The RBC Canadian Painting Competition 2012

Interview with Finalist Jordy Hamilton

By Elliott Garnier

Painting Painting 49 Hat to Block the Sun
Painting Painting 49 Hat to Block the Sun, oil and acrylic on linen (152 x 122 centimetres). Artworks courtesy of Jordy Hamilton

Jordy Hamilton lives in Vancouver. He received a BFA from the University of British Columbia and Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and an MFA from UBC.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

Painting isn’t really my chosen medium. I make paintings, but painting figures into my practice as just one part of it. The last three exhibitions I’ve been in included some painting, but they were more installation based. They involved sculpture and photography and appropriated video.

What guides your work or unifies it?

The basic thing that guides it is this desire to understand positions and desires, like artistic desires or political desires.

Does theory inform your practice?

As a painter, I think it’s impossible to avoid theory now. Every painting is a kind of theoretical proposition. As an artist, you inhabit positions that have theory, and so it seems essential to deal with it.

Tell us about the work that’s been selected for the RBC Canadian Painting Competition.

There’s mono printing and some staining, and different types of processes of chance that happen on top of each other. It hopefully produces something surprising, but also something compelling. It maybe speaks to the history of painting or the history of image-making more broadly.

How do you respond to art that has been reproduced, either on a website or in a magazine?

It’s really difficult to see a painting in print, let alone on a computer screen. You can get a general idea of what’s going on, but so many of them don’t reproduce well. With an installation, it’s vital for the person to be inside of it. I have a websitewhere I show my work, but I’m uncomfortable with it.

What do you think this year’s short list says about where painting is in Canada right now?

It says that painters are still painting and that painting is still something that people feel passionate about making and looking at. It also says that painters are still struggling to find ways to deal with questions outside of painting.

Tell us about your studio.

For the last year and a half or so, it’s been the garage in my backyard. It’s been terrific. I’ve had shared studios and I’ve enjoyed it, but right now I really like having this private space where I can get up, have a coffee in the morning, begin to tinker and have friends come by to talk and look at things.

How did you end up in Vancouver?

Like so many kids, I came out west to go snowboarding in the mountains. After being out here for a year, I realized that there was no possible way I could go to school back in Ontario.

What’s the art scene like there?

The art community here likes asking difficult questions; it prides itself on asking difficult questions. The seed was planted sixty or seventy years ago, and there’s been really vigorous debate here since about what art is, what it should be, and what it should attempt to do. The challenge that produces has been productive. Vancouver has provided me with a lot of nourishment.

Interview with Finalist Thomas Chisholm

By Zoe Ludski

Painting by Thomas Chisholm
Interference 1, enamel on aluminum (91 x 91 centimetres). Paintings courtesy of Thomas Chisholm

Thomas Chisholm lives in Victoria. He received a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design in Halifax, and an MFA from the University of Victoria.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

I identify as a painter because my work really focuses on the interaction of illusionistic space in the painting and the relation to the physical space of the painting’s display. Since the Renaissance, one of the concerns of painting has been creating space and working with that illusionistic space. And so, for my investigation, it doesn’t make sense to approach it with any other medium.

Are there any limitations to painting?

I don’t think so, it’s more that you draw your own limits and work with those. Particularly now with digital and performance-based practices, you can do almost anything and call it painting.

What are your influences—current and historical?

American West Coast artists like Robert Irwin and James Turrell. And German painters— Blinky Palermo, Gerhard Richter—have also had an influence. Historically, I think my practice is based in some of the ideas that came out of post-abstract expressionism. They’re really working with space and removing everything else.

What about works outside of visual art?

A lot of fiction has had an impact on my work. I’m thinking specifically of Haruki Murakami, whose novels challenged my understanding of sequence and finality.

White Decagon 2
White Decagon 2, enamel on aluminum (61 x 61 centimetres).

Does theory inform your work?

I look for theory that runs parallel to my practice—that works with similar ideas—and that may open up new areas to explore.

What do you think this year’s RBC Canadian Painting Competition short list says about where painting is in Canada right now?

The short list this year, and every year, speaks to the health of painting in Canada. It’s always interesting to see a group of painters brought together without any underlying narrative, and then to see what threads connect each painting. This year, I think there’s a split between works that are minimal or reduced and works that are full or maxed out.

Describe your ideal studio.

It’s pretty basic. Just an industrial space with a cement floor, white walls, and ventilation. The important thing is that the space be able to act as a proxy for a gallery so that work can be made and installed and documented in the same place—and so that I can get a handle on what one painting looks like installed, and how two, three, four of them might look together.

Where is the best art scene in Canada?

The best art scenes are naturally in larger cities—Toronto, Vancouver—just because there are more artists, more galleries, and more opportunities to see work. But, because of the increase of documentation on the Internet, it’s becoming more viable to have a successful practice outside of those cities. Obviously, I don’t live in a big city, so hopefully that’s the case.

Interview with Finalist Andrea Kastner

By Leah Shaw

Demolition, oil on canvas (183 x 152 centimetres). Paintings courtesy of Andrea Kastner

Andrea Kastner lives in Edmonton. She received a BFA from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, and an MFA in painting from the University of Alberta.

Why did you make painting your chosen medium?

It’s the most magical, delicious medium I can find. I enjoy the process the whole way through, from the underpainting to the end.

Tell us about Demolition, the work selected for the RBC short list this year.

You see this building that was a business and also a home, which is being torn down. It was painted from a photo I took of my old neighbourhood in Montreal. Half of the building is gone, and you can see through it to the sky beyond, and into the different rooms and the staircases. It’s this surreal image, but it’s from everyday life. At the bottom of the painting is a pile of garbage from a garbage excavation series I did. It’s about how you can observe something you would never usually look at in your daily life and see the secrets people have hidden behind the facade of the way they live.

What do you think this year’s RBC Canadian Painting Competition short list says about where painting is in Canada right now?

I was overwhelmed at how good the other work was. I’m happy to live in a country where painting is so varied and where people get so good at it.

Whose works have challenged you?

Greg Curnoe’s. He did all of these detailed paintings of his bicycle and things that were in his drawer. He paid attention to the little things in daily life, and that feels like the sort of artist I am.

Does theory inform your work?

I compartmentalize that analytical aspect from the painting. The painting is just its own thing.

What are your ideal working conditions?

My ideal space is a place I can bike to and see things that are inspiring on the way there. Then I can park my bike and see other people, but I can still have my own space. I’d have my radio on and people to talk to when I take a coffee break in the lounge.

Is there something one can point to that is distinctive about Canadian art—an outlook or a feeling (or a lack of one)?

Even if you’re in Edmonton, you can show in Hamilton, Ontario, or in St. John’s. So I’ve found that the best art scene is the one that is cross-pollinated from all of those different places. The thing I’ve noticed from the artists presented internationally is this really human scale of the work. I don’t find Canadian art macho or slick. I find it playful and individual and well crafted. It takes things from an angle you wouldn’t expect.

Interview with Finalist Katie Lyle

By Elliott Garnier

White Night
White Night, oil on canvas (41 x 30 centimetres). Painting and photography courtesy of Katie Lyle

Katie Lyle lives in Vancouver. She received a BFA from Concordia University in Montreal, and an MFA from the University of Victoria.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

There’s a real connection between your body and your hand and the paint. There’s an immediacy to painting—the connection between you and what you’re making—that appeals to me.

Describe your practice.

There’s this history of images that people have stockpiled. And so, as a representational painter, my greatest challenge and interest is to try to take all of those images, then filter and rework them.

Does theory inform your work?

For me, it’s just about knowing as much as I can about the conversations that have happened and the research that has been done, but at the same time separating myself from it and working with my own experiences.

What works outside of visual art have influenced you?

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of short stories by Alice Munro. Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye has these incredible descriptions of relationships between girls and between women and gets at what it means to grow up. Those are things I’m definitely thinking about.

What unifies your work, past and present? Are there any obsessions or themes that keep coming up?

I’m constantly working with the female figure. And maybe my obsession is with the eyes, nose, mouth, forehead, cheeks—the building blocks that make up a face. I’ve also always reworked paintings—wiped them off and started again, thinking I’m getting somewhere and then changing a painting entirely.

What’s the art scene like in Vancouver?

There’s a strong tradition of photography in Vancouver and that influences everything people are doing. The schools are really good and they’ve created an impressive community. I feel a little bit outside of that right now with the work that I’m making. There’s a lot of abstraction in Vancouver painting right now. I’m influenced by it, but I also push against it.

When do you work best?

I like to get up really early. There’s this idea that everyone is sleeping. It’s quiet and you can be on your own.

What are your ideal working conditions?

I’d like someone to make lunch. That would be wonderful. Other than that, I’m pretty content. I don’t think I need a perfect cabin in the woods to make work. I like the balance of being around other people in a building, but not having to walk around them constantly.

Much of art today is seen as a reproduction, either on a website or in a magazine. Does that affect the way you work?

It’s not a big concern for me. I’m making something in the studio and that’s all I can really think about. Worrying on another level about how people will see it is just too much.

What’s distinctive about Canadian art?

I wouldn’t say there’s one thing that makes work similar or one overarching theme. We aren’t hemmed in by any specific or long tradition. Canadians are doing a bit of everything.

Interview with Finalist Colin Muir Dorward

By Jessa Runciman

Painting by Colin Muir Dorward
Grievance Calculator, oil on canvas (180 x 163 centimetres). Painting and photography courtesy of Colin Muir Dorward

Colin Muir Dorward is an Ottawa-based artist; he was born in Edmonton in 1979. He holds a BFA from Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and is currently an MFA student at the University of Ottawa.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

Painting offers a chance for a slow-burning career. Many painters do their best work late in life, and that seems like a nice carrot at the end of a stick to chase after. I’m better at endurance-based activities, and painting is a bit like that.

What are the recurring themes in your work?

The work I’m doing now is similar to what I was doing badly during my undergrad, which is trying to tell life stories. Then, I was attempting the biggest stories, like love and death, but I stopped because I was terrible. Recently I’ve been doing that again, but focusing on smaller, more mundane stories—simple ideas like getting hungry, or wanting to go for a run, or the frustration of not doing something properly. You can’t necessarily see that articulated in the picture, but it comes through in the work’s sensibility.

What do you think this year’s CPC short list says about where painting is in Canada right now?

Maybe we don’t have to reference the Group of Seven any more, or address what they’ve done. I think that Canadian painting has always been a lot about the land, and now some very good art comes out of approaching the land in different ways.

Who or what are your influences?

Harold Klunder opened up a lot of possibilities for me, a lot of things I didn’t realize one could do with paint. Music is also an influence for me. I try to cultivate a certain aesthetic in different pictures by listening to different kinds of music. It affects me the same way the colour of light affects me. I can see it.

Does theory inform your work?

Theory is something that happens beside my painting. It’s a buddy that my painting can hang out with. It’s something I can read when things aren’t going well.

What do you like about being an artist in Ottawa?

It’s a small community with a lot of serious artists. That’s a nice change from Montreal, which is full of young artists, many of whom are not serious, right? That’s good for getting energy and ideas, but here I take comfort in being around artists who have been painting for longer than I have been alive. It makes being an artist seem like a realistic goal, compared to Montreal where it felt more like a fantasy.

Does Canadian art have a distinctive an outlook or a feeling?

Canadian art is too big to package up into dominant flavours. I think Canada’s a great place to be because there are no overbearing forces indicating how or what people should be painting.

Interview with Finalist Aleksander Hardashnakov

By Chris Berube

Painting by Aleksander Hardashnakov
untitled 23 string piece 2, canvas string and enamel on canvas (122 x 91 centimetres). Art courtesy of Aleksander Hardashnakov

Aleksander Hardashnakov lives in Toronto. He is the co-founder of Tomorrow Gallery. His work has been displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art and Clint Roenisch.

What are your influences?

Everything influences me. I am very impressionable.

How does theory inform your work?

I think theory in some way, shape or form, influences everyone and everything. I don’t ignore it and I don’t pay much attention either. I’m sure it seeps in or can be imposed by viewers. Most of the time when I am making a painting or drawing, I think about average things like what I should eat for dinner later, or what colours would go nicely together. I also think most of the things I make don’t immediately crystallize. Inevitably, over time a web of ideas or theories will emerge.

What themes or narratives have you conveyed through your work, perhaps without actually thinking about them?

I think it’s probably better for my work to continue to think about things I am not actually thinking about without telling you what I think I thought I was thinking about.

What do you think this year’s RBC Canadian Painting Competition short list says about where painting is in Canada right now?

I don’t know what it says.

What are your challenges, as an artist?

Interviews are pretty challenging. Regular social situations are also very difficult. I think part of the reason I’ve gravitated to making art is so I don’t have to say too much. I find a lot of normal things challenging, like regular exercise and brushing my teeth properly.

What are your ideal working conditions?

More space could always be put to use, and some windows would be nice too. I would like to become better at making work outside the studio setting. I’d like to get better at not thinking about ideal working conditions as well.

Is there something that one can point to that is distinctive about Canadian art—an outlook or a feeling (or a lack of one)?

At this point, I don’t really think so.

Interview with Finalist David Hucal

By Chris Berube

Painting by David Hucal
Untitled, oil on canvas (91 x 89 centimetres). Painting and photography courtesy of David Hucal

David Hucal lives in Hamilton, Ontario. He majored in painting during his BFA at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. He is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Guelph.

Why did you choose painting as a medium?

Painting has the ability to confound us as viewers. It is a confounding medium; it can be elusive and slippery, hard to pin down and unpredictable. For me as a viewer and maker of paintings, traditional oil paint on canvas remains interesting.

Whose work interests you?

Michael Conrads in Germany, and Sam Windett and Gabriel Hartley in Britain, who incorporate figuration, abstraction, and representation in interesting ways. They border on the quotidian but are still very inventive in the way they use imagery.

What about work outside of visual art?

I read a lot of fiction. It’s a wonderful way to view the world. Fiction is an escape from what I do. But in a roundabout way, it’s also connected to what I’m doing as an artist—creating an account that’s half true.

What are you reading right now?

Slaughterhouse Five. Someone left it in the studio at school. I put it in my satchel, and I’ve been reading it on the bus.

Does theory inform your work?

I’m interested in writers like W.J.T. Mitchell. He wrote a great essay on intimacy and abstraction. But theory is useful on the periphery of my practice. It operates as something that can be incorporated into the work, but not at the centre of it.

Are there any recurring narratives or obsessions in your paintings?

Centric forms continually crop up in my work. Often, figurative elements come in. Awkwardness comes through, and that increases the impact of the visual imagery—when you look at an awkward image, you become more aware that you’re looking at something.

Why awkwardness?

It happens naturally. I’m a somewhat awkward person, so it’s truthful to who I am.

Tell us about your piece in the RBC Canadian Painting Competition.

It’s an abstract painting. I was working with observation as a beginning point for paintings. I was studying objects in my studio, and then elaborating on those observations.

What are your ideal working conditions?

Good light, a combination of natural and artificial, and a good eight hours so I can muck around for seven of them and accomplish something in the final one. I like to have images surrounding me. I spend a great amount of time just looking and thinking in the studio. It functions as a contemplative and productive space.

What do you think this year’s CPC short list says about where painting is in Canada right now?

It says a lot about painting, and not just within Canada: that there isn’t any one conversation or direction within painting; that there is now interest in understanding what the artist is attempting.

Interview with Finalist Vanessa Maltese

By Chris Berube

Painting by Vanessa Maltese, Balaclava
Balaclava, oil on panel (58 x 46 centimetres). Paintings and photography courtesy of Vanessa Maltese

Vanessa Maltese lives in Toronto, Canada. She has a BFA from the Ontario College of Art and Design University.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

I wouldn’t say that painting is the only medium I work in. I also work sculpturally. I used to make paintings where I would build sculptures and then make still life paintings of them. But now I find the paintings are informing the sculptures. They go hand in hand for me.

Tell us about Balaclava, the work selected for this year’s RBC Canadian Painting Competition short list.

At the time I was making this painting, I was collecting textiles and photocopying them at Kinko’s. I would crumple them up and lay them out on the flat surface. I was exploring how the pattern defined a movement or a mass that may or may not exist underneath it. Then I imagined the pattern as a fabric that could be stretched over the surface, like a canvas. I’ve cut holes into the surface, and you can see through into whatever’s beyond the stretched fabric. The name came after the fact, because it looks like a mask you would slip over your face.

Whose works have challenged you?

I’ve been fascinated by Richard Tuttle. He’s interested in some of the things I’m interested in, like the frame, and where and how things are hung in the gallery. His scale is similar to mine: very small, very modest. Something you can hold and turn in your hands. He’s amazing.

What does your workspace look like?

It’s in an old industrial space I share with three studio mates. We have a little workshop that we built. It looks like a shed with chloroplast walls, kind of shoddily built, very dusty and ad hoc. You can see the CN Tower, and can watch the sun come up if you’re here early enough.

Does theory inform your work?

I don’t think about theory when I’m making work, but having gone to an art university, it’s hard to ignore what you know. Looking at it afterwards, that’s when I find where it fits, relating my work to something that is historically relevant.

Do you see any dominant trends in Canadian art?

I think there’s a lot of painting happening about painting, but it’s hard to say more. I don’t know if it’s the influence of the Internet; I don’t know if that’s why people are reconsidering their media. Maybe we’re all a bit confused.

Interview with Finalist Jenna Faye Powell

By Ed von Aderkas

Painting by Jenna Faye Powell
The Ideology of the Sublime Wilderness II, acrylic and oil on canvas (137 x 137 centimetres. Paintings courtesy of Jenna Faye Powell

Jenna Faye Powell lives in London. She received a BFA from Western University, and an MFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design.

Tell us about your work flow.

It’s a cumbersome, time-consuming process, but also satisfying. I build miniature dioramas, photograph them, and spend hours filtering through hundreds of pictures. Then, I project a photograph on the canvas, and finally paint.

What inspires or influences you?

Just strange day-to-day things. For the last few years, I’ve been obsessed with Wes Anderson movies. I feel like we have a similar aesthetic—really awkward and beautiful colour pallets—and both deal with whimsical subject matters that can sometimes come across as offbeat or spooky.

Your work that’s been selected for the RBC short list comes from your Welcome to Chesterfield series. What can you tell us about it?

This fictional city of Chesterfield was invented to contain my obsessions and the narratives I’ve been interested in over the last few years: domestic architecture and colour, middle-class lifestyle, what it means to grow up in the suburbs, and the strange, sublime things that can happen in suburban territories.

Is there anything that surprises you about this body of work?

I invented Chesterfield to get away from reality and autobiography. I was making some paintings off of imagery from where I grew up in Sarnia, and I found myself tangled in Sarnia’s histories and stereotypes. But, I realized that you can never get away from the autobiographical. All those things slowly crept back into these paintings and, in the end, Chesterfield is really just a reflection on my history.

What do you think this year’s short list says about where painting is in Canada right now?

It says everything in that it doesn’t necessarily point to one dominant theme or mode of thinking. Generally, I think young painters are sick of hearing about this morose idea of the “death of painting,” or even the dichotomy of “abstraction versus representation.” Painting now has become this open field for people to address what they find interesting as individuals. They’re bringing their own history and lexicons to the table.

What are your ideal working conditions?

Ideally, I’d have two to three cups of coffee, about two hours of new music, and eight to ten hours of straight, uninterrupted painting time. I have an amazing studio downtown right now. The only thing that I really miss is the camaraderie of having studio mates—being able to work with a particular group of people, ask questions, and pick their brains.

Much of art today is seen as a reproduction. Does that affect the way you work?

I tend to work large, in many layers of oil paint, and end up creating this huge, super shiny piece of work. It’s a nightmare to photograph, but that would never stop me from making the work. That being said, I’ve recently started using cold wax as a finishing medium. It leaves this iridescent, amazing, hazy, matte finish which makes the paintings a lot easier to document.

What’s the art scene like in London?

As cheesy as it sounds, I can’t help but feel that there’s some magic in the air, that things are changing and evolving in London. There is a revitalization going on, and it’s attracting creative types back to the city.

Interview with Finalist Betino Assa

By J. B. Staniforth

Painting by Betino Assa
Gathering in the forest, 12 am, acrylic on engraved Plexiglas (81 x 124 centimetres). Paintings courtesy of Betino Assa

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.

Interview with Finalist Philip Delisle

By Chris Berube

Painting by Philip Delisle
NSCAD MFA Studio, acrylic on canvas (164 x 183 centimetres). Painting and photograph courtesy of Philip Delisle

Philip Delisle received an MFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design University, and a BFA from the University of Waterloo, Ontario.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

I like the flexibility of painting, and the speed with which I can make changes. I work towards a plan, but I like to follow tangents. With painting, I can change direction and transform a canvas in a matter of hours.

What’s your creative process?

I work from photo collages that I make myself. They are a starting point for painting. I build upon the images as things occur, so the final piece doesn’t look much like the photographic source.

Do any themes come through in your work?

The idea of self-reference keeps coming up in my work. Whether it’s painting myself painting, or painting my own paintings, or writing, it’s always there. It’s my way to investigate what I do and why I make things.

Tell us about the painting you submitted for the RBC Canadian Painting Competition.

At art school, I was always thinking, “How am I going to do my final thesis show?” I was constantly thinking about dealing with that exhibition. I had an experimental phase where I was painting images of myself in the studio. I was also making abstract art, experimenting with colour swatches, and writing. I didn’t want to curate those things out. I wanted to do a show that demonstrated everything. I decided that I could wrap it all together in an epic piece, a painting.

How does this painting compare with your other work?

One of the main differences between this piece and other work I’ve done is that I don’t directly appear in this one. I like the thought that it points to my hand, rather than a painting of me painting a painting. It’s a little subtler without me needing to pose for the action.

Does theory influence your work?

Definitely. I’ve been engaged with Jean Baudrillard and his writings on Simulacra and Simulation. He tells us that a simulation cannot be distinguished from reality. I manipulate and re-present reality in my own practice; for example: when I insert my own work into a painting of a famous art gallery. In terms of painting as fiction, it’s like saying, “I’m making things up, but they’re real,” and it’s a powerful idea.

Which artists challenge you?

I have been looking at German painters, Matthias Weischer and Neo Rauch. In Canadian painting, I’ve been influenced by John Kissick, David Urban and Harold Klunder. Historically, I owe a lot to M.C. Escher, René Magritte, Marcel Duchamp, Gustave Courbet, Philip Guston and Gerhard Richter. With Richter, specifically, I relate to his switching between abstract work and representation.

Outside visual art, what works have influenced you?

I’m really inspired by literature. I was initially drawn to Kurt Vonnegut. He doesn’t care to maintain the illusion that other writers do. He was one of the first writers I read where it was clear he was writing the book, and I was reading the book. I drew some definite parallels as a young painter. What would it look like to make a Kurt Vonnegut painting, a painting that talks about the act of painting? That was a huge inspiration towards what I’m doing now.

Have you noticed any trends in contemporary Canadian painting?

I have noticed a lot of singular ideas that are well presented. That’s a recurring theme for stuff that gets publicized in Canada. Things you can wrap your head around. If it’s abstract art, it’s a clean, crisp thing, a logical abstraction.

What’s distinctive about Canadian art?

We have this government funding system in place, and I think that makes a big difference for taking risks that would be more challenging in a purely commercial environment.

Interview with Finalist Nicolas Ranellucci

By J. B. Staniforth

Painting by Nicolas Ranellucci
Si je tue un canard, je te donnerai les plus belles plumes (If I kill a duck, I will give you the most beautiful feathers), acrylic on canvas (152 x 152 centimetres). Painting and photography courtesy of Nicolas Ranellucci

Nicolas Ranellucci graduated from the Université du Québec à Montréal in visual and media arts. His work is represented by Galerie Dominique Bouffard; he lives and works in Montreal.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

One day I was doing graffiti with my friends, having fun, vandalism and everything, and I got into a bar and there was live painting. I discovered that we could work on a canvas and create a universe. I really got excited about it. The next day I bought canvas and paint and brushes and I started to have fun. And then I was pretty much serious about it.

What are your influences?

My influences are mostly from the Renaissance and from the Middle Ages, from Italy. But the whole history of painting is quite an influence for me. Part of my work is to recreate details from old school masterpieces.

What challenges you, as an artist?

An artist who challenges me, maybe God? No, probably all the artists from my generation, I think that’s the best answer I can say about my challenges.

What about outside visual art?

Outside visual art, I’m a cook. I ‘ve realized that cooking is a part of me, because cooking is taking something—an ingredient—and transforming it to create a plate that’s interesting, and that’s pretty much what happens with a canvas.

Does your work follow a recurring theme or story?

I think it’s really important to have many canvasses that tell a general story about a precise thing that I thought about. In my last solo, I created all my canvasses about a story. There is something about cinema that I really like—perceiving an image in time. I like that time goes by in a painting, and I try to recreate that. All the paintings on the wall make a big story. I like to think that the viewers will integrate into the story of the painting, they’ll have to—they can’t get out of it.

Does theory inform your work?

Well, it’s really interesting when, before going to sleep, you read theory, and then you fall asleep and everything is all right. You are getting more intelligent in your dreams, because you just read theory. But I never really try to take theory and apply it to my work. I think theory is more about history. I don’t think it is a part of artists’ work.

What are you ideal working conditions?

I need to have music. Music is a big part of my inspiration, as you’d say. It’s part of my atmosphere. And a painting studio and myself and that’s it. I think it’s really important to be concentrated. You have to get your focus. And lights—lights are very important.

What do you think this year’s RBC Painting Competition short list says about art in Canada?

I think it shows that we have big painters in Canada and we know how to paint, and Canada is the best.

Is there something distinct about Canadian painting?

I don’t think there’s Canadian painting or Canadian art, I think there’s painting and there’s art. Everybody’s doing what they think is the best. Does it mean if you’re Canadian it’s something else? I know there’s a generation of young people from Winnipeg, like Marcel Dzama. They came back with this old school way of making sculpture or drawing. I really like it. This is probably a way that Canadian could be looked at—people who work with a lot of crafty things.

Interview with Finalist Corri-Lynn Tetz

By J. B. Staniforth

Painting by Corri-Lynn Tetz
Housefire 3, oil on panel (33 x 66 centimetres). Paintings courtesy of Corri-Lynn Tetz

Corri-Lynn Tetz lives in Montreal. She received a BFA from the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, and is currently an MFA student at Concordia University.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

It’s the first way I connected to art as a kid. My grandma was a painter, and I remember that just always being around, and her paintings being around, and I remember seeing her brushes and smelling the oil. I didn’t really know artists could do other things. As I started painting, I just became more and more compelled and obsessed with meeting the challenges and finding solutions. It takes so much time to be a good painter that the idea of starting something else seems really difficult because I feel like I have such a long way to go in painting.

Tell us about your influences.

They’ve changed a lot through the years. In my early twenties at art school, I was interested in early abstraction. Then it moved towards classical painting. There was a time when I was interested in the symbolists, and recently I’ve looked a lot at Michaël Borremans and Wilhelm Sasnal, both of whom are figurative painters.

When you look at your work, past and present, do you feel there are any reoccurring themes or obsessions?

Bad photos and awkwardness, and absence and presence. Looking over my work from the last year, there have been several references to nostalgic utopias. It wasn’t something that I really started thinking about, but it just kept popping up. I have all this work that appears different, but when it all fits together I can see this connection.

Do you see any dominant trends in current Canadian art?

There’s definitely a return to craft and studio practice and a lot of abstraction. There aren’t a lot of people working with the figure or in any kind of realism.

What do you think this year’s RBC Canadian Painting Competition short list says about where painting is in Canada right now?

It shows the diversity and strength of Canadian painting. For years, painting was put aside, and it’s thriving now and a lot of younger artists are working as painters.

Describe your ideal working conditions.

Ideally, I’d have a big, bright studio in my house. I love being able to leave my studio and have a snack or do laundry and come back to it. It takes a lot of effort for me to leave my house and go work somewhere else.

How do you respond to art that’s been reproduced, either on a website or in a magazine?

In the years between undergrad and grad school, I looked at a lot of paintings over the Internet, and it did affect how I painted. I forgot that painting is really visceral and dirty and messy. And, now that I’m looking at more paintings, I’m realizing that I want my hand and my brushstrokes to be a part of it again. It’s paint, it’s a thing, it’s not a photo.

Interview with Finalist Julie Trudel

By Chris Berube

Photograph courtesy of Julie Trudel
Portrait of the artist’s studio. Photograph courtesy of Julie Trudel

Julie Trudel has held two solo and several group exhibitions in Montreal, Quebec. She received an MFA from University of Quebec at Montreal.

Why did you pick painting as your medium?

As an abstract painter, I work with colours, without restrictions. It’s what I have the most fun doing.

Can you describe your piece that has been shortlisted for the RBC Canadian Painting Competition?

It’s a diptych—with two circular round paintings. I’m interested in colour systems and charts, and I was working with the colours used in printing: cyan, magenta, and yellow. I poured it out drop by drop.

Why focus on colour?

Colour is such a basic element in painting. There’s a colour wheel, with well-developed colour harmonies. I’m trying to avoid the usual mix of colours to achieve a visual effect that hasn’t been done before.

What works have inspired what you’re doing today?

Contemporary painters, who explore the new possibilities of paint without working with a paintbrush. Bernard Frize, a French painter from the ‘80s. He made very interesting paintings using liquid paint. Also, François Lacasse from Montreal. I’m inspired by optical art, the way colour would work in the ’60s and ’70s—painters like Bridget Riley.

What challenges you outside art?

I think a lot about the screen: computer screens, cellphone screens, television. When there’s a screen in the room, we’re attracted to it—it’s catchy, there’s light. I’ve been thinking about what a painting can be, in competition with the screen.

I also like contemporary dance. You’re not looking at an image you’re looking at people moving. It triggers the senses.

Do you feel that your work goes back to certain narratives?

For sure, there’s no narrative. It’s more about how you perceive colour, not just with your eyes, but also with your body. At the same time, painting is embedded in the history of the medium, so there’s always meaning.

Does theory inform your work?

My work is informed by the history of painting. When I work on a circular canvas, I think, “Which painters have done this?” What does it mean to make a ten-by-ten-foot canvas, instead of ten-by-ten centimetres? Those artists made these choices because of an ideology. I’m very aware of that.

What are you working conditions like?

I have a very clean studio with huge windows and natural light. I need a calm and clean studio, though it doesn’t need to be large. I mostly need time. The ideal conditions to work on a painting involve a lot of time. Part of my process involves having a vibrant art community.

What excites you about contemporary Canadian art?

There are a lot of people working in abstract painting in a very free and interesting way. Also, it’s smaller painting—people with a different approach to the paint. It’s less about skill and showing off, and more about making very refined work about colour and shape.

Interview with Finalist Ahbyah Baker

By Elliott Garnier

Dripshape 25
Dripshape 25, gouache on wood panel (41 x 41 centimetres). Painting and photography courtesy of Ahbyah Baker

Ahbyah Baker lives in Vancouver. She received a diploma from the Kootenay School of the Arts in British Columbia, and a BFA from Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

The medium itself is very accessible. The materials are simple. You don’t need a lot to achieve what you want to do. The minimal aspect to it—it can be very clean.

How has your work progressed?

I used to be more of a representational painter. But, over the years, I stripped away a lot of what I felt were the unnecessary elements. I got to the point where it was almost just purely formal—composition, line, and colour.

Whose works have influenced you?

Agnes Martin, Morris Louis. Whistler was a huge influence in the beginning. They all share that kind of paring down—that watering down of the medium. For a while, I was really attracted to Carl Andre and the idea of just using the natural beauty in a material. I found that really intriguing and wanted to somehow incorporate it in my own work.

Does theory inform your work?

No, not at all. I don’t ignore it either; it’s just never been my thing. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes and it just gets too messy for me.

The work has an emotion, and there are moments when you connect to that emotion. I don’t know if anyone else sees it, but I’ll see it from time to time. The work can surprise me in that it shows something and it’s not just blank.

Do you see any dominant trends in Canadian art?

In Vancouver, there generally seems to be a lot of abstract work—minimal colour, grey, much like the weather. On the East Coast, it’s a lot more gestural and colourful.

Tell us about where you work.

I love my studio. It’s got a good feeling. There are no walls, and you’re just free to mill around and see your work from different perspectives.

How do you respond to art that has been reproduced, either on a website or in a magazine?

I’ve got to see art in the flesh. My father is a painter, so growing up, I was able to see what painting could look like. But, some people I went to school with hadn’t really gotten to see a lot of historical work in person. When they did see it, they were shocked at the inconsistencies.

Where is the best art scene in Canada?

I don’t know, but I know it’s not here. It’s all right, but it’s just small and cliquey. There’s not a lot of room for different ideas. There’s always one ruling idea and those people get in to all the shows. It gets really repetitive and uninspiring.