For the love of paper! Mark making! And critical inquiry! with Stacie Huculak

Amanda Leigh: Tell me a bit about this new work

Stacie Huculak: This show picks up where my last show Trinity, at the Snelgrove last year, left off.

AL: Can you give us some background about what Trinity was about?

SH: Trinity was my graduation show. I don’t actually have a BFA, I have a BA double major in Studio Art and Art History, and because of that I didn’t have a BFA show, so I just scheduled one through the Snelgrove and put up my own show, and got the whole gallery. I was like, “I do just as much work as everyone else, I should have a show too because I’m graduating.” So I booked that, then was like, “Shit I have to fill this entire gallery!” Which is really big. My show was in April, and I didn’t really know what I was doing for it until mid-January. I remember being in drawing class and this girl brought in her art to critique, and she was using grey-tone paper which I had never seen before. I had seen brown-tone and off-white and blah blah blah, which I had been using in the past, and I like that they were not crisp whites, but I never really felt like I connected with the paper. That sound so cheesy [laughs], and weird, [sarcastically] “I didn’t connect with the paper”.

AL: It can get confusing trying to make stuff when you arnt exactly sure what it is you want to make, and having a material come forward that can work with the direction you’re going can help push you forward, a kind of “ah ha!” moment.

SH: Exactly. The other paper was too warm toned, and I was using grey-scale and it just didn’t feel right on the material. Then I was using colour, but colour isn’t really something that I have always connected with either. So this girl brought in her piece on grey-tone paper and then I was like, “Where did you get that?! That is what I need. This is my life. Give me grey tone paper!” [laughs]. I went out and bought a roll, and threw it up on my studio, didn’t even really know what I was going to do with it, took references photos of myself and looked through them, and that’s where it all began. That was the first piece in my senior year that just felt right. In art school I always knew I was a drawing major, but I never felt like I was able to find my niche in it. I had done a lot of smaller graphite drawings because I’m from a small town, and that’s what you had: HB pencils and computer paper. In my second year Allyson Glenn made me go big or go home, which freaked me out, but I challenged myself and made two 7 foot drawings, and really liked it. I knew I wanted to do more big stuff after that, but then there was the problem of the paper, and I felt like all my materials were working against me. So when I did this piece (Beginnings, 2014) I was like, “Oh my god, this is my direction.”

Beginnings, 2014, charcoal and pastel on grey-toned paper

Beginnings, 2014, charcoal and pastel on grey-toned paper

AL: What were the specific things that were revealed to you, to make you realize it’s your direction?

SH: The cool-toned paper working with the grey-scale mediums. The fact that the pieces were very large and I could put my whole body into it. Not only was it a lot of mental and emotional energy, but a lot of physical energy as well. The feeling I got from it while doing it, but also when it was finished, and the feeling that came off of the piece, the mood, was what I wanted… and I didn’t really know that’s what I wanted until I found it.

AL: Was small work hindering anything specific? The physical interaction with the work is an essential part of the process? And you’re doing figure drawings, creating and maybe interacting with life sized figures.

SH: In terms of mark making, I was able to get a lot of different marks that I couldn’t have gotten with the piece being smaller. Certainly I’ve become a lot more vigorous, and I become covered in the medium. It’s almost like you’re really becoming part of the piece, and part of the process, and if you don’t want to get dirty then don’t bother doing it. Having the pieces larger, it’s really a lot more powerful and commanding, it’s taking up space and not allowing itself to be ignored.

AL: Why is that important?

SH: I think that a lot of my art has a lot of different aspects of femininity in it, and even being a female going through art school, you learn about men in Art History, and there wasn’t even that many males that I had class with, but they were constantly praised. It just seemed like those are the people who get the attention, and are taken more seriously no matter what their subject matter is, and as a female I will always be a “good female artist” or I make “female art”, and I mean that’s true because it is part of my identity, and shouldn’t be a negative point. Having my art make sure it isn’t ignored will make it be taken a little more seriously.

AL: Does that relate to the theme of what Trinity was?

SH: Trinity was a lot of things. It was comprised of three characters which names I call One, Two and Three. I had a written piece talking about them a little bit. I did a lot of reading while making the show, and they came together really instantaneously, I knew what they were but I needed to do a bit more searching before I could figure out what I was even trying to say. I researched within religion and mythology, and trinity is there, especially female trinity’s like the Muses and the Fates. Through history with anything trinity’s come up a lot, its something people gravitate toward. I learned that actually from a music teacher when I was 14 when I was trying to learn scales, and that was one thing that always stuck with me, because I didn’t really think it had a lot of relevance in my life but now it does in my art. There is lots of different elements and thematics within Trinity.

AL: There are three characters, what are they representing?

SH: Lots of different things. Part of it is… well I did this in my critiques and it drove Tim crazy… I don’t really say what it’s about. One thing I find that really important to the work that I’m making, because I put a lot of symbolism in it, and I don’t tell anyone what it’s about. I write things, but I write them very confusingly. Ultimately what I want, which did happen at Trinity, someone came up to me and said, “Wow this one piece really reminds me of this situation in my life and I really connect to it.” And the situation was a lot different from anything I had experienced, but it was still totally relevant to this person and it was great that they could connect to what I was making. That is what I want, for the viewer to make those connections with the pieces, and perhaps find comfort within that. If you don’t get it or connect with it, I don’t want to explain it to you. I feel that’s the easy way out. We have all these resources available, for everyone, especially with art students and we take 4+ years learning how to dissect art, and if you are in that and you look at something and say, “Well it must just be about this” and don’t give it some real thought, it’s not worth my time to explain it I guess.

AL: You’re forcing people into critical thinking, or at least connection.

SH: I don’t think that it’s super difficult to understand my work, probably not like 100% and where I’m coming from or anything like that, but even just particular symbols. With this piece in front of me, you can see a bunch of eyes, so it’s probably going to be about being watched, or vision… you’re not going to say that piece is about music [laughs]. I intentionally don’t really talk about what it’s about, and it drives some people nuts. I feel that when I go to art shows, a lot of the time there is a statement from the artist or the curator or whoever that maps out “this is exactly what my show is about”. And sometimes I do go “what?” I don’t get it, but I know that there’s that didactic it, so I’m gonna go look instead of taking time to figure out what it means to me. Other times I go to a show and it’s like, “Wow! This makes me feel this and this is my connection” and then I go and read what it’s about and I’m just like.. that is not what I was thinking. Then that takes away that connection, and I find myself not appreciating or loving the art as much as I could have if that mystery was still there. People just really want to be spoon fed.

AL: Are you making your art from personal thoughts and experiences?

SH: It’s definitely from a very personal spot. I’ve had people ask me “is this you? Is this not you?” and it is and it isn’t. I started drawing myself years ago because I was my most readily available model and I knew how I wanted the poses to be, so instead of trying to convey that to someone else I just did it. My art, starting with Trinity, started to become a lot more personal. Which I think can get a bad rap, because people can think that’s very narcissistic, and again people being uncomfortable with “feminine issues”, but all art is narcissistic, you’re not going to make something your not interested in, whether it be from personal experiences or because you travel to Italy and you thought the pizza was amazing and now you make pizza art [laughs]. You know what I mean? It’s silly to call one thing more narcissistic than something else, in terms of art. People make art for themselves, you are kidding yourself if you think you’re doing it for someone else. Art is the most raw and instantaneous form of gratification, whether you do visual art or music, you’re putting yourself there to make something, and whether it works or it doesn’t you put your energy into it. Even doing a commission, you still do it in your own style, and your own personal boundaries.

Wasps, 2014, charcoal and pastel on grey-toned paper

Wasps, 2014, charcoal and pastel on grey-toned paper

AL: Why are you having this new show?

SH: I am very much a procrastinator and introvert, and if I don’t have a good motivator like that I will just sit in a little corner all day. I mean art is a huge part of my life, and I need to make it, it does take a lot of energy and finding that energy and taking the time to sit back to know this is what I want to do and this is what I want to say… I really need to have that motivator to get going. It’s good to keep working and to show your art. SCYAP is a good place to be, and it’s central, and it’s funny to me how central it is but how unknown it is outside of the art world. I’ve told everyone I work with and have worked with in the past, so hopefully new people come check out shows there too. It’s good to have art in the community, and people are crying that the Mendel is going to be shut.

AL: But it’ a good opportunity for smaller and independent galleries to get more exposure.

SH: Exactly, and emerging artists who wouldn’t have had a show at the Mendel. So now people who use to frequent the Mendel openings will be more inclined to attend other gallery openings and experience something a little less formal. And since the Mendel is the big gallery, a lot of people are intimidated to go there if they don’t think they know a lot about art, or they don’t know people there. Art can be incredibly elitist.

AL: It was originally elitist for the most part; very few people could practice art until recently.

SH: It was elitist in the sense that only the rich and powerful could have access to having art made, but it shouldn’t be in the sense that only certain people can have access to be able to view art, so I think that having places that are more laid back like SCYAP is a really great opportunity for people who maybe arn’t formally educated, to go and still have a place to appreciate art and not be intimated or like they don’t belong.

AL: How are you feelings putting together this show, compared to the last show?

SH: I recently looked at photos of Trinity, and I hadn’t realized the degree I feel like I’ve improved with my drawing skills and art making, so I was really surprised and pleased by that. I will have some old work in this show, and I always planned to do that, it’s a transition .I’m kind of stressed out [laughs], because I have a lot of things that are not yet completed, but are in the process of being completed, but I work better under pressure and that’s how Trinity was too. I’m also a little apprehensive, because I asked a lot of people I’ve met in the past year from retail work to come. For the most part, my past work has viewed by family or friends within the art community, so it feels a little bit more of a raw exposure. I mean with my family, of course they’ve seen my art before, and you go to art school with year and take classes with people.

Escape, 2014, charcoal and pastel on grey-toned paper

Escape, 2014, charcoal and pastel on grey-toned paper

AL: And you get to see each other’s progressions in the classes

SH: Yeah exactly, and you’ve got late night painting sessions, and whatever, so everyone knows what you do. So there are a lot of people coming hopefully, that don’t know what I do. But… I’m sure everyone will have kind words whether they enjoy it or not [laughs].

AL: How are you going to circumvent the question when they ask you what it’s about?

SH: I usually just put a question back on them.

AL: “Excuse me my wine glasses is empty I must go fill it.”

SH: [laughs] Yes… avoidance is key. I did bring in a piece from Trinity into a class where we had a little group critique, and one person was actually, exactly spot on. I was like, “See, it can be interpreted without me having to say anything!” She didn’t know me, and we weren’t close or anything, and knew exactly what it was, and I was a little unnerved, but it was really great because it meant I did my job right.

AL: That meaning reaching the viewer without explanations is one of your definitions of success?

SH: That is definitely a definition of success. Then there are people who say stuff that is just so far off, and it’s hard because I almost wanna laugh.

AL: If you’re showing work in public in any capacity, it is the job of an artist to convey meaning to the viewers. I mean, if you’re making a painting of bright colours and butterflies to demonstrate how depressed you are, nobody is going to get that.

SH: I’ve definitely been in critiques when people have used a really strong colour, and you’ll think because something is a colour you get a feeling from it, and then the artist will say, “No I just used that colour because I really like that colour.” And it’s like, no! Even if you 100% don’t know what your exactly trying to say, you need to think ahead a little bit, how people are going to look at it and what they are going to get from it. There’s been times in critiques when people are almost offended because someone read their art wrong, but that’s the point of critiques, to make you think, “maybe I shouldn’t have painted that blue just because I love blue.”

AL: You have to kill your dreams sometimes in the creative process. You can have a really great palette or access to lots of materials, and then you have your ideas, and if these start to contradict each other you have to subtract something, but you can always keep it tucked under your hat. It’s a big struggle for a lot of people to accept that their favourite colour or material won’t work in a particular piece and they have to leave it out.

SH: If I went back in time and went to first year Stacie and showed her this stuff and was like, “This is the art you’re going to make, this is what you’re going to be passionate about.” I’d be like, “…you’re wrong. No way. That’s not going to happen.” [laughs].

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AL: I have a vague memory from your last show, and correct me if I’m wrong, because looking at the piece’s for the new show in front of me in your studio, I feel that the old pieces are ‘softer’.

SH: These new ones are a lot darker with charcoal. They are emotionally heavier. The old ones are definitely more lighter and brighter.

AL: The new work is also more abstract. Trinity was figure-heavy, and I mean there are still figures in these new works, but there are more elements and so much more going on besides the figure. Why do you feel it was necessary to explore more abstraction or alternative concepts?

SH: I think that being completely confined to the figure wasn’t expressing what I needed to anymore, and I’ve been really exploring mark making a lot more, and I’ve realized that texture is something I’m really interested in. Putting texture into a drawing where you’re only using paper and charcoal and chalk pastel, can be a lot more challenging than say oil paint. You need to really rely more on your values and mark making, even the energy you are making those marks with.

mark making

mark making detail, 2015

AL: And it translates; if you make marks that are measured and slow that’s how they will be read, and if you make marks that are fast your eye will travel over them fast. You can see this in your piece, it’s screaming at you. Well… I mean it IS screaming at you, but I mean the texture and mark making is really screaming at you too [laughs].

SH: It’s pretty scream heavy [laughs].

AL: How many pieces in this show do you have?

SH: I have four new drawings, and hoping to put four old drawings. I’m going to take everything to the gallery and see how it works together. I also have some textile works, which is something that nobody has really seen me do.

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AL: Why textile work?

SH: It’s not something I realized I liked until recently, the tactility of it, being able to touch all parts of it. With drawings, its 2D and it’s very flat, so you create the illusion of these textures and raised surfaces, so you’re touching it with your eyes… oh that sounds pervy [laughs]. But with textiles you can physically touch it. It’s very methodical and meticulous, and can be incredibly boring at times, but is also very therapeutic in a way. All of my textile work is very small, and it does reign me in a little bit and make me focus a little more and think about smaller details. It’s a really good contrast in materials and size and the way my energy is being used, in contrast to my drawings. I do work full time, and coming home after work some days I don’t have the energy to draw, so having something smaller to work on like this is nice. It keeps me still being artistically active.

AL: Where does this piece belong in the show?

sculptural piece, 2015

sculptural piece, 2015

SH: There are moths in my show, and these are moths. People keep thinking their butterflies. But this specifically is for part of a drawing, so it’s not completely 2D. I always felt like I could push a drawing further, and planned to do this from the beginning of this drawing. It was hard to explain to people, but I just had this vision in my head to go with. So I’ve been working away on this, which has lots of different papers and textures. They are smaller and get quite large at the end. I want it to be a perspective thing, it looks like the moths are coming at you. I just really wanted this to take up a lot of space, and be as powerful as it can be with the skills I have right now.

AL: Do you think this is going to open you up to more three dimensional work in your drawings?

SH: I think so, I hope so. I remember last year and two years ago, I was doing a lot of mixed media drawing, I was using a lot of different papers and pasting on a lot, but it wasn’t really what I was searching for. Now I’m finding a little more of what I want in three dimensions, and I want them to become a little harder to call just a drawing.

AL: Is this your only piece with sculptural aspects?

SH: As of now, yes. And one of the drawings, I had it on my wall across from my bed, and I finished it, and that night I had the most terrifying nightmares about it, so when I woke up I looked at my floor and walked up to it and rolled it up, and put it away and deleted any photos I had of it. So I vaguely remember what it looks like [laughs], so I might unroll it and decide I want to do something with it. I mean I’d like to do more sculptural drawings.

AL: It’s a good bridge. This show is bridging off your last show, and this sculptural piece spurs a whole new series which could be your next show.

SH: Who knows where or when the next show will be, I always want to keep evolving. I took a lot of time off from my last show, I went travelling, and then I booked this show in November. But it was really in January  I put up a piece of paper and was like, “What am I doing? What do I want?” But then I made something and it clicked, and it was like, “Ok!” I’m hoping I’ll keep doing things and stuff, and ideas will happen [laughs].

AL: That’s really all you can hope for.

SH: [laughing] that’s how the science of the brain works?

AL: Yeah that’s how that science does that thing, with my hand and the art and the what not.

SH: Yeah that’s my art process, that’s how things happen [laughs]. There is also an opportunity at the reception to take home one of three pieces of mine, but they are smaller pieces. Home sized art. Three! Imagine that?!

Empath, 2015, charcoal and pastel on grey-toned paper

Empath, 2015, charcoal and pastel on grey-toned paper

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