Let’s start off by 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 was fortunate to have grown up in a supportive and creative family who helped shape my path by exposing me to the arts from a very early age. Living in Toronto, I could easily access all the galleries and cultural events occurring in that city and I had the privilege of attending a public high school with a robust arts program. I earned my BFA from OCAD, which was a great experience and really taught me the importance of critical thinking and contextualizing my practice.
In terms of working professionally, leaving OCAD and stepping out of the support and structure of school was a big turning point. I was given some good advice that, combined with a supportive network of friends who continued to push their practice beyond school, helped me grow my practice and sustained me. That advice came from two technicians from OCAD’s printmaking department. Eric Mathew told me in my final weeks of school that from now on when people ask me what I am or what I do that I shouldn’t hesitate and say I’m an artist; not a student, not whatever my day job is, but an artist. I think I needed that permission to assume that title at a time when I felt very young and inexperienced and my lack of confidence might have held me back.
The second piece of advice came from Nick Shick who told me to apply for every opportunity I was even remotely eligible for, if I was interested in it, and to put myself out there because you never know who you are up against or who on the jury might see your work. This advice definitely set me up for a lot of disappointment but a lot of my successes as well. If I didn’t take this sort of bold, or maybe blind approach, there are definitely opportunities or calls I would never have tried for because I felt unqualified or inexperienced. It was also great practice helping me rapidly build the materials and language necessary for applying to grants and the like. I’ve reigned this approach in over the years as I’ve learned how to identify what opportunities are better for me and the importance of my time. But this approach helped me overcome at least one manifestation of imposter syndrome; if it is something I am really passionate about, I try and put those blinders back on and follow through.
I didn’t think much of it at the time and just applied their advice, but looking back I think it helped me build some confidence and the resilience necessary to practice as a professional.
You recently participated in the Elbow Room Residency at The Rooms – can you tell us about your experience there and how the residency shaped your body of work that emerged, Over Time?
The Elbow Room Residency was truly a rich and rewarding experience. I feel really lucky and fortunate to have had access to such a big space, technical resources, and supportive staff. I was able to take full advantage of the opportunity because I work as a freelance graphic designer and can be quite flexible with my schedule. I also received a project grant from ArtsNL, which allowed me to devote myself full-time to my studio practice and work within The Rooms’ hours of operation. Having a timeframe for the project overall as well as a somewhat imposed daily structure are really good conditions for me creatively. That way, I have parameters to respond to. I work slowly figuring things out as I go, so I don’t know if the experience would have been as rewarding had I not been able to devote so much time to it. The work really evolved through a daily practice that wasn’t always going in the right direction but I think having that freedom and the right amount of pressure from deadlines allowed the work to evolve in unexpected and rewarding ways.
The residency shaped the body of work physically and conceptually. The main artwork [Slow] Drift was conceived of as an installation for the Harbour Room Gallery, and is intended to maximize the verticality of that space. I was always coming back to that physical point of reference by visiting the space and re-orienting myself or the project when necessary. The work changed and departed from my original proposal as artwork inevitably does. The body of work I created and then printed on those banners really evolved over the course of the residency and was shaped by a process of visual research, and through regular studio visits with Mireille Eagan, the gallery’s Curator of Contemporary Art, as well as with other curators and artists.
The studio itself literally shaped an entirely unexpected series of photographs Studio Walls Cast Shadows that document my studio in flux. Different silhouettes and colours cast on the wall were created in collaboration with the sun and the room itself. To me, they represent a type of poetic contemplation or somewhat autobiographical record of my experience in that time and space.
Over Time addresses an idea that our memories fade over time, and the distance between experience and our memory of that experience many years later. I heard once that each time we recall a memory, that memory will be “updated” in our brain based on the last way we last recalled it. Do you think that our memories do not only fade over time, but are re-shaped by our desires and idealizations of our experiences?
Over Time uses repetition and reproduction with rudimentary technology to explore the impermanence of images and memory. The inevitable variations occurring within in that process reference the recollection or reconstruction of memories and the ways that memories can connect or distance one from a place and time. [Slow] Drift, the main installation in the exhibition, is a series of long poly-sheer banners that depict the gradual transformation and deterioration of a single found image as it is successively photocopied into abstraction. Through this process, I was giving control to the technology and looking for the unexpected.
Each banner begins with a source image that either depicts a landscape, a fragment of an environment, or texture that has an atmospheric quality. With each copy, part of the image evaporates and in doing so extends the atmospheric qualities inherent in the original. This abstraction evokes a mood or feeling as opposed to a representation. By carefully choosing images for their palette or texture instead of their cultural references, they provide the possibility for new meaning which is personal and in flux, triggering individual associations for the viewer.
Like the meanings they evoke, images are not physically fixed or stable but will gradually decay as the surface material alters over time. I accelerated and augmented this process through generations of photocopying. By destroying the image through its own reproduction, I am incrementally charting the passage of time and its transformative effects. This process releases the image from the page, transforming its fixed state into one of flux. Like memory, it is a cumulative act of successive recollection; it builds on itself and deviates with each repetition.
On top of your visual art practice, you’re also a designer. How do your design and art practices lend to each other?
The common thread between both practices is my experience and interest in fine art printmaking and commercial print production, and the material and tactile engagement that it requires. I majored in printmaking during my undergrad and worked as a commercial letterpress printer for nine years, which are mediums where art and graphic design intermingle and share a long history.
On a practical or material level, this training has equipped me with an in-depth understanding of materials and processes necessary to design for print. I take the potentials and limitations of the final medium into consideration at the earliest stages, by incorporating various print processes and material options into the design itself in either subtle or overt ways. I strive to create a finished product that enhances the tactile experience of the object and complements the content.
I use a hands-on approach with my design projects which is an expression of my studio practice. Of course, I rely heavily on Adobe software during the design process but in order for me to effectively think through a concept there is always an element of physical engagement – actually printing things out, building maquettes, cutting and pasting to find the right composition. In both practices, I move back and forth quite fluidly between digital and analogue techniques. The tools for both are essentially the same. On a fundamental level, I gravitate towards a minimal yet layered aesthetic that utilizes negative space, bold composition, found images or textures. There is a graphic sensibility that is always present in my creative expression.
An aspect I find exciting about working as a designer is the collaborative relationship I have with a client, which offers a nice balance to my solitary studio practice. It is both challenging and satisfying trying to articulate someone else’s work in an interesting and meaningful way that will resonate with an audience, reader, or consumer. I am quite passionate about both disciplines; in particular, I use book design to blur the boundary between artist books and editorial layout. Recently, I began Nothing New, an independent publishing project that specializes in the design and production of small-scale artist editions and contemporary print-based works as a platform to combine my love of art and design, collaborate with other creatives, and develop different forms of visual research.
What’s next? Any projects on the horizon that you would like to share?
I recently finished the redesign of Culture & Tradition, Memorial University’s student journal for folklore and ethnography, which is being printed this week and will be launched in the next month or so. Currently, I am designing a publication for the artist project islandness by artists Jane Walker (NL) and Vivian Ross-Smith (Shetland) which I am really excited about.