March 23, 2020
Michelle Foran received a BFA from the OCADU in 2018 and lives and works in Toronto, Canada.With playful intervention, vibrant colour and gestural composition, her multidisciplinary practice explores visual order and play as a means to revive the livelihood of materials.
She is curious about familiar visual queues melding in with the bizarre, and adopting objects of mundane, brute natures to stir up the potent vibrancy inherent in all things. Similar motives drive her two-dimensional works, capturing the romance of the day-to-day on 35mm and painting to embrace colour as well as the exuberance of simple forms and shapes. We caught up with her in her beautiful downtown apartment to talk about all things life and art.
How has 2020 been so far for you? Any New Year’s resolutions you are still partaking in?
It’s pretty complicated. I recently got a full-time office job in a post-production agency that has been consuming my Monday to Friday. In the sense that I’m trying something completely new, I feel like I’m steering away from living the weird artist life (my ideal life). My resolution is the same year after year–– to make more art. It’s very easy for me to get carried away with traveling and work but that motive to create is always there, the problem is actually making it.
That’s tough. So basically, you bring work home and there is no room to do anything other than that?
Well, getting to work at 8:30 in the morning, then out for 6pm, the energy is barely there by the time I’m free. There’s a flow of creation that includes not only set-up and cleanup of tools/paint/brushes or other materials but also a mental preparation and almost physical decompression before diving in.
Let’s talk a little bit about your background. Did you have an upbringing filled with art?
Yeah, my great-grandfather was a graphic artist in Germany, and he designed coins and stamps and postcards there. My dad, who loved carving as a kid and working on cool cars growing up became a mechanical engineer, after my grandpa. When I was young, my dad would make us create these massive collages out of old magazines and large engineering paper. You know when you’re a teenager and you’re locked in your room with all this free time? I would spend hours writing in diaries, scrapbooking (a massive Dan Eldon fan), drawing, and painting with supplies my family bought for me. I guess it’s always kind of been my thing! I actually grew up in Scarborough and attended a middle school that was not in the best neighborhood. That’s where I really started learning about art. I took most of the photos for our yearbook on 35mm film. After middle school I attended Rosedale Heights, an arts high school, and OCADU to follow.
You are a multidisciplinary artist. How do you manage to balance each medium and are there different places you are taking inspiration from?
My brain is constantly hopping around. I think it’s important to explore a variety of media, often. I’m constantly doing that, drawing a doodle for 20 minutes and suddenly switch to gluing some old wood and rope together in some weird fashion. That’s the most thrilling way to make art. Art making should be fun, shouldn’t it? But I think the most remarkable out of the obvious “categories” of art is sculpture (and installation). We see it every day walking down city streets or through forests. The world is one huge sculpture garden!
“The world is one huge sculpture garden!”
When did you start making installations? Did that naturally come after photography/painting?
In first year University. Did you go to OCAD?
No, no.. I didn’t.
When you go to University for art, you’re spoiled with incredible facilities. I began working in the woodshop, plastics etc. and understanding how presentation (and the room itself being presented in) has such a major impact on the reception of an artwork. The never-ending list of material possibilities expanded my whole creative vocabulary. Moving into sculpture was like learning a new, yet familiar language; an extension of photography and painting.
So that’s the one you prefer the most?
I’m guessing you sort of don’t spend that much time in your studio now that you are working for a post-production agency but walk me through what a typical day like in your studio would be?
Right now, not so much.
In 2017, I spent three months in Colombia for an artist residency. It kind of formed my idea of living in a studio. I lived with 6 other artists from different countries. We woke up each morning in the heat and spent the day in the studio. It was incredible. And after that, I got a studio in the Coffin Factory which is really cool because I could walk there and spend the entire day painting. I’d go in, cup of tea, stare at a big canvas and say, “I’m going to paint today.” I’d be painting and then start making a plaster sculpture on the side. I realize this process allows elements to inform each other. Music is almost always present in the making. A good day in the studio, which is currently two bedrooms dedicated to painting and the garage at my childhood home, is around 8 hours.
“Moving into sculpture was like learning a new, yet familiar language; an extension of photography and painting.”
Your use of colour is very unique. How did this develop? / How does choosing colours in your work factor into your process?
At some point it was just an essential part of art making. I don’t want to say I think people dislike colour but I sense people shy away from them because they can be very suggestive.
I’m very much like that because I’m always in black, lol.
That’s the thing! Black is comforting for people. Colour stimulates and comforts me at the same time. One shade of yellow can be completely off-putting in a fast food store, perhaps a No-Frills yellow, or you have a deep golden yellow–– warming and calm. Depending on how that color is presented to an audience, it can trigger certain emotions or responses.
So you’re interested in those certain emotions?
Yes, but it’s not all emotional, as it is aesthetics I’m interested in. These two elements are really rooted in childhood. We see color a lot when we’re children, a lot of simplified but playful design. These elements drive a lot of what I do.
How do you find that balance between not burning out, but also staying active enough that you don’t fall into creative blocks?
I’m always a little burnt out lol but I think creative block is something I’ve never really had.
Interesting haha. Can you elaborate?
Haha, maybe I’m lucky like that? I remember reading about an artist and I think it was Georgia O’Keeffe who would sit at her desk in her cabin or studio, ready to write, and an inspiration would come through her like lightening over the Plains. I don’t think being in the studio all the time means you’re going to be creating quality work. It comes through you with time. Inspirational environments help too, like summertime, for example. Or even Instagram! Scanning through what artists around the world are making is a daily dose of inspiration. I make art when I can, I don’t pressure myself too much.
What’s your view on social media? Do you think it has a negative or positive effect on the art world?
It can be pretty discouraging as an artist on Instagram where a painting gets way less likes than…
Than a selfie?
Right. The positive side of it is putting yourself out there and learning to let go. It also leads you to artist’s websites which I think are super important to look at. It’s a massive network.
“I make art when I can, I don’t pressure myself too much.”
In terms of your creative work, how do you define success?
I think there are two types of success. Success where you find your art to have achieved a personal vision or outcome. Stepping back from something that I’ve made that I actually like (which is rare, super rare) feels like success, even if I don’t share it with anyone. The other type of success is, I guess recognition. When people show interest in you, acknowledge your work and your talent, that’s success. Success comes in small fragments, which means I’m always working to get a little taste of it.
If you were to hold a dinner party and could only invite 3 people, who would they be?
This is probably a very generic answer, but I’d say Pablo Picasso.
I feel like he would be the most charming person. Not sure at what point in his life would be the best, you know, to bring him back.
Or you could invite three versions of him to the party.
Haha OMG three versions of Picasso!
I would really like to meet artists of bygone eras. Simone de Beauvoir, Do you know her?
I don’t think I have heard of her.
Simone de Beauvoir was a French intellectual, feminist and in my eyes, boundless. Her writing has influenced me greatly. My last guest of honour would be Auguste Rodin. Rodin’s sculptures are what I wish I could make, but out of Playdoh.
You know, I think it’d be fun to have a glass of wine with all of them, we would have such good conversation. All four of us.
“Success comes in small fragments, which means I’m always working to get a little taste of it.”
Interview: Kwame Essien
Photography: Justin M. Yong