ART TALKS. Art is so often created to reflect nuance and zeitgeist: the human experience at a particular moment in time. Art tells a story and it’s important to stay connected to its storytellers.
As a young girl, Toronto-based abstract artist Mishel Schwartz used to hide on the stairs that led to her artist-parents’ studio and watch them paint live models. This innocent voyeurism was the catalyst for a lifelong passion for the arts.
The journey began with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in college, followed by a degree in Art History from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. Mishel concluded her studies with a degree in Graphic Design from York University in Toronto.
After almost 20 years as Creative Director for a Canadian home furnishings company, Mishel took a leap of faith and plunged into the pursuit of a career as a working artist. She is emerging as a force on the Toronto art-scene, gaining recognition locally and branching out with international shows as well. In October 2019, Mishel was handpicked by a curator to show her works at the well-known Carrousel du Louvre in Paris.
Her primary medium is alcohol ink on board and canvas. She began experimenting with the inks and developed a technique wherein layers of colour are added and intricate details are then carved out of the layers, giving her work great depth and mystery.
INTERVIEW WITH THE ARTIST
CH: What would you say motivates your practice? Why do you create?
MS: The desire to create comes naturally to me, like breathing. I have felt it since I was very young, a need to express myself through visual art. It`s my way of reacting to, and processing the world around me, other forms of expression just never seemed adequate.
CH: Your work often focuses on organic forms and is very fluid. Why do you think you continue to return to this subject matter? What do you find so compelling about it?
MS: I have always been fascinated by the ‘organic’, natural world. I am in awe of nature, —the way it makes all your senses come alive. There`s so much beauty in the world… it`s pervasive and really affects me in a profound way. The fluidity of my work is a response to everything I see and feel, in everyday life.
CH: You work in a really interesting medium – ink. Can you explain the process of creating a piece? Does this have some relation to the imagery you paint?
MS: I came upon alcohol ink by happy accident while scrolling through Instagram art posts. I was used to working primarily with acrylic paint, but something about it captured me. There was a learning curve, but I realized, almost immediately, how I could manipulate the ink and bring greater depth to my work. Alcohol ink has a mysterious fluidity and is very malleable, I think this malleability is very much in keeping with the images that come out of it… these organic images are intuitively made for alcohol ink. Over time, I developed my own way of using it, adding layers of colour and then carving into the dry ink to bring out a rich network of detail. There are no rules when using alcohol ink; once you start playing around and experimenting, you realize you can’t, and don’t want to, approach painting in the same way as you would using more ‘traditional’ mediums like acrylic paint, for example. There is something so delicious and fascinating about it’s mysterious properties… it makes me feel free.
CH: What are your goals for your art practice in 2020?
MS: One thing is for sure, I will continue to make painting a part of my everyday life. This is a privilege I do not take for granted. I often have multiple projects going on at once which can take me in different directions and shifts my focus, some are creative, some not as much. I have been lucky enough to be able to diversify in my practice—doing commissions for private clients as well as collaborating with different people, to expand and have my work available across many different platforms. This offers a nice balance between free-form expression and definitive objectives. If things continue on the positive trajectory of the last year, I will be so pleased and grateful. I’m not sure what’s in store from a technical standpoint, but I do know that I am always seeking to evolve in my practice and explore new ways to express and create. Sometimes, that means going back to your roots and sometimes it means striking out on a totally new path. I remain open and excited to all those possibilities.
CH: Can you describe a day in the studio life?
MS: It depends what the project objective is – if I am just sitting down to paint for myself, then it becomes very much a mood thing… looking at my huge tray of colours and seeing what inspires me. Maybe I’m feeling low, or questioning things in my life, maybe I am feeling quiet contentment and am responding to that. For a commission or collaboration, I’m likely to take more time thinking about the objective and what the client wants.
There are many hours spent looking at color swatches, and seeing how different color combinations work together. I spend a lot of time making journal notes and then refer back to them once I start painting. It’s rarely a spontaneous process, where I just sit down and start to create. Usually, I’m in deep thinking mode before I get in front of a blank canvas.
I live in a condo, surrounded by my personal, most cherished things, lots of family photos, and my ‘studio’ is all around me. Right now, most of my work is done at my huge wooden table, where I have enough room to spread things out. I have a portable organizer on wheels with all my supplies—I crave order, colours arranged just so, this helps me process and create.
The time spent on a piece always varies, there is no set rule, no clock I punch. Of course, when working for a client or creating art for a commercial item, there is usually a timeline, and I do keep this in mind. I have worked on certain pieces for five months!… others are completed quicker. There’s a moment when you realize that you’re almost there, it’s a very intuitive moment when I know the piece is done.
CH: What do you think brings you the most inspiration to begin a painting?
MS: Painting makes me feel grounded, at peace and closer to the earth and the organic world. I try to find a personal experience or feeling I can use to connect me intimately to the blank canvas.
My greatest inspiration is the natural world and all its complexities; flowers in bloom, birth, death, light, dark— the opposites and the complements—all impact the way I express myself visually. Even if I start a piece with a specific intention, where I had something in mind, there’s a chance I’ll find myself on a totally different journey. I tend to wander back to a certain leaf, or a petal that calls out for attention…and then there is the mystery and simplicity of playing with light, which is a constant obsession of mine. Other things come into play—how I am feeling in the moment, and what I am looking to express? I see beauty everywhere, in the natural and man-made world, I am surrounded by objects that entice me; little things I’ve handpicked because of the way they make me feel. All these are a source of inspiration. There are, naturally, times when I feel blocked creatively. In these moments, I find it’s best to just walk away and shift my focus. Try not to overthink… take a walk, read, come back to it and see the piece from a new perspective.
The abstract element of my work happened organically. I have painted realism before, I don’t enjoy it, it’s not intuitive for me. I like the idea of seeing a flower and not just transposing that flower, but watching it bloom and evolve in a different way; giving it a network of detail or expanding the world of that one flower, and I find working in the abstract is a perfect compliment for this.
CH: What has been the most enjoyable part of your art career so far?
MS: On a personal level, I cannot deny the sense of accomplishment it has given me. It has bolstered my confidence and enabled me to express myself without inhibition—something I don’t come by naturally. And yet, through my uninhibited expression in art, I find I am also more open in other areas, how I live or respond to those in my life, and this has been an immeasurable gift. As human beings we instinctively crave affirmation, and the response to my art, especially in the last few years, has really taken me by sweet surprise. People are so generous with their appreciation—not just with praise, but such deep felt emotion and the pleasure they derive from looking at one of my pieces—this is something beautiful to me.
CH: What does the term “art” means to you? How does it identify with your practice?
MS: Hmm… that’s a big question. I can’t really compartmentalize my feelings about ‘art.’ It’s so vast, so intricate, so personal and certainly not limited to any one definition or manifestation. It’s a tough one to qualify. There’s art in every living thing. Nature is a work of art… anyone who has a vision or feeling they need to express, be it through visual art, music, theatre, film, the written word—these are all ‘art’ forms I am drawn to and respect. The greatest gift my art has given me is the opportunity to create and express without holding back. Art for art’s sake…has as much value as any art that is lauded and admired.
CH: Has anyone influenced you significantly in your artistic journey? If so, who and what did this change?
MS: My first influencers and inspiration were my parents—especially my mother who, in her day, was quite a known artist in Montreal, where I grew up. She painted, with oils and acrylics, painted live models and eventually moved on to silk screening. My first memories of art were watching her and my dad painting in the basement of my childhood home, where they had a studio. I was mesmerized. In later years, as I pursued my education in the Arts, I started to study the masters, and have a strong affinity for the Impressionists, like Monet and Van Gogh and then there’s Klimt… one of my great loves. The way Klimt uses colour and surrounds his subjects—women, children, couples– with beautiful patterns, multi-layers of intricate design, it has so many qualities I am drawn to, truly awe-inspiring.
But the real foundation of my love affair with art began with the Renaissance masters; Leonardo, Michaelangelo—even now, everything I use on a daily basis I learned from reading and studying their theories.
CH: What do you do in your leisure time when you aren’t painting?
MS: When I am not painting, I am—in non-Covid times—spending time with family and friends. I prioritize my time with my children, whenever possible, as they no longer live at home and I crave their presence. I have a ‘day’ job that keeps me quite busy as well. I always try and make time for many of life’s little pleasures; activities that make me happy and peaceful and which help me as an artist. I love to read, be outdoors, exercise — especially yoga– and there is always music in my life, in the background when I paint, and even when I am just relaxing. I enjoy just hanging out with people I love, putting out food and snacks and drinks. Covid has made this difficult—impossible really– and it is something I long to get back to. I am also a person who is very content to just sit and be, alone, in the quiet of my own company. There’s a lot of that these days!
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