Erin Loree’s paintings are luscious, colorful abstractions, built up with layers of acrylic and oil, which she considers two paintings married together in one composition. Check out more of her work at the links following the interview!
Can you tell me about yourself?
I’m a Toronto-based painter working primarily with oil and acrylic paint on panel. I grew up in a small town in Ontario and moved to Toronto a little over ten years ago to study at OCAD University (Ontario College of Art and Design). I’m a fly-by-the-seat kind of person and every decision that I’ve ever made was based on a gut/heart feeling, and I’ve never been led astray.
Your paintings are primarily super vibrant abstract works — sometimes larger scale! Can you tell me a little bit about your practice and what you enjoy about painting and pursuing an art career?
I make abstract paintings that are bold, energetic, and experiential. My process is intuitive and I normally don’t plan anything before I begin a painting. It’s more a collaboration with the material than anything else. I love the physicality of painting and I work on a range of sizes to keep things fresh. I never like to get too comfortable with any process, scale or material, so I challenge myself to approach each painting slightly differently.
In my most recent body of work, each piece was essentially made up of two paintings: the fluid, transparent acrylic underpainting, which serves as the initial structure of the work, and the heavy-bodied oil painting on top. I think of the acrylic layer as the unifying field beneath the surface, acting as the thread that punctuates the composition. My intention is to work the oil paint in such a way that the two paintings become seamlessly woven together. I make sure to take special care in building up the textured oil paint, despite knowing that the majority of the image might be lost or removed.
It’s quite a complex process of building up the surface and then scraping it away with different materials such as rags, squeegees, and palette knives. The process oscillates between concealing and revealing, obscuring and refining. For that work I wanted to take a more playful approach to my material, so I started dusting shimmering mica powder over the thick ridges of oil paint and embedded actual gemstones into the surface. I try to balance organic forms with hard edge geometric shapes, thick paint with thin veils of transparencies, and smooth strokes with aggressively applied jostles of paint. The variety in mark making is definitely something I’m always considering.
I’m also interested in the transformation of the image and how the work’s meaning shifts throughout the process. I’m drawn to the fluidity and versatility of oil paint for that reason. Ultimately, what I hope to achieve is a sense of ambiguity in the work. I want to facilitate an experience where, in the world of paint, multiple truths exist simultaneously. I intend for the viewer to feel as if he or she is encountering a different painting every time they see it. In this sense, the work is alive and in a constant state of becoming.
You recently had a show, Snakes and Ladders, at Angell Gallery in Toronto — did you make mostly new work for this? How do you prepare for a solo show such as that one?
I made all new work for that show. Before a big exhibition like that I usually make about 10-15 smaller paintings first to experiment with new techniques and to work out colour combinations and compositions. I don’t intend for the smaller paintings to be studies but they do often inform the larger works.
I begin each series with an intention or theme but try to leave things as open as possible because what actually tends to manifest in the work is rarely ever close to what I could have planned. If there is no sense of magic or surprise in the process, how can I expect the viewer to feel that way? I work on one painting at a time and usually leave them about 20% unfinished. It turns out that there is often something I need to discover in future paintings that will show me how to complete the others I’ve left behind. I love that the solution for one piece winds up being the solution for another in a way that I couldn’t have known until moving ahead with new work.
Do you do any sort of research or preparation in general for your works?
The research for my work is done in the studio with messy hands. I need to paint constantly in order to expand my understanding of what the material can do. I like to apply what I’ve learned immediately to the next piece, otherwise it gets lost. That being said, everything that I experience is also research for my work. Reading, traveling, navigating relationships, looking at art, having late night conversations about the nature of consciousness, yoga, meditation… It all informs the process and the imagery that emerges in the paintings. Everything matters and everything goes into the work. So, I owe it to the work to live as full and interesting a life as possible.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that help to get you into, or keep you in, a creative mode?
In the morning I always meditate, read, write, and listen to inspiring talks or podcasts before going to the studio. I need to spend a lot of time alone in order to get into a creative state. I’m not the kind of person that can hang out with friends and then go have a productive day at the studio. I’m usually an all or nothing kind of painter. I’ve tried to impose strict studio schedules, but I always seem to rebel against my own rules. I try to schedule lots of full painting days, even if all I do is sit and stare at a painting for 6 hours and make one mark. When I’m feeling excited about my work or have a deadline, you can find me in the studio 10-12 hours a day, six or seven days a week. I love those periods of total immersion when you can unapologetically shut out the rest of the world.
What was your art education like, and when did you realize that making art was the path for you?
In 2012, I received my BFA in Drawing and Painting from OCAD University in Toronto, Ontario.
I’ve been obsessed with making art ever since I was old enough to hold a crayon. I don’t think there was ever anything else that I thought I could do or wanted to do, and I couldn’t even imagine going to school for anything else! Being an artist was always considered a normal and admirable vocation in my family. This is probably because almost everyone in my immediate family is either a visual artist or a musician.
I didn’t really start painting seriously until midway through my undergrad. Before that I was making anatomically correct, realistic figurative drawings. I spent a lot of time and energy attempting to learn how to paint the human form technically and accurately, but it wasn’t until I decided to let go of using references and models that I really fell in love with painting. I discovered that it was so much more fulfilling to engage with the process rather than to try to render an image accurately. Until that point, I had always felt too attached to the image to take any real risks with the work. I recently read an interview with David Hockney in which he was explaining painting’s ability to capture a different form of truth than, say, photography. I now recognize that this is something I felt while I was transitioning from realism to abstraction. Painting, and abstract painting in particular, has the ability to communicate an experience– something that is felt – not just what is seen objectively. Photographs and realistic work contain a lot of visual information, but sometimes less is more.
The possibilities of painting and the language of abstraction really excite me and I don’t have the feeling that I’ll exhaust this medium any time soon.
What is your studio like?
I’ve been sharing my dream studio with two other artists in an old industrial building just off of Queen Street West in Toronto for close to three years. The ceilings are really high and everything is a bit rough around the edges, just the way I like it. It’s a very special place with a unique community of visual artists, designers, musicians, carpenters, etc. Sadly, the building is about to be torn down and developed into condos, so we all have to leave in a couple of weeks. Luckily, I found another beautiful space in one of the last old warehouse buildings in the heart of the city.
In terms of how my studio usually functions, it’s my sacred space and it’s extremely messy! I spend more time at the studio than I do at my apartment, so it’s like my first home. When I’m in the flow, you’ll find hundreds of open oil paint tubes piled high on every surface, crumpled up blue shop towels strewn all over the floor, globs of paint splattered on the walls, and books… tons of books! I don’t typically use references, so there aren’t any images lying around. There are usually wet paintings leaning precariously against each other, so you have to be careful where you step. I can’t remember a single time that a visitor has come in without getting fresh oil paint on their clothes. It’s pretty hazardous in there.
Is there any advice you’ve received over the years that you have taken to heart?
My 4th year Painting Studio professor handed out the syllabus for the course and all it said in large, bold font was: TRUST YOURSELF.
What is the most challenging, daunting, or frustrating aspect of pursuing art?
What I find the most challenging is falling in love with uncertainty and appreciating uncomfortable experiences while they are actually happening. Pursuing art requires immense faith and trust that things are always falling into place even if we can’t see beyond what’s happening in the present moment. Everything we do simultaneously matters and doesn’t matter. Honoring the unknowable and the mysterious is what counts in a world where there is so much emphasis on knowing everything. Taking this path means doing your best to move through excruciating doubt, pain, and disappointment gracefully – all the while knowing that there is intelligence behind every emotion even if it’s difficult to articulate. Being an artist also requires that you orient yourself towards discomfort as frequently as possible because that’s where true growth happens.
What do you appreciate or value the most about being an artist?
The freedom. I’ve been painting full-time for two and a half years so I make my own schedule and I can organize my days exactly how I want. I remind myself every day how lucky I am that I have the gift of time!
If you could sit down for a chat with anyone, anywhere, who would it be and what would you most like to ask them or talk about?
If I were to sit down and have a conversation with anyone right now, it would be to talk about painting with Katherine Bradford and Chris Martin. I really love what these painters are getting up to in their work. They keep reinventing their processes and their work always feels fresh and relevant. I admire that they are always pushing the boundaries of what painting can do and say. I also wish I could sit down with Joseph Campbell and listen to his perspective on what’s happening on our planet right now through the lenses of archetypes and mythology. I wouldn’t mind having a similar conversation with Alan Watts.
What is your next project, or what are you currently working on?
I’m currently in the process of packing up my studio to move in a couple of weeks. It always takes a while to adjust to a new space, so I’m giving myself a lot of time to set everything up before I start painting again. In May I’ll be doing a residency at The Sussex Contemporary in Ottawa and where I plan on exploring some new and exciting ideas that I’ve been playing with. For the entire month the gallery will function as my studio and at the end of the residency I’ll exhibit the work that I make in that space. The gallery will be open to the public throughout the month so the performative aspect will be new for me. I’m excited to see how that affects my process.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks so much for including my work on Young-Space! It’s been one of my absolute favourite online platforms for discovering artists!