Why did you choose to attend OCAD U?
I chose to attend OCAD U because I had heard about its Florence Off-Campus Studies Program and felt strongly that this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity that I didn't want to miss. As well, a number of incredible artists that I had admired at the time were graduates of the university, so I knew it had a lot to offer.
Please briefly describe your current job/practice.
My life is devoted to painting, but I also work part-time in a restaurant to fill in the gaps. I'm an abstract oil painter and I share a studio downtown with another encaustic artist. I don't have a set studio schedule, but I try to paint as often as possible. If I go two or three days without visiting the studio, I feel quite anxious. I've organized my life very conveniently so that where I work, live, and paint is all within a four-block radius of each other.
Currently, my work, in both process and content, revolves around notions of impermanence. Everything around us and inside of us is in a constant state of becoming, birthing and dying, expanding and contracting. My fascination with the transience of nature and its ability to remind us of the constant transformation within ourselves gives rise to my shifting and explorative handling of my material. I paint expressively with oil paint on canvas and panel by combining diffused multicolored gradients with thick and visceral marks, creating what can often be seen as human or ghostlike forms and anthropomorphized natural phenomena. I'm always attempting to change and evolve my methods of paint application. Recently I've been exploring additive and reductive techniques, building up thick layers of paint, scraping them away and reapplying the material to create an interwoven, push/pull effect on the surface. I like to work wet-on-wet so the work inevitably resembles something in a state of metamorphosis as the paint appears to melt and fold into itself. My work used to be about the image but has slowly become about my interest in the material and what it can do and express on a two-dimensional surface.
I never use references. This requires me to be totally present throughout the creation of the work. I allow each mark to dictate the next which results in a series of risk-taking and problem-solving moments. I actively attempt to diminish any preconceived ideas of what the painting should become, so there is a constant element of surrender as I encourage change and evolution throughout the process. I have to listen to the material and work with it. It's more of a collaborative effort, to be honest. I want the work to surprise me, so I try not to let my head get in the way.
How did you get started in your career?
I believe that I'm still at the beginning of my career, so it's a bit difficult to pinpoint where it began and how it got started. Everything I've ever done has played a crucial role in the creation of where I am now, as a person and an artist. The entire process felt (and still feels like) a huge whirlwind of trials, errors and risk-taking decisions.
I will say that at OCAD U, I developed the drive to work extremely hard to create the life that I wanted for myself. I spent endless hours in the studio developing my work and establishing the relationships with people that would sustain and support me throughout my career. OCAD U was a launchpad that helped me to make important connections with artists and gallerists.
After graduating, I painted very intensely for the summer and then flew to the Peruvian Amazon Jungle where I stayed at an eco-art centre for 4 months. I left my comfort zone and everything I knew about my day-to-day reality in hopes of discovering something real about depths of my soul. I wanted to know who I was without the pressures and opinions of those who had surrounded me my entire life. It was an opportunity to be completely vulnerable and honest with myself for the first time in my life. And I believe that time spent in nature really solidified what I really wanted out of life.
After my time in the jungle, I came back to Toronto, immediately got a studio and started painting. Since then, the fun hasn't stopped for a second.
Did you volunteer or work in your field while you were a student?
I volunteered for events and exhibitions around the campus, but nothing outside of school. I wanted to focus completely on my education and involve myself in the community there.
What do you enjoy most about your work? What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
I enjoy producing consistently and working towards those breakthrough moments that everyone talks about. They're rare but extremely rewarding. When you look back, you can see what led up to those moments and everything matters. Every seemingly insignificant move, every tiny experiment, every bit of research all adds up. I enjoy riding the highs and feeling through the darkness of the lows. Great work can come out of both places. Most of all I enjoy when my work surprises me and teaches me something about the workings of my mind. It's always a mirror for some internal process.
The most challenging aspect of my own work is learning to let go and be free. My best work usually comes from a piece that I had made up my mind to destroy. When nothing matters, anything goes. I'm constantly attempting on some level to trick myself into believing that I don't care about the outcome of a painting. That is my strategy for discovering something fresh and interesting in the work.
What skills or relationships developed at OCAD U helped you participate in your field? Is there anything you would have done differently?
At the time, I didn't know how much I would benefit for years to come from the relationships that I developed at OCAD U. I made sure to connect with my peers and professors as much as possible during school. I volunteered for events, worked for the Drawing and Painting department as a student monitor, and made an effort to get to know my professors both personally and professionally. I also attended as many exhibition openings as possible. It's very important to meet as many people in the community as you can because you never know what opportunities will arise and who will think of you. These relationships and networking skills have helped me immensely in the development of my practice and career and I still keep in close contact with many people that I met at school. I wouldn't have done anything differently at all.
What are the key responsibilities you maintain for your practice?
Everybody is different in how they organize their studio/work situation, but I need to feel financially comfortable in order to make my work. Materials and studios can be costly, and I don't want to worry about whether or not I can afford to make a painting that I need to. Sometimes the paintings can sustain my practice for periods of time, but sometimes they don't. So, if I'm going to have a job, I try to work as little as possible so that I can reserve my energy and creativity for the studio.
My philosophy is that if you work hard and do what you love passionately, then you'll reap rewards. If you genuinely want to create a certain life for yourself, I think that you'll naturally gravitate towards the things that will help build the foundation. Research those who you admire and figure out how they succeeded or didn't. Reach out to people and ask questions. Learn as much as you can and saturate your days with anything that inspires you. Experience life to its fullest and your work will expand and evolve as you do. You'll learn as you go along with what works for you and what doesn't. It's all a process and understanding that we need to make mistakes is invaluable. Always trust your gut, do what you love and don't make excuses.
What are your personal and professional goals for the coming years?
I just moved into the biggest studio I've ever had, so over the next couple of years, I want to produce work and see how it develops in this new environment. Now that I have space, I can give my work a chance to expand in ways that I never imagined were possible at this point in my career. I'm planning on applying to a number of artist residencies and continuing to connect with artists around the globe. It's also a priority of mine to travel and investigate potential opportunities/galleries for my work in the future.