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Vanessa Maltese

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

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

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.

Photograph courtesy of Vanessa Maltese
Portrait of the artist’s studio.

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.

This interview has been condensed and edited for publication. See all fifteen finalists at TheWalrus.ca/cpc.


Chris Berube is the host of The Walrus Podcast.