Abby Hann

Do you remember the first artwork you created? Could you describe it and how old were you?

I have been drawing for as long as I can remember, and I was always drawing animals. Though I can’t remember any as my earliest, it was probably a whale or a horse.

The Port Blandford community along Bonavista Bay is such a beautiful place. Could you share a little bit of your experiences growing up?

I feel very fortunate to have grown up in such a beautiful place. There was plenty of space to roam without coming across another person and I was free to do so since a young age. I was a pretty solitary kid and remember taking my dog out walking or skiing on the trailway most days after school. There’s a strong connection to the land there that
has deeply impacted me. Fishing and trouting, catching rabbits with my pop, helping mom in her vegetable garden, my dad getting his moose in the fall, and long days berry picking are all memorable times for me.

Your latest exhibition of hooked rugs titled Pond Portraits was shown on the Bonavista Peninsula this spring. Could you tell us about your inspiration for the series and what rug hooking means to you?

Another part of life growing up in central Newfoundland was weekends spent at the family cabin “in the woods”. It’s very common in Port Blandford to have a little cabin, usually overlooking a pond and only accessible by skidoo. In 2018, the wooded area surrounding our cabin was threatened to be cut down, and the community came together to protest. Seeing the collective love for the land inspired me to create Pond Portraits. I learned rug hooking from a great, great aunt in elementary school. For the series, I hand- dyed yarn with indigo to create different shades of blue, then spent hours hooking each pond. From Crooked Pond, where my dad built our cabin, to Rainy Lake; I have
a personal connection to each body of water featured in these works.

Printmaking often comes to the foreground in your artistic practice. You explore variety of print making techniques. How could you describe your relationship with the medium?

I learned printmaking during my first semester at NSCAD in 2017. Before that, I hadn’t even known what a print was, but I fell in love with it in that class, particularly relief and intaglio. My BFA was focused on printmaking and I was lucky to be exposed to many techniques at NSCAD. I love the linear process behind making a print, and how it engages your mind, but also the physical aspect of rolling ink and printing for long hours. I enjoy being able to move
between different tasks too, designing imagery, carving a block, tearing paper, printing, etc.

You have graduated from NASCAD with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree however you also hold a degree of Bachelor of Science in Biology from MUN. How does the background in Biology influence your art?

My background in biology ended up being hugely impactful to my practice. When I started art school I was ready to forget about science and make up for the time I thought I’d wasted studying it. But I’ve realized that biology gave me a background to work from, with much of my work focused on plants and animals. Now I’m thankful for it, and accept that I can be both an artist and a scientist.

This year you were an artist-in-residence at the Union House Arts in Port Union. Could you tell us about your experiences during your residency?

Three-week residency this November at Union House Arts was my first residency in Newfoundland, and the first since I’ve finished my BFA. I was a bit worried in the weeks leading up to arriving there, as since the pandemic hit, I hadn’t touched printmaking. Luckily I brought some carving tools and linoleum for a workshop I was putting on, and a few days into the residency, carving lino blocks was all I wanted to do! The landscape of the Bonavista peninsula inspired the imagery of everything I made there. The ocean, rock formations, and bogs hold a place in my heart and I realized how much I’ve missed being there. I’m so grateful for my time at Union House, as it allowed me to reconnect with both printmaking and my home.

Speaking of residencies, you also took a residency abroad. How was this international experience for you? Could you share a few moments of fun and frustration, if any?

My first residency was in South Africa, when I travelled there for three months with NSCAD’s Art in Schools program in 2018. I was in residence at the university’s art department, and it was the first time my practice was completely self-directed. I had been in art school a year and a half at that point, and definitely struggled there for a while to find direction. There were a lot of things to get used to, like having to leave the studio at night and not doing as much alone as I do here. But my time in South Africa changed me, and I’ll never love a landscape or it’s people as much anywhere else (next to Newfoundland, of course).

This year is quite unprecedented for humanity in general. Tell us about your experience being an artist and coping with the pandemic to date.

It was pretty difficult at first when things were being postponed and cancelled. Just having finished art school I had a couple of exhibitions coming up, and was planning a print exchange, and all of a sudden the future was so unknown. I made Pond Portraits during the first month and it was so helpful for me to have something to keep my hands busy. It also helped me cope with my homesickness at the time, as a connection to the landscape I longed for. I was lucky that Two Whales Coffee shop held the exhibition of them virtually via social media, and my residency at Union House that was originally supposed to be April, was rescheduled.

Who are your favorite writers and does their writing influence your visual art?

Rebecca Solnit, specifically her book the Faraway Nearby, influenced the work for my first show, Tea Setting. I’m not sure what genre her books would fall into, as she weaves together history, science, poetry and personal memoir, but I really admire her writing. During my residency I read Michael Crummey’s latest novel, The Innocents. His depictions of early settlers to the island is partly what drove me to create my most recent prints of wild species we eat here in Newfoundland. Additionally, I’ve been reading Barbara Kingsolver for years. Her writing combining prose with her background in biology really resonates with me, and is part of what drove me to go to art school after
studying biology.

What is your view on the place of handmade art vs. digital art in the future?

I appreciate both digital and traditional techniques. My practice wouldn’t exist without either, though I sometimes struggle with a balance between the two, and it’s easy for me to rely too much on working digitally. It’s always a relief to pick up carving tools after spending too long on my iPad.

Could you share a few contemporary visual artists whose work you admire?

There’s so many! In printmaking there’s my professor Charley Young, Swoon, Nicole Pietrantoni, and Molly Lemon to name a few. Outside of print, I love the work of Jane Walker, Amy Malbeuf, Pam Hall, and Brigitta Varadi.


Molly Margaret

1. Start off by telling us a bit about yourself, and your current art practice: 

  • My name is Molly Graham, but I go by Molly Margaret in my art practice. I was born and bred downtown St. John’s in the vibrant art community, which ultimately led me to become an artist! I got my Bachelor of Design in Illustration at OCAD University in Toronto, and decided I had enough of the mainland after I graduated and headed back home! Now I run a lovely little art shop with a studio in the back for my freelance work in the downtown core. My work explores a lot of flora, architecture and people! 
2. You also run the Top Floor Art Store located in the Posie Row building. How did that all begin, and how do you find the balance between running the store and your personal practice?
  • The art store opened up in December 2018, right when I moved back home. My amazing mom, who owns Posie Row & Co., came up with the idea for an art store because once Posie Row expanded, there were many rooms that had so much potential for small businesses. Part of me also thinks it was her way of enticing me to come back home too! We had a room in the back of the shop where my good friend Lily Taylor and I started teaching workshops and classes, which became quite popular! It was hard to keep up with everything. It’s been over a year and I find myself still trying to find a balance between the shop and my freelance work, but I have an amazing support system. It really is a dream job(s) come true.
3. A lot of your projects are very inspired by Newfoundland, specifically downtown St. John’s culture. One of which is your Mini House Portraits project – what was the process in starting this? Do you happen to have a favourite painting in the series so far?
  • I always loved Newfoundland for its inspirational imagery; the colours, the wonky houses, nature, etc. What really inspired my illustrations based around Newfoundland imagery is seeing a lot of “hokey” images of row houses for tourists. It was a bit of a personal mission to make imagery and illustrations that represent St. John’s in my own style, and to show people a little more than the classic red, yellow and blue houses. The mini house portraits started last year when I needed gifts for family and friends for Christmas. I found the looks on their faces when they saw them was so much joy. I started getting requests and emails for them. I’ve painted many houses across Canada and some in Europe too! I have probably painted over 100 just in requests and commissions. Then I had the crazy idea to challenge myself with a bigger project; to paint 100 mini house portraits of houses and business in the downtown area that I feel represent St. John’s in its true form. Once I started the project I also applied for a solo show at Eastern Edge Gallery, along with some funding to make it happen and I got approved for both! I’m very excited to dedicate the summer (and probably longer) to painting these portraits, developing my skills, and making a great show for the community. My current favourite is a mini house portrait I did of my brother’s first house, in which he only painted 2/3rds of it and it stayed that way for almost a year. It was a bit of a joke, but it turned out to be one of my favourites so far!

4. With everything going on in the world right now, particularly with work and businesses changing so much due to COVID-19, how has that changed or influenced your work?

  • At the beginning of COVID-19, I thought this was a great opportunity to explore my practice, work hard and get stuff done… then I would burn out. Feelings of helplessness, boredom, not wanting to look at paint or do anything creative. It was hard to find a balance, knowing when to stop and relax before that art block happened. I’m just like my mom in the sense that we find it very hard to relax or “do nothing” because there’s always SOMETHING that you could be doing. I started creating illustrations that we’re relatable to what was happening in the world, and more specifically in my community. It was my way of reaching out and connecting with people while we were all stuck inside self-isolating. One of my favourite aspects of illustration is the ability to communicate and connect without any words. It’s accessible to all! 

5. Tell us what you have in the works! Future goals, upcoming projects, anything you’d like to share with the world.

  • Currently, I’ve been working on the Mini House Project, trying not to get intimated by how many I have to do! I also have been working with clients such as NL Quarterly, CBC, Food First NL, Social Justice Cooperative NL, St. John’s International Woman’s Film Festival, and a few others in St. John’s. It’s been an amazing experience working with so many amazing organizations and collectives. I hope to continue creating illustrations for businesses and clients locally and internationally in the future. 
 

Daniel Frampton


Mimi Stockland

 

Let’s start off with some background information – tell us a little bit about how you starting working as an artist and the pathway that brought you to where you are today?

I’ve always been an attention-seeker: as a little kid I loved being in the spotlight and I would sing, dance and act for total strangers at the drop of a hat. I had a flair for the dramatic pretty early on and I instinctively recognized the magnetic power that pretending and story-telling had on people. So I think it was through theatre that I made my first real connection to the magical way art pulls back this mortal veil and let you step through to another layer of existence. Art is a tool making dreams real.

I went to art school in Montreal, but looking back I see that during this time I had lost my early primordial connection to an artist’s purpose. I was concretely trying to learn how artists live, work, what their daily lives looked like, but university only gave me a very superficial answer to that. I found a lot of people just seemed to walk around with a lot of paint on their pants, talking and sipping coffee, and that was enough to make them artists, and I wasn’t buying it.

I graduated with my BFA and then went through the standard post-graduation phase of drifting and rootlessness that feels strange and frightening at the time, but I see now is actually a crucial point in career development. I did a bunch of different things back then that I can connect directly to what I’m doing now: I started working in the film industry and learned the ups and downs of the freelancer’s life; I made silly videos and songs on iMovie and Garageband that only my friends saw, I learned hand-knitting from a friend and experimented with a sewing machine; I made a lo-fi bedroom recording of my songs, and lots of other things. Back then I was really hard on myself because I didn’t “feel” like an artist, and I didn’t have the external markers of “artist career” (none of my pants had paint all over them). It’s clear now that what I was doing then was just an early prototype of the work I’m doing now.

In 2012, instead of doing an MFA, I started a college-level textile program in Montreal and learned how to use digital technology to create fabric. During that period, I was slowly formulating a cohesive artistic theory that would be the glue that would support everything in my artistic output and. In short, I was building my artistic backbone and starting to make it all hang together. After I graduated from Textile school in 2015, I decided that my education was complete and that I was going to start putting my work out into the professional world and see what happened. At that point, I knew, after several wonderful visits, that St. John’s was where I was going to establish my professional art practice.

 

What do you think are the unique benefits of working as an artist in     Newfoundland and Labrador? What are the disadvantages?

Close proximity to nature is one of the things Newfoundland has that simply cannot be underestimated. Coming from one the most densely packed urban areas in the country to a place with more trees than people had an incredibly positive effect on my creative output. Each time I came back to Newfoundland, I felt like I could breathe again. Large, dense cities give you access to a lot of material goods but the hidden cost of that is that restriction and compression of personal physical space. I found that stressor to be an obstacle for me. So it made sense to come here to make, think and create for a living. Also, I had been getting to know the St. John’s art scene over the years and I was starting to make that into my community, despite still living elsewhere. I have never felt anything but warm welcomes and enthusiasm from people working in the arts here. I think the value of a professional artist with something to say and an interesting way of saying it is something that the St. John’s arts community takes very seriously. I’ve witnessed people going out well out of their way to nurture that and do everything in their power to help artists establish themselves here. That isn’t something that you get just anywhere. What you’ll meet in a lot of places is total indifference, and I have yet to come across that here.

I think the long, dark winters here are actually great incubators for creativity. You only have to look at the number of RPM albums people record in February as proof. I had the best times in my studio basement this past winter, with a mug of tea and the heater on, listening to my favourite podcasts, working on a piece for a show, following my thoughts. Storytelling is one way people occupied themselves through the winter back in the day, and I would say that hasn’t changed at all here. If you can deal with isolation well (and maybe you even seek it out), then it’s a fabulous place to work.

Isolation’s drawbacks for me are mainly financial: if I have to order a lot of materials from away, shipping costs can be significant. And shipping yourself off the island and back can be expensive too. But the good and the bad are two sides of the same coin. I also really wish someone would open an inexpensive Vietnamese banh-mi sandwich shop somewhere in Georgestown. It’s a long shot… but fingers crossed!

 

In Giorgia Volpe’s artists talk at The Rooms last month, she told her audience that her ideas often evolve through walking. We hear that you’re a skateboarder, do you find that skateboarding helps your creative practice move forward?

I’ve been skating for about a year now and I don’t focus on doing tricks – instead, I mostly use the board to get around, so my goal is cruising with style.The biggest thing I learned through taking up skateboarding is that to overcome fear and embarrassment, it’s actually necessary to deliberately and purposely experience fear and embarrassment. That might seem obvious but eventually, I discovered in a profound way that I couldn’t have the thing I wanted (being able to skateboard) without physically experiencing some of the things that make it hard to learn how to skateboard (falling down, hurting yourself, looking foolish). I’ve found that developing an artist career is a similar experience. A lot of people will have opinions on what you should make, what’s too risky, what makes money or doesn’t, which milestones you should be hitting etc. In the end, your mistakes are your own and you can’t make good art without making terrible art as well, all the time. I also like that the idea that artist in the studio occupies the same role as a scientist in a lab: testing the limits of what is known, and coming up short many times on the way to that edge. A skateboarder trying to land a new trick is doing the same sort of thing. Each time they don’t land it, whether they’re aware of it or not, they’re learning one small detail of what will eventually help them land it. The only thing they have to do is keep making enough mistakes to get there. It’s a simple process but it takes a lot of courage.

 

What’s next? Any projects on the horizon that you would like to share?

My project queue is pretty full right now but I’m always dreaming about future projects, and lately, my thoughts have been turning to film & video. I’ve been envisioning a web-series for kids where I could mix up many different disciplines like animation, music, dance and textile design. I was raised on a steady diet of retro cartoons like Looney Tunes and The Flintstones, and of course 90s kids TV shows like Ninja Turtles, Pinkie & The Brain, Animaniacs, Rocko’s Modern Life. I watched a lot of Ren & Stimpy as an older kid, which was also pretty formative. I think that particular intersection of time, place and invention was really neat and innovative, especially in a visual sense. I remember watching Pee Wee’s Playhouse as a very young child, which must have imprinted itself on my brain. 90s TV was also a time when a new type of experimental humour was being developed, and I think that left its mark on me. My dream project would be one where someone would come to me with enough money and resources and say: “Make up your own world”. And I would do exactly that, and get it on video. That’s about as far as I’ve dreamed up until now…but then again that’s where everything starts. Dreams are the beginning.