Georgia Mathewson is an Ottawa, Canada based artist working in the fields of painting, mixed media, drawing, installation and, most recently, sound poetry in the group the Quatuor Gualuor. She received her Bachelor of Fine Art in 2008 from The University of Ottawa and has since been working in groups, collectives and through a solo practice.
Working from a meticulous process, her method is built on both intuitive and rational ways of thinking. One allows for ambiguous and fantastical imagery to unfold, while the other requires decisions to be made according to the boundaries and specifications of her materials. Her upbringing on a farm in rural Ontario informs her work, and she uses this experience to reflect on what it means to be a ruralist living in an urban environment.
On-hiatus Proposal Summary
Upon graduating from art school, Georgia enjoyed a period of fulfilling productivity with a group of other artist friends with whom she formed a collective named "Focus Group." (http://focusgroupart.blogspot.ca) She recalls that there was a great deal of optimism within the group during this period and it was easy to get caught up in the art making process, forgetting that they were all dirt poor, recently graduated, struggling, working artists. The group has since disbanded yet she looks back on these days fondly as one of her most creative periods in her life, and when she felt clearly a sense of purpose and a reason for making art. She has continued to practice art since then yet has carried a feeling that she has been on a kind of hiatus ever since her collaboration with the group ended. Furthermore, even though she continues to define and consider herself an artist, she admits a sense of disillusion towards her career path; there is so much pressure to achieve success, and this profession is all consuming, not allowing one to pursue other interests and desires.
Combined with these feelings was a belief that she should be fixing up her family's run-down farm that has been neglected for years; the same one where she taught herself to paint and where her creativity was nurtured. During her residency at RFAOH, Georgia will spend time raising funds and repairing this farmhouse, preserving a heritage site that just so happens to be her childhood home. She hopes that her on-hiatus project will allow her to leave behind her disillusionment and find a path of purpose again, with a little push and motivation from RFAOH.
Less than one week to go and I’m feeling quite anxious for what lies ahead. I didn’t know how it would feel to be on an artist’s hiatus, whether I would miss making art or not. I’ve found myself quite contented over the last six months just listening and learning, not making anything. Now I’m confronted with what to do once it ends and I’m quite dreading this actually. I’ve really enjoyed being on-hiatus.
I’d like to blog and create reports after the residency ends. I will let the co-directors know if I set this up so they can share it. I think once I become more active in the process of the renovating (I’ve barely scraped the surface , but it’s a start) people would like to follow it. Through my research I’ve discovered there’s a huge community of renovators out there and folks especially interested in heritage buildings, there’s a huge appreciation for this type work and I’d like to become more active within these circles. There’s still a lot of knowledge and resources required to move on with it.
In terms of going back to my usual art practice, I have had some moments where I’ve thought about painting and so I wonder if come November I’ll be inspired to pick up a brush again. I’ve been thinking about a new method to work in and so I’m pretty excited to try this out. As well the sound poetry band wants to get started again. When I think about regular sound poetry practices it makes me nervous because I think about all the time rehearsals take up. I ask myself would this be the best use of my time? We’ll see how I fare in a couple of weeks. Rethinking my painting practice has made me realize that I hold a lot of resentment towards my paintings and sketchbooks because they take up so much room, both physical and emotional space. In an ideal world all of my paintings would find a home and I would be relieved of their presence. There is an abundance of things in the world, certainly an abundance of art, and it’s this fact that makes me question the validity of art sometimes. I once had an art teacher who encouraged her class to get rid of 90% of our artwork. Remove the old to make room for the new? I can see the benefit in minimalist living, I really can.
Now, finally for a house update: the clean-up date the bylaw gave to have the exterior grounds tidied up has come and gone. The grass was cut short which was a satisfactory result for them and other odds and ends disposed of. Although I do think it’s ridiculous that bylaw can enforce certain rules on a property/landowner, this outdoor cleanup was long overdue and for that reason I’m glad for the kickstart. Not everyone is so complacent to these bylaws though as I’ve found out, in 2013 a man in the same area who also received a complaint fought it and made recommendations to the bylaw. His case was taken seriously and the 12 year old bylaw was going to be reviewed and a report made public. This man realized that there are problems with the policies after he saw a monarch butterfly on his property – he knew that if he were to cut his grass he’d be destroying the butterflies habitat. I’m not sure what’s happened to the report that was supposed to come out of this, if it’s out yet or not, but I’ll find out. I hope that whomever is in charge will come to the conclusion that in a rural area it’s particularly ridiculous that land and property owners are expected to treat their properties like doll houses with manicured lawns.
I also have more to add to the theft discussion : over the last couple of weeks something was taken from the property, nothing too important but it’s still disheartening that someone would do that and creepy.
Over the last five (now six) months of my residency I’ve developed a substantive reading list that has accumulated over time. Some of these books I already had on my bookshelf and some I have discovered along the way. I quickly realized that the nature of this residency encompasses a vast range of subjects and while at first I was a little overwhelmed by the vastness of these materials I’ve come to embrace and allow myself to dive into them, because they are all relevant. Thank you to individuals and to my own intuition for leading me to these sources – the list keeps growing but that means ideas are alive and I’m actively working when reading.
Flint & Feather, The Life and Times of E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake by Charlotte Gray
The Archaeology of Home, An Epic Set On A Thousand Square Feet of the Lower East Side by Katharine Greider
Informal Architectures Space and Contemporary Culture by Anthony Kiendl
Sandbanks, Exploring the Dunes of Sandbanks Provincial Park by Jayson Childs, Phil Ainsworth, Joanne Dewey and Yvette Bree Figure in Place/Figuring the Landscape by Frederick Hagan
Curationism, How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else by David Balzer
The Settler’s Dream, A Pictorial History of the Older Buildings of Prince Edward County by Tom Cruickshank and Peter John Stokes
Canada A Portrait In Letters, 1800-2000 by Charlotte Gray
Balancing a day job with my art practice has always been a challenge. I believe every artist who has a day job has to maintain a balance between the two. Fortunately for me I’ve been able to find ways of connecting my work to this residency. The fact that I work in an art gallery might make this easier and I feel very lucky for this reason. It makes the balance more manageable.
This summer there was an exhibition at the gallery based on an artwork by Marcel Duchamp. Working on this exhibition provided the opportunity for me to re-read up on Duchamp – an artist known for giving up making art to play chess. How appropriate.
I’ve always been interested in Marcel Duchamp. To me, he’s the perfect example of an older era artist whose working method was very contemporary for his time. I studied him in art school. One of my favourite works by him is The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-1923. I love that it is aesthetically beautiful but at the same time very weird and abstract, and I enjoy how difficult its meaning is to decipher and that he took his time creating it….8 years.
As an individual Duchamp was very much an intellectual and someone who pushed the boundaries of what it means to be an artist. The founder of conceptual art and installation, it seems to me he was someone who lived and breathed his art practice and I suspect who also lived as if there was no separation between art and life. I can’t say whether I think Duchamp was a good person, I learned this summer about the prevalence of misogyny within the Surrealist movement (a movement he was very much involved in), however, I do believe he was a good artist and there are many ways his working method resonates with me.
When I first started this residency, back in May and even before then, I was really focusing on asking myself the question “Why?”. Why did I want and need to go on this residency? Why was I turned off from making art? There is reasoning behind this question, but what I’ve come to believe lately is that it is not always necessary to ask it.
Duchamp once said: Artist’s often do things without knowing why they do them (…), I never ask myself why. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-features/9842887/Marcel-Duchamp-His-influence-is-still-everywhere-in- contemporary-art.html). I like this statement because it gives artist’s permission to be unsure. It was drilled into me in art school early on that artist’s should be able to answer the question why. That an artist owes this to their audience. I have a problem with this notion that everything must be explained or understood. As an artist and as a viewer I don’t think whether you know or don’t know makes something more or less relevant. Artists should allow themselves the freedom to make (or not make) without asking why. There is merit in simply doing because there isn’t always an immeditate answer, and there might not be an answer at all, which is okay. Besides, even if there is an answer it might not make sense to everyone. Our obsession with asking why is like saying that everything must be logical in order for it to make sense. If this were true a lot of great art wouldn’t be made and I wouldn’t be on this residency writing this because when I think about it it was actually completely illogical for me to stop making art when I did. I’d just finished a painting series and had plenty of more ideas but something inside me told me to take a step away.
Duchamp (like me) was a painter but he got bored with painting so moved onto other ways of making/not-making. His ideas opened doors for generations of artists, allowing them to break away from traditional notions of what an artist/art is. Speaking from personal experience I know that it’s easy for artists and non-artists to forget or maybe some do not even know that it’s okay to step away from something if it’s no longer fun. When something’s not broke you don’t fix it but what Duchamp’s legacy has shown us is that it’s okay to reinvent the wheel, no pun intended.
(Back to Basics: Why ask why? – A(rt)A(nonymous) Report- Day 121)
Marcel Duchamp playing chess, 1952 and The Bride Stipped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even,1915-23
The part that haunts me mostly- AA Report – Day 88
So the house was broken into recently. Nothing taken and no other damage done than exists already. Thank goodness. Thieves who didn’t find what they were looking for and left without exerting malice, and still I’m shaken by them.
Other recent occurrences: bylaw paid a visit asking that we clean things up. All this and I keep telling myself to stop complaining because I’m blessed but frankly it’s been hard to get away this month and I’m feeling pretty down on myself that I haven’t been able to do more. My heart feels weighted. This continues to be a haunting factor.
(The part that haunts me mostly-A(rt) A(nonymous) Report-Day 88)
Photo: for a long time now this chalkboard has lived in the second floor hallway and this animal (born out of slow ruin) is like an old friend but also offers a reminder of work to be done.
Briefly, this is a photo of a letter I wrote in June. I wrote the letter so that I could participate in a meaningful way in a 10 year anniversary for an art gallery, not as an artist but as an individual who once exhibited there. I wanted to participate in a meaningful way but also in a way where I wasn’t breaking the framework of the residency. Perhaps pushing the boundaries a little bit, the letter indicates that it is not an artwork:
“Please don’t confuse this for an artwork. This is not an artwork, just a letter. (…) “Because the framework of my residency stipulates that for 6 months I not make or present art I couldn’t formally submit an artwork to exhibit so I wrote this letter.”
I was nervous about contributing something this way, the residency parameters still had me confused so I thought I should get permission. After discussing my predicament wtih the co-directors I decided to go ahead with the idea and I emailed my letter to the gallery. I believe when I emailed the co-directors about this my mind was already made up but I still wanted to talk it through. My initial contact at the gallery didn’t think it would work because it wasn’t an artwork, however the hanging committee decided to hang it! I got to participate as a non-artist, presenting myself as an artist on hiatus. I confused a few people at the opening who wondered where my artwork was.
The reactions of people when I tell them the nature of this residency is always interesting, an extreme type of Lent I’ve heard. A few have taken great offense, equating it to becoming a nun (not a pleasant thought for some), while others compare it to a spiritual awakening, a tapas. Tapas? The word tapas was new to me, I didn’t know it as anything other than the Spanish cuisine! However, it was explained to me as a yoga term. It is a self-discipline technique and a quick search on Wikipedia lead me to the Sanskrit, meaning “deep meditation, effort to achieve self-realization, sometimes involving solitude, hermitism or asceticism (…) “the fire that burns within.”
For now I’ll leave it at that.
(Briefly- A(rt)A(nonymous) Report- Day 68)
The letter Blink Gallery decided to hang, the letter indicates it is not an artwork
Thinking about my art practice today. I’m not sure if I should be. Does that make this a confession?
Yesterday when I was on my way to the train station (heading back to Ottawa after spending some time working at the house), we passed a series of brightly coloured round objects on the side of the road. They looked like Christmas balls. Three of them. I caught myself thinking how nice it would be to have them and to incorporate them into an artwork. I haven’t worked with objects like this in a long time, why don’t I anymore? I was very close to asking my driver to turn around so that I could go and collect them. Would it be wrong to pick them up? I had a brief dialogue with myself: “We’re early, it would only be a little detour and they are just garbage at this point, I would be doing the community a service.” I wondered and we passed them by.
In my third month on hiatus I haven’t thought as much about my art practice as I am today. I suppose I did enough of that before going on hiatus. Thinking. Thinking about why I’m disillusioned and why I wanted (needed) this hiatus. A social media stream from my last art show also appeared today, popped up unexpectedly. A reminder of a period not that long ago. I remember, but I’m not tied to this memory. Here I am now thinking about making something new. Is it wrong? Within this thought stream I am also asking myself: Is there something special about an artist’s brain, that I would want to create something with such mundane objects? Or maybe my brain has been trained to think this way. After years of art school and working around artists is it now impossible for me not to think this way? Is it formula or instinctual? The artist’s curse? Geesh, when did not making art become so complicated?
(An almost detour – A(rt) A(nonymous) Report- Day 66)
Days late (did I really not write a report in June?), I apologize to the co-directors Matthew and Shinobu for making them wonder if I was still in this! I wrote to them yesterday to assure them that yes, I am indeed still in this! Time does seem to be passing by rather quickly though. It reminds me of when I was a child and school would let out for the summer, summer always flew by and here we are now already in July! I’ll start my second report by giving a brief update on June.
A lot happened and I can honestly say that I’ve been writing in my head for the entire month but for some reason not writing things down- the words are mostly lost now. It seemed easier, I guess, to just work through everything without taking the time to sit down and write. It’s funny because I found myself speaking to a lot of people about how wonderful the writing aspect of this residency is; that it enables the residents to be creative in other ways. Writing is something that I’ve always enjoyed but I don’t spend much time doing, with the exception of writing some poetry (here and there) and an artist statement, bio etc. I’ll be watching myself more carefully this month, making sure I take the time to physically write. It’s a fantastic way to process thoughts. I believe I have a whole chapter in my head right now about how I’ve been negotiating being an artist on hiatus while working in an art gallery, so look for a report about this in the future! June also presented me with the obstacle of how to find a place within the artworld as an artist on hiatus while not comprising my hiatus status. More about this later too.
Yesterday I went with my mom to pick up a building permit (it cost $100). I didn’t know that this would be a requirement to do work on the house. The house is owned by my family so why would we have to pay the town to renovate it? It turns out that that’s the law. Watch for it- there might also be a report coming about bureaucracy. 😉
The building permit covers the right to build as well as the right to demolish (take down). We’ll be taking down a balcony and another part of the house where the fire was and building around that. The balcony this summer, the other part I’m not sure when, time is limited. Interior work will be done as well.
Yesterday my partner, mother and I also spent time clearing away wild grape vines that have overgrown, growing over and around the house, suffocating the clothesline and a telephone wire. The removal of brush from around the house is integral to the prep work; before doing anything to the exterior brush must first be cleared away. I’ll be focusing on this for the next little while as well as figuring out how to bring a large balcony down! (see photos for more)
Reading other residents reports has made me recognize how much of my own project is tied into memory/history, and so I would really appreciate some direction from the co-directors (readers too) about whether they would like me to write more about this.
Until next time!
(Getting into it- A(rt) A(nonymous) Report-Day 64)
Covered Clothesline How do we approach these?
The grapevine attached itself by tendrils that seemed to mimic the wire of the clothesline
Getting a closer look at how the porch is attached
Before I begin I must first admit that I’m still coming down from a high. That high that comes from producing and exhibiting a body of work- to clarify, I recently took down this work following my exhibitions close so I am not currently exhibiting anything anywhere. Most artists that I’ve talked to about this understand and can relate to this feeling and place that I’m now in; the comedown, that lull period / what would normally be the thinking and researching process before the making. However, I’m also moving forward into a phase that involves not making art (for 6 months) which I think is a little bit harder to relate to. I am both happy and content that I can rest and relax, watch films , read books that I ignored while I was making but I’m also realizing that what I want to accomplish involves a ton of work which has me feeling quite anxious. Lately I’ve been flicking my fingernails as I walk. This might be because they make a similar sound as my paintbrushes do when I flick the bristles; perhaps a nervous tick or a symptom of withdrawl?
Am I a workaholic? Am I an artaholic?
I will use this residency as a time for contemplation, as much as for action. Put in place a system for motion (but not devoid of emotion). Studies of self and a house. Setting aside time to ASK: Where are we, and where are we going? (in relation to my family and culture). Where am I and where am I going? What is now and what was before? (investigating history) What did the fire destroy and can I use this destruction to bring about positive changes towards something better, beyond what there was, and what had become. And DO, put a lot of elbow grease into it.
(So it begins…Commencing…A(rt) A(nonymous) Report-Day 18)