INTERVIEW • ERIN ARMSTRONG
“My work looks into the human imagination as it is expressed visually. I am particularly intrigued by the ways in which the mind can conjure and create worlds by piecing together memory, experience, and the ability of the mind’s eye to render a non-reality. I draw on the genre of portraiture as a foundation for these explorations, but choose to depict not a person or sitter, but an atmosphere or sensation expressed inside the formal qualities of human shapes.”
Tell us about yourself; when and why did you get into art and painting?
I am a 26 year old figurative expressionist painter. I was born in Toronto and have been painting since I was very young. I got into art because I love creating. I have a big imagination with a lot to say and expressing myself through art, felt right and what I am meant to do — it makes sense, to me at least.
What’s your background? Have you been formally trained?
I am self taught. My mom is an artist and I started painting and drawing when I was about 6 or 7 in her studio. I learned what I know now from genuine interest in art and artists; my “art history 101” came from going to galleries, reading books, and watching films on artist because that’s what I was intrigued by. I took a few studio courses at OCAD after I graduated from University, but I found the classes to be a bit restrictive in the way I wanted to paint and create work. It seemed there was almost a structure and formula to the way the professor wanted me to paint and I just wasn’t interested in going that route. I stopped attending after that and I’m happy I stuck to my own style and essentially learned by trial and error.
In many instances your art contains distorted figures. It appears as though there is a lot of freedom and fluidity in the way you paint with loose brush strokes, which make up these figures. How did you develop your style?
Whereas the format of portraiture has its roots in power, authority, and authorship, my paintings attempt to reverse subjectivity by insisting on imaginary anonymity. The onlooker “sees” in the painting a familiar form upon which they can inscribe meaning and identity—namely, their own; one person sees sadness, another, joy; one person sees a vast forest, another, a claustrophobic density. The paintings are spaces to consider place, time, joy, happiness and malaise as these sensations swing between abstract and concrete worlds. In order to create these environments and emotions I use sweeping and loose strokes with vibrant colours. The painting needs to breathe and move seamlessly from one side of the canvas to the other to capture this fluidity and the narrative I’m trying to project in these images. My style has developed over time and I’m sure it will continue to as I grow as an artist.
What themes do you pursue?
My work looks into the human imagination as it is expressed visually. I am particularly intrigued by the ways in which the mind can conjure and create worlds by piecing together memory, experience, and the ability of the mind’s eye to render a non-reality. I draw on the genre of portraiture as a foundation for these explorations, but choose to depict not a person or sitter, but an atmosphere or sensation expressed inside the formal qualities of human shapes.
Should art be funded?
I believe so. Art isn’t just a commoditized luxury, it’s much more than that, it’s an essential tool used to voice matters of social and cultural issues of the time, express creativity and inspire. Therefore, I think art needs a support structure to keep societies enriched with creative expression and moving forward.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
People love to tell you about your art and what it means. I think it’s actually really funny. I don’t really let anyone’s opinion effect me too much. I make the work so people can debate what they see- love it or hate it, it’s all subjective, as long as it makes some type of impact I’ve done my job. Someone once told me that they could sense what a “dark person” I was through my art and at the same time it showed someone else, “a light energy in the work”. It’s really interesting to see how people respond to the work, it’s always varied!
What’s the best piece of advice that you have been given?
Do you have any long-term goals or aspirations for your work?
I hope to just keep evolving my work and pushing myself to make interesting art. I’d like to eventually experiment with different mediums and maybe do an installation. Overall, I think the goal is to keep taking risks so that my work matures and gets better over time.