Artist of the Week: Beth Stuart

Beth Stuart lives and works in Toronto, Canada.  She was a semifinalist in the 2010 RBC Canadian Painting Competition and her work was recently shown at The Power Plant.

If you had to explain your work to a stranger, what would you say? I’d say that I make paintings. And then they’d say “of what?”  and I’d say – “exactly!” But most seriously, I feel like I’m working on some sub-lingual level, trying to still a muttered argument between figuration and abstraction, not understanding either language.  Another way to put it is that I’m trying to give some provisional structure to sensation. If someone looked at one of my paintings and said, “Oh, that one’s looks like licking frozen metal!” or “those two together look like a conversation between my libidanally challenged aunt and my randy teenage girlfriend”, I’d be getting somewhere.

What kinds of things are influencing your work right now? I’m doing some craft research into a couple of techniques popularized by modernist textile hero Peter Collingwood.  One is an ancient Danish technique called Sprang, and one is called ply-split braiding.  Both make braided textiles that contravene the oppositional warp and weft of common woven structures.  This seems a lovely metaphorical sideline to my painting’s interest in binding polemics together in awkward truce.  Materially the textiles produced are interesting in their own right: stretchy, saggy, lumpy, uneven, prone to holes.  They may surface as sculptural works, and/or painting surfaces soon.  I’ve also been reading this text by medieval French mystic Marguerite Porete,  in which she (in my interpretation) proposes that what we really need is to make love to God,  that love, the body and the soul can marry reason in ecstasy.

How has your work developed within the past year? I’ve moved away from larger works that might involve more discreet elements interacting.  Instead I’m working smaller on more singular “sensations”.  I would liken them in some way to portraits.  I am also moving more and more towards making sculpture.

What is one of the bigger challenges you and/or other artists are struggling with these days, and how do you see it developing? I see – especially in the work I most admire – a tendency towards modesty, humility, soft humour and a kind of deliberate tentativeness.  Consciously or unconsciously, I think this is in reaction to the more and more intense professionalization of the artist.  As if in protest to the kind of aggressive, big, hard, shiny presence needed to breach the system, the best work is embodying none of these traits.  People are exhausted with the constant noise, and perhaps finding respite in more quiet, mysterious actions.

How has living in Toronto affected your art practice? Toronto’s art climate is a mirror of its civic climate.  A bit conservative, a bit blustery, trying to live up to some fiction of global viability, as if such a homogeneous ideal existed.  That said, there are a lot of people working very, very hard to make art happen here.  Sometimes, I think, a bit too hard to permit healthy misbehavior and productive accidents.  Mostly I find myself swept into the earnest Protestant work ethic of it all, and that’s alright for now; it’s friendly here.


What artists are you interested in right now? Trisha Donnelly, Frances Stark, Charline Von Heyl, Alice Channer, Vincent Fecteau.  Some Canadians: Nestor Kruger, Luanne Martineau, Sandra Meigs, Derek Sullivan.

What was the last exhibition you saw that stuck out to you? A couple of years ago in New York there was a big show at the Met of Jasper Johns, which was great, but at the same time there was a small show of his drawings at Matthew Marks that completely blew me away.  I can’t put words to it, but there it is.

What were you like in high school? Neurotic, awkward and insecure.

What do you do when you’re not working on art? Sometimes I work with my friend Red renovating other people’s – other artists’ – houses.  This is amazing, rewarding, learning work.  I recently started teaching a bit at the Ontario College of Art and Design.  I cook, I read and garden and watch Internet TV.  I pet my cat.  I’d like to travel more.

Any current or upcoming shows we should know about? I have a show in January in Montreal at a gallery called Battat Contemporary.   This is good, I love Montreal.