really brings my work to life.
I couldn't be happier with the work I've been making this year. Because I have noticed that certain elements about the way I paint have become a bit trendy over the last couple of years, I've been making an effort to move my work in a new direction. There's been a lot of experimentation, a lot of throwback to my older ideas, and a lot of exploring new mark making. Earlier this year I explored a drawing project based on drawings that I did at UCLA, and I've started working with a new process for integrating new mark making strategies in my work. The piece on the left is one of my most recent larger scale works (36" x 24"), using woven fabrics for the first time as a way to explore the rich history of women working with textiles and femininity in art. The piece in the middle I created during a trip to Tulum earlier this year, and it documents plastic garbage brought in from the ocean and washed up on the shore. The piece on the right was a commission I created for a new friend, and it's actually based on a piece that I made in 2012. New and old ideas are coming together in ways that I really enjoy.
If you've made it this far then I want to say thank you so much for taking the time to learn about my painting journey and process. If you have any questions about my work, feel free to ask in the comment section. below.