EVERY CANVAS IS A CRISIS
interview with ANGIE QUICK
by EMMA COHEN
Concerning my heart
80x108 in. chalk pastel and oil on canvas
I was introduced to Angie’s studio before I was introduced to her work, and so my first impression of her art was the art of her decoration: red christmas lights, a disco ball, personal memorabilia hanging on the wall like a three-dimensional journal, and of course, painting supplies everywhere. Angie Quick is a painter and is in residence at the Arts Project in Downtown London, Ontario. She has had several solo exhibitions put on at the Arts Project and at Good Sport, and has been a part of several group exhibitions in Toronto and London. Her work is included in private collections in Ottawa, London and Calgary.
Meeting Angie Quick feels like coming into contact with a movie star, always with a smudge of red lipstick and some kind of astounding piece of clothing - velvet pants, a feather collar. It’s not hard to imagine her at ninety resembling Iris Apfel. But in the meantime, Angie is almost like a woman from a painting herself. She quite literally has been a model in her own work, both on camera and on canvas. When I met Angie at her studio in London, I was excited to be immersed inside this space in her head. When I walked into the studio, she was playing Cat Power’s You Are Free on an silver radio that’s surrounded by tapes, a floating soundtrack to a conversation that mediates on the body, things left unfinished, solitude, euphoria and existing within your own space. This interview has been edited for clarity.
HOW IT FORMULATES
Angie: I love being on the internet.
Emma: Me too.
A: Apparently my name was the name a porn star chose in the seventies and so I had done this project Angie Everyday where I took a photo of myself in the studio everyday for three years [and put it on a blog] and I guess someone had taken photos from that and put it on this website for that Angie Quick. But that woman would be like probably in her fifties now, and I was like yeah sure, why not, you can pretend you still look like this.
E: Making art and primarily painting, is that what you see as like main focus of your career?
A: For me everything that I do is part of my practice. When I’m writing things I’m like oh but I’m a painter, but writing was always part of the process. I always usually write out my ideas or write poems and that’s just how it formulates. Now there’s people who know me as a poet and don’t know I’m a painter, but slowly those worlds are coming together.
E: What got you into making art? Was it a person or an experience or were there other cultural objects that drew you to it?
A: I remember a conversation which makes me feel like I wanted to be an artist when I was about ten. I was at my friend’s house for dinner and her Bubba asked me what I wanted to be and I said and artist and she laughed at me. And so I can’t really say what it was that made me want to be an artist, but it’s just a drive and an urge I guess. I started glassblowing when I was thirteen, and I don’t know why they’d be offering this to thirteen year olds.
E: That seems like a really specific skill set to be offering in Junior High.
A: And it was expensive! There’s a huge immediacy to it, your whole body goes into it and there’s loud music playing, and you’re working with liquid glass and you’re just sweating. And it’s awesome. Then I started painting when I was about fifteen.
E: Do you think that the kind visceral process of glassblowing has impacted your other art-making?
A: I like still listening to loud music when I’m working, and I like large canvases and my whole body going into it, so I wonder if that physicality borrows from it.
E: Your canvases are huge.
A: These are actually my smaller canvases - I usually staple them to the wall but now I’ve started stretching them and they’re really cute and huggable.
E: Can you tell me about the new series of paintings you’re working on?
A: I typically am a figurative painter, and this year I was exploring the body in a contemporary manner in dialogue with historical flesh, and so I was looking at pornography because I was thinking, when do we look at the body? In art history you’re always looking at naked bodies and there’s this idea of the nude, but now our nude is online. It’s a sexually explicit nude. So I was taking images like that and incorporating them into my painting, breaking down this barrier between what we consider private. What I was doing was really not shocking within the canon of art history because there’s lots of erotic art. But I was taking images which are contemporary to what most people are probably seeing on the internet and putting them in the form of an oil painting, which is an old form there’s something really classical about that.
I started this was because I went to Berlin in May and I saw a lot of art and I found that the art that I liked the best were these unfinished pieces. There was this one piece - I can’t remember the name, but the eyes were gouged out. And apparently the artist got so angry with it that he gouged out the eyes. I loved it, so visceral, you feel the artist’s hand. You couldn't just make a painting and think “I’m going to gouge out the eyes,” it would feel false. This person wounded their canvas. There’s such an honestly to that. I always think that the best kind of art in any form is honest, genuine.
I really like your shirt, by the way. I like the embroidery on the top. It reminds me of stuff Tracy Emin’s stuff, do you know Tracy Emin?
E: Yeah! I discovered her stuff sometime last year. Her neon work is all over tumblr but I didn’t realize it was her until I think last year. Her stuff is so declaratory.
A: When I was fifteen the idea of Tracy Emin’s bed was so vile to me, and now I fucking love it, I love Tracy Emin. To me, art and anything is all about opening yourself to it. I could visibly see myself becoming open to that, I think like a year ago, I was like Tracy Emin is amazing.
E: I was reading something recently that Wayne Koestenbaum wrote about talking about pornography and how the industry is so successful because people will never get enough of seeing naked people - the commodification of the nude and then bringing that into the art world is really interesting because a lot of times when you look at traditional art even when someone’s nude I don’t feel any sort of way to relate, it doesn’t even necessarily seem erotic -
A: You feel removed from it. There’s this strange dialogue we have with the body in a historical way, in art history when you see the nude there’s a symbolism tied to it, we’re so removed from that but we’re also still removed from the nude. The thing I like about using that as source material is that question of art and pornography, when does one become the other? Because I’ve had people say my art is pornographic, but I wonder can my art actually be pornographic?
E: If it’s not made for the intention?
A: Well wouldn’t I be a realist painter then if that were the case? I’m choosing to put it in a different format - in some of my painting I actually find the point of it is the violence of the flesh and there’s an ugliness to it, or a sense of meat. It’s strange when people are aroused by it, or they’ll feel like they can ask me very strange questions.
E: With a lot of your work that I’ve seen, the scenes seem really intimate, but there’s this quality to it of decadence. Where it feels like they’re specific moments but they also almost become this mythological thing, almost reserved in preservation.
A: I agree, some of those paintings were built around the idea of the stacking of instances, everything being preserved at one moment and captured like that. And that decadent idea, I like that because I like putting fabrics or furniture in my paintings. I call those anchors or still points where people feel comfortable. I’ll have these paintings which are very sexual, but for example I have this one where there’s a teacup and you always feel comfortable if you can look at the teacup, because you can see all this other stuff happening, but then there’s the teacup. And it’s like this moment of I think relief, and it’s a recognizable form. If something’s not completely abstract or completely figured there are these moments where people feel uncomfortable. My one friend describes some of my paintings as ones where it’s begging you to look away. You’re supposed to look at it, but it’s begging you to look away. My other friend told me I’m shameless.
DO IT WITH YOUR WHOLE BEING
E: In terms of your life in relation to your art, what is your relationship like with other artists?
A: I had a studio here when I was twenty, and this is a residency so there were lots of other artists working. That was great but I was also very anti-social, so me going into the studio was me closing the door. When I came back here two and a half years ago, I was meeting lots of artists. It’s such an important part of working, meeting people in the community, having a dialogue continually, it’s extremely fulfilling but it’s also essential. I think art can be made in a vacuum, I don’t know that’s the best way though.
E: Do you feel like people who are artists or who are creating move through the world differently than people who aren’t focused on that kind of - like they’re career path has a different focus to it?
A: I don’t think the artist is necessarily special, I think what’s special about making art is that it’s something that awakens a certain part of the viewer. I know for a fact that me being me, and when I’m talking to people, it ingratiates them into what I’m doing. There’s an activeness as if I’m making a painting while I’m speaking, something occurs there. But I think that people in different fields can have that too. To me an artist is someone who does what they do with their whole being. If I didn’t have this drive I wouldn’t be me and I wouldn’t know what it means to be alive.
E: Do you find that exhausting sometimes?
A: A hundred percent. There’s a strange interaction with the world because everything feeds into the art. Any conversation I have, anything where I’m going and doing something is me interacting with my environment, is me stepping into a valuable form of art-making. And I think that’s a great way to interact with it, do I find it exhausting? Yeah there are times.. I think it’s hard to relax. And there was an important moment where I could start to see the value in just being, and it actually made me a better artist when I could slow down and be more meditative. And friendships I can do, but romantic relationships are very difficult. My art means everything to me, and my family’s very important to me and my friends mean so much to me, so where does something fit into that? For myself, I don’t know. I think there’s a certain cultural standard of what it means to even be in a romantic relationship. For me, all my time is my own time. When I get to paint, when I see my friends. So how much does somebody want my time and how much time do I give to painting. When I feel the best is when I’m alone in the studio. And if it’s just me sitting here, that’s great. I’m thinking. This room feels like an extension of my mind, and extension of me. So when I’m in here it feels like my best place.
THE SPACE SPEAKS TO YOU
E: I think it’s interesting these places that are really intimate places for people. Do you feel like the way you set up your space of living and your space of working overlap, and how did you construct your studio?
A: I put in work to get it to a point where I could feel like it’s mine. I painted all the walls, I stained the floors, I brought in my childhood rug from our dining room. What I like about this studio is that that area over there is like my stage, that’s where I paint. This is my desk, a desk is so important to me because research is huge. Being able to write here - I’ve got my books. And it’s kind of a little separate place I get to look out at what I’m working on. And I have this work table where sometimes I mix colours and sometimes I make studies there, and I’m big on having my little spots. It just orientates me really well. And I also have my closet there, with lots of shoes.
E: I love that, I love the red shoes.
A: Thanks, well the thing is is that I come here in my studio clothes, but I go to a lot of either openings or events so I just change here and I go. Things come up so I try to look more normal. But that is something that is part of my studio - though I don’t think any other artist in this building has a closet. The space speaks to you and then you speak to the space.
E: I noticed in your in your Angie Everyday project you have a song that goes with each picture. Is music a large part of your work?
A: It’s a huge part - it’s a huge part of my day. When I get into the studio I make a pot of tea and I choose what CD I’m going to listen to. A big thing for me is because I’m listening to CDs I love an album that you can listen to all the way through and love. This Cat Power album, gorgeous. When I was doing that with Angie Everyday, that was a way of sharing. That was me trying to create a conversation.
E: Do you think a lot about how you present yourself?
A: It’s all me, but I think you can create a certain ego of yourself, an alter-ego even. When I go to an event I like getting all dressed up. I consider clothing costumes, when I put a certain thing, it makes me feel good. It creates a certain interaction with the people around you, so you yourself are an art piece in a way.
E: Do you feel like there’s some sort of version of you that exists through your art, or through your online presence or even through your real-life presence at gallery openings that is separate from yourself? Or is it part of yourself?
A: When I’m by myself, that’s almost an impossible thing to ever communicate to another person. But there is a certain personality to it, maybe I have to conduct myself in a way. But the thing about being an artist, and this is going to sound terrible, but you can almost do whatever you want. You can wear what you want, you can act in a certain way, if someone thinks I’m weird it doesn’t matter because that’s me. And if I can interact as genuine as I can - so I’m not necessarily going to hold back, I’m going to be myself. But there is a level of persona, if someone sees my work or even if someone sees the blog, they might have preconceived notions of what I’m like. I’ve had people look at the blog and see it as a vanity thing or a narcissism thing, but I also think that’s a societal conception of a woman photographing herself. And people will be like ‘oh that’s vain,’ how the fuck is that vain? I’m documenting myself. And it's playing on the role of femininity or what it means to be a female and to be an artist.
THE SPACE BETWEEN
E: Something I’ve been struggling a lot with lately is the idea of art or writing or anything cultural as being vain, or self-serving, especially as a relatively privileged person. Asking myself, what am I contributing, why am I doing this? It really stops your workflow when you start thinking about that. Do you ever have thoughts like that? How do you get out of that?
A: If you’re very open and you’re willing to take criticism and what you’re doing is so genuine and right to the heart of who you are, then you just have to have faith and keep doing it. And also to have people that you trust and being able to have that dialogue with them. Sometimes you have to be vulnerable and be like ‘what do you think of this?’ And sometimes you just have to say ‘fuck it’ and just keep doing it.
E: What is the process you usually go through when creating a specific work?
A: I’ll do research like looking at art books, that just helps me get centred. Reading essays and reading poetry and things like that, and maybe a certain word will stick with me. I have these yellow legal pads that I love from the dollar store. That’s where I’ll start jotting down notes, and little sketches will come from that. Then either colours will come to me and that’s from experiencing. Something’s clicking, somethings clueing into me. Then it starts with the studies, and then I’ll get the canvas to get an idea of what size they are. Then there’s the point of me communicating with the canvas, negotiating with it. Each stroke starts feeding off of the other ones and figures start appearing, but they’re not figures I’m necessarily intending immediately, so it's this dance with the canvas. Like I was mentioning before with the unfinished pieces, I thought, I’m going to make these pieces that are at this midpoint. You’re putting the viewer at this pinnacle point where something is neither finished nor unfinished. So you’re at this midpoint where it’s both completing and unraveling simultaneously. Drawing became very important - making the canvas full but having certain anchors. Like the teacup! One thing I’ve been really fascinated with for the past few years is the space between. That’s where things fall through, things that we can’t actually necessarily see, but we can feel it and we can describe it. That’s what metaphor is, so how do I create a visual metaphor in the painting? There’s this word ‘commissure’ and that’s the space between your lips when you’re closed or the space between your eyelids. There’s a tiny space, even when they’re closed and that's what a metaphor is. That’s the dialogue I have with my canvases right now.
FIVE MINUTES OF ECSTASY
E: What do you think about when you’re painting?
A: For me painting and making art is like working for hours for five minutes of ecstasy. Cause there is a moment when you’re making a painting when - and I’m not religious - but it’s like you’re touching god. You’re not a slave to it, but you're a slave to it. When I’m not being a good painter I’m thinking about mundane things, so it’s important to get that stuff out of your head. And when I’m painting at my best it’s like I’m feeling into the paint. Dancing’s a very important part of painting, sometimes I’ll stop for a second and dance a lot then get back to it. When things are going good, it’s all fluid, things are moving at a pace. It's kind of like you’re not even thinking ‘oh now I’ll use this colour,’ you just use the colour.
I make it a point that I come to the studio everyday, and I put in close to five to eight hours a day, but I love being here. But there’s days when it's hard to be in the studio, you don’t like what you’re doing, you’re beating yourself up. I was saying to my friend earlier today when he was in a bit of a funk with painting, every canvas is a crisis, and entering the studio is a moment of questioning whether you’re brave enough to enter that crisis and go beyond it.
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