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IN THE ARTIST'S STUDIO: DREW KLASSEN

February 5, 2018
IN THE ARTIST'S STUDIO: DREW KLASSEN

WHERE DO YOU DRAW YOUR IMAGERY FROM?
These days most of my work comes from travels abroad. (I suppose it’s a way of travelling vicariously without leaving the studio.) But I also draw from what’s around me, or what’s on my mind.

DO YOU ENJOY PAINTING DURING A SPECIFIC TIME OF DAY?
I’m in the studio almost every day of the week, but I don’t adhere to a strict schedule in terms of time of day. I think I do my best work in the afternoons or evenings, regardless of when I start. In fact, I sometimes begin the afternoon scraping down what I painted in the morning. There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere.

WHAT KIND OF THINGS DO YOU HAVE IN YOUR STUDIO THAT INSPIRE YOU?
I just finished converting our double garage into a studio, adding skylights, windows and in-floor heating. For the first time in my life I have a spacious, bright studio, that isn’t a basement or bedroom, all to myself. The whole thing inspires me.

WHEN DID YOU START CREATING ART?
I started creating when I was quite young—my grandmother was professional draughtsperson and an avid painter, and I spent a fair amount of time drawing on the backs of discarded blueprints while she painted. Sometimes she gave me a small canvas panel and some oil paints and brushes. (I probably ingested a fair bit of cadmium and lead as a child.) I still have my first oil painting, a still life of flowers, done when I was 5 or 6 and signed on the back, in crooked letters, in orange crayon. But I don’t think of that as art, really; it was just a child’s desultory creativity. I think I started making art when I started developing continuity in my practise, and thinking about my work in broader contexts—historical, cultural aesthetic. That would have been in my late teens/early twenties, shortly before I entered art school.

HOW HAS YOUR WORK EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS?
When I started painting, much of my work was about learning how to paint. Although I studied fine arts, I never actually studied painting, so I set about learning how to use various media, and how to make images of things look like things. So my early work was observational, technical, and tended to be a bit rigid. At a certain point, though, as often happens with painters, my focus shifted from attaining a convincing image to getting involved with what was happening on the canvas itself—with material and gestural qualities. The imagery in my work became increasingly fragmented, to the point where it occasionally became completely abstract. But my forays into the abstract weren’t satisfying. I found I still wanted an image—for me, the image is a kind of armature on which to hang the material of the painting. Now, whether I’m painting a pastoral view or a raw steak, I start with an image, but I’m trying to find a kind of push/pull relationship between the image and the stuff that makes the painting—the smears, scratches, patches, layers, lines, scribbles, globs, dribbles.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR NEW SERIES OF WORKS?
Much of my recent work comprises excerpts from the last decade or so of my travels: a kind of non-sequential travel diary. The paintings are essentially memories, and like memories, they take on qualities of exaggeration, simplification and vagueness. I don’t paint on site—these works are coming out of my studio, years after I’ve been to a place. They arise from distinct places or landmarks, but in the passage of time and the process of painting, they lose their specificity. For me, they’re not an image of what I saw, but a feeling of what it was like to be there, at that time.

WHAT IS YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS?
With my travel landscapes, my process begins with photos. (About a decade ago I set out on a 5-month trip with about 15 kilos of painting and sketching kit in my backpack. I lasted about 5 weeks before I shipped it home, and I’ve been using photography ever since.) I use either a small point-and-shoot camera, or my phone. I don’t set out to photograph anything in particular, and I don’t concern myself with image quality or resolution. It’s difficult to describe clearly what impels me to take a photo. It has to do with feeling a strong, if momentary, impression of a place. Since that long trip 10 years ago, I’ve stored all my travel images in a single folder named ‘things to paint’. I rarely access the folder. The images lie dormant, sometimes for years. When I want to start a new painting, I browse through the folder. I don’t work in a chronological sequence, but I never start a painting from the most recent photos. Over time, some images come to seem random or meaningless, but some continue to resonate with my memory of a place, though in a muted, imperfect way, like an echo. I choose one of these images, which becomes a kind of digital study. I try to reconcile the study with my memory, not of the specific appearance of the place, but of that initial, momentary impression. I may crop the image, distort, delete or clone passages, layer, collage, alter colours, manipulate perspective. I may draw overtop of the image using a digital tablet. Occasionally I print the image and paint or draw onto the print. At some point I feel, not that the study is finished, but that it has run its course, and I begin painting. I paint from the photograph, but I don’t try to recreate the photograph. The process on canvas is analogous to the digital process—painting, scraping down, re-painting, layering, redrawing, recomposing, looking for the image that fits my memory. In short, it’s a process of forgetting, remembering, and re-remembering.

WHO WOULD YOU SAY HAS INFLUENCED YOUR PRACTICE THE MOST I.E. FAMILY, TEACHERS, OTHER ARTISTS? OR ALL OF THE ABOVE?
Over the years, various artists have influenced me in terms of technique, palette, motif, and so on. But I think the greatest influence on my practise, albeit in an unmeasurable way, has been the years of conversations with colleagues and students.

Calgary's Contemporary Art Gallery 102, 628 11th Ave SW, Calgary, AB T2R 0E9 403.244.2000

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