The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series
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, 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.
This interview has been condensed and edited for publication. See all fifteen finalists at TheWalrus.ca/cpc.