When Art goes Beyond the Canvas

A Story of Community

My name is Marie-Chloé Duval and I am a Montreal-based painter. Last year, I decided that 2020 will be a year of evolution and education and so I planned a move to Vancouver for 6 weeks. My goal for this trip was to evolve as an artist and learn new skills. This all became possible when my application was accepted for a painting internship under the mentorship of Justin Ogilvie.

I know you are thinking this sounds like a great idea! It definitely was, but one thing that was not so great – or easy – was to find an art studio space in Vancouver. Thankfully, as I write this piece, I can say that I am nicely settled into my East Vancouver studio!

So how did I end up in this beautiful place shared with local artist Jennifer Jean Mawby?

The answer is simple: community.

In fact, throughout the years and my adventures, I realized that a lot revolves around my community.

Therefore, I am extremely excited to talk to you about this very topic; community. Relationships are important, especially in a challenging environment like art, whether it is face to face or through digital media.

More specifically, I wanted to dive into the context of a virtual community by introducing you to two artists who made my West Coast adventure possible. Actually, the way these artists met is an ode to the importance of an artistic community. I also find their approach, their choices and their work to be very inspiring as well.

In fact, sharing this with you, the audience, has truly allowed me to appreciate the fact that these are the people you meet who make an artistic career such a wonderful adventure. It is therefore a pleasure to be able to learn more about these two artists who are part of my network and who choose to create from a place of community.

In the form of a question-and-answer session, I invite you into their respective and shared universe.

Q&A

Karine Guyon (KG)  & Jennifer Jean Mawby (JJM)

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KG
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JJM – photo by Mizu

Who are you and what is your background?

KG My name is Karine Guyon , I am a self-taught painter and a multi-media artist. I am originally from the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Through the past 20 years, I have had the opportunity to live and exhibit in many major Canadian cities such as Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa as well as in Barcelona, in Spain. Currently I am working as a professional, full time artist in Montreal.

JJM I am an artist and have been my entire life. Because making art was natural to my family and something we all did, it took me a long time to realize that it was also something different from other people and that I wanted to pursue art seriously. 

What’s the connection between you two?

KG I met Jennifer back in 2006 or 2007 in Vancouver. I was in need of a new studio space as the one I had in Chinatown, the building was meant to be demolished. At that time, Jennifer had the master lease of a large space and I rented a division from her. Later, that building was also bought and demolished to make place for what is now the Olympic Village. Spaces are hard to find in Vancouver but fortunately Jennifer is well connected in the community and she found an industrial space in the DTES, on Cordova Street. Jennifer transformed that space into a live-in studio space and we were roommate sand studio mates in that space for approximately 3 years.

It was a pretty rough neighborhood, the neighborhood where Robert Picton picked most of his victims from. Every day we were living amidst prostitutes, Johns and crack heads. Once, we almost had the building on fire because some crack head took some of the building paneling off and cut some of the wires off. The copper in the wires has a certain market value apparently. It wasn’t rare to find condoms or syringes on our door steps. We really got to know each other at that time, and supported each other in those circumstances. Jennifer became a valued friend. Towards the end of that journey in the DTES, I had to leave and go somewhere else and do something else because the environment had really messed me up internally. As an empath, living and creating in the DTES, I felt it all, the gross, the dark, the evil. I painted it too but it was not a good source of inspiration, I realized a few years in.

JJM I met Karine when she started sharing studio space in a larger shared studio I set up in Vancouver. Then when I moved (the studio was shut down and the building sold due to real estate gentrification here in Vancouver) I set up a new studio where I could also live. Karine moved with me to the new space, a warehouse on Vancouver’s lower East side. She first had a studio space and then moved in as a roommate and helped me claim the building as an art space in the neighborhood. Although she now lives on the other side of the country, after our time living and creating together she is like a sister to me.

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JJM

What is your practice (what do you do and how do you do it)?

KG My primary medium of creation is oil paint. I am an abstract painter and I would say that I am bringing abstract expressionism with us in the future through the use of various light reflective mediums such as UV pigments. I often work with interactive light installation as well where I mixed traditional painting mediums with interactive light installations.

JJM I am mostly a visual artist and painting is the DNA of my practice. I also make sound works (based on “remembering”) and video works based on narrative loops with archetypal characters. My paintings are of people and responding to the contemporary world. For me this is about how we reconcile and present our place and our identity within digital technology and the virtual spaces that web technology enables. This is tied to the historical traditions of the self-portrait, the landscape, the city scape, and ideas around the gaze, authenticity, and representation. I “magpie” a lot of my reference material from social media feeds.

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KG

What are your creation routines and habits?

KG – I work about 10-12 hours a day in the studio, 5 days a week. My days always start with a mediation and gratitude. Then I read, have breakfast and coffee and exercise. After that I do all the social media stuff and the admin stuff and most of the time I paint from 3pm to 8pm approximately.

JJM I have gone back and forth as an artist between working full time in the studio and also having to balance my studio practice with other work. I am fortunate that I also have those options available to me. Right now I have a professional job that is very interesting to me and I prioritize my art practice evenings and weekends and other times. I have to be very strict with my studio time when I am trying to balance two “practices” in my day. It took a long time to be able to do this – I had to learn how to switch gears and to go from one mode to the other without it being too emotionally and psychologically exhausting. I still have to watch my energy levels over the day if I need to have a good studio session. It is very much like how a performer needs to know how to switch on and off, and more importantly how to rest and recover in between bouts of exertion. 

I have some warm up routines I do as needed when I get to the studio. I also listen to my energy on any given day and unless there are strict deadlines to meet I allow myself to ebb and flow between research, production work, studio maintenance, and serious effort where I need to be on my game and in the moment. 

From my days as an athlete (track and field) I also know that there is just the discipline of going to the studio even on days I don’t feel like it. There is always production work to do along with cleaning and organizing if I don’t feel like I can really perform my best during a studio session. 

I also know from my days as a performer (dance) and athlete that you can develop routines to help get you into peak performance mode. I use this tactic in my studio practice. 

Other than that, I prepare my work with sketches. Sometimes I have the patience to do studies but I often prefer to jump into the big work. I also do a lot of research and I write copious notes in my sketchbook and in blog style. I have an “ideas” section on my website (jjtmstudio.com) where I share some of my research, thinking and notes.

Why did you choose to become an artist (if it ever was a choice)?

KG I actually wanted to be a lawyer, then a social worker and finally I studied to be a diplomat. I have a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and First Nation Studies. I did not want to be an artist, but here I am…and I love my life.

JJM I have always been an artist and I clearly remember the exact moment, after having strayed from an active practice (I grew up making art and also performing as a dancer and an athlete), when my intuition literally spoke to me. I heard a clear voice in my head as I was driving over a bridge near Sea Island saying to me “you are really an artist, these other things you are doing right now are just that, other things”. Not the most eloquent of statements to admit to hearing, but genuinely the exact words that I heard or intuited. It was approaching sunset and I was close to the airport. I could see the sun starting to set over the westerly runway. Commonplace details, but obviously a significant and pivotal moment. Even after this happened it took me another five years to react and respond to that information. I also realized through further reflection that although I am highly visual, my intuition comes to me in an auditory manner. It’s for this reason I want to continue, slowly, to make sound-based artworks. 

I made a significant move in about 2006 to reassert my presence as an artist and spent several years focusing full time on just making art. This was not a choice. It was a necessity, just as balancing art and work life is now a necessity.  I have found a way to strive to merge all life necessities in the best way I know how.

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JJM

What do you wish to express with your art?

KG My mission is to bring light and love in from the other universes and dimensions one painting at a time! I see myself as a portal of transmission.

JJMMore than anything I crave the discourse through work that happens in the global arts community. I am making things that are my response to our contemporary times as a way of joining the “conversation” that occurs between artists working at any given time in history. 

I am attempting to make the most authentic and interesting work I can make that is truly contemporary in dialogue with other artists (both contemporary and historical). Work that only I could make and work that might only be made at this time in history. For me that equals the pursuit of the contemporary. 

I am interested at present in how contemporary life is adjusting to the biggest change that will mark our times – the transition from analog to digital technology. How are we managing this? What does it mean for relationships, the body, identity? Also, what are the aesthetics of digital culture? How is digital culture changing visual culture and what is the broader impact?

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KG

What inspires your work most often? What are your major influences?

KG The way I paint has largely been inspired by the way my father used to restore his antiques. He is an avid art and antique dealer and a collector. Later, it was the observation of decaying materials. At this moment I am inspired by each individual color, their unique attribute and what they mean to me and the effect they individually have on my body and my mind.

JJM I have a profound weakness for painting even though I use digital technology and time-based media on some projects. In particular, I have a weakness for figure and portrait painting from all eras. This includes loving the work of Luchita Hurtado, Alice Neel, Nicole Eisenman, Alex Katz, David Hockney, Peter Doig, Lucien Freud. I further love portraiture from antiquity. I feel that the work of Lee Bontecou is distinctly profound (she depicted essential systems and cosmologies), and how important Cindy Sherman is for the depiction of women in contemporary art. Earlier Patrick Caulfield paintings are an important reference – the juxtaposition of flat, graphic shapes with the modeled and rendered. George Condo for how he takes his drawing line into paintings and doesn’t distinguish between drawing and painting. I’ve also recently discovered the art of California Post-surrealist Helen Lundeberg and find it highly relevant to my current ambitions. 

I have also come to understand in the last year that drawing, something about which I used to be very insecure, plays a cornerstone role in my practice. With maturity, I am working on breaking down my various insecurities and how these may or may not serve my work. 

I am inspired by contemporary life, and our contemporary experience, and my major influences change depending on what ideas most excite me at any given moment. 

I think a lot about systems, relationships and connections and that the connections between and juxtapositions of ideas and images created by the digital (such as through a web search history) creates something that can look like surrealism, but very importantly is not. It is a kind of digital fantasy pastiche that is ahistorical and nonlinear, and does not come from the psychoanalytic dream space that fascinated the surrealists . The way I sometimes work with collating assorted imagery follows this virtual pastiche impulse where the rules of physics can be broken. 

In terms of ideas, I am a hunter, not a farmer.

How would you describe your studio?

KG My studio is the best place in Montreal! I love my space which is located in St-Henri. It is the best studio of my career so far and I am very lucky to have found this space. I have the master lease of over 3000sqft, which is subdivided and leased to other artists. I have a private kitchen and bathroom and lots of painting space and all of that makes it my happy place.

JJM A studio is a laboratory for creative research and development. It is also a sacred space and one where you need to be able to feel comfortable and open to perform and produce. 

My current studio has good mojo. The light is nice, the space is nice and it is two doors from where I live. I just wish there were more artists in the building because I am craving more interaction with artists and networking opportunities – going between my job to the studio means that time for socializing and networking suffers the most. 

The studio was previously an office space that I gutted and painted, ripping up 30 year old carpeting. I had help from some artists that were sharing it with me at the time. However, as with all of my studios, I never seem to have enough space and enough storage space. 

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KG

What’s essential in your lives?

KG It is essential for me to create. My mental health depends on it. Meditation and a positive, believing attitude are crucial as well.

JJM The ability to make my art. To travel. To express my ideas. To have time alone to think and make work. To have time to connect and nurture meaningful relationships. Good food, sleep, health, fresh air, sunshine, water, and things about which to marvel both in nature and made by humans.

What is the best advice you ever got?

KG There is no mistake in art. Make money doing what you love.

JJM I am not sure. Clearly I haven’t taken it!

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JJM

How important is the arts community to you?

KG The arts community is a very important part of my past, present and future success. Art is not a competition. Art is a lifestyle and we are all in it together, supporting and more importantly, respecting each other and our art. I say respect the others’ work and be inspired. Give credit where credit needs to be given. Respect to my elders and to those that have forged the way before me.

JJM The art community to which one connects is the most important arts community for an artist. There are many communities. I am still building my community.

How would you describe your arts community?

KG Mine is National and International and made up of so many fantastic and unique characters.

JJMI don’t know how to answer this question. My community isn’t entirely IRL (in real life) or a geographically situated ensemble as a single entity. Digital communications technology allows me to have a global and virtual community. As an artist you must “find your people” and those interested in the same questions and problems that you are interested in. I also have found the best support and encouragement not here in Vancouver but from my virtual community and my involvement with the Turps Banana Alternative art school in the UK, and the New York City Crit Club in the USA. My community is a global network for this reason.  

Anything you would like to add, I will take it! Tell me a story, fun fact, advice.

KGI think we should always be open, curious and not take ourselves too seriously. Find yourself a mentor and have faith and believe in what you do. Don’t let a no define you. Rejection is there to make you the artist you are meant to be. Criticism is hard but in the end you will realized it was your best friend. When taking risk, just think what is the worst that can happen… and know that there is a very small probability it will happen.

JJM Oil painting is a long term relationship. Painting will never die. 

 

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