The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series
Betino Assa lives in Montreal. He received a BFA from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, and is currently an MFA student at Concordia University.
Did you always want to paint? How did painting become your chosen medium?
I did printmaking in undergrad, and I was experimenting with different methods of printing—copperplate, aluminium plate, engraving on Plexiglas. That led me to keep the ink on, paint on the surface, flip it, and consider the whole plate with the paint as my final image. I experimented with several colours and, basically, painting was the natural extension of this print process.
Tell us about your influences.
They come from different parts of the art world. I’m very interested in architecture and in film. It’s always different combinations or different works by different people.
Whose works have challenged you?
I’m challenged by my own work, in a way, by my ideas. If I want to do something, how do I do it? What’s the point of doing it? There’s always this justification of my own work.
What unifies your work, past and present?
I’m very interested in narrative and in developing a story with characters and reoccurring themes. And this is actually a big part of my work: it’s not just one image or two images that are maybe connected, but there’s a story that floats.
Do you see any trends among the works selected for the RBC short list this year?
There’s quite a variety: paintings that almost look like photographs, very abstract work, landscapes, imaginary landscapes.
Describe your ideal studio.
It would be a good space, 300 to 500 square feet, quiet, with natural light and tall ceilings.
Much of art today is seen as a reproduction. How do you feel about that?
Reproduction is always a challenge, and it’s never perfect. It just happens—it has to at some point. I’m not afraid to have my work reproduced in print or on a website. Everyone knows this is not the real work. It doesn’t look like the real work, but it gives an idea.
Is there anywhere in particular you want to exhibit your work?
There are very interesting galleries in Germany, very interesting spaces. They’re not like regular galleries, and I think my work can fit in these bizarre, atypical spaces.
Is there something one can point to that is distinctive about Canadian art—an outlook or a feeling (or a lack of one)?
To me, Canadian art is about the landscape and about the basic ideas of landscape culture. When I think about Canadian art, I think about something that is on the quiet side, safe, not extremely experimental. But, what I like about it is that there’s some sort of magical feel to it.
This interview has been condensed and edited for publication. See all fifteen finalists at TheWalrus.ca/cpc.