Interview by Glodeane Brown
If you’ve been following the blog you know that Tess started guest blogging at Culture Fancier last year. You know that you can spot her performing with all her heart during karaoke night because she has to compensate for her singing voice or cracking jokes at a music open mic night. You know that she is a performance artist and painter that exploits her vulnerabilities and humour. When she is not doing art, she is working with seniors. She recently received her Masters of Fine Art at the University of Waterloo. She now resides in Waterloo, Ontario.
Read on to find out what you don’t know about Tess. We met over coffee on a slushy winter morning and I asked her about her inspirations, music, her artistic process, and more.
CF: Hi Tess, how are you?
M: I’m good.
CF: That’s good, good! I’m glad that you agreed to do this interview. I’d love for the readers to get to know a little bit about you. You’ve been blogging with me since last year and you brought a lot of great interviews with artists and creatives. And now it is time to learn a little about you. First question is you have your own artistic practice, you paint and perform, sing; when you are not doing your art you are working with seniors. Would you ever consider pursuing your art a hundred percent of the time?
M: Um, I thought about this a lot. I don’t think I quite have the discipline to go to my studio nine to five. My mentor, Todd Bienvenu had a really good way of going to the studio every day and painting. Whereas, I am more someone whose process is to think a lot and go into the studio when my ideas are developed. Also, with working with seniors, I’ve always wanted to have a day job and work on my studio practice on the side so that I would have a stable income. If I wasn’t working with seniors doing recreation, I would be teaching in an academic setting so in a college or university. Hopefully, in a university teaching art. But also in a college, teaching recreation or art. I need that day job to actually motivate me to use my art as an escape and a second profession.
CF: And you are using your artistic practice in your work with seniors too. There is a crossover right?
M: Yes! There is a crossover. I do art with the seniors and recently my subject matter in the studio is about my relationships with the residents I work with and life lessons with growing old. I don’t know if I would be inspired to paint as much if my art felt like a job to me and I might get bored.
CF: I understand. I have heard that from several artists before. It is pretty common. Who or what inspires you?
I get inspired by a lot of painters. Painters who have a more fluid and expressive way of painting. I like painting about people and dreamlike settings. I get inspired by Katherine Bradford and Kara Walker. Artist who are imaginative. It is a lot to do with their perspective on the world and less about painting from reality. I prefer twisting ideas a little bit. Also, musicians and music inspire me. I listen to a lot of Indie artists. I am inspired by historic artists including Caravaggio. There is something about Caravaggio’s depiction of people, his light and darks, his people and his goriness even. I enjoy Goya too. In the end, I get inspired by people who really make me feel maybe dark, heartfelt, imagination or human condition.
CF: What are you listening to now?
M: I listen to Santigold. I have seen her live in New York City. It is funny because I think she is best friends with Kara Walker. I have seen them on Instagram together. I’m like, “What my two favourite artists!”
CF: Worlds colliding. Santigold is awesome! I saw her in Toronto couple years ago. She’s amazing!
M: I listen to Australia’s Triple J Like a Version. Popular groups cover popular songs. I like taking something and making it new just like in my paintings.
CF: That is great. Who is on your list of artists that you would like to collaborate with?
M: I’m not sure. I say that because I see that there is something magical when you work alone.
I went to the AGO show of Basquiat and Andy Warhol and was severely disappointed because I really like Basquiat’s work and I do like Andy Warhol’s work but together, it wasn’t in unison. It didn’t flow, it was like, “Let’s do this because we want to collaborate.” So, I won’t necessarily collaborate with artists like Todd Bienvenu, Katherine Bradford or Katherine Bernhardt because our ways of painting are too similar. However, I spoke about collaborating with friends when we have a good concept because I am very concept based. It might be to do with a performance. I would have a show together with paintings but I am hesitant to paint on the same canvas as another artist. I am more inclined to performance.
CF: You recently took on the role of curator at The Front Room Gallery which is literally in the front room of your house. What have you learned so far as the curator?
M: I have learned that it is a lot of work. I also learned that I need to stick to my gut and know that this is my space. I want the artists to have as much of a voice as possible and sometimes I need to voice my vision too as a curator. Learning to speak up and learning that balance. At first, I wanted it to be this is an empty space, fill it how you want. I’ve learned that choice and placement of artwork and scheduling of openings really do matter. There are a lot of costs associated with putting up work and purchasing beverages for the openings. It can be hard. Time and effort too can be an issue.
What I learned the most is that artists are reluctant and excited at times to show their work. Most artists say yes and some say no and I think it is not because of the space but because of some doubt. There is always that doubt.
CF: I have experienced that before even with trying to interview some people and they say no. For whatever reason they said no.
M: Just to have the show on their resume and experience, is so important. They have something to work towards to build their portfolio. I start to have doubts too. “Am I promising something more than what is actually being offered”. I worry about that because I would never want to raise the artist’s hopes up in getting exposure.
CF: What advice would you have for any aspiring artists or creatives?
M: Just do. I need to tell myself that too. Just do. Get involved. Do what you need to do for yourself. Everyone has their own life path. We are all creatives so we should know that one way isn’t the right way. There are so many possibilities out there. To experiment and try something new. Go back to what you feel comfortable with. A nice balance. I did my thesis on performance and I am going back to painting. I am finding it kind of hard because I haven’t painted consistently for two years. I am trying to change it up a little bit but it isn’t going as planned. I use to be able to whip out a painting and be happy with it. What I am trying to say is, “Keep trying, don’t give up.” Also, my practice is very much based on failure. Fail a bunch and you might be surprised with what you come up with.
CF: You have had a chance to be mentored by and in the circle of a lot of different artists. What is the best piece of artistic advice you’ve received either from an artist you’ve worked with, an instructor or a fellow artist?
M: In third year of university, I had an instructor, Sadko; I would draw and paint very much like I thought I was suppose to paint and he said, “Paint and draw like you do, don’t think about it, just do it.” That was some pretty good advice. I had a professor, Martin Pearce, who exposed me to a world of German Expressionists, artists from New York, the artist, Tala Madani who is now huge. Todd Bienvenu just told me to keep painting and to be more disciplined. He is very prolific and I am not. At the same time, it was nice because I realized that I am not the same person as he is and I have my own process. Painting the way I paint and no fighting it. Going for it. Not being afraid.
CF: My last question is what is next for you?
M: I am not sure and that’s kind of exciting! The unknown is exciting. I am planning to stay in Waterloo. I am turning thirty this year and I feel like I have done a lot in 2018 with The Front Room Gallery, being on the CAFKA programming committee, finishing my Master’s, renting a new house, starting full-time at my job and having a studio. I have a lot going on. I want to continue to apply to performance art shows. Recently, I received a rejection email. I see it as I need to continue to apply and a learning opportunity.
CF: My mother always says that when one thing doesn’t work out it just means that there is always something better out there.
M: When I get a no from shows, it lights a fire under me. It makes me apply and think more. Anyways, I am going to look for more opportunities as an artist, career wise and find balance in my life. Make sure I go out swimming and go to the studio and schedule that in my calendar more. That’s what is next. I am going to lay low a little more.
CF: Thank you!
If you liked this post, please like, comment, and share. Keep following and watch for Tess’s next guest post coming soon.