TORONTO MUSICIAN, ARTIST AND WRITER PAINTS THE HUMAN BRAIN
Story by Kate Fane
Images courtesy of Sarah Teitel
As an artist, you’ve got quite the C.V., alternating between music, poetry, fashion design, and the visual arts. Is one particularly close to your heart?
I go through phases. Different times and circumstances seem to call for different forms of expression. Right now I’m focusing primarily on visual art. I love the tangibility of it — working with substances, physical tools, getting messy. There have also been periods where that tangibility has felt confining. Then I was very grateful to have poetry, which is so ethereal. You can write a poem walking down the street, in an airplane, in line at the supermarket. Of course, the fact that writing poetry is a largely immaterial act can also make it a maddening one. Music is kind of a nice balance. I make the songs in my head, but I play them on a wooden object. I think for that reason, if I had to pick one creative pursuit, I’d pick music. Luckily I don’t have to pick.
How would you compare preparing for a solo gallery show to recording an album?
They’re pretty different! Recording an album is collaborative. I paint alone. That difference makes the two processes feel worlds apart. But they’re not entirely dissimilar. Both require discipline and focus. A lot of the time I’ve spent recording and painting, I’ve been bored. It’s playing or singing the same verse 10 times. It’s painting (literally) thousands of one inch by one inch squares. But then, in both, there are moments when you are called upon to be spontaneous, to make a choice that will inspire and shape the work. Those moments are dangerous and terrifying. They’re also incredibly alive and fun.
Your husband is a neuropsychiatrist, but did your interest in the human brain begin before you two met?
I’ve always been interested in the human mind, but I can’t say I really thought about brains very much before I got married and started seeing pictures of them all over my house. Of course, the distinction between mind and brain is purely semantic.
Despite the scientific element to paintings based off of MRI scans, the works also have a folk-art quality, with many of them invoking handmade quilts or tiles. What drew you to this contrast?
I’m glad you picked up on that! I was inspired by quilts and mosaics, by patchworks. Each mind/brain is a patchwork; one that is never fixed, that is constantly being torn, repaired, amended. From an evolutionary perspective too, the brain is a patchwork. In much the way a quilt can document the history of a person or family, with different pieces of it representing unique moments in the individual or group’s history, the human brain, singly and collectively, represents our history as a species.
I have yet to write music that refers to my art. But I did once write a song based on the David painting The Death of Marat. Probably one day I’ll write a song inspired by something I’ve painted.
Obviously the brain’s appearance has been a great inspiration for you, but has this also translated over to an interest in psychology?
As I mentioned, I’ve always been fascinated by psychology. I can’t think of a more intriguing or sublime exploration.
You recently participated in the Riverdale Art Walk, alongside over 125 other local artists. What was the experience like?
It was neat, in that it was very neighbourly. Really. My neighbour Valerie Fillingham who is a great neighbour and a great artist also participated. It was nice to be in a show with her. And also to be a part of a community. One of my pieces was on the flyer, so I’d go for coffee and there’d be a stack of them, and there would be one of my brains on the counter. Or at my hairdresser’s. Or at the cheese shop.
What’s next on the horizon? I’m guessing you don’t stay on one track for too long.
Artistically, I’m not sure. Before I got really into the brains I was writing kids’ songs. I think I might spend some time doing that for a while. First and foremost, though, I have to tend to my grass. We just laid new sod in our front and backyards. It requires a lot of care. It’s a transplant. I want it to take.