Pigment, oil, cotton, plastic, space, viewer, wall, memories, pheromones, film phonics, hokey-time playfights, referencing allegory, suburban drudge, urban sludge, sex organs, lungs, eyes, colours to make you cry, negotiating your hang-ups, involuntary smiling, compulsive self-mutilation, denial of childish vanity, air-tight street cred, a thought-fractal universe, I am you but the other you, patchwork countenance, subtle racism, overt compassion, naturalized angles and planes of flat, panic sailing on a warm breeze, frustrating youth, business plans, leisure viewing, their appearance; a play to watch.
Below is my interview with the artist:
KN: What currently informs your work?
SA: A desire to understand people better and to influence them in ways that helps us mutually. I often have an abstract idea of an image that I'd like to see in front of me, and my work is in realizing this image. This process takes me outside of the studio to take photos or make sketches in preparation for an as yet undefined work of art. This process illuminates meaning in the once abstract ideas, and leads to new ideas for work. When I'm looking for images to record, I decide upon the ones that seem to have a personality, or some presence that distinguishes them from their environment. It is a very spontaneous process in that I pick an area, walk around, and snap away. Painting simple subjects from life taught me that a good image can be found just about anywhere, if it is cropped in an interesting way. A lot of what informs the finished pieces is their material components. For example, the richness of a glossy red patch of oil paint or network of lines in a photo of an electrical tower can have a great influence on my aesthetic decisions.
KN: In your paintings, photographs, and video work, I see an interest in unrelenting noise (external and internal), sudden lightning bursts of focus in spaces of tension, nature or the organic as a space for quiet individuation and autonomy, artifice, the spaces of the pictorial in snapshot photography, and an interest in a kind of science fiction narrative. Are these themes and motifs deliberate focuses in your work? How did you become interested in them?
SA: Some of those things are deliberate, such as artifice and autonomy within an organic space. I suppose my interest in books such as the 'Foundation' trilogy by Isaac Asimov and silly movies like 'Silent Running' have left a strong impression on me. These stories hypothesize a future of humanity that has compromised its own existence by trying to make life, or business, better. I can see the echoing of these fears in my pieces that feature multiple images which have been collaged or superimposed. The science fiction themes are definitely an unconscious aspect. Since the images are all taken from life there is no fiction outside of their placement within the same space and the fact they are illusions of real spaces and things. I think my painting of a shed made of a patchwork of found panels has a certain post-apocolyptic feeling, but my intention with that was to show that the building serves its structural function (for years now), and has a unique aesthetic charm, even if it is probably not up to code.
The sudden focal points and noise are related in my mind. There is almost always sound and light around us, and most of what we percieve is a lot of noise from which we parse the things we want to concentrate on. Despite using noisy spaces a lot in my work, I was most aware of it when making the video, the difference being that in this, the noise is, as you say unrelenting, and doesn't allow for moments of focus. Both visually and sonically I used layer upon layer to create a cloud of sensation that could, at times, be overwhelming. The reason for this was that it was made to show at a "noise" music and video event regularly held at Emmedia called 'Discord', which is fueled by a mixture of camaraderie and angst, a strange mix to be sure. These shows remind me of a kind of punk show where people are there who want to commune with their friends but require dressing up the event in arch-nihilism so as not to feel too intimate. These are great events in that one could perform anything (you could just clap your hands if you wanted to), and its cool to just sit and watch or scream and participate if the mood strikes you.
KN: The spaces within your work are often sightings of spaces that are displayed or interpreted as partially formed or “in-between”. Does this come out of an interest in the digital and pictorial as spaces which can never be traced back or remembered definitively, but more subjectively or as phenomena?
SA: I think that is a fairly accurate analysis. The experience of looking at an image for the first time is phenomenal, so an accurate description of a subject seems important only to the extent that certain information triggers recognition. Disparate temporalities and sensations connect in one's imagination to make up a memory. I wanted to create spaces that resemble memories rather than reality. This relates to the nature of digital memory and pictorial records as well. I don't want to necessarily challenge the authority of these systems as truth telling devices, that point is moot as those are great means of education and recording, but moreover exploring the space between truth and interpretation that is created by our reliance on them.
KN: Watching your video piece made me think of this quote from Maurice Merleau-Ponty: "what is past or future for me is present in the world." Were you thinking about a tangible and audible sense of past, present, and future when creating this piece?
SA: I like the thought of being able to experience a work that is an interpretation of reality coexisting with an observed reality. A drive through the mountains has been coloured by previous road trips and its winter state is pronounced by the traces of summer. The vastness of the mountains and tracts of forest in the Rockies are quite sublime and the densely layered, recurring sounds and images echo this sublimity.
KN: Your painting techniques seem to have evolved from carving into the paint, to optical strategies, to delicate studies in light and shading. Are you planning to focus on other techniques and strategies in future work?
SA: I have no idea. I will try to seize opportunities and keep practicing drawing and guitar. If the process is not at least somewhat spontaneous I lose interest. I am getting more adept, and understand what works for me better, as I make each new piece.
KN: How does your work relate or differ from other painters who work with the photograph or found/manipulated image?
SA: It is similar in that I use photos to some extent, which lend certain distinctive qualities to a painting. It differs because I made it, not those other painters. The major distinctions are location and time. I'm dealing with different spaces than any other painter and I have a touch, which, whether I like it or not, betrays my hand any time I paint. With my collaged works I find stylistic connections to surrealist photo collages, but mine feel less absurd just to be absurd. I know the photographic realism is a major hang up for people, I had to discuss at length the validity of using photos during critiques at school, and some other students rejected the prospect of using them in their own work outright. Sometimes I'll see a sketch of mine and for a second I can't tell if it is from a photo or from life, until I remember where it came from. Drawing or painting from life is always preferable to photos as there is more information and the result can be an interesting blending of planes, but if I only did that, then I could never paint a close-up of the moon's horizon if I wanted to. But your question was what is similar or different about my work. I like the way Peter Doig uses photos and found images as a starting point, where the fun is in his interpretation, I have definitely stolen things from his work. Richter, Tuymans, Dumas, Kilimnik etc. all treat photos very minimally, in that they rely on the basic information of the photo to convey meaning, but use loose stylistic conceits to distinguish their images from the photographic. I suppose I do this too to some extent as photos are still magical, but their form is so everywhere and their meaning is often lost in the shuffle. I think sometimes I take a picture and it is an image that doesn't require further treatment and I print it and it's done, but often the ones I use for a painting end up with a totally different quality from the source image or source of the image. Sometimes the best images to draw from, are too small, out of focus, or black and white, and in painting them I can make them look the way I want them to, and in a way that doesn't conflict with the thing being referenced.
KN: Do your painting techniques link to any specific styles, and do you relate or differ from the artists linked to those styles?
SA: No specific styles come to mind. There are aspects I emulate from a range of painters, from the careful and elegant illusions in classic dutch painting; Van Eyck, Vermeer, etc. to the richly emotional latin masterpieces like Velazquez and Caravaggio, but that is the old stuff. I draw more heavily from modernist styles like cubism, vorticism, lyrical abstraction, photo-realism(somewhat), abstract expressionism, and post-Impressionism. The lifestyles of these artists, who had few royal commisions and fewer stylistic doctrines to adhere to, seems more akin to my own lifestyle as someone with a day job and small studio. The most recent paintings of mine have conceptual underpinnings influenced by social realists like Manet and Courbet.
KN: Do you live within an accessible community of artists who influence your work?
SA: I am deeply influenced by the work of my friends and those whose work I see locally. Andrea Williamson, David Foy, Jennifer Saleik, Chris Millar, Kim Neudorf (hey that's you!), Wilford Barrington, Tia Halliday, Wednesday Lupypciw, Ryan Scott, Larry Mcdowell, Lisa Benschop, The Arbour Lake Sghool dudes, Mikhail Miller, Chris Joynt, Roby Cataniag, Jon Bride, Jason de Haan, Michael Coolidge, Keith Murray, Samantha Walrod, Jessica McCarrol, Peter Reddecopp, Noel Begin, Jolie Bird, Shelley Ouellet, are some local and formerly local artists and community organizers I've met who are doing good work. There are also a lot of other artists around town that are making this a worthwhile place to be an artist.
KN: Who did you learn the most from during school? Do you find your work presently relates or differs from any dominant themes or techniques that surrounded you during school?
SA: I can't say for certain who I learned from the most, but there were a few instructors whose ideas influenced me more than others.
Chris Cran immediately comes to mind as someone who gave me the best personal advice in regards to my work. He seemed to consider what I was trying to do rather than assume an "I've seen this all before, and you're just a kid" kind of attitude. Also, his paintings are often very good. Their meaning would always creep up on me days or more later, and punch me in the back of the head. A great person, but everyone knows that already.
Ben Fullalove's 'Canadian Landscape' history class was a revelation, in many ways. His enthusiasm, and broad knowledge of our local art and social history helped to dust off a subject I once felt had become static, and is now quite dear to me.
Mary Murphy, I must mention, whose 'Chinatowns' English class I took. She is a strong, very intelligent woman, who effectively challenged me and was a hoot to be in class with.
Bill MacDonnell definitely taught me the most about contemporary painting history (the interesting stuff anyway) and was a cool cat too. He seemed to be of the most open minded teachers at ACAD. Too bad for new ACAD students he's retired now.
Don Simmons' art fucked with my head. I couldn't understand how such a brilliant and kind person would make work that seemed to say fuck you to everyone. With that said, his work could also be magic, if not scary and gross. He was a good teacher who personally encouraged and challenged me in a very respectful way.
I know my work is linked to the styles and techniques of my teachers and peers, even if its not always apparent to me.
KN: Have you seen any recent exhibitions that had a strong impact on you?
I have been busy with my own work, then showing it, and now moving into a new house, so I haven't seen many shows lately. The last neat thing I saw was a performance by Larry McDowell and his band at 'Discord'. They've played a few shows and are starting to find a unique sound, they make a big racket that is much more interesting than a mere sonic assault, very cool.
I enjoyed Ryan Sluggett's show at the last Artcity, both for its daring scale and his technical proficiency. Will Barrington's drawings at 809 gallery were really choice portraits of his friends and acquaintances, their simplicity along with a subtle humor and attention to detail made for a good show. Wednesday Lupypciw showed a video of collaged domestic dramas at Emmedia that managed to be funny, sexy, mysterious, well crafted, and lo-fi, all at once. Keith Murray's show at Truck Gallery was a wonderful spectacle of unique florescent sculpture-animation hybrids that dazzled the eye and dealt in stupefying, yet playful, politics. Dave and Jenn showed a new free-standing painting before it went to Scope Basel, and it was gorgeous, filled with little details to keep your eye exploring and discovering.