Carrie McIntyre: Exploring abstraction, freedom and creative release

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Entering the studio of Toronto-based artist Carrie McIntyre feels like stepping into an antiquated Victorian living room that looks like it’s pretty much survived the colourful wrath of a vibrant paint tornado. Canvases cover every available inch of wall from floor to ceiling, making it difficult near impossible for me to focus on Carrie herself, sitting across from me and chatting away about her work, which speaks strongly to abstraction as a means of personal expression. We chatted for quite some time about emotions, sensitivity and painting as an essential form of creative release. Read below!

When did you first start painting?

I didn’t actually find art until quite later on in life. I discovered painting through a friend – almost by accident! I was 36 when I painted my first piece… I guess it never really occurred to me at a young age that I was that way at all. I was creative in other ways and I’ve always been a very dramatic and emotional person, but I had no idea it was inside me. I’ve always had a lot of creative energy, but that energy just seeped into other areas of my life when I was younger.

Was it intimidating to get into art at a later age?

It doesn’t have a reputation of being sustainable whatsoever. A lot of people ask me why I didn’t discover it earlier but I guess you just don’t always know you have it inside you. I love having found it later and pursued it full time… You create something and sometimes you can’t even believe it came out of you. It’s crazy!

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Your work speaks a lot to discovering oneself through the creative process. What was the most important thing you learnt about yourself through painting?

What I’ve learned the most is that it’s so good to have an outlet for your creativity – it’s so healthy. I’m a very sensitive person, things affect me and painting is very good for me because it allows me a time to be engaged instead of worrying and obsessing about something. I get into this zone and I’m present. I’ve also realized that art is all about energy. There is this creative energy inside of me that I really need and love to release. I wouldn’t want to live my life without having that.

Your paintings do emit a very positive energy… Do you find that creating also helps you in a therapeutic way if you’re dealing with negative emotions?

I don’t paint when I’m really angry or really sad because the work doesn’t turn out well. All results have a lot to do with my mood so I usually don’t like painting when I’m upset. At the same time, I’m never really conscious about what it is that I’m actually making. It comes from something more subconscious.

You were taught/mentored by Leon Soriano for some time. What was that like?

I was trying to find an acrylic painting class in the afternoon and I ended up attending his class at a Jewish community centre which was about 45 minutes into the middle of nowhere. He’s this crazy, crazy man from South Africa and we just clicked right away. I did both group classes and private classes. Leon is an amazing painter who’s taught me so much and I feel lucky to have found him. There’s no way I could have progressed if I hadn’t.

It’s important to have guidance that focuses on individual artistic development. What do you most take away from his lessons?

He’s very hands on and taught me everything from how to draw to how to look at a painting to how to use colour to pull a painting forward. Technique, composition, colour… the list goes on.

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Do you think that having a background in theatre has influenced your style?

I wouldn’t be able to tell you. There are so many different styles of painting and as far as style goes, all I can say is that if I do the same thing for too long, I just get bored of it. I’m always coming up with new series and when I find something I love, I usually do it until I mess it up, destroy it and then have to get something else going.

It’s important to experiment and push yourself to the next level.

I’ve actually been told so many times that shifting styles is a bad thing… that artists need to stick to something particular to be recognized and that type of stuff.  I don’t really care about sticking to that one thing that people can expect.

I feel like that would just be creating art based on others’ needs or desires?

I see so many artists that I love who are perfecting their style and they’re totally nailing it, but I just get bored if I do the same thing over and over again. Although I sometimes go back to an old style, I’m constantly changing. My portraits, for example… A lot of them really are accidental. When you start painting, all of these elements start coming up but it’s never been a conscious decision of mine to draw a person, or a form. It just happens. Your art always evolves into something  you didn’t really see it turning into.

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What do you do when your inspiration draws a blank?

I’m always thinking about what I want to paint. The problem is when I go through periods in which I have an idea in my mind that I don’t know how to fix. There are certain canvases you want to create but they’re just cursed from the beginning… I’ve worked on pieces for weeks and had to walk away, which is just awful. Then again, sometimes I’ve managed to save them and they ended up being some of my best paintings. Now I think you can probably save everything but it means you’re going to need to paint a thousand paintings over one.

You haven’t shown in Toronto yet. How are you finding tapping into the city’s art market?

I’m working on it. I’ve done the paintings and now I’m tackling the business side of it… it’s a totally different beast trying to sell them. It’s very exciting and definitely different from the creative aspect. The other day, someone was asking me what my six month plan was… I’m not selling distressed jeans! I’m not selling cars! I don’t expect to sell a hundred paintings right away. Those plans are just destructive so I’m taking it one day at a time.

Why do you find plans like those destructive?

You just can’t set up ridiculous expectations like that or you’re going to be disappointed. Sometimes it’s just not healthy nor possible. Every day, I do what I can and that’s it. We’re not in control of every single thing and once you embrace that, that’s when you move forward. All we have is right now.

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Art can be very personal as well…

Of course, it’s so different for everyone. The most pleasant surprise is what people will come up with when looking at my pieces or when someone loves something that I don’t like. It’s so weird! Then again, sometimes I get the funniest reactions, people saying things like “Oh…It’s not my favourite”. At the end of the day, it has to work when you think it works. You can’t possibly please everyone and once you’re creating something based on what other people want to see, it’s not art anymore, it misses the point completely.

Do you have any advice for emerging creatives?

Probably to not listen to any negativity. So many people say that art is a hard industry and it’s sad because you hear a lot of people giving up but I would just encourage everyone to work at it all the time because you just can’t afford to think like that. If you really love to do it, keep on going and don’t give up. Don’t ever consider stopping as an option, there’s no reason why you should.

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Follow Carrie McIntyre’s work on her website and Instagram

All photos by The Supermaniak