Thursday, January 11, 2007

Art Space Talk: Cliff Kearns

I recently interviewed artist Cliff Kearns. Mr. Kearns has had a long and rewarding career as an artist. He is currently creating art with ripped plywood, printing plates, and computer parts. These works are a visual reaction to the evolution of communication media and the invasion of computer technology into the world of art.

Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

A. "Although I made drawings and colored them as a child, and was able to substitute historical portraits for history essays in high-school, it wasn’t until an astute guidance teacher directed me to the special art program at HB Beal Secondary School in London Ontario that I knew. The Special Art Certificate landed me a position as a graphic layout artist in the communications department of a major insurance company. That began a 40 year career as a free lance graphic designer, illustrator, and commissioned artist, during which time I did personal fine art. That, and the last couple of years of pure painting for it’s own sake have made me pretty sure I’d like to make it my career."

Q. How has society influenced your art? Are there any social implications in your art?

A. "For sure, after a career of - on the job - technical training, the recent work is more about using those skills to express personal emotions and feelings which are bound to include the world around us. It’s not about evangelizing as much as getting out a portion of why I exist."

Q. On average, how long does it take you to create one piece?

A. "In practical terms with respect to my recent contemporary mixed media imagery, I work on 5-6 pieces at one time. That takes about 2 months.In looking back however, Out of hundreds of pieces of work, it’s taken about 50 years to produce 50 artworks that I feel really quite good about."

Q. Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?

A. "I often listen to the CBC - Canadian Broadcasting Corporation - which has no commercials and a broad range of topical subjects including non mainstream music. I like light jazz when working on the computer and hope some of the rocking of the ‘Tragically Hip’ comes through in a couple of the recent paintings. (see Image 41 above - and Image 42 below )"

Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be?

A. "I’m not sure my recent personal fine art has established a significant track record to determine a pattern, although I’m pleased that the work seems to appeal to a younger crowd and a couple of pieces have been sold to collectors much younger than myself."

Q. Discuss one of your pieces. What were you thinking when you created it?

A. " ‘IMAGE 42 HAS A RED PATCH &’ (above) started out like much of the recent work. This piece of plywood however had a hole in it. The ripped plywood has been integrated with other bits of 3D material which include older newspaper printing plates of my past illustrations, wooden and metal type, as well as obsolete computer parts to form a base for the paint. These elements represent some of the communication mediums used over the years. The mirror and plexiglas add life and reflection, sometimes even the reflection of the onlooker. In that way, each piece becomes unique and personal to each viewer.

The texture and relief of the plywood in itself is a turn on to me, but as with other recent work, I have been incorporating a ‘heart shape dissected by a cross symbology and adding a sequential number into each work as part of a bigger art statement that I’m trying to make.

It doesn’t take long for the work to start talking back to me. As I add the other elements and move them around, the placement just feels right or it doesn’t. It’s the same with the paint. I just keep adding paint, moving it around or changing color until it feels right and I’m happy with the result. There is nothing symbolic about patching the hole. Stating the obvious in the title is just a reflection of, I hope, a sense of humor."

Q. Do you have a degree or do you plan to attend school for art? If so, how did it help you as an artist? What can you tell us about the art department that you attended?

A. "I would love to get a BFA and MFA - not for the letters - as so much for the experience and knowledge, but it would want to be from a best school.

The Special Art Program at Beal was good and recognized at the time. I’ve proved that self learning with some talent and passion can take one a long way though."

Q. Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

A. "Having made a living as an illustrator creating the illusion of 3D on a 2 dimensional surface, I’m getting renewed gratification with utilizing actual 3D elements. The recent work has more guts and depth. When I asked an art photographer to copy shoot one of my pieces, we had difficulty deciding how to light it as the texture, mirror, and reflective elements changed it with every view. I was happy about that, as it gives the normally inanimate painting some movement, excitement and life. As wall art, the pieces come off quite bold and I think the strong relief gives them some uniqueness."

Q.Where can we see more of your art?


Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?

A. "I’ve just signed an agreement with Art Works Gallery in Vancouver and sent 4 pieces out there. am planning to exhibit at Toronto Art Expo 2007 in March, am working on additional Gallery representation and another solo show here in my hometown for this coming fall."

Q. What galleries have you exhibited in? Can you provide links to their sites?

A. "I’ve had Solo shows in London ON. at ‘The Howell Gallery’ and ‘Picture This Gallery’ (both no longer in existence). Also a big solo show at The Arts Project in 2005.

Have bought space in Group exhibits at Agora Gallery in Soho NYC, summer 2006 and Gora Gallery, Montreal, winter 2005 and was part of a group show at Gallery Luz in Montreal, winter 2006."

Q. What trends do you see in the 'art world'?

A. "This question is intriguing to me and in part influences the numbering as part of the image in my recent work. I’ve read where Clement Greenburg ( A renowned Art Critic) stated in the early 1950’s that easel painting was a dying art form. Fifty years later, the likes of Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Tracey Emin among others have proved he was, at the very least, early in his prediction.

In the book “Vitamin P’ New Perspectives In Painting, ValĂ©rie Breuvart says; ‘During the past decades, painting has often been declared dead by the critics.’ She goes on. ‘Nothing could be further from the truth.’

As sophisticated as our world is turning, I believe that it still takes some time, however short, to determine a significant trend, probably longer to determine another ‘ISM’ in art. I suspect that the next 50 years will have determined that the next art movement will have been ‘Much Music TelevISM’ or ‘YOU TubISM’.

As long as there are walls however, there will be a call for something to put on them. some of it decorative, some of it collectible and some of it Art. As for the genre of painting as an art, I am content to continue to explore it with the hundreds of thousands of other artists around the world. But are we still making Art ?? or has much of it now just become Craft ?? Either way, because it is so subjective and what is NOT Art to one person is Art to another, I suspect it will still remain the object of collectors for a long time."

Q. Any tips for emerging artists?

A. "I imagine that the only thing better than following your passion would be to make good money at it."

Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?

A. "Forty plus years of freelance is bound to bring some dry periods. Particularly if one is the sole breadwinner for a family with three children. But just when it seemed we could no longer hang out to dry, and when I started looking for alternative work, the rain came, I sold some paintings and it got us through the next drought. It helped to buy a house early because as it appreciated, we could re- mortgage (3 times) which also helped to bridge the gap. But the kids are independent adults now, and it’s a bit easier, even though I’ve traded a pension for passion and will love to have to make art on into later years, God willing."

Q. In one sentence... why do you create art?

A. "Aside from, just because I’m me, if so inclined, one can find more interesting answer(s) in‘The Game of Art’ at:"

Q. What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?

A. "I am located in London, Ontario, Canada.It has quite a vibrant Visual Art community which started in the 60’s with Greg Curnoe and Jack Chambers."

Q. Has politics ever entered your art?

A. "I suspect my series of aviation pilots done in the late eighties could be considered political?"

Q. Does religion, faith, or the lack thereof play a part in your art?

A. "My personal experience has been that the love and joy of someone or something can be the source of significant hurt and suffering. I believe that both are integral to the cycle of life. I have attempted to express this by dissecting a heart shape with the cross, a symbol borrowed from my christian background. This symbology is evident in all the recent numbered work, though less obvious in some."

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the 'art world'?

A. "Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts."
I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Cliff Kearns. Feel free to critique or discuss his work.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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