Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Artist Interview: Heather Craig

Artist Interview with Heather Craig

This month I'd like to introduce Vancouver fine artist Heather Craig

I became aware of Heather Craig's art works years back when I was still living in California. I would visit Vancouver regularly - every six months or so - to bring my little girl (then a baby) to see my family. During the visit, I would make an Artist's Date for myself and take half day and walk down Granville Street to admire the beautiful galleries and artworks they all had on display. Heather's work was being exhibited at Jacana Gallery and caught my eye. I remember collecting a postcard from her show and putting it into one of my special art books where I keep images of other artist's work that inspires me.

Since those art gallery visits, years have passed, and 3 years ago now I moved back to Vancouver to return to my hometown to live. After settling in and getting a job I began looking for studio space in Vancouver. At the time I was working at OPUS Framing and Arts Supplies [LINK] and thought my co-workers and connections with friends I became aware of an opening at the Old Foundry Building. I walked into the shared studios within the building and low and behold up on the wall in the central ( larger) studio were a series of VERY familiar art works - my mouth dropped in surprise. I knew that I knew the artist and loved the work - I just couldn't remember for the life of me where I'd seen it before. Needless to say, I put in an application to rent the studio space, begged and prayed to be accepted, and then later, when I was in, met Heather and put it all together.

Heather and I shared studio space for a year at the Old Foundry and my admiration for her work and who she is as a member of our community at large - both the arts community and as well in the mental health community as an adjunct professor at UBC Medical school - has only grown and continues to grow as I get to know her better. I am honored to call her a friend and a colleague in the arts and excited to share her with you here.

Alright, Heather, so let's start from the beginning because it seems you were not always an active artist and painter if you have a medical background and work at UBC in the School of Medicine... Please tell us how your career evolved from one predominantly in the health sciences and then into the arts.... How did you passion for painting began?
When I was a kid. I was the kid who was always in the art room and got the prize for the grade 6 poster contest or whatever. In highschool I had a wonderful art teacher who encouraged me and introduced me to oil painting and printmaking and pottery. I loved making things. Art didn't seem like a way to make a living though. I certainly continued to make things but went to UBC to become a nurse. I worked for many years as a nurse, had a nice family and raised kids. And then I was fortunate to be able to go to Art School. I left nursing while I was in mid career and eventually graduated from ECSAD. I discovered while in school that I loved the acedemic part of art so much that I continued on to SFU for an MA. I have been doing art seriously since then except for one day a week. What I do with that one day a week is teach at UBC About ten years ago a very interesting course at UBC Medical school was instituted called Docter Patient and Society. DPAS as it is called is meant to look at the hard issues in Medicine and Health Care like how do we create an efficient system that delivers care to everyone. How do we care for our most vulnerable people; the elderly. poor, mentally ill and aboriginal for example. I was invited to participate and have been loving being involved ever since. So one day a week at UBC and the rest of the week in the studio.

I'm curious how you first came to find the Old Foundry Building, as from what I recall you've now been there going on 11 years?

There was a group of us who had space in a building that was torn down. So we looked for new space that would accomadate us all. We kind of wanted to stay together as it is good to have a bit of a community happening. One of the members just drove by the Old Foundry Building and saw that it had a for lease notice. He called us all to see it and we thought it would be okay and so we leased it. We had to do a bit of work ro make it into studio space. But it all worked out well and we have been there happily ever since.
From what I know and see working next to you I understand you treat your painting like a job and show up to the studio daily and put in time. Can you share with us how this discipline for your art work came about.. How do you stay inspired and motivated? What feeds your work?

I do treat it like a job (a great job). It is really important for me to be disciplined. But I think you are really asking me about the creative process. Most people who create things will say, I think, that discipline is required. For me that means I take what I know about technique and art history and looking and thinking and transform all that into images. I read and write and draw everyday and the work that emerges is about the insights I gain from learning and thinking. Art and especially abstract art is silent in a way . By silent I mean there are no words. In fact one of the problems I am always trying to solve is how to keep the words/recognizable images out of the work. For example, if I put a line about a third of the way up a surface, the line says horizon. So no matter what else I paint, the image has become a landscape. What I try for is to use lines and shapes and colours to just say 'think' or 'conscious'.
Looking at your portfolio online I can see that you work in predominantly in the abstract, but it seems you also have a talent for drawing - as there are many lines and sketches throughout your work (beautiful). Can you please tell us why you choose this particular style that you enjoy the most.

I am not really choosing a style, I am using what I know to produce what I think. What I think seems to be a collage of lines and shapes and colours in a particular size on a particular surface. As I said I think that abstract art is meant to be silent but it is impossible to keep the words out. The viewer automatically looks for meaning. Sometimes I actually put words in the work–usually just any word, to nail it down somehow but I don't think the words are needed.

Would you please share with us about your painting process. How do your paintings evolve? do you follow certain steps, or?

The steps are many as I have said. I read. right now I am reading 'Ill Fares the Land' by Tony Judt which is about how we create a just society. Kurt Varnedough, a MOMA curater wrote a book called 'Pictures of Nothing'. I return to it often because he talks about abstract painting and what they mean. Varnedough thinks they are about Liberal Democracy.

What's your favorite all time favorite art piece of yours and why?

Impossible question actually because I paint a series and then move on. I don't think in terms of good/bad or favourite. I think in terms of what is the next problem to solve.

What is your favorite painting of another artist?

Again no favourite but I can mention some artists I respond to. Betty Goodwin and CyTwombly are right up there.

I noticed that you were recently accepted into the Vancouver Art Gallery Sales and Rental Program - Congratulations. Where else can blog readers see your work? What else are you currently involved in with respect to your art? New work/ projects?

I guess I should be doing some things to promote myself and be in more places but I do nothing. I am only interested in producing so I take on projects that happen but otherwise….. (I have someone to feed me.) I have work around Vancouver like in the Vancouver General Hospital's art collection.

For you, What the best thing about being and artist?

In a way it is totally indulging my need to create.

For you, What 's the most challenging thing about being an artist?

Well it is a bit of a challenge to not get much recognition in a world that is devoted to recognizing and consuming.

How would you define success for yourself as an artist? What are some success you have achieved thus far on your journey, and what has been a key factor in you achieving your success?

Mostly that I keep doing art and that it is immensley satisfying and at the same time continually challenging every thing that I am and what I can do.

What 3 pieces of advice would you give to other artists -- specifically to other painters?

get an education (and it doesn't need to be formal), find a way to keep working, and throw out half of what you do.
I am, as you know, a big believer in self care - especially for artists! What do you do to nourish your self and soul? to re-charge your batteries so to speak?

I am a big advocate of doing what ever it takes to keep a healthy self. I exercise, eat really healthy, have healthy, substantive relationships, spend very little time with the mindless things our society has to offer and continue to learn from the rich things our society has to offer.

Heather, Thank you so much for taking the time to partake in this interview!

with much gratitude, Deb

Postscript. ARTIST BIO. Heather Craig earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. She continued her education at Simon Fraser University where she received a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies. Her first career was in health care, practicing as a nurse in numerous capacities in various parts of Canada and the USA. Along side the practice of art Heather is active in other fields. Currently she is working to change the way we treat people with mental illnesses by raising funds for research in depression, through speaking engagements, through writing and as an educator at the University of British Columbia in the School of Medicine. Her continuing studies, her observations about life, and her engagement with volunteer and professional work informs her artwork. Heather lives and works in Vancouver, BC. www.heathercraigsart.com

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