A Profile on Briar Craig at YLW
On your way out of the Kelowna Airport and onto popular summer destinations, as you’re just about to enter security there is an excellent art opportunity. In partnership with the Kelowna International Airport, the Kelowna Art Gallery has a satellite gallery available for viewing 24/7, or rather, whenever YLW is open. Right now there is a show of this year’s winner of the Okanagan Arts Award for Visual Arts, Briar Craig. Here’s a conversation with him about his printmaking practice.
KB: Well you once told me that you mostly do your work in the summer. You hunker down and just get to it.
BC: Yeah, that’s when I get 2 or 3 days to clean the studio and clean off all the gunge that’s been left over from the school year. I mean I love the students dearly, but they leave scunge and I can’t work in it, so it’s got to be cleaned.
KB: So the work that’s hear tonight, follows that same thread of the heavy use of text in your work. And from knowing you, you’re quite a witty guy and funny, I see the addition of the text to the work as adding your wit into the pieces.
BC: Yeah, I hope so. I think they’re funny as hell. So I’m really glad glad to hear that someone else thinks so too.
KB: [laughing] Now all I can imagine is you working away in your studio saying to yourself “This is hilarious!”
BC: It’s true. I’m so easily amused. I like to play games – I’m a big fan of Scrabble and Boggle. My favourite thing in Scrabble is when you get a really dense area where all the words kind of work together. Not just fit together, but do something together.
KB: Like create a sentence or a thought. Some of the works here kind of do this too. It takes a second though because you’ve played with the spacing in such a way that creates multiple ways to read the letters.
BC: Yeah, I find that charmingly strange. If you just change the spacing between words and create new words, people cannot see the actual thing easily. Some people can’t even see it, because once you’ve seen the word “Be” in it, the thing changes how we perceive things.
KB: And all the words are on a kind of paper ephemera – scrap pieces of paper, envelopes, tickets, images, etc. – that I Imagine you come across and have this kind of love affair with and you have to work with.
BC: Yes. I collect so many scraps. I have people now who are actually on the look out for post it notes and things to send me. It’s hilarious. I got a beautiful list last year. It was like a shopping list or a list of things to do in a day. And one of the things to do was ‘buy dope’. Along with other normal things, like ‘buy crackers’. I find that most things make me laugh. I think that absent mindedly we put things together that are really funny and that’s what I focus on the most. I find what might be an absent mindedly constructed list, but if it doesn’t do something or activate my imagination in some way, those are the ones I leave behind.
KB: The other thing that I’m always really conscious of in your work is surface texture, especially in such a flat media of working, printmaking.
BC: In a strange way, the screenprinting we do now, is this ultraviolet light ink and it builds up quite a thick texture. I mean, I can’t print as many layers as I used to – I used to print 40 or 50 layers of ink.
KB: That’s something you’re known for. You do go back into things and hit up the intensity of certain colours or areas
BC: And any of these have 20 or 30 layers of printing, but now it has…
KB: …a kind of skin.
BC: Yes, a tangible relief, In a subtle sort of way, as opposed to drying absolutely flat, it has a bumpy matte surface. So when it stands up and is lit from above, it does create a little richer colour, because you get some almost imperceivable shadows in the ink. But in the end, it’s trying to convey that fascination I have with the actual thing. I’m not trying to trick anyone into thinking these are the actual things, but I do want to give a nod to the ‘thingness’ of the object. That’s half of the fun. If you could pick it up and hold it, it’s way more interesting than if you could only see if from the distance.
KB: See when you mention that there are 20 plus layers in these pieces, it brings Jeff Wall’s composites to mind and the fact that every single nuance of those images is really carefully constructed and photographed separately and then composited together to create this ‘uber’ moment, where everything is pristine and perfect and everything calls your attention equally.
BC: Well, I’m please you’re thinking about ‘uber’ moments in relation to my work.
KB: [laughs] I mean….uber boring moments.
BC: [laughs] ah, yes….thanks. I guess. I’m feeling a little crushed.
KB: No, you’re paying homage to all those moments that we all kind of overlook, yet sometimes they’re the magic, sparkly moments of the day.
BC: And for me, that’s the kind of thing that would make a day. You know, if I’m walking around downtown Toronto and I find a great shopping list that I can’t read, but the text is all scratchy and weird and it’s on a cool crumpled piece of paper, then my day is made right there. And when I find something that isn’t complete, it invites me to complete it in my mind. That’s the best. You can’t beat that.