I had the pleasure of visiting Younger Than Beyonce Gallery (563 Dundas St E) to take in Scratching Where It’sItching: the gallery grand opening and group exhibition in exploration of the social conditions and discourses surrounding the practice of young emerging artists, curated by Geneviève Wallen. Among the eight participating artists is Curtia Wright, painter and recent OCAD University graduate. I remember stopping in my tracks in front of one of her pieces displayed earlier in February at the 3rd annual Afrofuturism exhibition during Black Future Month 3015 and am happy to have finally sat down with her to discuss technique, decomposition and the value of emerging artists:
Can you remember the first time you drew something?
It was probably pre-kindergarten, maybe even pre-daycare… It would be just at home with my dad who used to like to draw a lot. He’s not an artist but he’s a carpenter and handyman and he’s always drawing. I remember him always giving me papers and a stapler and I would make these huge booklets and draw in them. A line here, a face there.. It was a lot of repetition and copying him. He kept them all, they’re in a box somewhere.
It’s almost as if that abstraction from earlier drawings is reflected in your latest series “Ruins”. Tell us about it, what drove you to the concept and development of the pieces?
It all came out of an experiment I did in collage class in which we had to recontextualize an image into a brand-new digital space. We had to achieve the most abstract space possible and try to make them still relate in some way. I decided to pursue the human body in nature. I know it’s a very common theme but I felt like exploring the ruin of the human body, both mental and physical. When we’re alive, we’re pressured by society and people and our bodies are broken up into different personalities. We almost become different people, viewed in completely different lights so you have to play up to those personalities in certain ways to dodge the perceptions that are projected onto you. You’re broken up into all these fragments and – like nature – organically decompose and eventually go back to the earth in these fragments
Your paintings definitely capture that transitionality.
They’re ephemeral. The ambiguity of painting is why I use that medium. It’s easy to paint something realistically but realism is already so prevalent in art. I’m more interested in working with the fragmentation of the human body than guessing how it can be represented.
You currently have two pieces on display here at Younger Than Beyonce. How did you get involved with the gallery?
They had an open call for submissions so I sent in a few of my pieces and an artist statement. I approached YTB initially because I think that their concept of and focus on artists making art under 30 is interesting. I actually had a conversation with one of my professors at another show and he was talking about how the art world and buyers are so obsessed with young art. He was saying that once you reach a certain age, they’re not interested in it anymore because it’s not fresh, it’s not new…and if you’re not established by then, you’re kind of f*cked. So I thought it was interesting that a show like this existed and the notion that there’s a time limit on your success is scary. If you don’t make it within a short period of time, it’s like you’re limited in what you can do. So my thoughts submitting were definitely “I have to do as much as I can now”.
It’s funny you say this because you’d imagine it to be the other way around. An older artist may have more experience and more years, so why does their perspective lose value?
You just have to push yourself more when you’re young. It’s hard to accept too, because aging is inevitable. It’s like they’re waiting for you to become somebody established, to see how much you learnt from theory and how you’re going to go out and do the real stuff. I did two shows immediately after I graduated but it’s hard. A lot of my favourite artists are OCAD graduates and people like that make me see the hope. Keita Morimoto for example, you see his success and he’s doing so much! I remember passing the awards hall in second year and seeing his work and saying to myself that that was how I wanted to paint.
School usually puts a big focus on theory. How important is technique to you vs. concept?
For me, technique is above research or theory. I’m really hands on. I paint before I research, which I’ve heard isn’t good… but it’s intuitive. You don’t want to over think it. I used to be very timid about my work, I wasn’t sure about it and didn’t even use the studios until second year. I’m still struggling with the theory behind it.
Do you see yourself exploring new mediums any time soon?
I’ve been making jewellery on the side for about three, four years. But besides that, sculpture maybe? I’ve had people come up to me and say that my pieces had a certain three dimensionality to them, which makes sense because I use a 3D program to make them and integrate those images into my paintings. Sculpture is very costly though.
Has there ever been a moment in which you created something and were surprised or taken aback?
I sometimes use paint thinner and solvent that eats away the paint on my pieces because I like the unpredictability. I used to do a lot of drawing and semi-realistic work before, trying to depict a face but not really caring how it turned out. It was actually the piece which I showed for Afrofuturism earlier this year that sprung the whole 3D art referencing in my work. It was definitely a eureka moment, I realized I could do so much more with painting.
All photos by www.michaelarenee.ca