Artist Meryl McMaster graduated from OCAD U in photography in 2010 and hasn’t looked back. Her work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions across North America and was long-listed for the 2016 Sobey Art Award honouring Canadian artists under the age of 40.
When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?
I don’t have an exact memory of when I decided that I wanted to be an artist, but I just knew from a young age that I wanted to be in the arts. Both of my parents were very creative people and had a passion for the arts, and I think that definitely rubbed off on me. Being born with dyslexia made my academic life very challenging, so art was always something that I really enjoyed. Being creative came naturally to me, and during my formative years it became clearer that art was the path I really wanted to follow. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.
Meryl 1 digital chromogenic print 36″ x 36″
How does your Indigenous identity affect your art?
My Plains Cree heritage no doubt influences my creative ideas, as my cultural heritage is a major part of who I am. I am influenced consciously and subconsciously by my heritage, and this can be seen through the ideas I work with as well through the materials I use and the aesthetic my work evolves into.
Why do you love photography?
I fell in love with photography when I was quite young. I remember early on having a small toy camera and going around “taking” photographs. I always thought it was a real camera until I was a teenager when I asked my mom what happened to all the photos I took with that camera. She had a good chuckle!
I also remember that I was fascinated with the process and look of the early 1900s large-format view cameras that had you ducking under a cloth to take the picture. I got to experiment with this type of camera in school — the experience of throwing this fabric over myself appealed to me, allowing me to escape the world and focus in a way you wouldn’t normally do.
There is also the element of surprise: you are never quite sure what you are going to get until you get your film back, or until you see the image appear on your digital camera screen. I love taking my time to set up a photo. Peering through the lens transports me into another world, creating an image that holds meaning out of a quiet moment.
Sentience digital chromogenic print 24" x 24"
Congratulations again on being long-listed for the Sobey Art Award! How has that affected your career?
Thank you! It was such an honour just to have been nominated, and to get far enough to be long listed is such an encouraging position to be in as an emerging artist. Right off the bat I was given quite a bit of exposure with an interview on CBC Radio. I try not to focus on how this opportunity has affected my career, as those thoughts trigger my creative anxieties. I just try to concentrate on my work and ideas.
Do you have any advice for young artists just starting out?
Nothing can really prepare you for making your way through the art world. Create your routine and find opportunities to show your work. Apply to galleries and artist residencies, and compete for awards. Don't be afraid of rejection. You may get more no’s than yes’s, but getting your art out there gets your name out there, and you never know who is going notice your work.