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The Link writer Rachel Lau interviewed our March 2 cover artist, Robin Wattie, for the article “Sex and baggage” in Fringe Arts this week. Wattie, a 26-year-old fine arts and anthropology student, based our men’s & women’s issue cover around the idea of androgyny—but the work she’s showing at Art Matters this week is more about the body than an androgynous face. Her paintings are in the show On the Line, at Artefacto (661 Rose de Lima St.) until March 19. This is the complete transcript of Lau’s conversation with Wattie about Polaroids, sex and colour.
When did you start drawing?
I essentially started drawing when I learned how to hold a crayon. I have always considered drawing as a hobby. I never thought I would pursue it as something serious (however I also have never really thought about doing something else). I had taken Illustration and Design at Dawson but dropped out after about a year and half for three reasons; rent and bills became more of a priority; I realized that this type of work wasn’t as intellectually challenging or stimulating as I would have liked; and it seemed to have drained all the love and passion I had for drawing. I even stopped drawing for about 5 years until I started at Concordia. Also prior to my enrolment at Concordia, I had only dabbled in paint. So painting is still fairly new to me which is exciting because there is a lot to learn (I mean there is always a lot to learn no matter how accomplished one is or one might think they are in any case).
Elaborate on the sexual nature of your artworks. What intrigues you about this subject matter? Why and since when?
The sexual content in my recent work stems from a box of Polaroid’s the father of my ex-boyfriend had ‘found’. It’s kind of a long story but basically he was helping his friend clean out her garage of which she was storing some belongings of one of her friends. She had been storing them for about 40 years because her friend had moved to Japan thinking he would one day return. I guess he must have contacted her to let her know that he would not be returning and to throw out/give away everything. So back to the father of my ex- he saw that there was a box of old photography equipment and asked if he could take it home to go through seeing as how there might be something of use to him. At home, he found a little box inside the large box. Inside was a bunch of tourist photographs of the guy from Japan. And finally inside that box, was another filled with his Polaroid’s of his sexual relations with his lovers… These photos are quite beautiful in their rawness and colour.
I guess what intrigues me most about sexuality is how much it varies, how we as humans understand it, the ways in which we try to understand it and how we all posses our own experiences. It is interesting to explore how varied sexuality is and in terms of culture, the different practices, taboos and labels. For example I am a female art student drawing some pretty explicit stuff that a male art student would not be able to necessarily get away with so to speak. And what of the apparent sexual content in mainstream everything? And why is sexuality as dichotomous as we all seem to believe it to be (i.e. heterosexuality and homosexuality)? And what of the sexual labels we tend to apply to ethnicity? Where does one fit, how does one function if one is not white and heterosexual? Where do I fit as female who is not white and is not definitively hetero? All these questions and more are things I have spent a lot of time contemplating over, especially in relation to myself etc. Those Polaroid’s have opened a wide door and a lot of windows for me to explore all this on a more general basis which I am using as a sort of stepping stone (until I have exhausted my general approach) to eventually delve into my own sexuality and experiences (provided I have the courage and more importantly if I can mentally and emotionally handle rummaging through my baggage that I have so carefully stored… away… really far away… waaay deep down… haha!).
I notice in quite a few of your works you do no draw faces. Why is that?
Oh there are a lot of reasons. Some of which I haven’t fully developed yet to properly articulate. But mostly it is because I do not want the viewer to enter the pieces through the face. By having no faces the viewer can more easily assume the figures as their own. I want them react to the content specifically. If it makes them uncomfortable, if they don’t understand, if it angers them, if they enjoy it, I want them to focus on why. I want them to relate it to their own experiences and their own sexuality. I think if they were to have faces, it would distract the viewer from fully relating to the physicality of the subject matter. They might even relate the face to something else entirely.
You do not use a great deal of colour. Is this of particular importance to you when depicting these sexual scenes? Is this a preference?
The limited palette is a conscious choice because I want to create a feeling or mood more than an accurate depiction of whatever the content may be in my drawings or paintings. I have always been drawn to not just the colours I use, but any colour in an image that gives you a sense of feeling or rather that makes you feel something, that takes you away or enhances your present state (for me it is warmth, bitter sweetness, desolation, hurt, softness… oh I can go on…)
But intellectually one might say that my limited palette is also founded on my continual learning about colours (seeing as how I only really started to use colours when I started at Concordia).