By Anna Horsnell
In exclusive conversations with the artists from The Prow Gallery, Breaking the Surface delves deeper into the personalities and passion behind the artistry. Our sincere thanks go out to each artist for graciously sharing from the heart.
As an accomplished musician and visual artist, creativity seems to define who you are. Is it easier to express yourself through painting or songwriting?
That’s nice of you to say! One of the best things to have happened over the last few years is that I began painting more. With songwriting and painting, I am feeling more creative than I ever have in both mediums. I think that self expression is a skill that can grow stronger when stretched and used, so, I am using it as much as possible every day.
How does the painter’s process compare to that of the songwriter?
When writing or painting, I have that feeling of leaving my body. That’s the goal I think; to forget myself and my ego and to let the spiritual part of myself take the lead. When I approach a new painting, I try to clear my head. I find a space where I can be alone and be messy. Sometimes I close my eyes and I think of a feeling that I want to leave my body, or something I want to let go of. Or even a place that I want to visit. A lot of time when I make my first marks on the canvas, my eyes are closed. This will form an abstracted landscape usually. I try to connect to the energy that is between me and the other unexplained … realms and spirits. Where my soul is free. Ultimately, I am trying to access a feeling that can then be shared with others. When I approach a song, these days I set up my computer to record. I love the experience of recording, so even just a simple program with reverb setting on. When I hear my idea back, it is exciting and fun for me. I just hope that hooks will present themselves and I don’t think about it too much. I can go back after and develop a story. But often the story, though often not super linear, develops on its own. It’s like I am the medium between the song and the audience. The song wants to be sung and the story told, and I am just there to let it happen.
What attracts you to abstract art over other styles of painting?
I love colour, expression, and mystery. The way a mark can make you feel something almost physical by the way it was made by the artist's hand. I am drawn to anything that comes from passion, a sense of freedom, and of wild abandon. I look for this in art and hope that my work has some of this in it, as well as joy. Joy and magic are important to me, and this is what I want to share.
Abstraction is personal, coming from within, which takes a certain amount of courage. Are you ever surprised by what you create? What have you learned about yourself?
I do love when shapes and ideas reveal themselves. If I get too caught up in the outcome of a piece, it gets muddled. It’s when I trust and take risks that I see the best results. I think I am learning to be more open, and less critical. I can be pretty hard on myself if I don’t like what I am working on. It can be a bit depressing for me if I’m not feeling productive. If I enter into a project, I want to come out of it feeling a bit of euphoria which is a lot to ask, so it’s possible I might be some sort of loose/ crazy perfectionist. I think my spiritual connection and my understanding of myself grows deeper every time I write a song or make a painting. I am certainly more relaxed and happier when I do so.
How do you title your paintings?
I only started titling them last year, which has become an important part of the process for me. As I paint, ideas come and go out of my mind, and eventually a title will reveal itself to me, in a similar way to songwriting. This is one of the ways that my two mediums are now more closely connected. This becomes like the soul of the painting.
I have been extremely fortunate throughout this pandemic to live in a rural community in Nova Scotia and to be home for the first time, for a long stretch, in over a decade. I have two very young boys now (two and four), one of them a ‘surprise pandemic baby’ and the other an almost six-year project in the making (IVF). My children and motherhood is my greatest gift, and I have been making art at home, with my kids and on my own, since this whole pandemic started, more than ever before. If I ever feel stuck or down, art is a way through it. If I feel up and inspired, art lifts me up even higher and then grounds me back down to the earth.
What’s a typical day in the studio look like for you?
We are in the process of finishing a studio for me. It’s almost there and I am so excited. I love (will love) my studio because it faces the lake and the trees. It’s sort of like being in a treehouse. It was built by Wheelhouse Designs and we are just finishing it up on the inside. I like to have a podcast or something on. Sometimes classical music. Sometimes other music. I need good lighting, and I like tea, water, clean brushes, and my clothes covered up! This morning I painted for a few hours, and then I wrote music all afternoon.
What energizes your creative juices? What turns on the magic?
Sometimes it’s just finding that bit of time and space where I can take a few hours to go and work. And then the magic finds me. I do love a bit of nice sunshine though. I don’t need to feel any type of emotion before I begin. These come to me when I’m working. But if I’m feeling down or stressed, I like to say it’s like yoga for the brain. It calms me down and stretches out my heart and I always feel better after I paint. Music can also be a big source of inspiration, or just the act of playing with colour. Seeing how colours and marks make me feel and what ideas they bring.
Have you found your artistic voice or creative niche, or does the search continue?
Oh, I am always looking and hoping. I am happy working in abstraction. The only time recently where I thought about working in a different way was when my dog Charlie died this fall. I thought about doing a portrait of him, just for me. I used to love doing portraits, so I may try that again at some point. I also really loved doing figure drawing. These were also fairly abstract. I loved the curves and rolls in a woman’s body. So fun to draw.
What is your happy place?
Anytime that I am making art or music, finishing up a piece and able to admire it as a painting or a song. Or anytime I am snuggled up with my boys. I like to accomplish things, and then I like to sit back and take a breath and sit with all the beauty that is in my life.