As Laura Culic and Earls Court Gallery were preparing for the launch of “Ebb & Flow”, we were well aware of the restraints that may play when launching an artist’s solo exhibition during what was the second wave of Covid19. Knowingly, the gallery extended the length of the exhibit from 4 weeks to 7. We did this with the intent that it would be long enough to get past the hurdles of any lockdowns or slowdown in visitations. Furthermore, as tradition with new exhibitions, we had collectively decided to do two ‘Meet the Artist’ Saturdays; one in April and one in May.
However, as perfect storms sometimes come, it is looking like the length of “Ebb & Flow” is actually a predictor of when the lockdown was to start and possibly end. (Personally, I have a running joke that openings are often on the hottest/severe rain/snow storm kind of nights.) And as we are unable to host ‘Meet the Artist’ Saturdays, I have put forth some in-depth questions that you might have asked artist Laura Culic during these mini events.
As you will read, you will find that Laura Culic has been delightfully candid and offers some great insights into her current body of artwork and her practice as an artist. So, grab a coffee or wine – depending on the time of day- and enjoy this interview with Laura Culic and myself.
--Curator Andrea Jackman
AJ: What inspired you to lead a creative life?
LC: I think multiple factors contributed to my choice of a creative life.
As a child, I highly enjoyed, by choice, a great deal of solitary time: reading or drawing alone in my room; rambling about amongst trees, undergrowth and moss, or floating and snorkeling for endless hours in the water at our cottage on Georgian Bay. My dad, though his career was a regular 9 to 5-er, was/is a highly creative person, and had the ability to actualize whatever he envisioned in terms of designing, constructing or fixing things; I think his ability contributed to my belief, confidence and determination that I could express, concretely, whatever I imagined.
In high school, I loved and excelled at English, literature, writing, and environmental studies, however, the only real career I could ever conceive for myself was as a visual artist - I honestly felt there could not be another option for me.
AJ: What’s a work-day like?
LC: After a requisite two or three cups of yummy coffee, I’m in the studio around 10 or 11 am, and after a leisurely lunch, back in again until around 6 pm, often with a 40 - 60-minute afternoon break for yoga or a rapid walk. I am not holus-bolus painting the whole time though - a good chunk of studio time is spent looking, analyzing and critically considering my work, whilst - depending on time of day - sipping either tea or red wine.
"Laura Culic Working on the floor"
AJ: What do you do when you are not inspired to work in the studio?
LC: Even if not feeling ‘inspired,’ I know I need to make the effort to get in there and just work. I know I need to show up, and for me, the only way to get through a patch of non-inspiration is to work through it. Even if the work is going badly, I have learned to have faith that it’s often through the roughest patches of non-inspiration and uncooperative painting that I experience the greatest learning and problem solving - leading to better understanding and enhanced competence. This often leads to the solving of problems with other uncooperative work in progress. Inspiration does not simply strike - it happens in the doing.
AJ: How long roughly did it take you to prepare for “Ebb & Flow”?
LC: I would say the concepts for how this body of work could unfold and which directions it could take began to simmer and percolate in late autumn 2020. The physical execution of the work began full time, in earnest and with intensity and much mess, in mid-January.
AJ: Describe what ‘Mixed Media’ means in the context of “Ebb & Flow” artworks?
LC: I use acrylic underpainting in most of my pieces. The smaller works all began as abstract acrylic paintings, plus collaged book pages. The larger panels are simply toned with buff or soft orange acrylic.
Next, I draw with graphite or vine charcoal - usually with abstract marks, loops and scribbles. These underlayers are done with the knowledge that they will eventually be covered up - yet they still contribute to the depth, the fabric and the meaning of the painting.
I don’t always follow the same procedure in the process, but most works involve at some point: charcoal powder mixed with cold wax; oil paint mixed with wax in varying amounts; oil sticks - hard ones and soft; further mark making done with different sorts of graphite sticks and hard wax crayons. I also make washes using solvent and powdered pigment and/or oil paint. I’ll either lay the work on the floor to pool the washes; or apply when the piece is on the wall, for drippy action. Some pieces have pan pastel or dry pigment sprinkled and brayered into the soft surface. I will often apply waxed paper or tissue to fresh paint to remove or compress the layers - with or without solvent. Or I will apply paint or oil stick to waxed paper and use as transfer paper to create marks. Or I’ll move fluid paint on the surface using waxed paper to disperse or transfer it. Or remove several layers of paint with solvent in washes over large areas, or in drips or splatters.
"Daybreak" by Laura Culic
Mixed Media on Panel, 15" x 30"
AJ: “Ebb & Flow” is a diverse collection of images. That’s what makes a great exhibition. However, there is a palette of colour that flows from painting to painting. How did you come to this colour story? Was it intentional or intuitive?
LC: Actually, the term ebb and flow seems an apt description of how my colour preferences continue to evolve, shift, wax and wane over time. For instance, I used to avoid the phthalos - blue, green and turquoise - as I found they often overpowered other colours. Now, I feel, I’ve made friends with them. I have recently re-introduced indigo to my palette, and delight in its mysterious subtleties when white is added and the depths it creates as a glaze.
I feel colour is like a language - and this is currently my favourite vocabulary. I find the mark making using the warm pinks and oranges make for lively and perhaps unexpected exclamation points to the range of blues and greens. The greenish yellows spring from blacks or phthalos mixed with an exciting range of warm and cool yellow powdered pigment from Kama, my favourite paint manufacturer.
I think my choices could be termed both intentional and intuitive. I am merely mixing colours I feel it’d like to see - colours that resonate with me emotionally and intellectually and that push the boundaries - ever so slightly - from what is literally seen in nature towards what Ifeel about nature.
"Weird Fishes" Installed at Earls Court Gallery
AJ: Titles- How do you come up with them?
LC: I arrive at titles in various ways.
I keep a computer document of evocative words and phrases, which I add to whenever I am struck with interesting material in songs, poems or literature. I keep the list as a backup for the odd times when a title does not occur during the process of painting.
In the studio, I keep a running list of scribbled words and phrases as may arise in my thoughts while I paint. Occasionally, if an interesting title occurs early in the process, I have found it may be limiting to stick with it, in that it dictates too narrowly the direction the painting ought to take - when it eventually maybe needs to go somewhere else.
But on the other hand, I sometimes feel a title is what is needed to keep a painting on track with an original intention. The piece Weird Fishes is a good example of a title - from a Radiohead song - that came to mind at the very beginning of the painting, and, although the painting itself shifted drastically in colour and composition throughout the process, the title continued to apply and to guide the journey of the piece.
AJ: In your statement for the exhibition, you mentioned that the artworks derive from a more reflective and imaginative response to water and place. What are some of your favourite places that you travelled to that led to the inspiration of these paintings?
LC: I love to be in or on water. My skills as a swimmer are mediocre at best, yet I take enormous delight in experiencing the freedom of movement and the buoyancy and support water offers. I love to float on my back and can gaze endlessly at the patterns of clouds and overhead leaves and branches.
I also love to paddle a canoe - either headlong into a stiff breeze and chop on an open lake, or meander contemplatively along a shore. My favourite places for swimming and paddling are in and around Algonquin Park. I vastly prefer the more remote lakes and access points in the north and east parts of the park to the Hwy 60 corridor.
I also love the dark, mineral and vegetative lakes in Hastings Highlands - in particular Graphite Lake, which seems so deep and fresh and charged with a magical, rich vitality.
AJ: How would you rate your visual memory?
LC: I feel I have a good visual memory, but perhaps a stronger sensory or experiential memory, if that makes any sense. I think I may retain a variety of sensory impressions - things like temperature, humidity, scent, texture, quality of light - that cumulatively function to cause my imagination to recreate a place or sense of place based on experience, and my emotional response to place or time.
AJ: Suggestive cursive writing reappears in many of the surfaces on the mixed media panels. What do you hope the viewer takes away from the non-readable script?
LC: I used to write fragments of poems or song lyrics that were meaningful to me into my paintings. The problems that presented were that I would lose the smooth flowing action of my hand, as I would have to pause constantly to check I had the words right, and also, viewers would sometimes focus overmuch on the words rather than the painting as a whole. So over time, I came to prefer the act of writing in a flowing motion without content or meaning, and to prefer the appearance of text for what it could represent or imply, rather than anything specific. I only recently learned that the word for this sort of mark making is Asemic writing - which is like a symbolic, abstract form of handwriting that has either no meaning or infinite meaning, and transcends language. I like that.
'LC' Marking & Sample of Asemic Writing
AJ: You have an artist marking ‘LC’ that comes in the form of a square, where did it derive from? How long have you been using it?
LC: I developed my little ‘logo’ when I painted in encaustic - so I guess I’ve been using it for about ten years. The encaustic paint was too unwieldy to write my signature with a brush, so I made a simple design with my initials - based loosely on Art Nouveau bookplates, which I’ve always loved - and scribed it into the wax. I really like my little signature, so when I moved into cold wax painting, I continued using it, but now use a driedup ballpoint pen to scribe into the wax and paint.
AJ: There is a lot of yourself put in these paintings. How do you practice gratitude for what you get to do?
LC: I am constantly grateful for what I get to do, and that gratitude I feel is practiced and expressed in the act of making my work.
AJ: If you could have one of your artworks from “Ebb & Flow” in a permanent art collection, which one would it be and what institution?
LC: A difficult question. I can’t think of any permanent collections other than the McMichael Gallery, that I think it might make sense for my work to be part of.
And for a few fun questions since we can’t ask them at an opening…
"Moonlight Swim" Mixed Media Panel 48" x 42"
AJ: If a celebrity stole an artwork who would you want it to be and why?
LC: Another difficult question. I’m not much into celebrity culture, but if someone were to steal a painting, it would have to be a person whom I admire for their intelligence, integrity, culture and sophistication - maybe Helen Mirren or Judy Dench or Sofia Coppola. Or maybe Margaret Atwood, or - if she was still alive - Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
"Ebb & Flow" installed at Earls Court Gallery
AJ: Drink & Food pairing... What drink & food do you think is best to consume while being immersed by “Ebb & Flow'' exhibition?
LC: Not many people would be thrilled to be served fresh spring water and acorns - which repast might be best in keeping with the theme of the work. So, I suppose my ideal reception fare would consist of single malt scotch served along with an assortment of artisanal vegan cheeses, tapenade, homemade crackers, gourmet olives and some nice roasted nuts. And licorice allsorts.
Laura Culic’s paintings are based on many of the diverse ideas that inspire and interest her, inclining mapping and geography; exploration, travel and navigation; environmental conservation; ancient science; history; memory; the natural world and our place in it. And while they’re about these things, each painting is, in itself, and expression of a story. Culic paints full time in her cozy quiet studio, in Maynooth. Whenever she can, Culic nurtures her restless spirit and refresh her inspiration by taking long motorcycle trips, camping with her kids, paddling or hiking. Culic studied fine art and illustration at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Culic’s works has won various awards, and are part of many corporate and private art collections, as well as the Art Collection of the Government of Ontario.