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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Natural Habitat of Your Local Domesticated Artist

So you know these guys, I know these guys. These guys are around here and there. You want to read some interviews I conducted using my freshly baked literary skills? Yeahhhh.

So I set out to investigate the differentiation between an individual and the environment. Artists create... But does the artist create the environment or does the environment create the artist!? How dependent do you think you are on your environment when it comes to creating an aesthetic? I WANT TO KNOW!

Elliot Vredenburg:

Before I left Toronto, I very much subscribed to the opinion that the relationship between a person and their environment is dynamic; that you create your environment just as much as it affects you. However, after moving to Copenhagen I feel that it's simpler than that. I had a conversation with someone from NY today about the North American mindset in comparison to the Danish, and we were both saying that in North America, everyone buys into (figuratively as well as literally) the idea of the American dream. Everyone wants to MAKE IT, and they've failed themselves if they don't. Here, there's far less pressure. There's an overall feeling of complacency, or perhaps even repose, that pervades mainly the Danish but also the European mindset. There's plenty of examples, like being able to smoke and drink in our studio at school (or have a studio in the first place), having courses that last two weeks with two actual classes, but a specific example would be after starting this internship, I have actually arrived late, every day I've been there. Reason: as far as I can tell, it doesn't matter. But things get done, and impressive things at that, especially amongst the younger segment of the population. I too have felt this form of contentment or satisfaction since shortly after I arrived. Everyone's happy with what they got. Which, surprisingly, is far more motivating than the constant pressure to impress. When there's no pressure to create, you create without superficial restrictions or time limits or technical limitations. You create because you can, because you want to, because someone's encouraging you, because you're getting good reactions to your work, because you feel like it. So i suppose, to summarize, I feel that it's less the environment you're working in (save for the physical substances that help motivate me: cigarettes, coffee, music, pot, beer, etc) and more the mindset of not just a few people that motivate you (as it was in Toronto) but everybody you're surrounded by, from the furniture designer sitting behind you to the drunk bus driver to the bartender who you have to ask to get up from a table with his friends so you can buy a drink. I think.

Here is some of his work from Copenhagen

ONE/OFF from Elliot Vredenburg on Vimeo.


So Gord, where did you grow up?

I grew up in Guelph. A pretty regular, mundane place. Good energy though. I spent a lot of time at my cottage when I was younger, my father built it himself, he ran the property and cleared the forest area. I was brought up marginally independent from society, just because we were out in the bush a lot. There was an abundance of homemade and homegrown products, my mother made alot of our clothing, father built alot of household objects. In terms of education I was home schooled by my parents, essentially there was a lot of independence from society but I had a pretty regular upbringing after that. Afterwords, drawing in class growing up helped me develop stages of artwork. Bored at school, I started drawing. Later I found myself spending a lot of time at the cottage in the summer time when I was older, just alone. I found myself isolated on beaches, hanging out, building things. I think this is how it all happened, figuring stuff out, just having time to think about life.

So doing art helps express these ideas you've developed?

Artwork turns you inside out, its like recording the events in life, but then they evolve and turn into narratives. I find a close connection to natural aesthetics, probably because of my upbringing, a combination between introversion and the natural world. I work also because of the fear of not being able to remember things. The introversion of artwork is the externalization of the current notions, through the artwork. Art is meant to be shared. It's about communicating an idea or a thought process. Creating narratives that portray events reflecting a personal experience is something that I enjoy thinking about, events that are intended to be shared through the process of showing, creating work to initiate a joint experience for individuals to connect over.

Definitely, so do you find art is a very independent and personal type of thing?

I don't think so, I find art is something that can go kind of both ways. I enjoy playing drawing games and doing work in social situations, I have roommates that play into a part of my creative process, they're artists too. I can just go and ask their opinion on things when I need it. Reclusive places, separate from the duality of socialized life is also good to get work done in, the ability to separate from society to work on art in a personal environment is very helpful. Environment changes determine patience and a steady hand, same with production methods.

Do you find you have a hard time working when you are in an odd placement?

I think that creative blocks are caused by outer influences mainly although I find inspiration too, is largely caused by environment. A lot of the time its the people in the environment, which is why I like to work with a large community of artists and creatives. I find my words and thoughts filtering through my drawings, like the subconscious currents of conversation. I like working in coffee shops and places like that.

What do you find inspires you most?

My music a lot of the time, narratives. Not so much predated literary bodies of work or anything, I like things short and sweet. Also, the uncontrollable aspect of nature, the deterioration and natural decay of industrialization. Collected items, miniatures, models, mechanical things, instruments, shells, horns, lots of stuff, just things carrying a certain aesthetic.

Cool, so what do you want to do with your work?

I just want to be able to continue growing, to keep learning. I don't want to get stuck in a certain style that is comfortable you know? To stick with something that just sells, making money off of work is always good... I suppose. To function as a full time artist would be ideal, I'm unsatisfied with the idea with sacrificing personal happiness for money or a career however.

Gords Desk at his Home in Toronto ( Below)

Mike's desk in the East End ( Above)

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Fort Lauderdale, in the south of Florida. It was about 20 min drive north of Miami, I ended up spending a lot of time there ( Miami) when I was older. Growing up was pretty difficult for a white middle class child, just due to the transformation period that the neighbourhood was going through. I was dealing with a huge identity crisis because of the surrounding social environments, I hung out with a group kids who were coming from a low class environment and it was difficult to fit in and assimilate due to the large divide in class just in general. The other kids knew my family wasn't as hard off as theirs, but I was still One of Them to an extent. I grew up with a really small sense of community. I just remember feelings of insane identity crisis, like for example I grew up speaking Ebonics ( southern slang/ dialect) ... The Sto-oe opposed to The Store, improper sentence structure and pro-nun`ciations. I hung out in a group with a bunch of young black kids till I was ten or eleven, now I hear they're off getting shot, having babies, going to jail, its crazy. I can only identify myself as nomadic, I couldn't ever identify with a subculture or a Group of people.

That's good, I guess that's what makes you so unique. Do you think that you upbringing effects your work now?

Yeah I would say so, having to adapt to Toronto provided a strong sense of community. I found this availability to be a part of something. There's tons of subcultures and groups to be part of down here. I have this reluctance to be pulled into a scene or group though, I guess thats the remanence of this nomadic background I experienced as a kid.

Yeah I guess this reflects your living situation then? Your in the east compared to the hustle of Kensington Market or Queen West/ Ossington.

Yeah I guess I prefer living in the east because of the surreal feeling that downtown life has, I like being able to go downtown to this acceptance that the community at school holds for students and artists. I grew up in an area that I found to be kind of similar, in being based towards an older generation, it was unfriendly towards children. I experienced large amounts of isolation when I was younger. I know that where I'm living now I won't run into anyone I know. There's no local park to hang out in, no sights to see, nowhere to hang out, so it's a good place to focus. Usually I find myself leaving to find inspiration though. Or else leaving to go to school, or to go hang out with friends. I lived across from Trinity Bellwood's for a while and there were too many distractions. I was always out with friends or out in the park.

Did you find your work changing when you moved?

I would say so, it broadened the idea of my perspectives in terms of the world especially when I moved from Flordia. Leaving Fort Lauderdale was a reference point for my life as it currently stands. The idea of artwork growing away from that point is, i'd say, pretty accurate. I find myself changing refrences but always maintaining a rooting to childhood.

So do you work around childhood memories or anything like this?

I'm inspired by any distinctive presence that any person, place or thing that takes form and is present in my life. Natural disasters, the preperation and the aftermath opposed to the event. I wouldn't do work based around the event itself, just the buildup and the aftermath. I surround myself with things that inspire me, touristy postcards, things like distant interpretations of a tropical getaway. Focusing on fading glory or paradise lost, kitchy imagery. Photos of tropical disaster.

What do you think motivates you?

Im motivated by an environments of people who are working towards things, people who are trying to do something stimulating, and people who are occupied. It keeps me working. Also any imagery that might have a strong effect, which is present in my life.


Julia at her studio in The White House

So Julia, where abouts did you grow up?

I was born in Chicago, but I grew up in Ottawa. I had a big family, six kids! With two younger siblings, I was the second oldest. It was kind of crazy, I had to share a room with my older sister until I was 15. It was interesting though because we lived right beside this really old, rich and famous neighborhood. So I grew up with kids who would live in houses anywhere from apartments to old mansions.

Cool, so what was growing up like?

Haha well I was a pretty shy kid, I drew a lot, I did alot of extra circular activities. I did a little bit of everything, dancing, music, singing, I was in figure skating, played piano. I was really into environmental issues too, I remember starting an environment club at school. I got picked on though, I had a hard time making friends and stuff. I was sensitive and awkward. I had this detachment from the rest of my peers at school, these divides. They were just small things though, like my detachment from pop culture. I became more extroverted in my late teens. My family situation was kind of weird too, my father was sick, which made him unhappy. He later passed away, which was really rough.

Understandably, that must have been hard. Do you think that these things affect your artwork?

Oh yeah definitely, my father took his anger out on the family a lot. He picked on me the most though, I never understood why. Sometimes I feel like I'm living in his ghost. My work deals with alot of different things, alot of surrealism, cultural theory, relational aesthetics. I actually really like comic book autobiographies. One of my favorite influences is Nate Powell, he works in kind of a juvenile, everyday life kind of way. Stuff around memories and dreams and that kind of thing.

What kind of things do you find really motivate you and inspire you?

Not really sure, alot of things I guess. I just think that motivation is the most important thing, like, doing the actual work. I don't believe in that whole ' the artist is the genius' thing.


Where did you grow up Sasha?

I was born in New Brunswick but I moved to Montreal where I lived for about 5 years ( from kindergarden till was 12 or 13), then I moved to Whitby. My mom had always exposed me and Seth ( my brother) to the arts. All of my family is artistic, although no one really perused anything. My father used to send drawings home when he was in Bosnia, my dad is in the military and he was in Bosnia on a peacekeeping mission. He would send drawings of things I liked, superheroes and gymnastics athletes, that kind of thing haha. My mom always put a lot of importance on nature the natural elements. It was basic respect for nature, things like animals and trees and stuff. I do a lot of work of females and female characters, although now they've become more androgynous. My mom always talked about how she thinks I have a lot of powerful female influences in my work, in the first ten to twelve years of my life I was mostly brought up by my mom. It was a very female-empowered environment. I also have 2 brothers as well, so when I was growing up I guess I became a bit of a tomboy, I had to keep up with them. Thats probably my reason for having a strong idea of male/female equality.

Do you think this is portrayed strongly in your work?

Conceptually its definitely something that I think about. I don't really like the idea of super obvious concepts, I think the one thing that makes my art focused was based mainly upon gender equality is that my characters don't really have one gender or another, which I think portrays my ideal feminism. I believe in equality.

I would hope that my work wouldn't cater to only one gender, although I do know it has a feminist aesthetic. I play with a lot of domestic mediums such as embroidery, but I think that this can appeal to both genders. My work looks like illustrations from a children's book, although a lot of the subject matter might be inappropriate for that kind of thing.

Why do you think that you're drawn to this style of aesthetic?

I think it's because I'm drawn to the idea of people being drawn to my work for their own reasons,and therefore coming to their own conclusions. I think by that using childhood aesthetic, that everyone can relate, its very malleable. When you watch a child doing something, they look like they're in another world. It's their imagination. Before society starts to oppress you, playing into that innocence and that boundless imagination you can access endless possibilities. The lands that can be explored. A lot of the characters I draw are isolated, alone. They're absorbed into their own worlds kind of like a child, kids are always absorbed into their own worlds, their own thoughts.

Do you think isolation plays into your work or lifestyle?

I like reading my art, I'm not really conscious of the concepts in my work. I put a lot of emphasis on my characters, they're genderless, naked. By doing this, I attempted to avoid the many connotations that are associated with the things we wear, the objects that surround us. I isolate the characters so that they become independent of the context in today's environment. I think my main goal is to create a fantasy world, an alternative world. To be as minimal as possible with clothing, objects and environments. The minute that you add items, all these connotations become attached to the work depending on the item.

So do you think of art as a really isolated kind of activity?

Creating work, I enjoy being in groups and talking about problems with our work and what we think about our work. Working out concepts and with groups of people. When I'm working I need to be isolated, I think that most artists have a bit of an a.d.d problem, so isolation is key for a lot of us.

So what kind of things motivate you do you think?

I just think that with most artists, its some kind of innate need to draw. You kind of feel sick, pit in your stomach kind of thing when your not working. Every day motivates me, I guess because I get really inspired by nature. The natural world. Amazing days outside just make me want to draw.


  1. These were all amazing to read, please please do more. It is such a great idea to interview students/friends and really get an idea about their art practice!

  2. agreed, these were a pleasure to read. amazing interviews, taya!