Enter the multi-coloured, post-apocalyptic spacescapes of Toronto-based artist Christina Mazzulla. Influenced by the pressures and anxiety of rapid urbanization, Christina creates vivid layered paintings of barren land: an alternate universe of aerosol mountains and gradient suns. Not long ago, I payed her a studio visit and we had a stimulating conversation about urban art, collective evolution and coming to terms with one's ego.
What do you think was your main motivation in creating your most recent series?
I used to be really interested in combining different biological forms to create fantasy, alien-like spacescapes. Then I got bored of that, and I realized a lot of people were making similar work especially in the psychedelic art community and I didn’t really want to be a part of that. I didn’t want my work to be pigeonholed into a specific category. It was then that I started slowly shifting into something a little more ‘realistic’. From there I started building an aesthetic that was more progressive for me, and has led me into the work I’m currently making.
Would you describe your paintings as a form of escapism?
It’s definitely a yearning to be in a different environment. Sometimes I want to ignore my reality here and it’s comforting to have these glimpses into alternate universes and have the ability to share that with people instead of looking at cityscapes all the time. We see that every day already. This is me wanting to be somewhere else, but it’s really interesting how much the aesthetic of my paintings is based on the aesthetic I see here. They’re not natural, the colours are toxic and reminiscent of city life, and party culture, and an artificial environment. I think that a lot of people paint traditional landscapes because it’s a good selling point. It’s a very safe thing that someone would want to put in their house, but it’s not like that at all with my work. My paintings can be very jarring and abrasive at times.
Have you ever received any unexpected interpretations of your work?
Honestly, the biggest thing is people asking me if I do a lot of psychedelics or mushrooms or if I’m under the influence when I do my paintings. I also get a lot of questions on whether I’m influenced by the Group of Seven and no, not really. (laughs)
In your opinion, what role does art play in individual and collective evolution?
Art plays a huge part in my own personal evolution. It’s an expression of my experiences both positive and negative. Art is an outlet to express emotions such as frustration and regret, it’s a way to work through processes of mistakes and learn to forgive myself and grow. If I didn’t have art, I would be repressing all of these things and probably going crazy. (laughs) As for collective evolution, I think that being able to share artwork with others really shows how you can have different outlooks. You can inspire people to be creative or influence them aesthetically. If someone buys a piece and puts it in their house it’s because it makes them feel good. It’s nice to think that I can have that effect on others, that I can create emotional therapy for others. It’s very important for me.
Do you struggle with staying true to your essence when selling your art?
For a while, it bothered me that I was making a living off of selling work as a commodity. It was unsettling to think that I was making a product, material things to be sold. I’ve always been against material possessions and it seemed like my art was becoming this luxurious thing, which didn’t feel good at all. But then I realized that a lot of people aren’t buying it for the ‘value’. They’re buying it because they appreciate it and they like how it makes them feel, it connected to them in some way or another.
Have you ever painted something that surprised you? That you didn’t know was in you?
All the time. Sometimes I’ll have an idea, try to create it, then get frustrated and won’t be able to get it out. Then years later, I’ll look back at the sketches and realize I’m feeling the exact same way. I’m struggling with the same ideas and emotions and it’s always amazing to see I’m still on the same path. It’s good to experiment to get your mind off of things. Sometimes I walk into the studio and make something I’m super proud of and be blown away. On the opposite scale, sometimes I walk in, pumped about an idea, and then I realize it actually sucks. We can get too much into our own egos sometimes so when something shatters you, you get grounded.
Are you highly influenced by urbanization in the city?
I think urban development in the city is a huge driving factor in why I make the work that I make. The anxiety of urbanization has become my life. I process through these feelings of guilt that I’m living in a self-destructive society. Fear of failure, fear of not having a place in your home, not having enough money to make rent, not making enough work to succeed, not having enough of a voice to be noticed. I think all of these pressures are very real and drive my work most of the time.
What’s your take on the popularization of urban art?
When graffiti was more of a subculture, it wasn’t portrayed as a fine art form. Urban art is more of it’s own movement now and in a lot of ways I’m happy that it is, because it gives me more of a place in the art world because now my work is deemed more ‘acceptable’. Using spray paint as an art medium was looked down upon before, it wasn’t taken as seriously or seen as ‘valuable’ as an oil painting. So much work isn’t actually archival. Half of the materials are so new, we don’t really know how long they’re going to last. We don’t know if the colour is going to stay.
Do you paint graffiti yourself?
A lot of people figure that at some point I did graffiti because spray paint is my main medium, but I try to keep my fine art practice separate because it’s so different from what I do on the street. They’re totally different styles of expression. Bombing has helped me not care about how things look all the time. When I’m painting graffiti I don’t care about whether something is perfect or not... you learn to embrace mistakes and imperfect lines and can have the freedom to paint something that doesn’t look like my “fine art” style at all. You can’t feel too entitled about your work on the street. If you’re putting something out in the public, it’s for everyone to see, and runs the risk of being weathered or painted over. You share the work, and accept its impermanence.
What keeps you motivated when you feel like dropping everything?
Honestly, I’ll get to points in which I feel so down about everything that I feel like quitting and getting a normal job and then I really think about it and take it back. (laughs) I could never do that. I don’t want to work for somebody else. I want to develop myself so I can continue doing what I’m doing, and as hard as it is I’d rather that over being financially stable. When you get frustrated or discouraged that you lack exposure or that your progression isn’t as fast as you expected...it’s shattering. It destroys your ego when you’re putting every single thing you have into it and it’s not working out, but I’ve come to terms with it. There’s nothing more rewarding than someone coming up to you and recognizing and appreciating your work. When somebody buys a piece and you know that they don’t have the money but connected with it enough to want to keep it forever, it’s flattering. I love being able to have a part in people’s lives that way.