We visited Vancouver-based painter Elizabeth McIntosh at her studio in at the International Studio and Curatorial Program in Brooklyn, NY that was provided as part of Canada Council for the Arts International Residency Program New York Studio. McIntosh has shown across Canada and the United States. Her recent exhibitions include Szalon (University of Chicago, 2014), Fairy Bread (Diaz Contemporary, 2014) and Persian Rose Chartreuse Muse (Equinox, 2014). Her works are held in collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario and Vancouver Art Gallery, among others. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Painting and Visual Arts at Emily Carr University in Vancouver.
I started working wet-on-wet here because I wanted to try focusing on one painting at a time. Normally I would alternate between three. I wanted to see if the paintings seem more intense when I’m just working on one at a time. The paint wasn’t drying fast enough, but I went ahead painting anyway.
I always want to control everything and wet-on-wet is this whole other thing of letting go and seeing what happens if I don’t wait for it to dry. It mixes together and does what it is supposed to do. Unpredictable things happen. The layering looks very different, it looks part of the background, it melds together. I can’t do it exclusively because I get stuck sometimes.
I don’t really have a method for choosing colours. I do get inspired by colours. If I’m having a bad painting moment where I just don’t feel very excited about anything I go and buy some new colours. It breathes a bit of new life into things.
I haven’t discovered any new colours since I’ve been in New York. I’ve been buying my old standards. Although, I bought this permanent yellow, it’s cooler and less opaque than cadmium yellow. I’ve been trying to use yellow more because I love yellow but can never quite make it work.
I’m working on a painting but I think the colours look too dated—they don’t look dead, they just look old. I don’t want it to be nostalgic, or romantic. I’m probably going to do something whacky with it to freshen it up. There are all of these intuitive things happening when I’m using colour, initially it could be, ‘What am I in the mood for today? What’s going to get me going?’ There’s the initial inspiration and then there’s the relationships that start within the painting, and then conversations with the other paintings that are hanging around the studio at the time.
I’ve been trying to keep the surfaces nice and not gnarly. Sometimes they get gnarly. In the past, it would never be too late. A painting was always salvageable. When I was doing more geometric work, the final painting would be clean and crisp looking. I would really take care with the last layers. There might be bumps and visible underpainting but the colour and shapes were solid, and I really figured out what I wanted to be opaque and not.
These new paintings are more gestural and I want to see the mixing of paint. It’s a new thing to negotiate. I have this tendency to go back in and tidy everything up in a kind of finicky way.
I’m trying to train myself right now to handle that problem. For example, I had to repaint a shape because I went back in and it really looked mismatched. I had to try and paint this to look like it was painted at the same time. I had to gear myself up! I had to put it on the floor and get all ready because you’re in all of these different kinds of moods when you paint.
When I want it to look really direct, I draw out the parts in Photoshop first. I plot the move. I look at the Photoshop drawing when I’m painting, I’m referring to something.
It’s adding to the painting in an outside way rather coming from that moment when you’re in the process—in the throes of painting. I think it’s different. In a way you can tell this is a reiterated gesture, not an original gesture. That communicates something very different. It’s been conceptualized somewhere else, not in here. I’m interested in that. What does it give or what does it take away?
I was happy with my show, Fairy Bread, at Diaz Contemporary, but for those paintings the images were entirely set up in Photoshop, the canvases were ordered to size and executed very quickly. It was completely radical for me to do that.
Those paintings confused me. I thought, ‘What am I doing? Is this a new career?’ They were so different, I had no way of judging them. I was thinking of cancelling the show up to three weeks before. It seemed risky to show the work but I was excited at the same time.
Luckily, a close friend came to Vancouver around that time—she has known my work for 20 years and I can totally trust her. I dragged her to my studio as soon as she landed. She just sat there, I had them stored all over because they were big and I was making them pretty fast, then she said, ‘Can you stop for a minute.’ And then she said, ‘It’s good. It’s good. Gor for it! Just do it!’
I’ve always wanted to be a different kind of painter and I think I am slowly getting to be the kind painter I want to be. I like loose painting. I even joke about my affinity for Julian Schnabel plate paintings. There’s a certain energy in more expressive painting that I have always been a sucker for.
—Elizabeth McIntosh, as told to Studio Beat
Photos by Brittany Carmichael
Visit Elizabeth McIntosh’s website here.