Personally, I love his “collage” series the best. The combination of renaissance painting and the surrealisme, massive colour, flourish, absolutely breath-taking.
Although your new collage work continues to express themes you’ve often worked with — absurdity, humour, the figure — visually they’re a departure from most of your past work. What influenced you to reposition and appropriate the Old Masters?
There are a number of reasons why Old Masters reproductions are very attractive as source material. One of my main goals in this series was to make the finished images as seamless as possible; I wanted the works to look like they could have been painted that way a long time ago. To do this i am looking at thousands of reproductions, sometimes looking for a hand that is the right size, facing in the right direction, that is the right tone, making the right gesture. The quantity of available reproductions of this kind of work is what allows me to make my collages possible.
Most of my source material comes from auction catalogues. I love the high quality of the reproductions and also that the works are obscure or by minor painters. You can’t really collage Leonardo or Rubens these days because everyone will recognize it, after Warhol this would be exploring an entirely different conceptual theme, one that I am not concerned with at the moment.
The style of the painting has to match as well. This is what’s great about old paintings, you can go from Renaissance painting up to the Pre-Raphaelites and find an abundance of source material that can be matched seamlessly.
Also, re-arranging the meaning would not be possible the same way if i were to use modern or contemporary art. There is a language of Old Master paintings which allow for the juxtapositions and contrasts that I am interested in. In my work you notice that the woman completely covered in flowing fabric with everything but her breast and a knife covered looks plausible, but it doesn’t match up with anything else in art history books. This is much more difficult to do after modern art where many more things are permitted, and the rules are more open.
I love the obsessive quality of finding just the right component for your collages. Do you start with a compositional idea in your head, or do the collages emerge more organically through searching these catalogues?
Usually the collages are built around one main element like a figure or location, everything else is improvised. I don’t know what direction each one is going to take, it’s a lot of trial and error before finally gluing a section down.
Can you elaborate on your interest in the figure?
I want my work to be accessible to a wide audience, and the figure is the most basic way to do this. Also, it is good to have certain big challenges; after all the figures man has made since cave painting can I add anything new?
I read somewhere that you avoid a didactic approach to your image-making. Could you explain why that’s important to you?
I think it’s tremendously difficult to do well. I want to show people instead of tell people. I prefer Goya to Jenny Holzer.
How does the audience figure into this new work? Are you still interested in an audience interpreting your pieces as they will, or do you expect that your source imagery will create a narrative for them?
The narratives are still open with this series, the viewer can interpret the works in many different ways. I think the variety of readings possible and the contrast between possible meanings in the same work is what makes it interesting. For example, the soldier wearing a gutted pig can be either a brutal monster capable of barbaric acts or an unfortunate casualty of flesh in the politics of war.
What’s your view on the state of arts in Canada? How do you respond to the $60 million+ cuts? How does your experience as an artist in Canada compare to your experience as an artist elsewhere in the world?
I’ve been away from Canada for a year and a half now so I am not well versed with what is going on politically. Large cuts are always unfortunate, but throwing large amounts of poorly directed money is not a good idea either. My hope is that somehow the visual arts in Canada can do what Canadian literature has done around the world. There is no reason why it can’t, we have so many talented people.