June 26, 2009
Artist explores texture
Artist Joel Libin's solo art exhibit at Basic Inquiry Gallery opens this weekend. Amid his preparations for the show, Libin spoke with the Jewish Independent.
JI: Let's get some biography first. Are you a Vancouver native?
JL: Practically, I was born in Calgary and my family moved to Vancouver when I was three.
JI: When did you first decide to become an artist?
JL: I guess I have always desired to become a self-sufficient artist. I've always been a constant doodler and find it difficult not to draw when I have a pen in my hand. I have tried to make myself aware of the different options available, such as of animation, comic book artist, storyboard artist, T-shirt or clothing design and painting. I am fascinated to be able to convey ideas of myself and society through paintings and color. For me, painters who can make strong statements with their artwork represent the ideal. The important part of being an artist is making a statement.
JI: Where did you go for your art education?
JL: My introduction to art history and studio classes began at UBC. Then there were many night school art courses to further develop my studio and art skills. Later, I was a student in the contemporary arts program at SFU. I have been a member of Basic Inquiry Figurative Society for about four years, allowing me to practise drawing the human form. I feel that these sessions, as well as the commitment of renting a studio space for the last year and a half, have given me the most direct art education and exploration.
JI: You paint a lot of models. Tell us about that.
JL: I have always been fascinated with faces. As a young doodler, I would draw caricatures and cartoon-style faces to create a variety of expressions and personalities. I am intrigued by the variety of faces that exist and change with age or illness. It continued when I began visiting night school and Basic Inquiry to better my skills of drawing the full human body. But even after lots of exposure and practise, I feel that I am still more fascinated by the face and continue to explore that representation.
JI: Sometimes you add bits and pieces of things to your art. What's the story there?
JL: I am still exploring texture in my paintings, but the start of adding texture has different roots in my art. Texture found its place in my paintings because I was not afraid to paint over old paintings. As the acrylic paints build up over time, a diverse surface is created to paint on. I find that the texture can take on a role of its own and create new directions within the creative painting process. I am also uncomfortable with a flat surface because faces have original and natural textures, therefore, through practise and experiments, I have found that I am more comfortable with a textured finish. And I've also started collecting found objects that litter the streets of Vancouver. Instead of adding these objects to the garbage pile, I experiment with adding them to the paintings. I think the objects create a curious addition to the paintings and also obscure their associated meanings.
JI: What's the reason for the 20- to 30-minute portraits? Are they really on old T-shirts?
JL: Originally I wanted to silk screen my sketches onto the shirts that are stretched onto canvas frames. However, I never ended up finishing this concept and decided that I would explore painting on the shirts. I put gesso on the stretched shirts so they could serve as a canvas. I decided to approach these paintings with more openness and fluidity. I feel that, at times, I can allow myself to become too involved within my paintings and over-paint. I did not allow myself to correct any mistakes and gave myself 30 minutes to begin with a design and finish the painting. I pretty much sketched faces onto the gesso surface with charcoal and filled in the open spaces with a variety of wild colors. Yes, these paintings did take me 30 minutes and are painted on old T-shirts.
JI: What are some of the questions you are exploring in your work?
JL: I use the painting process to further explore questions I have about myself, questions about my role. I try to stay honest with the expectations I have of myself. I don't exactly confront issues. I feel that by being in the painting process I think abstractly and these thoughts revolve around environments, media, music and stimulants I surround myself with. I process these thoughts by writing them onto the front and back of the canvas. The words can lead to an inspirational creative process by using the shapes of letters for direction in my painting.
JI: Are there famous artists who have influenced you?
JL: I determine my inspirations by my relation to the artist's perspective. For example, I relate to Samuel Beckett's absurdity, the colorful playfulness of Joe Average, the shapes and circles of Fernand Leger, the motion and free movement of Jackson Pollock, the texture of Bruce Pashak, the thick, layered paint of Lucien Freud and the social commentary of Michael Rakowitz. There are many more artists I relate to and, more importantly I relate to the purpose behind their works of art.
JI: What are the favorite pieces of work you have done and why?
JL: My favorite art pieces are the paintings that have taught me new skills about the painting process. For example, paintings titled "Torso Pink," "A Boy A Child A Feather" and "Ride" taught me that by both adding and dismantling texture, it essentially creates a greater depth to the painting. Also, peeling paint and found objects away from the canvas can reveal previous layers. I have learned that, by revealing these layers, they introduce unintended colors and a positive outlook to the overall interpretation of the painting.
JI: What do you enjoy most about being an artist?
JL: I love how I get when I am involved in painting. Especially, I like being able to work with my hands while I am being creative. During my creative painting process, I tend to think openly, abstractly.... I enjoy having a personal space to turn to when I am not ready to end the day. I like the serenity of the studio as it allows me to do lots of deeper thinking. My studio can also be a lonely place which I sometimes find results in purely creative moments.
JI: How should a brand-new viewer approach your works at the show?
JL: A brand-new viewer should know that I am not afraid of criticism or new readings of my paintings. I think a new viewer's first impression of a painting can be very enlightening.
Libin's show opens on Saturday, June 27, 7-10 p.m., and runs to Aug. 1. The Basic Inquiry Gallery, at 1011 Main St., is open Tuesday-Saturday, 1-4 p.m. Libin's website is JoelLibinArt.com.
Dena Dawson is a freelance writer and art collector living in Vancouver.