Monday, 30 September 2013

A Walk With An Artist: Chris Wilkie

As I walked up to Arts Market on College Street, Toronto, I wondered if Chris Wilkie had reached already. I passed by a lady taking pictures of what reminded me of Chris' art, but I wasn't sure. And just as Stephanie (Scotch Rye) behind the counter was telling me where Chris was, like karma, she walked in. The lady I'd seen outside, was Chris, taking pictures of her artwork to be put up on her website.

"Shall we sit at the back of the store?" she asked me, and I nodded in agreement.


Sitting down at the table, I gazed up at the enormous metallic marlin mounted on the wall and asked Chris how she had come to be an artist.

"Simply, ever since I could hold a crayon; I've been making art in every form I could. When the art of photography called, I listened and went to Humber College to study it."

So, do you prefer taking photographs with optical cameras using film, or do you like the profusion of digitization in photography?

"Honestly, I really loved working with film. There is something about working in a dark room, with the chemicals and all, that the ease of the digital dark room just cannot conquer. Although, I now use a digital camera and software to help produce work, and it's wonderful in its ways, it just doesn't match the sensation that I get when working with film in an actual dark room."


How many media do you work in?

"Media I work in primarily include photography, linoblock printing, and acrylic paint."

Where do you find your inspiration?

"In life! Although my photography used to be commercial based, it is now whatever inspires me to click the shutter. Abandoned places, lost things, everyday things that go unnoticed, moments in life, sometimes just cool or pretty things. On the side, I do portraits, as well."

Our Home

How do you decide what is worth shooting?

"Sometimes when I'm at an event or someone invites me to a barbecue or a party, I just take a moment from everything and step back into the shadows. And then I quietly document what is going on around me. It is very interesting to take a back seat and to let people do what they want to do and just observe."

Tell me about linoblock prints.

"My linoblock prints allow me to work in a more tactile way. It takes precision and focus, as well as steady hands to create and carve. My pieces are usually inspired by nature and native folktales from back home. That said, I like modern elements too, like old tattoos and quirky shoes. Come, I'll show you."

Riding Old School

We walked over to the wall where Chris's work is on display, and she showed me her linoblock prints. Seeing the somewhat quizzical and amazed expression on my face, she explained to me how it is all done. 

"I have to etch the image in, starting from the opposite side. Meaning, I have to create a mirror image so that when I print it, it's on the right side."

Charlie Whiskey (logo)

So it has to be done with a lot of precision, because if you make a mistake you can't erase it and go back and do it again, you have to start over again!

"Speaking of old tattoos, my acrylic on wood board paintings are very much inspired by tattoos, as well as flags and such. (That body of work is the focus of Charlie Whiskey.) Having come from Georgian Bay and having had both grandfathers in WWII (a great-grandfather in WWI too), it is understandable how a touch of old world army, boat workers, British flag, Fleur de Lis, and a crown & anchor, worked their way into my art."

Georgian Bay
How about using First Nations symbols in your work?

"Strange you should ask that, because I do have some First Nations in blood in me. In fact, my linoblock work showing swans, crows, and the turtle carrying the world on its back are all influenced by themes found in aboriginal legends."

Animals (linoblock)

What about painting, in the conventional sense of the term?

"I have been working on a more personal body of work, using paint on wood board. The colours are both muted and vivid in a raw stain-like way. The subject matter is of the female body and the emotion, like the colours, are quite raw."

Reminds me of Frieda Kahlo, the pain and personal experience she was able to capture in her artwork were exquisite even though agonizing to most. You're taking quite the same route here. 

Anything else you've been doing in terms of exploring yourself as an artist?

"I've also been pounding flowers and revisiting watercolours. These are interesting exercises in creativity. I often like to challenge myself by trying something new or by developing something I know I can improve on. As it turns out, I've been incorporating these two elements and making pretty things that (at least) my mother really likes!"

Sidewalk Series

Tell me about artists you would like to collaborate with?

"I would love to go for a walk with Vivian Maier and our cameras. She was born in New York City in the 1920s and grew up in France. When she came back to NYC, she worked as a nanny. No one knew of her talent as a street photographer until a few years ago when all these negatives were discovered in an auctioned-off storage locker. Her work is beautiful and real. If we are going for people still alive: Mary Ellen Mark! Same thing: a walk with our cameras. I had the chance to work with her back when I was in college; I have always admired her. It was an amazing experience. Painting? Frieda Kahlo has been on my mind a lot lately. What a woman! Modigliani too. I need to pay attention to more living artists if I'm looking for a dream collaboration!"

Sneaker Sidewalk

Yes indeed you do! Let's take a walk shall we? 

By this time, I had gathered by the way Chris smiled when art was mentioned in front of her, it was truly a soulmate for her. She was in love with producing art in every and any form. It wasn't just her love for art that made her passionate about producing art; it was also her love for the small things in life that make her the artist she is. Her heart bleeds when it sees pain around it, and laughs when joy even shies into view. While walking to the subway, Chris revealed that she is also a writer. She is an author/photographer/designer on the Advisory Council for Small Print Toronto

As we walked down Ossington Avenue, a house-lined busy street with careless traffic screaming past the pedestrians, Chris and I spotted a tiny dog strolling onto the road. I froze, my hand covering my mouth, while Chris immediately jumped into action and ran after the dog. She commanded oncoming traffic to a halt and then ran across the street after the dog, followed by the tiny old lady who owned the dog. All this, while I was rooted to my spot on the other side of the street. When she finally returned with the dog safely in her arms, the old lady thanked her profusely and took the dog from her, and I looked upon her with admiration that I would show towards a hero. 

That is Chris Wilkie: a photographer, an artist, and a saviour. 

Water Colour Rocket

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